Over the past two seasons, Wilson Karaman has done an excellent job in this space of helping fantasy owners understand player value changes when moving from a standard league to OBP or points format. I’ve been given the tall task of following in Wilson’s footsteps in this endeavor for the 2017 season. Each week I’ll try and help you understand the rise and fall in player value based on our tiered rankings depending on the format you are playing in. This week at BP our attention has been on catchers. So, if you find yourself in an OBP or points league, are there any players behind the plate worth giving some extra attention?
It’s been stressed repeatedly this week, but the catcher position is a mess offensively. The position hit .242/.310/.391 in 2016, while league averages were .255/.322/.417. Jeff Quinton drove home an important point on Monday. Wherever you’re drafting, you’re likely to find better production somewhere else on the board instead of looking at the catcher position. However, you have to have at least one (sign me up for a no-catcher league), and a few players could give you some added value if you find yourself in a non-standard format.
Yasmani Grandal, LAD – Few catchers are as divisive as Grandal among the top 8-10 catchers. Yes, he struggled a lot in June and July of last season, but there was still a lot to like about Grandal’s 2016. He was top five in home runs and runs, and he drove in enough runs that he wasn’t a complete bust in the category. However, one issue that plagued Grandal owners last season was his batting average. Grandal has played at least 115 games in each of his last three seasons, and he’s yet to hit above .234 over that period of time. These concerns are diminished in an OBP format. Grandal’s .339 OBP was 16th best at the position (min. 100 PA). In a standard league Grandal was a low-end starter, while in OBP formats he was a top five catcher. His walk rate has been consistent enough at this point that he’s a safe bet in this format moving forward. Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Low-Four Stars
Russell Martin, TOR – There wasn’t a catcher last season who experienced greater variation in his standard league value and OBP league value than Russell Martin. He ended up being solid if you took him in a standard league. Among catchers, he finished top six in HR, RBI, and R. Unfortunately, his value was diminished due in part to the second worst BA of his career (.231). However, a healthy 12 percent walk rate, and the second most HBP at the position (10) led to a solid .335 OBP. There are obvious concerns regarding Russell’s health and age, but there is extra value to be found here in OBP formats. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Brian McCann, HOU – For the most part you know what you’re getting with McCann. He’s going to hit 20 or more home runs, and he’s going to hit for a low batting average. These concerns are alleviated in OBP leagues where he has provided steady production (a disastrous 2014 notwithstanding). Part of the reason he’s trending up is his 11 percent walk rate which was his highest since 2010. Like Grandal, the shift to an OBP league moved McCann from a low-end starter to the top half of catchers in a 12-team league. It’s fair to have concerns about his age, but there’s plenty of reason to be confident in his ability to get on base. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: Three Stars
Francisco Cervelli, PIT – Fantasy owners who were expecting Cervelli to build on a solid 2015 were frustrated by his injury issues last season. It took Cervelli until September 22 to hit his first home run of the season. Even though he only played in 101 games, he was still top 15 by runs, and his six stolen bases were third most at the position. Some regression to his batting average was expected this season (which happened) due to a .359 BABIP in 2015. However, his .377 OBP was second-highest among catchers with at least 100 PA (Anthony Recker was first). If you’re playing in an OBP format you could certainly do a lot worse than Cervelli. Standard: One Star, OBP: Two Stars
Others: Jason Castro’s change of home park won’t help his power numbers (although six of his 11 home runs in 2016 came on the road). Still, he was able to bump his OBP over .300 last season for the first time since 2013. His 12 percent walk rate was a bit uncharacteristic, but he’s worth keeping an eye on in this format. Tyler Flowers finished with the ninth best OBP among catchers (min. 100 PA). A higher than average walk rate and BABIP could suggest some regression. You know the story with Mike Zunino at this point. His power potential is so tantalizing, but he’s struggled to have a consistent approach at the plate. His 10.9 percent walk rate did bump his OBP up to .318 last season. Only Gary Sanchez hit more home runs in fewer games at the position than Zunino last season, and if he can couple that with an average OBP for the position he’s worth a look.
J.T. Realmuto, MIA – Realmuto was one of the most valuable players at catcher a year ago. In OBP leagues he was still a solid play, but he wasn’t quite as valuable as he was in standard leagues. Regardless of which type of league you play in, you should have some concerns about his ability to keep his batting average or OBP at his 2016 levels. An elevated .357 BABIP with a 5.1 percent walk rate doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that he can repeat his success in these areas. Standard: Three Stars, OBP: Low-Three/High-Two Stars
Salvador Perez, KC – Owners of Salvador Perez in 2016 got pretty much what they expected. He hit more than 20 home runs for the second straight season, and he finished in the top 10 at the position by runs and RBI. Whether you’re playing in a standard or OBP league, you know Perez is likely going to be a drain on your team in that category. In OBP formats he was a little less valuable. His walk rate did jump all the way up to 4 percent (from 2.4 percent in 2015), but his strikeout rate also jumped from 14.8 percent to 21.8 percent. Standard: Three Stars, OBP: High-Two Stars
Yadier Molina, STL – I want to be clear about my concerns with Molina here. He had a solid season in either standard or OBP leagues last season. However, he lost a few dollars of value in OBP formats. There are legitimate reasons to wonder whether he can replicate his .360 OPB from last year. It was propped up by a higher than expected BABIP, and a walk rate under 7 percent (6.9 for his career) makes it unlikely he can have similar success. Molina is a safe pick, but his value could be diminished in this format (without even considering concerns regarding his age and injuries). Standard: Two Stars, OBP: High-One Star.
Stephen Vogt, OAK – Fantasy owners hoping Vogt would build off his 2015 campaign got some of what they bargained for in 2016. He gave similar production in home runs and runs, but his RBI total dropped by 15. However, nowhere did Vogt owners take a bigger hit in 2016 than in his OBP decline. His .341 OBP in 2015 was spurred on by a surprising 11 percent walk rate. That number dropped to a more expected 6.6 percent in 2016, and his OBP suffered for it. It’s likely he could see an uptick in BABIP this season, but owners shouldn’t expect him to hit the heights of the 2014 season in this category. Standard: Two Stars, OBP: One Star
Others: Welington Castillo could see increases in several categories in 2016, but he could see a dip in OBP if he gives back some of his .337 BABIP from 2016. His increased walk rate is encouraging (from 6.6 to 7.2), but still below what you would want. Cameron Rupp did some positive things at the position last season. Unfortunately, that came with a decreased walk rate, and an increased strike out rate. It took a BABIP higher than you would expect from him to sneak his OBP above .300. James McCann showed that he could hit double digit home runs last season. He also produced a groan inducing .272 OBP with a 6.2 percent walk rate.
The name of the game is pretty easy when it comes to points leagues. You’re wanting to keep your strikeout totals as low as possible. Last season, catchers finished just above the league average strikeout rate. Extra base hits are also at a premium in this format. That’s bad news when it comes to this position. Catchers hit the second lowest total of home runs (598) outslugging only the shortstops (565), and they finished last in terms of doubles (917).
Buster Posey, SFG – Last season Wilson listed Posey is this spot, and in 2017 not much is going to change. As far as points leagues go, you’re not going to find better production at the position. His 11.1 strikeout rate is a points league owners dream. Add to that an 8 percent extra-base-hit rate, and you’ve got all you need. Draft Buster Posey… that’s the kind of fantasy advice you can expect to get from me all season long. Standard: Four Stars, Points: Five Stars
Willson Contreras, CHC – Contreras made his major-league debut last season, and in 76 games he gave fantasy owners a lot to dream on. His 10 percent extra bate hit rate was on the high end for catchers, even though his 23.7 percent strikeout rate negated some of that value. Contreras is a high risk/high reward player in a points league. The power is obviously there, but you’ll have to trust that he can keep his whiff rate in check. His Double-A and Triple-A numbers are encouraging in this regard. Standard: Three Stars, Points: Low-Four Stars (just maybe)
Matt Wieters, FA – Eventually Matt Wieters will find a team, and when he does you should consider picking him up in a points league. In several categories (HR, RBI, and R) he got close to his pre-2014 levels of production. He’s never going to give you much in terms of batting average or OBP, but if the power jump holds he can have value in this format. He’s already shown 20 home run power throughout his career, and if he lands on the right team he could find the playing time to offer that production again. His 18.3 percent strikeout rate isn’t great, but given an 8 percent extra base hit rate it shouldn’t kill you. Standard: Two Stars, Points: High Two Stars/Low-Three Stars.
Others: Jonathan Lucroy owners were rewarded handsomely last season. If you had him for the entire year, you were treated to the best power numbers of his career and a 9 percent extra-base=hit rate. Yadier Molina was the only catcher to top Posey’s strikeout rate last season, checking in at 10.8 percent. He’s absolutely worth giving a few extra dollars in this format. Even though Wilson Ramos will miss the start of the season, he’s still worth paying attention to in points leagues (especially keeper scenarios). His 9 percent extra-base-hit rate coupled with a 15.1 percent strikeout rate makes him one of the best options available. Stephen Vogt came in just behind Ramos in terms of strikeout rate (15.6 percent), and he also accumulated a 9 percent extra base hit rate.
James McCann, DET – McCann’s increased power production came at the expense of other categories in 2016. His 29.2 percent whiff rate is hard to stomach in a points league, especially considering a fairly light 6 percent extra-base-hit rate. There’s just too much lost value here in terms of strikeouts to take advantage of what power he offers. Standard: One Star, Points: Low-One Star
Derek Norris, SDP – 2016 wasn’t the best season for Norris. Other than runs and steals (I still do a double take when I see him second in stolen bases at the position) his numbers were down across the board. His whiff rate shot up to a career worst 30.3 percent. If he’s healthy he’s going to give owners double digit home runs, but it just comes with too much liability in other areas. Standard: One Star, Points: Low-One Star.
Yan Gomes, CLE – Speaking of players who had seasons they’d like to forget. Gomes was plagued by injuries last season. A shoulder injury and broken hand were responsible for him being on the field for only 74 games in 2016. When he was on the field, it wasn’t pretty. He still has the power to get you to double digit home runs, but his 26.1 strikeout rate hurts. There’s also the issue of simply getting on base which he didn’t do with much success last year. Standard: One Star, Points: Just don’t…
Others: Remember when we talked about Mike Zunino’s tantalizing power? A 33.9 whiff rate makes him a hard pass in a points league. Jason Castro’s 32.7 strikeout rate makes him similarly difficult to play in a points league. There’s also the expected diminished power numbers from his change of team mentioned above. Russell Martin’s whiff rate jumped to 27.7 percent in 2016, and if his power begins to diminish he becomes much less valuable in this format.
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