Friends, Romans, countrymen… welcome to The Adjuster. As a longtime proponent of OBP-league play, it brings me great joy to debut this column as a way to hopefully offer some helpful guidance for others who play in non-standard formats. Each week we’ll be running an Adjuster article as a subsidiary to our positional rankings, and I’ll use the opportunity to highlight players who see their values rise or fall relative to our tiered rankings. For hitters the plan is to focus on value adjustments in OBP and points formats, though this being a new series suggestions are welcome in the comments, and if enough of a consensus forms to include additional formats we can adjust (Eh? Eh?) as we go. If you got yourself cut up in a monkey knife fight or something yesterday and missed the debut of our tiered ranking for catchers, I’d strongly recommend checking it out here before you continue on with this piece. Otherwise, let’s go ahead and get our feet wet, shall we?
Something right off the bat that I found interesting in doing the background research for this series was the relatively poor showing of catcher valuation in OBP leagues. Their collective efforts ranked last among position players in OBP-AVG differential last year, driven almost entirely by a group batting average a full six points lower than any other position. Their 7.7 percent walk rate tied with outfielders for the second-best rate among the six positional groupings, but the net effect of that strong rate was diminished by the lower average. In other words, while catchers do tend to exhibit decent batting eyes, the OBP gains they derive from better approaches are mitigated by poorer on-base performance. Despite the overall trend, however, there are still plenty of individual catchers who see their value wander significantly in these formats. Here are some of the more notable risers and fallers for formats that reward on-base ability.
Russell Martin, TOR
As Mike noted in pegging Martin as his three-star value play, the move to considerably improved park and lineup contexts already provides a sizeable boost to Martin’s projections, and that spike is all the more dramatic in OBP leagues. Martin boasts a career walk rate of 11.6 percent, and he’s honed an impressive ability to lean into pitches in recent years. It all adds up to an OBP split that’s been at least a hundred points better than his batting average for three straight seasons, and he’s a borderline top-five catcher in OBP drafts.
Standard: Three Stars, OBP: High-Three Stars
Yasmani Grandal, LAD
The trade that sent Grandal to the Dodgers has cast some unwelcome light on a player whose second-half breakout last summer may just have stayed under the radar had he remained in San Diego. Grandal is likely to be a trendy sleeper target in standard drafts next year, and he should be even more popular in OBP leagues. He’s compiled a 13.8 percent walk rate through his first 777 career plate appearances in the majors, and his .350 on-base percentage ranks ninth among all catchers with that many trips to the dish since 2012. Grandal’s just now starting to peek over the table at his prime years and has a relatively open road to seizing a strong majority of playing time for the Doyers if he does what he’s capable of doing. He can be targeted aggressively as a borderline top-ten upside play in mixed OBP leagues. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Low-Three Stars
Derek Norris, SDP
Norris’ fade last year took some of the shine off an outstanding first half, and there were some discouraging developments in his approach—particularly against right-handed pitching—that helped fuel the post-break decline. Still, Norris made solid overall strides in refining his offensive game. He posted a second consecutive season with a walk rate in the 12% range, and his .361 OBP checked in eighth among catchers. With an upgrade in projected playing time he should sneak comfortably into the mix for 12-team drafts.
Standard: Low-Two Stars, OBP: High-Two Stars
Chris Iannetta, LAA
Iannetta falls squarely into the tier of boring standard league end-game options as a guy who may or may not hit double-digit homers with a mediocre average if he gets enough playing time. But in OBP leagues he sees perhaps the biggest value surge of anybody. His 14.2 percent career walk rate is elite, and it has helped drive a .357 OBP that last year crept up to .373 with the help of a little BABIP luck. The stability of his on-base skillset makes him a tantalizing option for AL-only leagues and a sneaky lower-end target in 14-team mixed OBP leagues—particularly with only Drew Butera now behind him on the Orange County depth chart.
Standard: Low-One Star, OBP: High-Two Stars
Miguel Montero, CHC
After a second straight underwhelming performance, Montero’s likely to take a significant tumble down most offseason ranking lists (he certainly did on ours). The veteran version of Montero hits more groundballs, and that evolution has dramatically limited the plodding catcher’s AVG ceiling. Yet he remains a perfectly viable option for OBP leaguers on the strength of double-digit walk rates in each of the past three seasons. While he’ll be one of the less sexy names on draft day it shouldn’t deter OBP managers in 16-team leagues from investing in him as one of the final starting backstops off the board.
Standard: High-One Star, OBP: Two Stars
Evan Gattis, ATL
While Gattis did dial back his chasing ways to more respectable levels in 2014 his 5.5 percent walk rate still ranked just 24th among catchers with 300 plate appearances—a sizable drop from his 13th-best batting average. And inside the batting average production there were plenty of warning signs about just how sustainable last year’s .263 mark may be going forward. HIS .298 BABIP wasn’t outrageous, but that above-average mark was not supported by an extreme fly-ball profile and poor speed score. The power potential and everyday playing time out from behind the dish still combines to make him a very strong target. But there’s additional pressure on his hit tool to produce a decent batting average and carry a bulk of the on-base load, and that means inherently more risk for a guy with Gattis’ skillset.
Standard: Low-Four Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Yan Gomes, CLE
As with Gattis, the downgrade isn’t enormous here on account of the power potential, but it is still noteworthy. Pretty much all of the topline numbers went in the right direction last year for Gomes, and he posted an excellent season that should lead to him knocking on the door of the top five in standard leagues. One number that didn’t improve, however, was Gomes’ already-suspect chase rate. He drew walks in just 4.6 percent of his plate appearances, a rate that ranked fourth worst among catchers who made it to 300 plate appearances. His OBP correspondingly checked in 19th versus an average that was sixth-best. His ISO should flirt with .200, and that keeps him in the Three-Star tier. But he’s not nearly as comfortable a fit there in OBP leagues.
Standard: High-Three Stars, OBP: Low-Three Stars
Salvador Perez, KCR
Perhaps no catcher sees more of a drop in OBP formats than Perez. His 3.6 percent walk rate in over 600 plate appearances last year led to an OBP a mere 29 points higher than his batting average, and he ranked an ugly 27th among catchers at getting on base. The ultra-aggressive approach torpedoes a huge chunk of his value and makes him highly dependent upon BABIP help—something he didn’t get last year—to post top-tier production. His durability makes him a strong bet to compile high-end counting stat totals, but an average-at-best OBP projection turns a draft-able strength in batting average into a liability in OBP formats.
Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Two Stars
Wilin Rosario, COL
It’s tough enough to figure out what to do with Rosario in standard leagues, and the task is that much harder for managers in OBP leagues. His ground-ball rate skyrocketed last season while his ISO continued to plummet, and the lack of pop killed his value pretty much across the board regardless of your format. There is unfortunately an even steeper hill for him to climb in reestablishing his worth in OBP-based formats: while Rosario’s .277 batting average over the past three seasons ranks seventh among catchers, his .311 on-base percentage during that stretch is good for just 23rd. He made some progress in laying off balls out of the zone and swinging through less pitches last year, but he still produced a sub-6.0-percent walk rate. The potential for a power rebound, particularly in Colorado, certainly keeps him relevant. But the risk in betting on a return to form in OBP leagues is that much greater.
Standard: Low-Three Stars, OBP: Two Stars
Wilson Ramos, WAS
It pains me to knock down a rare namesake, but the version of Ramos that has reappeared between injuries over the past two seasons has exhibited much less patience than his younger self. When healthy Ramos has been a decent option in standard formats, with a combination of solid batting average potential and good pop. In OBP formats managers will have to gamble on more than just his health, however, as his 4.7 percent walk rate rated just 27th among catchers last season.
Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: High-One Star
In addition to lacking a collective bump in OBP leagues, catchers also strike out a lot: their collective 21.2 percent whiff rate ranked narrowly second to the first basemen among all positional groupings. It turns out they’re also pretty slow, and they don’t hit a ton of doubles or triples. The low bar on both counts makes the combination of a low whiff rate and extra base hit power that much more valuable for catchers, however, and there are several interesting names towards the high end of the spectrum who should see a welcome bump in points league valuation as a result.
Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
While the home-run power didn't take the leap forward many hoped it would Lucroy morphed into a doubles machine last season, leading the Majors in two-baggers and hitting a staggering 19 more than Kurt Suzuki's runner-up total among backstops. He also continued a remarkable four year run of reducing his strikeout rate, to where it now resides on the cusp of cracking single digits (and at roughly half the rate he posted in 2011). Already a four-star option for standard leagues, he jumps up and challenges Buster Posey to be the first catcher off the board in points formats.
Standard: Four Stars, Points: High-Four Stars
Yadier Molina, STL
One of the biggest factors that will push Molina’s likely lighter ADP this draft season will be injury-based concern that his average and home-run power won’t fully rebound. But at least some of that risk should be mitigated in points formats, where his contact rates remain elite and his doubles power should help him hang onto a decent chunk of whatever value he’ll lose in standard leagues if the homers do not return. There’s still some risk here given Molina’s advancing age, but he should still be treated as a borderline top-five option for points leaguers.
Standard: High-Three Stars, Points: Low-Four Stars
Salvador Perez, KCR
Where Perez loses a bunch of value in OBP formats he gains a bit in points leagues that don’t reward walks. He’s posted seasons of 28 and 30 doubles-plus-triples in the last two years, finishing third in total bases last year. And while his whiff rate jumped a bit last year to 14 percent, that number was still the seventh best mark among catchers. His aforementioned durability is a big plus here, as he offers well above-average opportunity for counting stat accumulation. It’s enough to bump him into the running for top-five status in most points formats.
Standard: Low-Three Stars, Points: Low-Four Stars
Travis d’Arnaud, NYM
d’Arnaud finished the 2014 season very strong, and his offensive skillset is a highly intriguing one for a points league breakout. On a per-at-bat basis he was a top ten catcher last year at generating extra basehits, and his 15.2 percent whiff rate snuck into the top 12. He’s sure to be a popular target this spring, and he’ll be particularly deserving of the attention in points formats.
Standard: High-Two Stars, Points: Three Stars
Kurt Suzuki, MIN
A virtual non-factor in most standard formats, Suzuki actually makes for a surprisingly interesting option in AL-only and two-catcher mixed points leagues. His 34 doubles last year were the second-most by a catcher, and his single-digit whiff rate led all backstops. The disappearance of virtually all of his homerun power is certainly a concern, and last year’s batting average spike required help from a BABIP 35 points above his career mark. Add in legitimate playing time concerns with Josmil Pinto nipping at his heels, and it’s not like we’re talking about a guy who should be starting in 12-team mixed leagues. But the latter day version of Kurt Suzuki offers sly value for AL-only and deeper mixed points leagues, and he shouldn’t go entirely ignored on draft day in those formats.
Standard: Zero Stars, High-One Star
Yasmani Grandal, LAD
Grandal was pressed into the most duty he’s seen thus far in his burgeoning career, and the flaws in his approach were exposed a bit as the season progressed. His contact rate plummeted as the book circulated and he saw an exponential increase in breaking pitches. His 26 percent whiff rate was the sixth-worst among all backstops, and his 20 doubles-plus-triples in 443 plate appearances was a middle-of-the-road figure. Especially given some likely built-in inflation in his draft day price on account of the off-season trade, Grandal’s a less appealing target to return full investment in most points leagues.
Standard: Two Stars, Points: High-One Star
Russell Martin, TOR
Where Martin gains a bit more juice in OBP leagues, he’s slightly less attractive in points formats where the combination of an above-average strikeout rate and below-average extra base hit production dents his value a bit. Martin had an interesting year in terms of contact rate last season, as he managed to lop almost four points off his strikeout rate despite swinging and missing roughly the same amount and chasing out of the zone slightly more often. The trend was driven at least in part by a fortuitous drop in the number of first-pitch strikes he saw, and the more frequent hitting counts in turn helped inflate his in-zone contact rate. It’s not necessarily a stable model for sustaining progress, so a few extra whiffs should probably be factored in. Coupled with a plummeting speed score that will likely continue to limit his doubles production, there are some warning signs for points leaguers—especially given a likely bloated price on draft day on the heels of his move to Toronto.
Standard: Three Stars, Points: High-Two Stars
Mike Zunino, SEA
There are certain stat lines that are just uncomfortable to look at, and Zunino’s 2014 effort certainly ranks right up there. He struck out more than nine times for every walk he drew en route to a batting average below the Mendoza Line that killed his value despite 22 home runs. He’s so young, and the minor league track record so limited, that it’s tough to draw definitive conclusions about just how bad his contact issues are likely to be going forward. But with an O-Swing rate that flirted with 40 percent and a swing-and-miss rate approaching 18 percent, there appears to be an awfully long road to viability in formats that punish strikeouts. While he’s still a strong long-term play, let someone else pay for the upside in points formats this year.
Standard: High-One Star, Points: Low-One Star
Tyler Flowers, CHW
Flowers’ monster second half in 2014 probably pushed him into the range of end-game sleeper options for standard two-catcher leagues. But his extreme contact issues leave him pretty well unusable even as a flyer in points formats. His 36 percent strikeout rate last season was the worst among all catchers by almost three full percentage points, and his 17 doubles-plus-triples in 127 games didn’t do anything at all to offset any of that damage. Despite his plus power showing signs of playing in-game last season he didn’t inspire much confidence that progress was forthcoming in addressing the swing-and-miss. Until he shows any sustained signs of growth he’s not a viable option in leagues with strikeout penalties.
Standard: Low-One Star, Points: Zero Stars