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We are delighted to return for a third season of Scoresheet Baseball-specific coverage on Baseball Prospectus, just in time for BP’s catcher week. If you haven’t played Scoresheet before, it’s a baseball simulation engine (similar to Strat-o-Matic, or Diamond Mind for the computer savvy), using real in-season results to give you that rush of watching your fantasy baseball team succeed or fail during the season. If you’re interested in starting a team, we would be happy to talk to anyone who wants to figure out how to jump on board either through email or in the comments section below, and we’re sure other longtime players will jump in as well.

Our primary focus during the next few weeks, however, is going to be helping returning Scoresheet owners make their keeper decisions. In standard leagues, keepers will be due on February 10th (and we intend to have a full suggested protection list out before the due date). Our podcast, and these accompanying articles, will discuss keeper strategies for teams in standard leagues (10 teams, 13 non-rookie keepers, AL- or NL-only format, and perpetually continuing), position-by-position. If you want a second opinion, we also highly recommend perusing the annual offseason Scoresheet Mock Draft, where you can read the thoughts of other veteran players as well. And of course, you’re going to be the player ultimately piloting your team, so by all means choose the players you prefer. We see this series as an additional friendly perspective, and not a prescriptive rulebook.

On to the players!

American League

1. Salvador Perez (Overall Ranking: 6)

Of course, there’s no better way to start than with what was by far our most controversial ranking from last year. We had Perez as the top AL catcher, and received some friendly criticism in the comments suggesting we were way too high (either on him, or in general). So of course, we’re choosing to run this ranking back again this year. Perez’s 2015 didn’t cover us in prescient glory, but as you’ve likely seen this week, there are no great options in AL-only leagues (as you’ll see later, the top catcher in the majority of AL-only leagues is likely Travis d’Arnaud). Perez also offers durability and a slugging-heavy profile, both of which have more value in Scoresheet than in other fantasy formats, to the degree that we think it makes much more sense to keep him than to trade him and try to scrape catching together in the draft.

2. Russell Martin (8, NL Crossover Ranking: 7)
3. Stephen Vogt (9)

Perez aside, if you’re looking for 2016 value alone, these are the catchers you want in the AL. Vogt in particular seems to be an underrated trade target, as we’re not duly concerned about his second-half slump.

4. Brian McCann (11, NL: 8)
5. Yan Gomes (14)
6. Blake Swihart (17)
7. Matt Wieters (18)

We’re not thrilled by any of these options, but as you’ve likely seen and felt, the landscape at catcher in the AL is dismal. Swihart moves up a lot if you’re excited by his potential, but we’re not fans, and he’d have more value for us in trade.

Below the Keeper Line

If you squint, John Ryan Murphy is an interesting young catcher, but he’s most likely an object lesson into the relative thinness of the position. Alex Avila, as a left-handed hitting catcher, is more interesting in Scoresheet than elsewhere, but health and ability are far too concerning. James McCann helped you win last year, but we recommend thanking him for services rendered. Jason Castro is fine. And rebuilding teams shouldn’t forget Christian Vazquez, who is actually our long-term catcher of choice in the Red Sox system.

National League

1. Buster Posey (Overall Ranking: 1)

By contrast, the National League is filled with catchers who are at least competent, including the lone superstar. Posey’s overall value proposition is limited by a potential move to first base after his next major injury, but he’s a tremendous target for owners going for it and who are willing to dangle impressive young talent.

2. Kyle Schwarber (2)
3. Yasmani Grandal (3)
4. Travis d’Arnaud (4, AL Crossover Ranking: 1)
5. Jonathan Lucroy (5)
6. Devin Mesoraco (7)

NL owners probably have a good catcher, making the value of the second tier a little less paramount. Each of them offers a different risk-reward level, based primarily on your tolerance for injury. Ranking Schwarber over Posey is plausible based upon your team’s construction, but corner outfielders with poor defense aren’t valued as highly in Scoresheet, and he’s likely to settle there over time. Be happy with either one.

7. Francisco Cervelli (10)
8. Welington Castillo (12)
9. Miguel Montero (13)
10. Derek Norris (15, AL: 6)

You’ll likely have noticed that there are quality starting catchers who aren’t listed in the keeper suggestion. In a 10 team league, keeping a backup catcher makes little sense—especially if the two prominent AL crossovers are owned in your league. We’d strongly consider floating or trading these catchers if you’re looking to keep players to fill other needs.

Below The Keeper Line

Yadier Molina’s decline hasn’t been catastrophic, but he’s caught in a numbers game. He’s a practically perfect backup catcher in this format, however (TM Gregg Zaun). Nick Hundley is a victim of the nuances of this list. He’s not a strong continuing league keeper for the average team due to being almost entirely a Coors creation, but he’s likely to boost teams in at least the first half of 2016, meaning that he should be protected on a strong contender. J.T. Realmuto and Wilson Ramos seem like fine backup options for teams who own one of the injury-prone, high variance catchers in that second tier.

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dianagramr
1/15
Welcome back boys!!!
dmairs
1/15
As usual, great article.
jj0501
1/15
Yes, glad you are back. I have a pet theory that C is the MOST punt-able position in SS in that since defense doesn't come into play that much (especially in an erea of declininbg SB's) as long as you have non-AAA bodies to fill the AB's you can survive. Honestly, are their more than 10 really keeper worthy catchers in a standard 10 team league ?
jj0501
1/15
...and I meant the previous comment to be taken as no more than (10) total keeper C's in all of MLB, the AL being especially bleak.
IanLefk
1/15
Thanks for the welcome, everyone. I definitely think this is a sensible approach too. We talk about this more in depth on the podcast, but I think we tend to approach catcher as inveterate up-the-middle fiends, and we frankly hate the idea of chasing at bats through platoons and drafting third catchers in every supplemental. Having one of the better catchers obviates the need, and gives you some advantage over your peers. I actually like your suggested approach most in the NL this year, where basically every starting catcher in the league is baseline competent, which means that you could consider floating the position, keeping that extra SP/relief ace/whatever, and drafting Wilson Ramos or Yadi Molina or that ilk in the top two rounds.
mattofaction
1/15
Will the podcast be back on Stitcher again this year? I noticed it hadn't been added there just yet.
jfullback
1/16
Yup. Not exactly sure why it took so long to show up, but it is on there now.
krisarthur
1/16
Why are you down so much on Swihart? I have D'Arnault and Swihart in an AL keeper league.... which one do you keep if you can contend this season?
IanLefk
1/16
Thanks for asking! One of the things we're going to try to do this year is make sure that we account for all of the major crossovers. As you can see above, we have d'Arnaud listed in the #1 position in the AL, meaning he's our favorite catcher on the board. Crossover or no, that probably answers your question. As for Swihart, we talked about this some on the podcast (there's even a prop bet if you want to get in on the action). I just don't know what he does well. He's not a great hitter for average, has only shown power in Hadlock, isn't a particularly adept framer or receiver, isn't fast. He's young, and pedigreed, so it's certainly possible that he'll be an asset someday--it just feels to me like you have to squint to see him getting there. I think our opinion is in the minority, however, which means that he's someone we'd look to get value for in a trade.
dlab85
1/17
Glad to have you guys back. Outstanding job!
jsherman
2/19
Robinson Chirinos? Can he come near a 750 ops again?