keyboard_arrow_uptop

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.

We retained last year's roster requirements for the positional tier series. Dollar values come from last year’s PFM using a 12-team, standard 5×5 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.

Five Star

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Buster Posey

SF

$27.89

$26.15

623

74

19

95

2

.318

Based on the raw stats, a case could be made that Posey isn’t a five-star player. He won’t steal more than 2-3 bases, and while the power is very good, it isn’t elite. However, Posey is a model of consistency at a position where players fluctuate or flame out with regularity. He provides a great deal in batting average—the most underrated category in standard 5×5—and has averaged 608 plate appearances per season since 2012.

Five-Star Value Pick: Buster Posey
His ADP is too high to make Posey a value pick, but he is the only hitter in this tier, so he is the value pick by default.

Four Star

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Kyle Schwarber

CHC

$8.90

$10.36

273

52

16

43

3

.246

If there is any catcher who can surpass Posey, it is Schwarber, whose mammoth power creates visions of that fantasy white whale, the 30-homer catcher (Mike Napoli in 2011 was the last backstop to do it, in case you’re wondering). Whether Schwarber can catapult to five-star status will hinge entirely upon his batting average, which dropped every month in the majors as pitchers adjusted to his approach. A 25-30 home-run season will play in any format, but if is attached to a .220-.230 batting average, it won’t be worth a premium draft pick.

Four-Star Value Pick: Kyle Schwarber
Schwarber’s ADP makes him anything but a value pick, but since there are no other catchers in this tier, I have no choice but to make him the value pick.

Three Star

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Brian McCann

NYY

$19.75

$18.41

535

68

26

94

0

.232

Salvador Perez

KC

$15.24

$15.57

553

52

21

70

1

.260

Russell Martin

TOR

$19.97

$18.98

507

76

23

77

4

.240

Jonathan Lucroy

MIL

$7.83

$8.87

415

51

7

43

1

.264

Travis d’Arnaud

NYM

$4.88

$6.79

268

31

12

41

0

.268

There is a good deal of power potential in this tier, but nearly all of it is tied to batting averages that are mediocre or worse. McCann managed to deliver on the 25-30 home-run power many thought would be a fait accompli at Yankee Stadium, but it came with an absolutely putrid batting average. Perez could arguably be ranked higher, but the concern is that all of the wear and tear behind the plate is ultimately going to take its toll.

Lucroy gets knocked down a tier after a subpar 2015. Some of this was due to injury, but even on an at bat by at bat basis, his performance was not nearly as good as it was in 2014. The batting average can and should bounce back, but with so much of his production tied to one category, it is difficult to move Lucroy up until he does it again on the field. At his best, Lucroy is an MVP-caliber catcher, but that is in part because of his defense and framing skills.

Three-Star Value Pick: Travis D’Arnaud
His injury history makes d’Arnaud a high risk/high reward pick, but there is no doubting the potential or the ceiling. d’Arnaud’s 12/41/.268 across 268 plate appearances was fairly close to Schwarber’s 16/43/.246 in 273 plate appearances. d’Arnaud doesn’t nearly have the same fantasy ceiling as Schwarber, but he is being drafted 120 slots later in NFBC drafts. It is possible that Kevin Plawecki takes some playing time from d’Arnaud, but even 110-120 games of D’Arnaud can provide a healthy amount of value.

Two Star

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Nick Hundley

COL

$10.28

$11.96

389

45

10

43

5

.301

Stephen Vogt

OAK

$14.62

$14.49

511

58

18

71

0

.261

Wilson Ramos

WAS

$9.03

$11.03

504

41

15

68

0

.230

Blake Swihart

BOS

$6.30

$7.19

309

47

5

31

4

.274

Yan Gomes

CLE

$5.56

$6.39

389

38

12

45

0

.231

Miguel Montero

CHC

$7.78

$9.61

403

36

15

53

1

.248

Derek Norris

SD

$14.68

$15.48

557

65

14

62

4

.251

Yasmani Grandal

LAD

$7.48

$9.07

426

43

16

47

0

.234

Welington Castillo

ARI

$8.90

$10.85

378

42

19

57

0

.237

Matt Wieters

BAL

$0.83

$3.20

282

24

8

25

0

.267

Devin Mesoraco

CIN

$-10.81

-$3.17

51

2

0

2

1

.178

J.T. Realmuto

MIA

$10.70

$12.46

467

49

10

47

8

.259

Francisco Cervelli

PIT

$10.60

$11.68

510

56

7

43

1

.295

While the catchers at the top of the heap look thinner this year, there are far more options in the $10-15 price range than there were in 2015. Where in the past a significant number of teams had job sharing arrangements or defense-first backstops, there were more options last year who provided 15+ home runs, 50+ RBI, or both. The depth in this tier makes the possibility of snagging two quality catchers in two-catcher formats much better than it was in years past.

The two-star tier offers a healthy amount of stability and risk. If your team is already filled with rookies and upside plays, grabbing a steady performer like Vogt, Montero, or Norris is the play. On the other hand, if your team is boring at the top, making a play for a Swihart or a Realmuto could make more sense. Note that Realmuto and Hundley offer a rare opportunity for a handful of steals from your catcher.

Two-Star Value Pick: Wilson Ramos
After years of fantasy players wondering what Ramos could do if he stayed healthy for a full season, he had an underwhelming campaign in the first 500 plate appearance season of his career. Ramos isn’t likely to be the 25-30 home-run monster some believed he could be, but a moderate bounce back in batting average could push him to an 18-20 home-run season and propel him into the three-star tier.

One Star

Player

Team

Mixed $

AL/NL $

PA

R

HR

RBI

SB

AVG

Yadier Molina

STL

$8.33

$10.19

530

34

4

61

3

.271

Jason Castro

HOU

$2.53

$4.10

375

38

11

31

0

.211

Robinson Chirinos

TEX

$2.57

$4.05

273

33

10

34

0

.232

J.R. Murphy

MIN

$-3.22

$0.82

172

21

3

14

0

.277

Chris Iannetta

SEA

$0.04

$2.55

317

28

10

34

0

.188

Cameron Rupp

PHI

$0.20

$3.49

299

24

9

28

0

.233

Curt Casali

TB

$-3.28

$0.93

113

13

10

18

0

.238

A.J. Pierzynski

ATL

$8.67

$10.41

436

38

9

49

0

.300

Carlos Perez

LAA

$-1.44

$2.16

283

20

4

21

2

.250

Dioner Navarro

CHW

$-3.23

$0.89

192

17

5

20

0

.246

The drop from the two-star tier to the one-star tier seems precipitous. Here is where you will find job sharing arrangements and playing time uncertainties. If you are looking for plate appearances, Molina and Pierzynski are the plays at the bottom of the two-catcher, mixed league barrel. Fantasy managers often prefer to gamble on upside plays, but catcher is the one position where taking big risks and missing out on 20-30 runs and/or RBI isn’t the best idea.

Six of the 10 catchers in this tier did hit nine or more home runs in 2015, and nearly every backstop in the one-star tier is anticipated to see a spike in playing time. However, not only is there volatility in this tier but most of that volatility is negative. If Rupp slips even a little bit in 2016, Carlos Ruiz will be there to take a good chunk of playing time. Robinson Chirinos looks tempting, but his career speaks more to a journeyman who had a performance spike than it does to sustainable growth.

Murphy could be the catcher to break out of this group and shine in a starting role if he can maintain the batting average. Curt Casali’s HR:AB ratio is tantalizing, but there is no history of prodigious power in the minors and it is more likely that 2015 was serendipitous and not prophetic.

One-Star Value Pick: Chris Iannetta
Iannetta has been overpriced in fantasy for years, but last year was so bad that his price should finally fall in line with what he should be paid this year and if there is any bounce back in him at all he will be a bargain. A .225 BABIP is well out of line with Iannetta’s career norms, and even a jump to a .230 batting average would boost Iannetta to a value play given his power potential.