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March 11, 2013 posted by Albert Lang

2013 Fantasy Baseball Head-to-Head Catcher Rankings and Preview

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Photo Credit: BeGreen90

For a brief tutorial on how to use my head-to-head ranks, please visit here. For all of my in-depth rankings breakdowns, please visit http://fp911.com/author/albertlang/. For spreadsheets of rankings visit here.

Why I (generally) Avoid Catchers: Given the lack of consistent at bats and injury concerns at the position, I tend to hate drafting catchers early (so they are typically inordinately low on my board). It’s not hard to get top 5-10 catchers at the end of the draft or even off the wire. I’ve never owned Joe Mauer or Victor Martinez (aside from his under-the-radar breakout year in 2004).

After the draft/auction, if you have a crappy catcher, don’t worry. The top 12 catchers last season included A.J. Pierzynski, Wilin Rosario, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Doumit, Jonathan Lucroy and Jordan Pacheco. Most of those guys were afterthoughts at draft day – certainly Mike Napoli (#13 catcher), Brian McCann (#15), Jesus Montero (#16), and others were picked before many in the top 12.

For an even more in-depth discussion of why catchers are “the kicker of fantasy baseball,” check out this piece by Nick Raducanu. It also perfectly explains why catchers, including Buster Posey, are so far down in my rankings.

Catchers of Interest:

Mike Napoli (#76 Hitter, #3 Catcher) is the kind of catcher you love to have. He plays just enough at the position to retain eligibility, but typically slots in at DH or first base, which gives him more at bats than your standard backstop. Napoli has also been a consistent force behind the plate in fantasy for some time. Since 2010, his 80 HRs are 15 more than the second place catcher. He is also fifth in RBIs, second in runs and 11th in average. It’s not hard to make an argument for Napoli as a top backstop, if you ignore health. So far, Napoli has passed every health test in Spring Training and still hasn’t suffered a symptom of his degenerative hip condition. It’s possible he could suffer injuries this season, but that’s true for most catchers. Fantasy owners have reacted to the news though and are passing on him. If you’re outside the first 10 rounds or so, Napoli makes a solid speculative grab. If he gets injured, just pick up one of those catchers who emerge.

At Fangraphs, Chris Cwik put out an interesting article on Salvador Perez (#117 Hitter, #6 Catcher), which basically puts Perez on a prodigious pace, finding that “over a limited number of plate appearances, he’s already put himself in exceptional company.” After an impeccable 2011, which featured a scary .362 BABIP, Perez was a notable sleeper heading into 2012. Unfortunately he suffered an injury early and was limited to 305 plate appearances. With 463 MLB plate appearances, though, Perez has a .311/.339/.471 line and a .320 BABIP (which isn’t crazy, but might be a tad high for a catcher who rarely posted .300+ BABIPs in the minors). That said, Perez puts a ton of balls in play (he has minuscule walk and K rates). As such, there might be some peaks and valleys when batted balls just are/are not finding holes. Still, when it’s all said and done, a .285 average, 12 HRs and 65 RBIs and runs for a catcher is pretty solid.

Alex Avila (#180 Hitter, #15 Catcher) has been all over the map for fantasy lately. His true awesome season (2011) was marked by a pretty high BABIP and HR/FB rate. That said, his .313 BABIP and 11.4% HR/FB rate last season are nothing to scoff at. In fact, given those numbers, it’s a bit odd he batted so poorly: .243/.352/.384. If you look at qualified batters with a BABIP between .300 and .320 since 2010, only three hitters posted an average as bad as Avila last season. Avila is a catcher, so he should get a knock on his average a bit, but a .260 average seems a lot more likely. Avila also walks a ton, making a .358 OBP realistic (and making him a solid buy in OBP leagues). If you add his power (12 HRs), you’ve got the makings of a cheap but effective catcher.

In Brian McCann (#205 Hitter, #21 Catcher), you have one of the sturdiest and best catchers in recent memory – that is until this past season. McCann took batting practice a week or so ago, but did have his return date pushed back and probably won’t be ready to the middle of May. In addition, there’s no guarantee the power will be there after he had his labrum repaired. Still, if the price is right, it’s worth a gamble. At worst you find a decent catcher for the first month or so of the season, work with McCann for a while and then have to find another bargain. At best, you combine that month and a half of a suitable catcher with McCann socking 15 HRs and batting .270. Those numbers would be a top 10 catcher anyway.

For the next “catcher,” you’ll have to check your league’s roster settings, as Jordan Pacheco (#237 Hitter, #26 Catcher) hasn’t played a ton of games at catcher but qualifies at catcher in some leagues. In addition, it’ll be important to monitor Spring Training, as Pacheco is fighting Chris Nelson for third base duties and Todd Helton and other corners (Tyler Colvin) for at bats at first. Still, those are the best or healthiest players and they were all there last season, during which Pacheco appeared in 132 games. What can you expect from Pacheco? A solid enough average (.290), a smattering of HRs (8-10) and 55+ RBIs and runs (assuming he plays 130 games). He might not be draftable in most formats, but in deeper or two catcher leagues, he’s certainly worth a stash.

Once a budding prospect, Tyler Flowers (#260 Hitter, #29 Catcher) has lost all the bloom from his rose (see what I did there?). He has spent parts of the past three seasons with the White Sox, accumulating 317 plate appearances and a .205/.307/.388 line. He has been far better at AAA though and is only 27 years old. Flowers probably will not help in batting average (.230) but won’t kill you in OBP leagues (.308). What he’ll do for you: power (15 HR potential). It’s not pretty and he’ll strike out a ton, but he’ll be a poor man’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia, which is nothing to gesundheit at.

Wilson Ramos (#298 Hitter, #33 Catcher), who suffered a pretty bad knee injury, appeared in just 25 games last season. He has been playing all Spring Training and hasn’t reported any trouble. Still, the Nationals brought in Kurt Suzuki to presumably be the starting catcher. After the A’s ran him into the ground, Suzuki hasn’t been good (.238/.295/.361 over the last three seasons), but the Nats should have plenty of offense, making offense from a catcher a luxury. But, Ramos is younger and better and handles lefties far better than Suzuki. Ramos makes a great get in keeper/dynasty leagues as he should be the man in 2014. If he were the starter and playing 120 games, Ramos is capable of a solid average (.267) and decent power (14 HRs). He’s worth drafting to see how the playing time sorts itself out. Worst comes to worst, you just drop him.

Similar to Flowers, Devin Mesoraco (#312 Hitter, #35 Catcher) is blocked by a boring veteran and is a one time crown jewel at the catching position. Mesoraco hasn’t been given many at bats in the majors (237 plate appearances) and hasn’t produced: .205/.274/.353. However, he has been terrific at AAA, showing good plate discipline and power. With playing time, Mesoraco is capable of 15 HRs easily, a .252 average and some decent runs/RBIs. He’ll play in a beneficial park and line-up (although it hurts him if he’s stuck batting eighth), but he’ll have to get around Ryan Hanigan if he’s going to have much fantasy relevance.

If you go the Brian McCann route, Erik Kratz (#345 Hitter, #41 Catcher) might be your perfect stopgap. He’ll be starting a lot at the beginning of the year with the Phillies knowing he’ll shift to back-up duties once Ruiz’s suspension is over. Kratz is pretty old (33 in June), but hasn’t ever really been given a shot in the majors (199 plate appearances across three seasons). Aside from hitting nine HRs in 50 games last season for the Phillies, he hasn’t done much special fantasy-wise. It’s hard to say whether he has good pop because all of his AAA slugging has come in numerous repetitions and at advanced ages for that level. Still, if we’re throwing darts, why not bet on a catcher who should play more than normal early in the year and could put up a 15 HR pace.

On a per game basis, Martin Maldonado (#395 Hitter, #48 Catcher) was one of the better backstops in baseball last season. Of course, he’s not going to move Jonathan Lucroy off the position, but should something happen to Lucroy, you should jump on Maldonado. He is young, an above average defensive catcher and so far has a decent bat (.265/.320/.406 in 257 MLB plate appearances). He also hit eight HRs in just 78 games last season. It’s hard to parse exactly what kind of offensive talent he has, as he never spent a ton of games at any one minor league stop and his BABIPs, averages and slugging percentages all varied from good to decent across AA and AAA. Still, should Lucroy go down, don’t think, grab Maldonado. In addition, Maldonado has the ability to eat into Lucroy’s playing time, which should caution you against going after Lucroy early.

Welington Castillo (#418 Hitter, #51 Catcher) has been around for a long time (in the Cubs organization since 2006), but is just 25 (26 in April). He doesn’t have a ton of MLB experience (224 plate appearances) but has been decent: .261/.326/.424 with six HRs. With Geovany Soto out of the picture, Castillo has every opportunity to take the full time at bats. If he does, a .250 average and 10-12 HRs seems possible. The only real concern with playing time is Steve Clevenger, the Cubs other catcher, who is a lefty and could steal some platoon at bats. That said, Clevenger is a bit older and hasn’t shown much at the MLB level at all and Castillo was once a decentish prospect.

Albert has been playing and arguing about baseball and fantasy sports since 2002. Since 1982, he has also been largely miserable (here’s looking at you Armando Benitez) because of the Orioles and Eagles. Albert has won leagues and lost leagues, but he has the most fun debating player values. Albert typically plays in several baseball and football leagues a year. He also is an avid baseball card collector and writes about older players and their historical value relative to the Hall of Fame and their peers/current players. When not harassing league mates with trades and analyzing what categories his team performs poorly in, Albert is a communications professional in Washington, D.C. Follow Albert on Twitter @h2h_corner. He has an awesome puppy named Charlotte. You can find all of Albert's work at http://h2hcorner.wordpress.com/.
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