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.

This contradiction between over-performance and underperformance can be attributed to two key points: (1) the widespread injuries and ineffectiveness across the big leagues at the catcher position; and (2) an abysmal June and July that ultimately torpedoed what would’ve otherwise been a positive campaign.

I explained how injuries to key MLB catchers—such as Jonathan Lucroy, Devin Mesoraco, Matt Wieters, and Yan Gomes—ultimately buoyed the value of lower-tier players at the position. If these players hadn’t spent significant time on the disabled list or bouncing back from major ailments, Norris likely wouldn’t have finished the year in the top-10 and wouldn’t be getting this sort of attention. And with all those catchers poised to return to their respective starting lineups, it follows that we shouldn’t really consider Norris a top-10 catcher heading into the 2016 season.

However, aside from June and July, the 26-year-old backstop was actually quite productive at the plate and, thus, valuable in fantasy leagues.




































Norris struggled in two different ways in June and July. During the former month, he became pull happy, hitting 53.1 percent of the balls in play to the left side of the diamond. Not surprisingly, his walk rate plummeted to 2.6 percent in that same month. He still hit for power during his dry spell—which isn’t surprising, given his approach—but didn’t offer anything else. In July, though, he had an incredible 34.8 infield-fly percentage, perhaps signaling that he was fighting himself to emerge from his slump, trying to stop pulling the ball and struggling with his mechanics. His pull rate dropped to just 35.1 percent (the lowest of 2015), so that narrative may have some legs. Either way, those two months sullied an otherwise quality season.

I think it’s unreasonable to assume that a catcher can simply bypass significant struggles throughout a 162-game season; however, it is positive that he rebounded in August and September to be productive yet again. It suggests he isn’t “broken” in any sense of the word. In fact, his walk rate bounced back to 12.2 percent in September and October.

While this is undeniably paints a rosier outlook for 2016, it’s important to recognize that Norris hasn’t alleviated the real hole in his game: his inability to handle right-handed pitching. He once again blasted southpaws, hitting .295/.351/.459 with an 8.2 percent walk rate, while only managing a .237/.291/.387 slash line with a 5.7 percent walk rate against righties. That maps onto his career trajectory, too, as he’s only a career .221/.299/.347 hitter against same-handed pitching.

That piece of Norris’s game doesn’t appear to be going away, and that’s something of which both DFS players and leagues with daily lineup changes should be aware. It’s something that will inhibit him from being anything but a mid-tier fantasy catcher. The fact that he had the second-highest PA total of any catcher (second to Buster Posey) makes up for this extreme platoon split a little, as he can accumulate additional counting stats as the Padres’ two-hole hitter, but it’s a significant issue that will continue to dog him.

I like the idea of Norris in the 10-15 range on draft day. I like him more than someone like J.T. Realmuto, who projects as a similar type of player, due to his position in the Padres’ batting order and the increased playing time. Realmuto has the benefit of adding a half-dozen stolen bases, but it’s important to recognize the fact that Norris stole four bases himself in 2015. I also think Realmuto’s aggressive approach (50 percent swing rate) gets exploited in his second go-round in the league.

The unappealing thing about Norris, though, is that he’s someone who lacks any real ceiling, unless he magically eliminates his platoon issues. Thus, he’s an unexciting option (though respectable enough) in deeper leagues and someone to probably avoid in shallow leagues. Those pumping up his value due to his age need to recognize that progression doesn’t happen just because a guy ages, especially with someone who has the kind of track record Norris possesses.

Norris is just a guy. For some leagues, especially two-catcher leagues, that’s enough. For the average fantasy player, though, it’s much ado about nothing.

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