February 21, 2011
Like last year, the fantasy rankings are broken into tiers. Generally speaking, five-star players should be worthwhile in five categories and have an auction dollar value of $30 or more in your standard, mixed leagues. Four-star players should be worth at least $20 and useful in four categories, three-stars $10 and up, two-stars are more of your single-digit buys that you hope fill a hole or return some bargain value, and one-star players are, most likely, roster filler in the deepest leagues that you hope can be worth the buck you throw down on them.
This year we are listing stats like we have in the past (plate appearances, average, R, RBI, SB and HR projections from PECOTA) but are also including dollar value estimates produced by the Player Forecast Manager. In order to make these columns fit into the tables, I had to shorten them: "2L-$" is for mixed leagues, and "1L-$" is for AL- or NL-only leagues, depending on the player. The dollar values may not match up perfectly with the tiers, but those are just cases of PECOTA and I disagreeing on a player.
For reference, the dollar values were created with the PFM using standard 5x5 roto scoring, 23-player rosters--broken down as C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) Util (1) P (9)--and $180 of the $260 budget allocated for hitters and $1 minimum salaries. A minimum of 20 games needed to be played at a position in the previous season to qualify (though I snuck a few brand new players likely to qualify in). If your league uses different settings, be sure to plug them into the PFM to see what kind of differences in dollar value we are talking about--I set these to be as close to standard roster construction as possible.
Catcher is another position with no five-star candidates, though Victor Martinez and Joe Mauer both come close. In each case, their upside is the fivestar tier, but drafting them as such, when there are such a limited number of truly elite players on the board, isn’t a great strategy. Martinez had a ridiculous (for a backstop) 2010, hitting .302/.351/.493 with 20 homers in 127 games. For 2011, Martinez may remain healthy now that he’s a part-time catcher who spends most of his time at DH, but he also moves from Fenway Park to Detroit, which helps pitchers more than it does hitters. Martinez hit .324/.378/.522 at Fenway the last three years (including his time on the Indians), so PECOTA probably has it right here—and if he doesn’t get to 650 PA, he’ll be even further away from the five-star tier. Joe Mauer has the ability to merit the next tier up, but the major question with him is, and may always be, health. If I believed he could get to 625 PA or so, I would suggest him as a five-star catcher, but he’s managed that exactly once in his six full seasons in the majors.
Brian McCann and Carlos Santana aren’t as good as the two in front of them, but they are light years ahead of almost everyone else (except for maybe Posey, though his home park depresses his value a bit). Santana’s ugly knee injury put a stop to a quality rookie season, but he isn’t expected to lose any value because of it.
The aforementioned Posey is a four-star catcher in a vacuum (and may be my favorite of the entire bunch), but I’m a tad apprehensive about his 2011 until I see a larger sample of playing time in San Francisco. Posey hit .258/.304/.419 at home, and an incredible .351/.406/.587 on the road. He has a special bat, but he won’t see as much first base playing time this year with Aubrey Huff and Brandon Belt in the mix, and that park could be a problem for him. Here's hoping it isn’t, though, because he is fun to watch.
The reign of Piniella has ended in Chicago, and Geovany Soto is supposedly healthy—those two items combined mean he should see a boost in his playing time in 2011. That’s good news for Soto owners, as he is one of the few quality hitters at the position. Mike Napoli is now in Texas, and as long as he’s getting the at-bats, he’s going to provide lots of pop. Jorge Posada should be helped by getting out from behind the plate—as a full-time DH with catcher eligibility, Posada is very valuable as long as he can stay on the field. Personal skepticism regarding that last bit is why he is ranked in the three-star tier instead of one better.
Word out of the Rockies’ camp tells us that it’s Chris Iannetta’s job to lose. That’s a positive, although if they come up with a new reason for him to lose it like they did in 2010, then it’s not going to matter much. Miguel Montero had his 2010 cut short by injury, and he returned to his pre-2009 form, though that’s still a pretty useful fantasy catcher. He has the upside to be more like 2009, but let’s not go crazy assuming that’s who he is just yet. J.P. Arencibia is probably going to cost you points in batting averag side of things, but if he hits 23 homers and stays on the field, chances are good you won’t have much else to complain about.
Carlos Ruiz strikes me as underappreciated at $5. It wouldn’t surprise me if he put up a better season than every catcher behind him (which is why I put him here—that’s how this works and all). While the 2011 Wieters projection is more realistic than either of those spit out by PECOTA the last two years, I’m still not convinced it’s accurate. He has more upside than anyone in this tier, so in keeper leagues he may be worth a bit more, but in single-season leagues, don’t overpay.
Unless on-base percentage is a category in your league, Pierzynski should do well as a two-star catcher. Spending $10 seems like a bit much, but something in the $5-7 range feels right. Kurt Suzuki can blame the Coliseum for an ugly projection (and 2010 season), but you’re going to want to avoid paying for how good he’s supposed to be, unless you’re in a league with park factors. John Buck is all power, all the time, though leaving Toronto for southern Florida should occasionally interrupt that regularly scheduled programming.
Miguel Olivo left Colorado, which had helped him to a ridiculous first half that stole Chris Iannetta’s job right out from under him, to head to Seattle. Considering he hit .193/.225/.313 in the second half despite assistance from North America’s most impressive mountain chain, his 2011 season production should be as grim as the cloudy skies overhead in his new home. Yadier Molina needs to defeat just one more Molina in order to become the Highlander. John Jaso’s projection strikes me as pessimistic; if he’s soaking up most of the playing time at catcher in Tampa Bay, he’s going to earn R and RBI that should make him a solid $5 catcher. Russell Martin may not last the season, but as the catcher in New York, he should pick up plenty of contextual assistance while he’s there.
This is mildly depressing. Lucroy and Hanigan might pop into two-star territory, but it’s not a given. Torrealba is in for a rude awakening in Texas—it might look like his 2010 was a strong season in spite of Petco, but his BABIP in the pitcher-friendliest park in the league was actually nearly .400. I don’t mind Avila, but I worry about hitting in Detroit. The same can be said for Josh Thole in his Citi Field games and Nick Hundley in Petco. The days of Ryan Doumit as an offensive force at catcher may be over.
Saltalamacchia might do better than this in Boston’s stacked lineup, but Jason Varitek is expected to play more often than your average backup catcher, according to Sox management. That could hinder his counting stats. The Astros lineup is not good, and because of that, Jason Castro probably won’t be able to contribute all that much even if he’s in the lineup most of the time. Hank Conger would be more appealing if we hadn’t just watched Mike Napoli get shoved aside in favor of Jeff Mathis for years. Jason Kendall is a first-round pick in fantasy gritball. If you draft Mathis instead of punting your second catcher slot in AL-only, then you’re probably related to Mike Scioscia.
Ivan Rodriguez is great if you’re in a Diamond Mind league that is using 1999 statistics. Wilson Ramos is appealing, but not that helpful with that corpse in front of him on the depth charts. Ramon Hernandez’s value will fluctuate depending on who ends up with more playing time, he or Hanigan. Right now I’m betting on Hanigan, but Dusty Baker does love his vets sometimes. Brayan Pena might be the only person wishing more than sane Royals fans that Jason Kendall doesn’t return for Opening Day.
Please don’t make me go on. Everyone left is a last resort to fill a hole on rosters in AL- and NL-only leagues that require a pair of catchers. There are no winners in that situation. Just put on some Rush, draft Gregg Zaun, and hope for the best.