March 19, 2013
Fantasy Tier Rankings
Today we kick off our positional tier rankings. Last offseason, Derek Carty tackled the tiers by himself; this spring, we've decided to attack them as a team. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by the number of stars.
Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be earl- round selections, and they're projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. As was the case with our positional rankings series, the positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of the projected PECOTA values.
We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from our PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and, as we did last year, we'll allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. Players needed to play in 20 games at a position to qualify there. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format, you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players’ dollar values.
The first edition of the series tackles catchers. Let’s jump right in…
Posey is in a class of his own, as his place in the exclusive top tier indicates. He ranked first among qualifying catchers in batting average and RBI last season, while finishing second at the position in runs and tied for fourth in homers. He put his gruesome ankle injury behind him, and exceeded expectations to net National League MVP honors. He is easily the best hitter in the Giants lineup, and because of that, he often sees time at first base when he's not catching. He's also one of the few catchers that slots into the heart of his club's order due to his hitting prowess. Posey is likely to go a minimum of two rounds higher than the next catcher off the board in snake drafts.
PECOTA would place Mauer in the five-star tier with Posey, but his lack of top-shelf power and the volatility in his stolen-base totals, which occasionally help offset his lower homer outputs, knocks him down a peg. Owners can bank on the career .323 hitter making a splash in batting average, and his time spent in the lineup as the first baseman or designated hitter should help him make a large impact in the category by piling up more plate appearances than the bulk of his peers at the position.
Putting too much stock in first- and second-half splits can be a mistake, but it's hard to ignore the night-and-day difference in Santana's. Santana smacked 13 of his 18 homers in the second half, and saw his batting average rise from .221 in the first half to .281 down the stretch. His second-half gains went beyond the surface-stats improvement: They reflected a significant drop in his strikeout rate, to 13.1 percent in the second half from 20.3 percent before the All-Star break. Santana has a 27-homer season under his belt, and his batting average appears to be on the rise.
Four-Star Value Pick: Martinez comes with risk, but he also offers the promise of a sizable payoff. He spent all of last season recovering from a torn ACL that required microfracture surgery. Prior to suffering the knee injury, Martinez was a model of consistency, hitting for both average and power. He won't deal with the rigors of catching this season, playing exclusively as a designated hitter for the Tigers, and is projected to receive most of his plate appearances hitting fifth behind Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, who ranked among the top 10 qualifying hitters in on-base percentage last season. That's great news for his RBI total if the bat returns to anything resembling its pre-injury form.
I wrestled with where to draw the line in the three-star tier, but eventually decided that M. Montero and Wieters deserved to rank ahead of the next wave of catchers. Montero doesn't offer much upside, but he doesn't need to, as he's quietly a very solid contributor already.
Three-Star Value Pick: Calling Wieters a bargain is a bit of a stretch, but he has the upside to outproduce each of the catchers in the four-star tier. He's crushed left-handed pitching the past two seasons, but hasn't fared as well against right-handers, though he hasn’t been inept against them. Also, factor in his success against right-handed pitchers in 2009 and 2010, and you have a switch-hitting catcher that has demonstrated the ability to beat up pitchers of either handedness, as well as one who has slugged over 20 homers in each of the past two seasons. If his batting average climbs, as I expect it to, and he retains his thump, he'll challenge for a top-three ranking at catcher next year.
The two-star tier of catchers is a mix of players with question marks or flaws that prevent them from ranking higher.
In the cases of Perez and Lucroy, the question is whether they can sustain their 2012 success over the course of a full-season. Rosario has to prove that his aggressive approach won't be exploited as pitchers become more familiar with him. J. Montero ranked highly on prospect lists prior to shedding his rookie status last season, because his bat was projected to do damage in The Show. He didn't make waves with his stick last year, but he still has a ton of upside and turned in a solid season for a 22-year-old rookie.
Napoli's batting average crashed back to earth after he posted a career-best .320 mark in 2011, but the biggest drawback here is his health, after the Red Sox’ physical revealed avascular necrosis of both hips. McCann joins Napoli in the health-question-mark department, as he’s recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Two-star Value Pick: Avila flopped hard after a breakout 2011 season, and his average draft position suggests that drafters aren't banking on a bounce-back campaign. He probably won't repeat his 2011 season, but there are more similarities between 2011 and 2012 than many people may realize. Avila's lin- drive rate of 21.2 percent in 2011 dropped less than a full percentage point last year to 20.6 percent. He also saw his miniscule 3.5 percent pop-out percentage from 2011 drop to 1.1 percent. Pairing a high volume of line drives with a lack of popups should yield an average far better than the .243 mark he posted last year. Avila’s drop in homers from 2011 to 2012 can be explained by drop in fly-ball percentage and an increase in the number of worm burners he hit last season. If he can get back to lofting the ball more frequently, he should return to the upper teens in homers this year.
D'Arnaud is the sexy name in this group: He was top prospect the Blue Jays dealt to the Mets in return for R.A. Dickey, and he should get to the bigs shortly after the projected Super Two deadline. Even after his promotion, he'll likely serve in a timeshare behind the dish with John Buck, but d'Arnaud possesses the talent to put an end to that quickly and become the primary catcher. The sooner the better for fantasy owners.
PECOTA likes both Martin and Flowers more than I do. Martin turned 30 last month, and he left the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium for PNC Park. His home and road home-run splits in his two years with Yankees aren't as large as one might expect, but the ballpark move is unfavorable nonetheless. Martin hasn't reached double digits in stolen bases since 2009, and he's a batting average drag.
Flowers can hit the ball a long way, but strikeouts are a huge problem for him. In 317 major-league plate appearances, he has struck out 33.8 percent of the time. His minor-league history doesn't offer much reason to expect improvement in that department, either: In 801 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he was retired by strikeout 29.6 percent of the time. That's a lot of strikeouts, and the ball isn't going to leave the yard if he's not putting wood on it.One-Star Value Pick: Castillo has had his own strikeout issues in the bigs, but unlike Flowers, his upper-minors history does suggest that he can rein in the whiffs. His power is appealing, and while his batting average won't be an asset, it may not be as bad as the ones posted by some of the other power sources at position. Castillo is currently projected to receive 60 percent of the playing time at catcher for the Cubs, and he'll have a chance to earn more than that on a rebuilding squad.