Reranking the backstops based on early-season performances, injuries, and the like.
Welcome, to Baseball Prospectus’ first (or at least first time in a long time) in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did during the preseason, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking.
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Mining for values in a position group where value can be hard to find.
With the possible exception of closers, there isn’t a position in fantasy baseball that is associated with a greater amount of dread than catcher. This is particularly true in -only leagues, where there are 24 catching slots to fill and only 15 starters to choose from. If this isn’t bad enough, this isn’t like other positions on the diamond where you can at least pick up a few steals or a smattering of home runs from more than a few backups. If you do get stuck with a defensive cipher, it is possible that you will get zero offensive production from the position for the entire year.
Fantasy managers often lament the decrepitude of a position incorrectly, relying on faulty memory and anecdotal evidence. But last year it turns out that their whining was not misplaced; the position was bad.
You might want to let someone else draft or buy these players in your leagues this spring.
Nick Hundley, Rockies
How does a catcher entering his age-31 season move from 37th among catchers in 2014 to seventh at the position in 2015, despite only receiving 156 more plate appearances? Signing a free agent deal to play half of your games in Coors Field is a good place to start. Hitting 10 home runs and stealing five bases made Hundley quite valuable in 2015, no question about it, but I have serious doubts about what, if anything, he’ll be able to replicate in 2016. Hundley’s 10 taters were the second most of his eight-year career, despite a four percentage point drop in his hard-contact percentage and a drop of over five percentage points in his flyball rate. Hundley’s five steals were more than he swiped in the five seasons prior combined, and his .807 OPS was the first time that he registered an OPS of above .700 since 2011. His career-high .301 AVG in 2015 was a 58-point improvement over 2014, a number likely buoyed by his .356 BABIP.
Like countless examples of Rockies hitters past and present, Hundley hit much, much better at home (.355/.393/563) compared away from Coors (.237/.275/.355), and 2016 is the last season that the Rockies have Hundley under contract. Prospect Tom Murphy hit 23 home runs between the high-minors and majors last season and appears ready for an extended run of regular at-bats, which could earn Hundley a ticket out of town before the trade deadline, putting into question not only how many plate appearances that Hundley will receive above the 389 that he received in 2015, but how many of those will actually come at Coors. Hundley is currently being drafted in the roughly the same spot as Derek Norris, and just behind Yasmani Grandal, which is pure insanity to me. —J.J. Jansons
The Outcomes return to run down the catcher crop for Scoresheet leagues.
We are delighted to return for a third season of Scoresheet Baseball-specific coverage on Baseball Prospectus, just in time for BP’s catcher week. If you haven’t played Scoresheet before, it’s a baseball simulation engine (similar to Strat-o-Matic, or Diamond Mind for the computer savvy), using real in-season results to give you that rush of watching your fantasy baseball team succeed or fail during the season. If you’re interested in starting a team, we would be happy to talk to anyone who wants to figure out how to jump on board either through email or in the comments section below, and we’re sure other longtime players will jump in as well.
If the top 50 aren't enough to satisfy your tastes, Wilson has you covered.
So here we are… it’s just you and me… no, really, it may just be you and me. If you play in a dynasty league deep enough that you’re looking out for catchers outside the top 50 for the position, kudos to you for your awesome life choices. It’s hard enough to cobble together a top 15 or 20 dynasty list for the backstops these days, and Bret already went well above and beyond this morning by ranking 50. But once you get beyond that you’re really trolling the mines. It gets lonely down here, so thanks for coming.
Each week we’ll be running this as a complementary piece to our positional dynasty rankings, with a nod towards those of you in the Jacques Cousteau-deep leagues of the world with no player-eligibility requirements and those in a perpetual state of searching for the next big thing.
Stacking up the future fantasy contributors at the position.
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.
The Padres backstop has his warts, but he can be a useful fantasy asset if properly deployed.
The fact that Derek Norris simultaneously outperformed fantasy expectations and disappointed owners says a lot about the catcher position in 2015. He ranked as the eighth-best catcher in ESPN leagues, yet only hit .250/.305/.404 with 14 homers on a sub-par Padres club. His infamous walk rate (at least amongst saber-minded baseball fans) crashed to a mere 6.3 percent, the worst mark of his career, at any level, by over two percentage points.
The catcher position is seldom atop one's list of strategic bullet points, so flexible assumptions are key.
Catchers have the lowest positional number (2) of any non-pitchers and this makes catcher the obvious position to kick off the positional series. The odd part, for me at least, is that it is rare that anyone begins their offseason, draft, or auction planning by deciding what to do at catcher. It just does not start like that. In keeper leagues, we take a look at our weaknesses or take a look at the competitive landscape to decide if we are going for it, rebuilding, or something in between. Prior to drafts and auctions, we focus on what we are going to do first. We try to answer questions such as who is going to fall to us in round one and two, what hitter-pitcher mix do we want in the first five rounds, what players (and how many) should we bid over $30 on? What we tend not to do is decide our plan at catcher (especially in two-catcher leagues), or relief pitcher, or reserves for that matter. This is not a knock on our process (we have to start somewhere); rather, this is pointing out that the catcher position is not a highlighted bullet point on our strategic agenda because catcher is generally one of the least productive positions in fantasy baseball.
As a result, the catcher strategies we employ (if any) tend to be what we are going to call sub-strategies—strategies that compliment or fit with our larger overall strategy or primary strategies. Like any process or strategy or choice we employ, sub-strategies lend themselves to certain decision making errors. We will take a look at each of these and attempt to improve our process when setting these sub-strategies.
An in-depth look at the senior-circuit backstop menu.
As we did last year, we will begin the 2016 installment of this preseason series by looking at the senior circuit’s backstops, hoping to provide insight at the position from a fantasy perspective for those who participate in standard NL-only 4x4 and 5x5 scoring formats. Looking back, when we were preparing for upcoming drafts last year, the NL-only catching pool looked very deep, and the position scarcity we had seen in previous years was no longer driving up the bids for the upper-tier NL catchers. We began to see these top-tier backstops go for prices closer to market level, and that held true to form throughout last year’s drafts. Looking ahead to this year, there is much more uncertainly regarding the upper-tier in the NL catching realm, as injuries, underperformance, and position battles raise some doubt about the members of this group.
Heading into 2015, the previous three years had produced multiple productive catcher options for NL-only fantasy owners to choose from. During those three seasons there had been 12 $20 fantasy-earning seasons posted by NL catchers in NL-only leagues, and six more $15 seasons. In 2014 alone, 12 of the 15 regular NL catchers cracked double digits in home runs, and 10 surpassed $10 in total fantasy earnings. As such, with the minimal relative drop-off in value between the elite catchers to the next 10 NL options, in 2015 drafts there were only two catchers with an average salary of $20 or more (derived from the prices in CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars, as prepared by Mike Gianella): Buster Posey ($27) and Jonathan Lucroy ($20). The next eight NL-only catchers in terms of salary went for an average salary of $14, further illustrating the depth at the position.