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.
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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.
Keeping tabs on the future fantasy contributors in the squat, both for 2016 and beyond.
The list of attractive catcher prospects for dynasty leaguers right now is much like this introduction; short, unsatisfying, and unlikely to improve in the near term. That’s what happens when guys like Kyle Schwarber, Blake Swihart, and Kevin Plawecki all graduate from the minors’ shallowest position.
Breaking down this year's backstop group into fantasy-value-based bins.
Today, we kick off our positional tier rankings. For the fifth year in a row, we have made this into a collaborative effort. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating.
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they will fetch mixed-league auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are 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. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year’s values but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen in 2016.
Tweaking our backstop valuations to account for value differences in OBP and points formats.
As a longtime proponent of OBP leagues, I was proud to debut this column last year as a way to look at how our 5x5 rankings can migrate—sometimes spectacularly—one way or another depending on the kind of non-standard format you may happen to play in. You can take a look at the archives from last season to get a handle on things, but the basic gist is that we’ll be running an Adjuster article each week as a subsidiary to our positional rankings as a space to specifically highlight players who see their values rise or fall relative to our tiered rankings. For hitters we’ll focus on value adjustments in OBP and points formats, though suggestions for additional formats are always welcome in the comments, and if enough of a consensus forms to include additional formats we can adjust (Eh? Eh?) as we go. In case you missed ‘em yesterday, here are our tiered rankings for catchers as unveiled yesterday. And with that, let’s get to it.
What Ivan Rodriguez really did do better than anybody ever did.
Much has been made of catcher framing, which can add or detract a dozen or more wins from a player’s career WARP. But this isn’t going to be a discussion about framing, or about how important it is to a player’s legacy and/or Hall of Fame candidacy. This is going to be a celebration of old school catcher evaluation. It’s going to be about the best all-time at the catch-and-throw. It’s going to be about the guy who was catching personified: Ivan Rodriguez.
Next offseason, Rodriguez will be eligible for the Hall of Fame, and much will be made of his ability, his reputation, and where he falls among all-time catchers. According to JAWS and the Hall of Stats, Rodriguez lands easily among the five best catchers of all time. It’s easy to see why. He was elected to 14 All Star games, won 13 Gold Gloves, has seven silver sluggers and an MVP award, and won a World Series ring.
Start the bandwagon: The next criminally underrated HOF candidate is today's criminally underrated superstar.
I might be a little biased, but I think that if there’s something that last week’s Hall of Fame results needed, it was more inductees named Russell. With Russell Branyan not eligible for election (and in legal trouble), things have been looking kinda bleak. But something else happened in last week’s results that gives me hope. Other than that guy who’s going in with a backwards cap, catcher Mike Piazza finally got his spot in the Hall of Fame.
A look at where the backstops are going in the first batch of 2016 fantasy drafts.
Welcome to “Catchella.” If you’re looking for the hologram of J.R. Towles, you came to right spot. Coincidentally, this also happens to be the first installment of our new fantasy series focused primarily on analyzing early average draft position (ADP) trends to determine what we can learn from them to help improve our draft-day strategy in 2016.
Our fantasy staff suggests eyeing these players to don the tools of ignorance for your squad this year.
Welcome back to the third annual Fantasy Target and Avoid series at Baseball Prospectus. Each week, members of our staff will pick either a player to target or a player to avoid in your fantasy leagues. These picks (and pans) are not meant to reflect our staff rankings but rather to give our readers the advantage of our staff’s joint expertise and a deeper look at 10 players at each position.
Welington Castillo hadn't broken through in Chicago and wasn't getting a clean shot this year; two stops later, he's broken out in the desert
Rejection comes in many forms: You can be replaced, ignored, or outright sent away. Welington Castillo has suffered through each in less than a calendar year, yet has somehow found a way to thrive.
Castillo started the offseason as the Cubs' no. 1 catcher, but it was clear to anyone who was paying attention that he wasn't part of the organization's plan going forward. After a failed run at free agent Russell Martin, the Cubs traded for Miguel Montero. Castillo still appeared to have a spot on the roster as Montero's right-handed platoon partner, but soon after the signing of Jon Lester, the Cubs also added David Ross and the writing was on the wall for Castillo's future as a North Sider.