The staff identifies possible value plays at this position for the coming season.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Maybe all those years of the Cincinnati front office and local media riding him for walking too much has seeped into the general fantasy-playing population at large after all, because Votto continues to be an underrated mixed-league target at the top of his position. In 2015, granted at 31 and coming off an injury season, he was taken 71st overall on average – around 12th among first basemen depending on who you count out of the position-eligible pool. He produced $30 in standard mixed-league value, good for the second-best return at the position. Last year he went off the board seventh among first basemen, 36th overall on average; he earned $29 mixed-league dollars, again the second-most of any first baseman. We’ve got him ranked second at the position this season in acknowledgement of recent evidence, and yet… he’s currently going off the board sixth among first basemen, around the 28th overall pick. Huh?
At 33 there are certainly age-related concerns to be peddled, particularly given the history with his legs. But he was thoroughly destructive in the second half last season, the ballpark remains a perfect fit for his batted ball distribution, and he managed a tick under 200 R+RBI last year in spite of a bottom-third supporting cast. And while his value increases exponentially in OBP leagues, he’s a career .313 hitter (.320 over the last two seasons). A whopping six first basemen managed to crack .290 last year, so the advantage of a locked-in asset in AVG shouldn’t be understated, either. At 28 overall, Votto has the look of an absolutely lethal snake-draft target for the turn in 14- to 16-team redrafts, or a lethal second pick for anyone stuck navigating the late first-round muddle in a straight draft. —Wilson Karaman
A look at where the first-sackers have been selected in the first batch of drafts this year.
Welcome to first base week, where we’ll have everything you need to know about the position over the next five days. In this space, you can find the second edition of this year’s average ADP analysis series. As I explained in last week’s catcher edition, these ADP numbers come from the NFBC data, and the average round is assuming a 15-team league. Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
Why the multitude of first-base options can result in suboptimal decisions, and how to avoid falling into the trap.
Good Monday and, more importantly, good Martin Luther King Day to everyone.
Unrelatedly, we go from the catcher position, the least productive offensive position (likely a result of all the ways catchers can impact the game defensively), to first base, one of the most productive offensive positions, likely a result of the limits on the way a first baseman can impact the game defensively. Talk about pointing out contrast because I didn’t know how to get rolling on this article.
A look at the menu of backstop options in the senior circuit.
The top end of the NL-only catcher pool wasn’t nearly as thin as the top end of the AL-only catcher pool going into the 2016 season. As my colleague Mike Gianella noted in his AL-Only Landscape for catchers, in the AL, the most expensive catchers heading into Opening Day were Brian McCann and Salvador Perez at $16. In the NL, four catchers went for the same or more: Buster Posey at $29, Kyle Schwarber at $25, Jonathan Lucroy at $19 and Travis d’Arnaud at $16. Unlike the AL, owners concerned about positional scarcity had multiple legitimate options for spending their auction dollars.
You might want to someone else draft or buy these players in your leagues this spring.
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Molina was panned in this space last year, and the market was down on him. We were out to lunch. In 15-team mixed leagues, Molina finished 108th overall per the PFM, beating his NFBC ADP of 258 by a fair amount. But last year isn’t this year, and many of the concerns that dogged Molina in 2016 carry over into this season. Much of Molina’s value is predicated on his batting average. While Molina certainly does have a history of .300+ seasons, 2016 was his first campaign over .300 since 2013. He hasn’t stolen more than three bases since 2012 and more importantly hasn’t had more than eight home runs since 2013. Batting average tends to fluctuate, and betting on another .300+ season from an older, slow-footed catcher is suboptimal.
Is the future Oriole or the future Indian a better long-term bet to help your fantasy team in the squat?
We’ve mercifully reached the end of catchers week, during which the staff covered fantasy’s worst position from every angle. Most of our dynasty coverage rolled out yesterday and I’m here to close it out with Round 4 in our Tale of the Tape series. This one tackles the 17th and 22nd best options—fourth and fifth among prospects—according to Bret’s dynasty catcher rankings. As those ranks imply, there’s not much gap between Mejia and Sisco. Let’s see if we can find some separation.
Which of these Buckeye State backstops is a better long-term bet for fantasy owners?
The year was 2014. Taylor Swift was running wild on the Billboard charts, Transformers was inexplicably tops at the box-office, and the state of Ohio boasted two of the best young catchers in baseball. Devin Mesoraco was being compared to Johnny Bench after blasting 25 bombs and slashing .273/.359/.534 in 440 plate appearances. His cross-state counterpart, Yan Gomes, broke out as well, smacking 21 homers with a .785 OPS and stellar defense. Then just as quickly as the hype train got started, the wheels came off, pretty much literally.
Injuries, regression, or some combination of both have ravaged the promise that Mesoraco and Gomes carried only two short years ago. That said, both players offer interesting bounce-back potential that could present decent value, especially in dynasty leagues. Let the Battle for Ohio (or at least for catchers in their late 20’s that are both coming off injury riddled seasons) begin!
Scraping the bottom of the sea for future value behind the plate.
As I noted in kicking off this series last year, it can get lonely down here in the depths. So thanks for braving the elements and joining me way down deep, below where even the 50th-most-appealing dynasty league catching option creeps.
A look at the menu of backstop options in the junior circuit.
In any two-catcher format, catcher is a challenging position to fill. This is particularly true in mono leagues, where nearly every team must carry at least one backup and some teams fill both slots with a reserve. Entering 2016, only seven AL catchers were assigned a bid of $10 or more in my final AL-only bid limit update, with the top catchers – Brian McCann and Salvador Perez – sporting a modest bid limit of $16. Where in previous years AL-only fantasy managers pushed the envelope and spent on position scarcity, last year the expert market recognized that pushing too far past the earnings ceiling was foolhardy. However, two new additions – Jonathan Lucroy from the National League and Gary Sanchez in his first full season – may provide new life to the catching pool in the AL, once again offering the opportunity to spend aggressively. Evan Gattis regaining catcher eligibility also adds to the fun.
How bare was the cupboard entering 2016? You have to go back to 2013 to find an AL catcher who had earned $20 or more (Victor Martinez). Including Martinez, 17 catchers earned $15 or more; however, nearly 50 percent of these $15+ seasons occurred in 2014. The shift in earnings has less to do with a lack of production and more to do with the changing earnings dynamic. Eleven AL catchers hit 10 or more home runs in 2016, a miniscule drop from 13 catchers in 2015 and 12 in 2014. With the value of a home run in the AL dropping from 27 cents per home run in 2014 down to 20 cents in 2016, a position that relies mostly on power to produce value was bound to lose ground. The expert market was more aggressive than my bid limits, but not by much. McCann cost $18 while Perez cost $16. The 10 most expensive AL catchers cost $12 on average. The days of spending for position scarcity behind the dish might be over.
A weak position gets weaker, and a bleak outlook gets bleaker.
We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about catchers for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5x5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats. And if this list doesn't go deep enough for you (god bless your soul), Wilson Karaman has you covered with his Ocean's Floor column as well. We leave no stone unturned here.