Welcome, to Baseball Prospectus’ first (or at least first time in a long time) in-season rankings update to our preseason positional tiers article. As we did during the preseason, players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a “star” rating. In addition, unlike with the preseason “star” ratings, these lists can also be viewed as a straight ranking.
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will provide first or second round draft value and will be worth $30 or more in auction formats. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will earn more than $20 in auction formats. 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 the types of players who provide back end roster value. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of what has happened year-to-date but rather try to offer some insights into what we expect will happen the rest of 2016.
If you are wondering why a specific player isn’t listed, please note that in many cases players in the one-star tier and players who are not ranked are interchangeable.
The rankings above assume a 15-team, standard 5×5 Roto 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). Position eligibility is based on either 20 games at the position last year or five games this year.
Today: Catcher, First Base, Second Base
Tuesday: Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield
Wednesday, Starting Pitcher, Relief Pitcher
1) Buster Posey
Posey’s numbers look pedestrian relative to some of the faster starting catchers this season, but the combination of Posey’s durability and reliability make it hard to move Posey out of this elite category. Barring injury, it is likely that Posey is going to finish around 20 home runs, 90 runs batted in, 70 runs, and a .300 batting average. The only valid reason to move Posey down from our preseason ranking is a belief that his on-pace numbers are his true performance level. It is more likely that Posey comes closer to matching his 2012-2015 levels of production.
Kyle Schwarber was here in the preseason. Get well soon, Kyle. Baseball misses you.
After a down season, we moved Lucroy down from the four-star tier in 2015 to the three-star tier in 2016. His strong start makes it tempting to push him up again, but Lucroy has never hit more than 18 home runs in a major-league campaign. Ramos had laser eye surgery in early March and while causation and correlation make for poor bedfellows, it is difficult not to look at Ramos’ 2016 results year-to-date and assume that better vision has helped him see better results.
At the beginning of the year it seemed that catcher was going to be a barren wasteland after the first few names but a number of backstops are putting up strong counting stats thus far. Over the last calendar year, McCann, Castillo, and Perez all have at least 20 home runs and 70 RBI. Their relatively weak batting averages keep them from moving any higher, but all three provide rare power for the position.
Three-Star Value Pick: Yasmani Grandal
I know, we have been touting Grandal at the fantasy section of this web site for a very long time, and it is understandable if you are disappointed, believe he doesn’t belong in this tier, or want to toss your computer into the sea. Thus far, the raw numbers have not been there but the shoulder woes that plagued Grandal in the earlier part of 2015 seem to be behind him and his injury this year was unrelated. Grandal has averaged 15.5 home runs and 121.5 games per season since 2014. He only needs health to come very close to the other catchers in this tier, yet is owned in less than 30 percent of ESPN leagues.
This is where individual rankings get squishy, as a case could be made for moving many of these catchers up or down multiple slots. For most of these hitters, the double-digit home run potential comes with lots of bad batting average. Gomes, Norris, Montero, and Martin have all hit .230 or lower over the last 12 months. If you roster one of these players, you are buying power and hoping to get batting average from another slot on your roster.
If you’d prefer not to sabotage your batting average, Molina might be your cup of tea instead. Molina actually isn’t that old (he is 33) but after a 2015 season where he was ineffective and hurt seems to have found a way back to his prior level. Hundley is another positive batting average option to consider once he returns from the DL. He is recovering from an oblique injury but has not swung a bat since hitting the DL and it could be a few weeks.
Two-Star Value Pick: Miguel Montero
A slow start and a minor injury have pushed Montero into the bargain bin with all of the other forgotten mixed league backstops. The likelihood of Montero socking double-digit home runs while sitting in a potent Cubs lineup should not be ignored, and even though the batting average is likely to be subpar, Montero’s sub-.200 batting average will definitely improve.
19) A.J. Pierzynski
20) Robinson Chirinos
21) Jason Castro
22) Cameron Rupp
23) Chris Iannetta
24) Dioner Navarro
25) Curt Casali
26) Geovany Soto
27) James McCann
28) Christian Vazquez
29) Tucker Barnhart
30) Jarrod Saltalamacchia
“The drop from the two-star tier to the one-star tier seems precipitous.” I wrote in January. A few injuries later, this drop seems like it needs an even stronger adjective. These catchers are all starters (with the exception of Saltalamacchia) but most of these players are in there for their defense and/or handling of their pitching staffs. If you’re in a one-catcher league, thank your lucky stars that you don’t have to deal with these kind of problems, barring injury.
For those in deeper formats who don’t have this luxury, the question here is do you play for power or try to go for a relatively safe option that won’t hurt your batting average. The challenge with this proposition is that a safe option can quickly go awry. Pierzynski’s batting average success has not carried over to 2016 and there isn’t a backstop in this tier who is any kind of guarantee in the category. Barnhart’s batting average over the last calendar year is about as “safe” as it gets.
The position is also bereft of attractive long-term options who could poke their way into this tier. Willson Contreras is more likely to come up later rather than sooner. Saltalamacchia stands in as a representive for backups like Chris Herrmann and David Ross who at least in the early going have provided deep league value.
One-Star Value Pick: Chris Iannetta
Iannetta was my value pick in the preseason and thus far he has done what I expected, hitting for an acceptable batting average (relatively speaking) while maintaining a 15-home-run pace. The runs and RBI have been low, but in a two-catcher format this is the type of production you need out of what often amounts to your offense’s weakest link.