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February 13, 2013

Pre-Season Positional Rankings

Top 15 Fantasy Catchers

by Paul Sporer

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In the coming weeks, the fantasy team here at Baseball Prospectus will be rolling out our positional rankings. Each team member assigned to cover a position will create an initial top 15 (more for outfielders and starting pitchers) on his own. He will then send that list to the rest of the team for discussion, at which point we will debate the rankings, both in terms of each player’s specific placement and the merits on which he was included in the top 15. This back-and-forth debate will yield the final list, which will be presented by the original author with notes on the pertinent players. We encourage you to bring your opinions into the fray using the comment section below.

Today we kick off the rankings with a look at our top 15 catchers.

Catcher is a deep position in 2013, and if you play in a one-catcher league or use a 10-12 team mixed format, then waiting until late in your draft to address the position is a relatively low-risk strategy. It is fun to have an elite player at a premium position on your squad, but catchers are less impactful than superstars at other positions, because their counting-stat totals are limited by their regular rest days. The top couple of backstops will provide an excellent batting average, but if you choose to go with one of them in an early round, you could be left scrambling for home runs and steals later in your draft.

To illustrate the playing-time disparity between catchers and other sluggers, Joe Mauer, the top catcher in plate appearances last year with 641, was 47th in that category league-wide. There have only been four 600+ plate-appearance seasons at catcher in the last three years, and just one of those went north of 650 (Carlos Santana, who amassed 658 in 2011). This playing time deficiency also has intra-positional effects, because it enhances the value of catchers who spend their off days at first base or as the designated hitter instead of riding the bench.

Now, the list:

  1. Buster Posey, SFG
  2. Joe Mauer, MIN
  3. Carlos Santana, CLE
  4. Victor Martinez*, DET
  5. Yadier Molina, STL
  6. Miguel Montero, ARI
  7. Matt Wieters, BAL
  8. Wilin Rosario, COL
  9. Salvador Perez, KCR
  10. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
  11. Jesus Montero, SEA
  12. Mike Napoli, BOS
  13. Alex Avila, DET
  14. Ryan Doumit, MIN
  15. Brian McCann, ATL

Honorable Mentions: Carlos Ruiz**, PHI and John Jaso, OAK

*Martinez does not qualify at catcher in default CBS leagues

**Ruiz was dropped from the top 15 due to his 25-game suspension for using amphetamines

Notes:

  1. Posey was the undisputed top choice, and even if you factor in a regression from his MVP campaign, his owners should reap elite results. The Florida State product’s 140-game average for the last three years includes 21 home runs, 90 RBI, and 71 runs scored, to go with a .317 batting average. Posey, like each of our top four, is able to bolster his counting stats by spending off days at first base.
     
  2. Mauer appears to have logged his final season with 100+ games behind the dish, which is great news for the fantasy community, as long as he keeps his count at or above 20 to maintain eligibility. If you select Mauer with dreams of 2009, you can wake up now: That was his career year and there is no reason to believe the power that he flashed is coming back.
     
  3. Santana’s 2012 second half looked like both halves of his 2010 campaign, except for his batting average. We’ve yet to see his peak, and he may be primed to reach his All-Star ceiling this year.
     
  4. Martinez won’t be asked to endure the wear-and-tear of catching, but his role as the Tigers’ designated hitter will keep him in the lineup nearly every day. In addition to improving his counting-stat upside, that gives him a chance to break his own record for the most catcher-eligible plate appearances since 2006 (672 in 2009).
     
  5. The flurry of career highs that Molina set last year screams regression, but with back-to-back big offensive seasons, you can still feel confident in his ability to produce.
     
  6. Out in the desert, (Miguel) Montero has quietly been one of the best catchers in baseball for three of the last four seasons; the fourth (2010) was cut short by a torn meniscus in his right knee. He has lapped the catcher field in RBI over the last two years, amassing 174 of them, 19 better than the next-highest total, which belongs to Santana.
     
  7. Wieters hasn’t become the otherworldly player he was expected to become as a minor leaguer, but his recent power surge has turned him into a fantasy asset. The switch-hitter’s next step to superstardom is improving his performance against right-handed pitching.
     
  8. Rosario offers considerable power upside, but if your league counts walks or on-base percentage, his lack of plate discipline implores a lower ranking on your list.
     
  9. Perez’s big-league samples are limited, but he is constantly adding new dimensions to his game. First, it was the extraordinary batting average in 2011. Then, last year, it was unexpected power. The more he plays, the more he seems to justify the Royals’ long-term investment.
     
  10. Lucroy just needs to avoid suitcases in 2013.
     
  11. It looks like the Mariners are committed to giving (Jesus) Montero regular burn at catcher. If you are worried about that affecting his bat, the numbers might calm your nerves, as he posted an 841 OPS as a catcher last year. Montero’s entire 553-plate-appearance season is a small sample, so parsing it can be dangerous, but this fits the league-wide trend of players hitting better when they are active on defense.
     
  12. It is hard not to be concerned about Napoli’s hip issues, though the benefit to his signing in Boston is that the Red Sox have enough catcher depth to avoid forcing him to put on the gear. If Napoli were healthy, he could have ranked five spots higher on this list, so he has bargain potential after being overvalued last year.
     
  13. Every catcher is below 100 percent the day after pitchers and catchers report, but Avila seemed to be running in the 70s for the bulk of the season and he was still a league-average contributor. Unfortunately, that didn’t pay the bills for where you drafted him, if you bought into his glorious 2011.
     
  14. You want Doumit as your fantasy catcher, but the Twins are better served when they use him as an outfielder, and they can't always field both him and Mauer at the same time. Last year, Doumit finally enjoyed the full season that fantasy owners have been waiting for since 2007.
     
  15. McCann’s health woes are of much greater concern than Napoli’s, and if the Braves backstop didn’t have such a lengthy track record of excellence, there would have been a strong case to leave him out of the top 15 entirely.

    Finally, one of the honorable mentions gets a note to cover those of you who play in CBS leagues, where Martinez is ineligible…
     
  16. Some are looking past Ruiz’s 25-game suspension with the idea that catchers miss 20-25 games a year all the time; the problem with that logic is that Ruiz is still going to need regular rest when he returns. He’s not a video-game character, and he won’t have the stamina to handle the squat everyday, whether the season is 137 games long or 162.

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

Related Content:  Carlos Ruiz

39 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

R.A.Wagman

How, if at all, would your list change if you were looking at a keeper league? What about scoresheet?
Thanks

Feb 13, 2013 05:33 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Keeper league *might* see the Wiets/Rosario/Perez group leapfrog Molina/Mntero, but that's really only if you're not going for the win in '13.

Scoresheet would move Molina & Montero to 2-3 as they're both strong defenders and their bats are definitely close enough to Santana & V-Mart.

Feb 13, 2013 07:55 AM
 
BP staff member Bret Sayre
BP staff

I'd also add that in a keeper league, Yasmani Grandal would be in the top-15 for me - though he obviously loses 2013 value with the suspension. I'd also bump Sal Perez up a spot or two.

Feb 13, 2013 08:05 AM
 
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

I wouldn't put him in the Top 15, but Devin Mesoraco is someone I'd keep a close eye on in keeper formats. Rob Brantley is young, but doesn't have the upside that Mesoraco does IMO.

Feb 13, 2013 08:16 AM
 
sitdancer

Seems like C is unusually deep this season. Combining this ranking / expected production with each players expected draft position, where do you see the best value on the list?

Feb 13, 2013 06:16 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

It is absolutely deep this year. Especially in 1-catcher leagues. It's probably best to wait for the top 6-7 to go before joining the fray.

Feb 13, 2013 07:58 AM
 
DDriesen

That's disappointing to hear. The tiers (which still appear as links in this year's PFM) were some of the best fantasy draft tools available. While this format is interesting, 15 is not deep enough for most leagues.

Feb 13, 2013 10:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

We plan to roll out a whole series of new tools and features that we think will more than compensate for the tiers. I'll have more later in the week, including the introduction of the new team of fantasy writers.

Feb 13, 2013 10:44 AM
 
DDriesen

Sounds good. Anxiously looking forward to it now that the noise of football has abated and drafts are looming large and no longer a distant concept. Thanks.

Feb 13, 2013 11:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Mike Gianella
BP staff

Hi. I'm one of the new writers that Joe is talking about above. I'm working on some of the deeper league rankings that it sounds like you're waiting for. I'm hoping this provides some of the deeper league info that you - and I presume many other BP fantasy readers - are looking for in this space.

But I do agree with Paul that this is a great start, and also think that there is value in starting the conversation here.

Feb 13, 2013 11:11 AM
 
fawcettb

Hopefully a couple that occasionally speak to Scoresheet, which actually bears some resemblance to real-world baseball.

Feb 13, 2013 19:33 PM
rating: 0
 
cavebird2

It does seem like catcher is the position to do dollar days this year. I have a 17-team, 1 catcher league, and the depth combined with the lack of anything truly special (i.e. Piazza in his prime) at the top makes me doubt that there will be $19 of difference between the $20 guys and the $1 guys.

Feb 13, 2013 07:19 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Oh man, 17-team and 1-C, I wait forever.

Feb 13, 2013 07:58 AM
 
DDriesen

Just for some clarification - are these top 15 ranking lists taking the place of the fantasy tiers that Derek did last year? I like the analysis here, but hope it does not supplant what was an invaluable tool last year...

Feb 13, 2013 07:24 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

With Derek no longer on the team here at BP, there aren't plans for tiers in 2013.

Feb 13, 2013 08:08 AM
 
eliyahu

I don't think the tiers are that important, but 15 deep? Half of the starters in the league? This strikes me as being adequate for shallow leagues but I can't imagine BP subscribers aren't active in deeper leagues that cover all major league starters.

Feb 13, 2013 10:46 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Definitely agree that plenty of folks are likely in dynasty-style leagues, NFBC-style leagues and the like. This is basically our taster to get everything going. The top 75 positional players (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS) plus 15 RP gets us to 90. Then there will be deeper lists of SP and OF.

We'll be approaching about 200 guys at that point. As you mention, it's not the entire player pool, but a good chunk. It's February so we can't dive headlong into the pool just yet (unless you're in one of those polar bear clubs!). :)

Feb 13, 2013 10:51 AM
 
cmaczkow

I don't care much about tiers and I like the comments on each player, but I have to agree with eliyahu. A list that goes 15 deep is going to be 6-9 from either league. That's "top-of-the-head" stuff and honestly it's not a big help to anyone who has more than very basic interest in the hobby.

What I'd really like to see is some ranking and analysis of the next 30 guys. Tell me why Player A is better than Player B when it comes to my dollar pick. Maybe he has hit lots of doubles and you see HR potential. Maybe his contact rate zoomed last year and he seems to have a better approach now. Or, at the very least, go deep enough into the position pool to let me know if this is where I should be stashing a $1 guy, or if the player I would get at that point would be fantasy suicide. (You did a little of that, but I'd like to see much more, and have it applied beyond the first 15).

In short: tell me something I don't already know!! This is THE site when it comes to probing questions about other areas of the sport; I know it can fill that role for fantasy as well.

Feb 13, 2013 13:55 PM
rating: 5
 
BP staff member Joe Hamrahi
BP staff

We're going to have more features and other articles to discuss those types of things. If we go 30 deep on every position, we're certainly not going to write up comments on every player. That's what the Annual is for. As Mike Giannella mentioned above, he's going to provide a more in-depth listing of values for deeper leagues, and we'll also be publishing a top 100 dynasty fantasy prospects list and a top 50 fantasy prospects list for 2013. In addition, we'll be running a "players to watch" series throughout spring training with a focus on potential fantasy performance. So they'll be more, plenty more. And as usual, the guys will be here answering comments and discussing their thought.

Feb 13, 2013 14:29 PM
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Keep in mind that as mentioned this is one part of our fantasy analysis, far from all of it. Lists are a taster. There will be sleeper columns, analysis pieces, bid limits, etc... The keeper reaper series is already up and filled with analysis.

Feb 13, 2013 14:47 PM
 
phgold09

Ok people have to stop saying that catching helped jesus montero.... the mariners shifted him to DH to get jaso in the lineup against RHP... montero hits lefties considerably better than righties, almodt all his catching atbats came against lefties while almost all his dh atbats came against righties.... his splits have NOTHING to do with DH v C but rather L v R

Feb 13, 2013 07:27 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

It's *well* proven that playing the field vs. DH improves numbers as a rule so while the setup you're talking about helped, it's also 100% true that playing the field helps.

Feb 13, 2013 08:01 AM
 
phgold09

But isolating his catching OPS and suggesting that now 500 catching PA means a number closer to .840 is missing the reason his catching OPS was stronger. He'll get better because he's young, not because he's catching.

And yes, in many cases playing the field leads to better numbers, but it's 100% true that isn't the main reason his C numbers were better. And as the article is written you're misleading alot of fantasy players.

Feb 13, 2013 08:15 AM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I didn't suggest that he'd hit to an 840 playing catcher all year. Not even close. "Montero’s entire 553-plate-appearance season is a small sample, so parsing it can be dangerous, but this fits the league-wide trend of players hitting better when they are active on defense."

Feb 13, 2013 08:17 AM
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

He also got markedly better vs. RHP in-season (553 pre ASB; 681 post incl. 704 in Aug-Sept), so there's no guarantee he's going to be the 609 OPS guy again.

A better way to start the dialog here might've been "Did you know that one of the drivers in that C/DH split was the pitcher handedness split he was facing in those situations..." or something to that effect. Coming out firing isn't always best.

Feb 13, 2013 08:23 AM
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

One final bit:

As a C vs. RHP - 786 OPS in 157 PA
As a DH vs. RHP - 475 OPS in 202 PA

So I think the main point in the article still holds and doesn't do anything to mislead folks.

Feb 13, 2013 08:29 AM
 
phgold09

I agree, sorry bout that, but i made the same point 2 weeks ago when montero came across the keeper article. I pay for this site because i expect to read stuff that i cant figure out myself. Selection bias should be the first thing checked when breaking down a population into a smaller sample

Feb 13, 2013 08:29 AM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Understood. I missed that piece, I'm writing my SP guide right now so I haven't gotten as much leisure reading as normal.

Meanwhile, I think you'll be heartened by my last comment re: his breakdown vs. RHP. He is light years better when catching.

And just so the other side is out there:

As C vs. LHP - 961 in 73 PA
As DH vs. LHP - 749 in 118 PA

Feb 13, 2013 08:33 AM
 
Travis Leleu

Bringing out the "I pay for this site" line appears petulant.

Feb 13, 2013 13:59 PM
rating: 2
 
phgold09

I'm sorry, are you unfamiliar with the customer/service provider relationship? if you don't like what you're paying for you voice your opinion. If they care about customer retention, then they will take your comments into consideration, and they will, like paul did, provide better content. If they don't care, they will continue to put out a subpar product and i will discontinue my subscription

Feb 13, 2013 16:52 PM
rating: -3
 
BP staff member Josh Shepardson
BP staff

Montero has hit LHP better than RHP over a sample of 622 plate appearances in the majors split 218 PAs against LHP and 404 PAs against RHP. That's basically one full season of work. He was also better against RHP in 2011 according to Minor League Central (http://minorleaguecentral.com/player?pid=524968&split=3000), but as you delve deeper and look at his numbers moving up the minor league ladder (http://mlsplits.drivelinebaseball.com/mlsplits/playerinfo/524968) the gap closes. Dismissing the thought that Montero catching helped his numbers is very presumptive. That's not to say that facing LHP more often as a catcher didn't help, but I don't think any of us truly know how much more that factor helped. I apologize for not responding to the message in my Keeper Reaper article, that was an oversight on my part. I was alerted by e-mail about the post while at work, and forgot to respond when I got home. Hopefully this will satisfy your desire for more information.

Feb 15, 2013 21:50 PM
 
bobbygrace

I've enjoyed the Keeper Reaper series for deep analysis on some of the most intriguing players in fantasy baseball. And I'm also happy to see the position-by-position lists starting up. Thanks and looking forward to more of the new content!

On catchers: I wonder if you could gain a strategic advantage by looking at catchers not as rich this year, but as scarce. I did a little unsophisticated exercise with the new PECOTAs: I created an eight-column table, with one column for each position, then arrayed players in each column by VORP. Then I put a little mark next to each player who was a "difference-maker" in the counting stats (R, HR, RBI, SB). I set the bar fairly high for difference-making, at 75 each for runs and RBI and 20 each for SB. My thinking was that, in a weekly scoring league, these are guys who would hit roughly a homer a week, or steal roughly a base a week, or get roughly three runs and/or RBI a week.

Using this definition, I found only five difference-makers among catchers. Two of them, Wilin Rosario and J.P. Arencibia, are difference-makers only in home runs, and they stand a good chance of killing you in AVG (or killing you even more if you use OBP). A third is Mike Napoli, who adds RBI to home runs but has that hip injury. And then there are the other two, Buster Posey (R, HR, RBI) and Joe Mauer (R, RBI).

Meanwhile, the next shallowest position, second base, has eleven difference-makers, including seven multi-category difference-makers. Every other position has at least 14 (shortstop) and as many as 27 (first base) difference-makers. The upshot is that there's plenty of production to be had later in the draft at every position.

So, back to my question -- and acknowledging that my method is unsophisticated -- couldn't you gain an advantage by snapping up Mauer or Posey, knowing that you could get good production later out of other positions and secure a significant leg up in a position that, comparatively speaking, is rather hitting-weak?

Feb 13, 2013 11:41 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Bobby, good stuff. The only issue is that you can't hold Cs to the same standards as everyone else. They just don't log as much play time so it stands to reason that they'd fall behind with those aggressive thresholds. You have to compare within the position because it matters less if my 2B beats your C, but rather if my C beats your C.

Feb 13, 2013 11:59 AM
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

Bobby, I did some quick work. Lemme know what ya think. If you set your baselines for Cs at 85% of the other position players, you're looking at 64 R/RBI and 17 HR/SB.

No C qualifies at SB (but that's not what you're getting them for anyway).

12 Cs hit the HR threshold
8 Cs hit the R threshold
11 Cs hit the RBI threshold

6 Cs hit all three
8 Cs hit R and RBI
6 Cs hit HR and R
8 Cs hit HR and RBI

Feb 13, 2013 12:04 PM
 
swarmee

But no fantasy league worries about that; they worry about the raw stats at the end of the season. Did he hit 25 HR or 17? I tend to think of catcher as very weak this season, but that's because I'm in an NL-only 11 team league where Rob Brantly and AJ Ellis are projected to earn $5 each.

Feb 13, 2013 12:41 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

I'm not sure I follow. The raw stats matter, but they matter in context to what the rest of the league can expect from that position. If they're expecting several catchers to hit 25 or drive in 75, they're starting off in the wrong place already. You just cannot hold Cs to the standards of the other positions. It's statistically flawed to do so.

I can totally understand why an NL-only leaguer would see C as short. Only 5 of my top 17 are NL guys. Mixed league it's definitely very deep.

Feb 13, 2013 12:48 PM
 
bobbygrace

That's a much better way to look at the relative positional value of catchers. With their lower expected playing time factored in, you're right that there's plenty of value after the high-priced guys go off the board. Thank you for answering my question!

Feb 14, 2013 04:36 AM
rating: 0
 
Eddie Bajek

So... I play Yahoo and have Wil Myers on my keeper team. Where does he slot in?

Feb 13, 2013 16:25 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Paul Sporer
BP staff

He's no longer a C on Yahoo! Thankfully.

Feb 16, 2013 04:09 AM
 
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