As a longtime proponent of OBP leagues, I was proud to debut this column last year as a way to look at how our 5×5 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.
As will no doubt be discussed at great length this week, offensive performance by catchers last season was woeful across the board. For the second straight season of this column’s life, the group performed reasonably well in forcing their way on base via the walk. Their collective 7.8 percent walk rate effectively matched the league-wide rate of 7.7 percent, though they were interestingly much more stubborn about taking one for the team. Regardless, the relative gains were washed away by extremely poor batting average production. The position’s collective .238 average checked in a full nineteen points lower than any other positional grouping, and that drove an aggregate on-base percentage five points south of the second-worst group (shortstops). The spread of value fluctuation is correspondingly more limited with catches, particularly in the positive direction, but there are nonetheless a handful of guys worth mentioning on both sides of the ledger.
Kyle Schwarber, CHC – The biggest threat to knock Buster Posey off his perch in standard formats is even more of a menace in on-base leagues. As Mike noted in the tiers piece, Schwarber was not immune to the standard adjustments a rookie hitter faces in his first couple months, and he saw his batting average tumble as pitchers formulated more coherent plans of attack. The batting average risk is mitigated significantly in OBP leagues, however, as his 14.1 percent minor-league walk rate translated almost entirely intact to his big league effort. An OBP-AVG split that can legitimately threaten triple digits offsets enough of the hazards in Schwarber’s profile to make him a borderline five-star player—an extremely aggressive ranking given the lack of track record involved, but one that is contextually warranted.
Standard: Four Stars, OBP: Borderline Five Stars
Brian McCann, NYY – After falling into all kinds of bad habits when confronted for the first time with Yankee Stadium’s Little League dimensions in right, McCann righted the ship last year to produce a walk rate in line with his career number. His pull-side tendencies drifted into even more extreme territory last year, and his terrible BABIP—not to mention the low batting-average ceiling that goes with it—isn’t going anywhere. But that significant wart gets glossed over if he can replicate last year’s near-10 percent walk rate, and in covering his greatest liability it turned him into a $19 player in OBP formats.
Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Low-Four Stars
Yasmani Grandal, LAD – Despite a second-half swan dive that made managers employing his services search for the nearest fork to stick in their eye, Grandal produced the largest net surplus of value in OBP leagues relative to mixed formats—a full five extra bucks, which vaulted him into the top 10 among backstops. He still hasn’t managed to put together a full season of quality production, but if and when he does there’s potential for an absolute monster in OBP leagues.
Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Miguel Montero, CHC – Montero made some nice adjustments last season in getting the ball off the ground a bit more often, ripping an easy career high rate of line drives and bringing his BABIP back into line with his career norms. He’s incredibly slow however, and the 33-year-old-to-be faces an ugly batting average reality if anything in his profile slips next year. The danger is limited some in OBP formats by his stellar walk rate, however: 12.2 percent last year. With Schwarber in the mix he’s not likely to push much farther past the 400 plate appearances he registered last year, though again the counting stat context of what should be a stellar Cubs lineup should offset that a bit. His $13 OBP league production last year is wholly reasonable, and that pushed him up to the border of the next tier.
Standard: Two Stars, OBP: High-Two/Low-Three Stars
Others: Russell Martin is in a similar boat to Brian McCann, in that the lineup and park context give him a strong floor to pair with his strong walk rate at the bottom of the Four Star OBP tier… Francisco Cervelli is a little tricky to get a read on, as his career has featured starts and fits of playing time and different levels of exhibited patience. He’s tended to run high BABIPs, and last year’s 9 percent walk rate should be enough to bump him up a few slots in the Two Star OBP tier as a solid gamble…Chris Iannetta was terrible last year, but while he earned some of his BABIP misfortune by hitting so few line drives, even a modest regression towards career norms would be enough for his elite walk rate to make him a borderline Two Star option in OBP formats… John Jaso will receive strong-side platoon at-bats all year in Pittsburgh while playing first base exclusively, and makes for a nice One Star play in NL-onlies thanks to his .361 career OBP.
Salvador Perez, KCR – There are a number of familiar names in this section, and notorious hacker Sal Perez headlines the bunch. He managed to work a walk at a career low rate last season, pulling up the rear for all backstops with at least 200 plate appearances. And it cost him more than five bucks off his standard format value; he managed just $10 in earnings for OBP managers, dropping him to 14th among catchers. With over 2,000 big league plate appearances under his belt at this point, we’ve likely reached “he is who he is” status, and in OBP formats who he is just isn’t all that valuable a player.
Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Two Stars
Nick Hundley, COL – Hundley had himself a career year with the stick last season, and his residence at Coors Field continues through next season virtually guarantees he’ll gain some traction as a happy target this off-season. But in OBP leagues that warning lights should flash louder, as his walk rate over this past thousand or so plate appearances hovers at a well-below-average five and a half percent. You can still play the Rocky Mountains card as a flyer towards the end of your draft, but I wouldn’t pay Two Star prices in OBP formats given the additional risk to the profile.
Standard: High-Two Stars, OBP: Low-Two Stars
Wilson Ramos, WAS – Well, we finally got that long-coveted full year of Wilson Ramos at-bats, and it was… mmm, not all that great, actually. He returned just $9 of standard league value in spite of eclipsing 500 plate appearances, and he lost over 40% of that value in OBP formats. He struck out a bunch more, walked just as infrequently, and pounded the ball into the ground at a higher clip than any other backstop. The worm-burning ways are a BABIP death sentence for a guy as slow as Ramos; the low batting average ceiling coupled with an extremely aggressive approach that has shown no signs of softening make Ramos a poor investment on draft day for OBP leaguers.
Standard: High-Two Star, OBP: High-One Star
J.T. Realmuto, MIA – One of the few bright spots for the Marlins in 2015, Realmuto enters draft season poised to garner some well-deserved helium after showing an intriguing power-and-speed combination in his first full-ish season of plate appearances. Unfortunately, his okay batting average was undermined by a poor walk rate and sub-par on-base skills, to the tune of almost four bucks in lost earnings for OBP managers. There’s a caveat here: Realmuto’s minor league walk rate wasn’t half bad, and give the adjustments required to handle a big-league staff in Year One some growing pains at the dish were certainly to be expected. There is upside here to be sure, but it probably isn’t wise to invest more than One Star prices until we see what another year of his approach is going to look like at the highest level.
Standard: Low-Two Stars, OBP: High-One Star
Others: Yan Gomes missed a bunch of time with a nasty injury, but when he did take the field his approach was as poor as ever. He posted the second-worst walk rate among backstops, and he rates as a riskier Low-Two Star option in OBP formats… Mike raised valid questions about Blake Swihart’s playing time in the tiers piece, and he becomes an even dodgier proposition in OBP formats. He never showed a particularly robust walk rate in the minors, and his initial big league effort left much to be desired. He tumbles down the Two Star bucket, though lands ahead of Gomes… Not wanting to pile on, I left Yadier Molina out of the above write-ups, but his barely-six-percent walk rate over the past three years bumps him even farther down the One Star pile this year.
The lack of catcher offense last year resonates profoundly for those of you who play in points leagues. Backstops logged the second-highest strikeout rate of any of the position groups, with their collective 21.2 percent whiff rate ever-so-narrowly trailed first basemen for the dubious crown. They also managed to collect precious few extra base hits, both in the aggregate and on a per-plate appearance basis. Their 918 doubles-plus-triples amounted to over 160 fewer than the shortstops cobbled together, and they rated almost as poorly rate-wise. So when you do find a white whale who fares relatively strongly in these formats, pounce! For the love of Mike Piazza, pounce!
Buster Posey, SFG – This is cheating a bit since there’s no place for Posey to move up to, but for our purposes I’m going to take some editorial liberties and introduce a mystical Sixth Star tier to emphasize just how valuable Posey is in points formats. His elite strikeout rate – the fourth-lowest whiff rate in all of baseball, for context—returns gobs of additional relative value, especially given the outsized number of plate appearances he makes, and his total base rate is third among backstops with at least 200 plate appearances to boot. He’s arguably a top-ten overall option in points formats, and he’s so far ahead of every other catching option that the rest of the field doesn’t even look closer than it appears in his rearview.
Standard: Five Stars, Points: Six Stars.
Nick Hundley, COL – Unlike in OBP leagues, where his swing-happy ways derail a big chunk of his sexy flyer appeal at the back half of drafts, Hundley’s home park and pop make him a very intriguing proposition after the first division starters are off the board. He logged the sixth-best rate of extra bases-per-plate appearance last year, and while his whiff rate wasn’t anything special in the grand scheme of things it actually amounted to a comfortably above-average number among the backstops. I still wouldn’t go nuts given some of the outlying under-the-hood numbers he put together last year, but he’ll make for a solid investment in deeper leagues.
Standard: High-Two Stars, Points: Three Stars
Stephen Vogt, OAK – Vogt actually bordered on deserving a nod as a bump candidate in the OBP section above, and he definitely earns one for points leagues. His total base rate checks in as a top-10 rate for catchers, while his whiff rate ticks into marginally above-average range as well. There’s an argument to be made that his power potential and likely plate appearance advantage leapfrogs him over Hundley, but at the very least he joins him in the Three Star tier.
Standard: High-Two Stars, Points: Three Stars.
A.J. Pierzynski, ATL – I threw up in my mouth a little when I wrote his name just now, and it may very well have been a dead cat bounce last year, but it certainly bears noting for points leaguers that Pierzynski managed to legitimately revolutionize his approach and contact profile last season at the tender age of 38. His 8.5 percent whiff rate was right there with Posey, and his total base rate checked in at a perfectly respectable 15th among backstops. He remains more appropriate a target for –only formats, but if you’re in a deeper mixed points format and find yourself punting catcher…I can’t believe I’m saying this, but sometimes boring is beautiful.
Standard: Low-One Star, Points: Low-Two Stars
Others: Brian McCann also gains an ounce or two of shine in points formats, where a won’t-kill-you whiff rate and strong power production helps fortify his floor to offset his poor overall hit rate and solidify him as one of the best of the Three Star options… Travis d’Arnaud maintains the same risks related to his thick medical file and playing time concerns with a capable cohort in Plawecki, but the Three Star upside is that much higher for a backstop who posted an elite total base rate along with an above-average whiff rate in his half-season of at-bats last year… J.T. Realmuto similarly showed an intriguing points league baseline last year, with a top-ten whiff rate and an extra base hit rate that grazed the top 20. If the second half power bump proves sustainable—I’m bullish—he’ll make for a very strong points league buy at his current Two Star cost.
Blake Swihart, BOS – Again, Swihart is something of a tough grade heading into the year. His initial struggles dragged down his overall numbers, most notably his power production, which spiked significantly in the second half. A well above-average whiff rate remained, however, and while that number doesn’t necessarily jive with his minor league production it’s not one we should readily dismiss until he demonstrates the ability to make adjustments. There’s ample opportunity for improvement built into an investment in Swihart, but the price tag in points formats shouldn’t exceed more than a low Two Star guy.
Standard: High-Two Stars, Points: Low-Two Stars.
Yan Gomes, CLE – I touched on Gomes in the OBP downers section above, and he gets dinged similarly in points formats. Not only does the extremely aggressive approach limit his successful trips onto the bases, but his whiff problem worsened last year, and despite decent homerun pop his total base rate barely cracked the top 30. He certainly showed enough in 2014 to keep him in the conversation for a late-draft flyer, but I wouldn’t pay anything close to a premium price for the expectation that his over-the-fence power saves the day.
Standard: Two Stars, Points: High-One Star
Jason Castro, HOU – We’re now two years removed from Castro’s strong 2013 campaign, and while he made strides last season in restoring his excellent walk rate from that campaign his problematic whiff rate remained in spades. His strong pull-side tendencies offset some of the solid contact he does make to further limit his hit rate, and his total base rate last year hovered on the outside of the top 35 looking in. At 28 there’s ostensibly some rebound potential here, but he’s let few statistical clues that one is imminent, and in points formats I’d look elsewhere for my late game flyer.
Standard: High-One Star, Points: Zero Stars.
Others: Where Kyle Schwarber’s stellar on-base skills push his floor higher in OBP formats, his potentially lethal strikeout rate bumps it down to the top of the Three Star pile in points leagues. The adjustment shouldn’t be extreme, but there’s that much more downside risk in the profile… Despite strong raw power and batted ball distance numbers, Wilson Ramos is downright Molinan when he runs, and his low total base and average strikeout rates make him a poorer Two Star investment in points formats… If you had any inkling of a desire to take a standard format flyer on Mike Zunino for whatever reason, you should have your fantasy baseball playing privileges revoked for life if you consider it in a points league.
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