January 15, 2010
Catcher Rankings Review
Catcher was a strange position in 2009. There were some breakout campaigns and some returns to form, but there were also plenty of disappointments from players both new and old. Catcher was not my best list, but it also wasn't my worst. I do feel that it is one list I need to work on for 2010 much more, though, as some of the things I justified to myself at the time seem just plain odd in retrospect.
Just to save the commenters who have to answer this question each time out, this is a review of my 2009 rankings. If a player is not listed here, it is not because I don't like them for 2010. For one reason or another, they were omitted from 2009, which is especially true if someone was a surprise in 2009, but I am just reviewing the actual rankings from last year, not setting up the new ones.
Before diving in to the rankings, I also want to start some discussion about what it is we should do about the lists themselves. Should the format change? Should it stay the same? Would you prefer something like star ratings and tiers, like those that Kevin Goldstein uses in his Top 11 Prospects list, or do you want to retain the basic 1-20 ranking system? For that matter, are 20 players at each position enough? Let's get all of these ideas out in the open now so that there's plenty of time to accommodate requests by the time ranking season rolls around. That way, I provide you with the service you ask for, and still have time to do the things I plan on doing for you outside of that. Reply in the comments, ask me in chats, e-mail me, or talk to me via Twitter (@Marc_Normandin) over the next few months with your thoughts; I may not respond to all of you, but I will keep track of your replies for the purposes of 2010's rankings.
1. Brian McCann (.299/.371/.511 PECOTA) .281/.349/.486: McCann's season was below PECOTA's expectations by a bit and also below his 2008 production, but it was still a fine season for a catcher, especially when you consider his 94 RBI and 21 homers. He seemed the safest pick for the top pick from both a health and production standpoint, but even with the missed time, a certain someone was able to outpace him.
2. Joe Mauer (.307/.388/.436 PECOTA) .365/.444/.587: Mauer not only flew past his projected weighted mean, but also outdistanced his 90th percentile (.337/.422/.496) considerably thanks to an uncharacteristic power surge. Considering his previous career home run high was 13 and he had just hit nine bombs in 2008, I'm finding it tough to be too broken up over missing on this one after he hit 28 in 2009. For 2010, you should expect more power out of him, but if you're banking on him to hit .360 again, then you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
3. Geovany Soto (.288/.370/.519 PECOTA) .218/.321/.381: Soto had a .337 BABIP in 2008, which was high but not at the level where it couldn't be repeated or, at least, if it wasn't repeated, it wasn't so high that falling back towards the average would kill his value. Soto fell well past the average, though, dropping all the way to .251 while dealing with shoulder and oblique injuries. He didn't lose all of his power, a .163 ISO is still good, especially considering how far his BABIP fell, but he will need to bump that average back up to be worthwhile, even at a low-offense position.
4. Chris Iannetta (.295/.392/.499 PECOTA) .228/.344/.460: Iannetta's season was one of the odd ones. Because of the .228 average, it looks poor, but in reality, his ISO was in line with last season's breakout, he showed loads of patience, and didn't get enough playing time to show us that he's capable of more, as his projection suggested. A .253 BABIP may be at fault, and given the lack of issues in the rest of his numbers (and the fact he plays in Coors, where a .253 BABIP just seems out of place) it's not a stretch to suggest this was a weird bump in the road.
5. Russell Martin (.293/.382/.434 PECOTA) .250/.352/.329: It appears as if there was more to Martin's drop to a .116 ISO in 2008 than expected, as even a season with fewer games played (read: less physical abuse of Martin behind the plate) couldn't bring his power back. In fact, he posted his first sub-.100 ISO, swiped just 11 bases, and finished with the lowest batting average of his career. In conclusion, we went from five players with loads of offensive talent giving a notoriously weak offensive position plenty of depth to having a notoriously weak offensive position doing what it's known for thanks to players like Martin.
6. Matt Wieters (.311/.395/.544 PECOTA) .288/.340/.412: I stated in the rankings last year that Wieters' 10th percentile forecast (.280/.355/.461) was the one I was most comfortable with, but even that was a bit higher than his actual performance. PECOTA didn't have any mention of failure in any of the forecasts, which was a problem, but I did say it was possible "he could tank" relative to expectations. He picked things up in the second half, which is good news for 2010, but 2009 is a good example of why his PECOTA forecast, or that of any projection system, is not the sole input for any ranking.
7. Ryan Doumit (.281/.344/.453 PECOTA) .250/.299/.414: Doumit missed significant time with a wrist injury, then struggled upon returning, which kept him from having three strong seasons at the plate in a row. He did hit .346/.424/.481 in September, so hopefully he will be 100 percent healed by the time 2010's Opening Day rolls around, and he can earn a high ranking once again.
8. Pablo Sandoval (.289/.329/.454 PECOTA) .330/.387/.556: My lone concern with Sandoval was that he lacked the patience to make consistent offensive production easy, and would need to keep up his excellent contact rates in order to succeed. He showed in 2009 that he's up to the task-I could have been a bit more aggressive with my ranking of him-but catcher looked like a pretty deep position up front, so I wasn't sure if it was worth the risk. Looking back, I would have gotten away with it had I pushed him up further, as even a season like his projection would have stood out.
9. Mike Napoli (.240/.344/.482 PECOTA) .272/.350/.492: Napoli surprisingly hit for a good average again, but lost some of his power along the way, with his ISO dropping from .313 to .220, which is closer to his previously established levels. It's a shame he doesn't play more often because higher runs scored and RBI totals would make him one of the better options at the position
10. Jeff Clement (.258/.341/.449 PECOTA) Clement never ended up catching for the Mariners in 2009, or the Pirates either, once he was traded to that organization. In fact, he spent the entire season at Triple-A. So in the sense that I advocated a player who never played, my bad, but it's tough to gauge how on or off his projection was given he never showed up.
11. Chris Snyder (.254/.355/.451 PECOTA) .200/.333/.352: After a few solid years in a row, Snyder fell apart in 2009 thanks to a back injury that put him on the DL twice and required off-season surgery. He didn't play much, and didn't play healthy even less, so it's tough to see how off this was.
12. Miguel Montero (.269/.351/.468 PECOTA) .294/.355/.478: I shouldn't have ranked Montero this high given he was sharing time with Snyder, but I got lucky because he took over for Snyder and did a wonderful job in his place. My thinking was that, in leagues with daily changes, he was a great catcher to have on your roster to slot in when he was playing, but since he played all the time, he worked out in leagues without those changes, too. I don't want to pat myself on the back too hard, though, since this was more of a lucky situation than my nailing something.
13. Jorge Posada (.249/.336/.409 PECOTA) .285/.363/.522: Drawing from the same well of spite that fueled Derek Jeter's bounce-back campaign, Posada not only played most of the year, but had one of the better offensive campaigns of his career. I did say that I had more faith in his 75th percentile (.267/.352/.441) given PECOTA didn't know the difference between being 37 and aging and being injured, but his recovery from shoulder surgery clearly did not bother him to the degree I expected in what I thought was a generous attitude. I'm very interested in his 2010 forecast.
14. Victor Martinez (.272/.342/.408 PECOTA) .303/.381/.480: I relied on his projection and his 2008 campaign far too much when making this ranking, as was pointed out to me by readers before the season even began. Trying to balance that is difficult (see: Posada), but it's something I'm working on improving, despite its case-by-case nature. As an aside, I was upset Martinez was doing well in the sense that it made me wrong, but didn't care any more once he was dealt to Boston. Funny how that works.
15. Jesus Flores (.252/.316/.432 PECOTA) .301/.371/.505: PECOTA and I agreed that Flores was capable of becoming one of the better hitting catchers in the league. His 75th percentile forecast, which was quoted as the evidence of this in the rankings, was .264/.329/.463. He ended up hitting for a higher batting average, which also boosted the other two numbers, a fun surprise for those who selected him towards the back of their drafts. My one worry is his .381 BABIP, but given I felt his 75th percentile was reasonable, I'm still positive about him for 2010.
16. Bengie Molina (.276/.312/.416 PECOTA) .265/.285/.442: His BABIP and average fell, but he kept his power up and drove in 80 runs. He's by no means an elite-level catcher, but you know what you're getting if you pick up Bengie.
17. Dioner Navarro (.259/.326/.382 PECOTA) .218/.267/.322: I should have listened to PECOTA and its skeptical ways as even though it didn't predict the level at which Navarro would fail, it had a better grasp on his abilities than I did. I said he wouldn't hurt you much in deeper leagues, but he did.
18. Ramon Hernandez (.259/.318/.396 PECOTA) .258/.336/.362: It's a bit surprising that Hernandez didn't see his power bump up with the move to the NL and the friendlier parks, but overall, his lack of production at this stage of the list isn't shocking.
19. Kurt Suzuki (.263/.335/.386 PECOTA) .274/.313/.421: "If only Kurt Suzuki could combine his 2007 ISO with his 2008 batting average; then we'd have ourselves an intriguing backstop to talk about for fantasy purposes." Oh, hey, look what happened in 2009, despite the fact he still hits more grounders than fly balls. He even did it with a below-average BABIP, so it should be a repeatable year.
20. John Baker (.248/.330/.377 PECOTA) .271/.349/.410: I liked Baker much more than his weighted mean forecast, saying his 75th percentile (.266/.352/.416) was a better starting point. He hit right along those lines, so if you scooped him up late, he gave you some value.
As for the Just Missed players, the catching situation in Texas ended up earning its place off of the main rankings, as neither Jarrod Saltalamacchia nor Taylor Teagarden did much of anything at the plate. Victor Martinez rebounded, which cut into Kelly Shoppach's playing time until he was dealt, but Shoppach didn't play that well on the year for the Indians. I would like to point out that I said, "Lastly, we have Ramon Castro, who should once again only pick up around a third of the plate appearances and still out-produce the Mets' starter by miles" if only because the Mets dealt him so they could play inferior hitters in the slot. Castro hit just .219 in 171 plate appearances, but also posted a quality ISO for the umpteenth time in his no-respect career as a backup.