Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fantasy Baseball: Catchers

We're coming to you live from a coffee shop/bar in Valdelagrana, Spain. Keeping up with our tab has us at one cafe con leche.

Per the request of a new, loyal reader, we are beginning our series of fantasy baseball preparation for drafts out there. For a while, I was against doing these posts because I am afraid of jadrools in my league stealing my ideas. The joy of defeating them, while playing with an open hand is more alluring than keeping this inside. Plus, it's only mid-February. Roto players out there should review these notes/lists as a starting point for their own analysis. By the time drafts come around in 4 to 6 weeks, opinions on player expectations will change substantially.

As we get this started, there are a couple other key points to keep in mind ~ I look at players who will help with On-Base Percentage, not Batting Average. A few years ago, my league switched from BA to OBP, and I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Few things are worse in fantasy baseball than seeing one of your guys reach base a few times by a base on balls and have that count the same as if he didn't even play. One glorious season a few years ago, we even went away from the archaic stat of RBI in favor of Runs Created, but the reactionaries of my league made a big stink about not understanding the stat, so we are stuck with a league where we get rewarded for the heroics of teammates who happen to be on base before your player steps into the batter's box. But, I digress. Keep in mind, these are the hitting columns for my league: OBP, R, HR, RBI, SB.

There are thirty MLB teams, but only about seven really good catchers and less than fifteen who can be quote / unquote counted on for fantasy purposes. Unlike seasons past, that's not too bad of a number, since most people only play in leagues of 10 or 12 teams.

I like starting this series with the Catcher position because due to my league's keeper league rules, my team isn't even going to draft a catcher, unless a very good prospect is still available in the very late rounds (20+). We had the good fortune of trading for Joe Mauer two seasons ago and the good sense to keep him last season, even though it was known that he would miss at least the first month of the season with back problems. He only went on to have an MVP season, that may have been the best season any catcher has ever had in the Major Leagues.

Catcher Rankings (14-Feb-2010)
1. Joe Mauer
I would not shy against taking him with the #1 Overall pick in any fantasy draft. I may be alone in this feeling, but the difference between him and most other Catchers is so vast. Sure, you can be happy if you get one of the next two guys on this list, but there is uncertainty to their availability when your next turn to pick comes around. So, go ahead and draft him in the 1st Round with all the confidence in the world.

2. Victor Martinez
What separates V-Mart from the next guy on this list, Brian McCann, is that he will be hitting most every day. Mauer has this advantage, as well. When he doesn't catch, he usually DH's. When Martinez needs a day off from behind the plate, he will either play 1st base or DH. McCann, being in the National League, just cannot compete with that quantity of plate appearances. Even if McCann winds up catching 145+ games, his 2nd half production could diminish substantially by the additional wear and tear of the position.

3. Brian McCann
There really aren't any other AL catchers that you can pencil into DH on days they do not catch. I see McCann as a top tier catcher because of his track record, youth, protection around the lineup, and ability to just plain hit. Too many teammates of his, whom I respect, have raved about the fact that he is probably the best hitter on the Braves - including Larry "Chipper" Jones. If you get him, you're psyched. I would definitely start looking at him somewhere in the Top 40 or 50 players off the board, maybe higher.

4. Matt Wieters
Okay, so I am still a sucker for the potential of last offseason's computer projection darling, Matt Wieters. I could see him blossoming into the type of player that DH's on his days off, which puts him up here. He'll be in the middle of the lineup, at an RBI position & that always helps, too.

5. Ryan Doumit
Now, we get into more areas of doubt. Doumit is a poster boy for injury prone, and there is another pretty good catcher in Pittsburgh, called Ronny Paulino. That being said, there aren't a lot of Pirates that can swing the club like Doumit, when healthy. He's played defensively on the corners of the infield and outfield, so you can basically pencil him at #4 or #5 in the Pirates' lineup 5 or 6 days a week. Still, I see very little difference between numbers 5 through 8 on this list. So, if you are so inclined, it could be wise to group them together and take one of them when there are only 1 or 2 left from the group.

6. Chris Iannetta
He has youth on his side, is on a very good offensive team, with a fantastic home ballpark, and has had very good amateur experience playing with some of the best American players in the world in last winter's World Baseball Classic. He was a sexy sleeper last offseason, but like so many sleepers who don't do as much as expected, he could be a very good value the following year.

7. Russell Martin
Last year, I think I had Martin ranked #2 on the list of catchers. The two main reasons I like Martin is because he had the best stolen base numbers of any catcher and his backup, Brad Ausmus, is no competition to steal his job. After moving in with some bikini model in Los Angeles last season, his numbers dropped and he was accused of losing his edge. It could be because of the distracting butterflies of love, or staying up all night with extra curriculars. Or, he could have just been run down from a heavy workload the last few seasons. If reports from spring training are positive, he could rise to as high as #4 on the list, directly behind Brian McCann.

8. Mike Napoli
He's not as flashy as the guys above him here, but you can confidently pencil him in for 20+ Homeruns.

9. Jorge Posada
I never liked Jorge Posada as a fantasy catcher, but the Yankees seemed to have cleared the DH position to rotate him in there occasionally. Playing in the new Yankee Stadium certainly helps the Homerun numbers, as Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and the rest of the World Champion bombers showed in 2009.

10. Buster Posey
As I started righting this column, I had Posey higher and needed to drop him from the rankings for the reasons listed about the players above. There is an excellent chance that I am still overrating Posey, and he could be even worse than Matt Wieters was last season. The Giants resigned Bengie Molina to mentor Posey, and thus steal many of his AB's. The reason I feel good about him today is this piece in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing that Bruce Bochy & Brian Sabean will give Posey a chance to make the team this Spring by playing a bit of infield. That would be awesome for fantasy owners & keeper league owners really need to take note.

/just ordered a Cuba Libre, with Cuban rum.

11. Miguel Montero
12. Geovany Soto
13. Kelly Shoppach
14. Chris Snyder
15. Kurt Suzuki
16. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
17. Carlos Ruiz
18. Miguel Olivo
19. Ramon Hernandez
20. Yadier Molina
21. A.J. Pierzynski
22. Bengie Molina
23. Max Ramirez
24. Tyler Flowers
25. Justin Towles
26. John Baker
27. Jesus Montero
28. Angel Salome
29. J.R. House
30. John Jano

Please feel free to provide comments for anyone who is overrated, underrated, or foolishly omitted from this list. Since there are about five or six guys in my Top 30 who do not start, I certainly left a few starting catchers off the list. Please let me know whom you think is worth taking a closer look at.

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