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July 21, 2013 posted by Josh Kay

Mid-Season Positional Rankings Breakdown Catchers: Tier 2

Mid-Season Positional Rankings Breakdown Catchers: Tier 2
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4. Carlos Santana- Cleveland Indians: Many may disagree with Carlos Santana’s exclusion from the top tier of catchers. The “upside” tag is one that has been planted on Santana and his fellow disappointment Matt Wieters for quite a long time. Santana has a nice .275 batting average to go along with his modest 11 home runs this season. The problem for Santana has been his inability to hit breaking pitches. Not only has that not gone away, but it’s gotten worse this season. Based around a .303 batting average on balls in play, Santana is hitting just .204 and slugging .278 on breaking pitches in 2013. This is a thirty point decrease in batting average and an even more concerning 204 point decrease in slugging percentage off his 2012 season against breaking pitches. (that coming from a .267 BABIP).

The only hope for Santana is that his precipitous drop in success rate against the slider is merely one of small sample issues.

In 2012 Santana hit .323 with four home runs and a double while amassing eight strikeouts and seven walks against the pitch in 31 at-bats. The problem spot was the curveball, which he struck out on 18 times in 45 at-bats while amassing just four walks and a .178 batting average with two home runs. In 2013 Santana’s numbers are almost completely reversed. His strikeout rate on the slider has nearly doubled  (25.83 percent in 2012 and 48 percent this season) and he has improved against the curveball (six strikeouts and five walks in 24 at-bats). All of these factors amount to a core problem Santana has, and until he fixes it he’ll remain outside the top tier.

5. Victor Martinez- Detroit Tigers: The stats for Victor were pretty bad until the calendar turned to July. Martinez has hit a robust .393 in the current month and has raised his batting average up to .258. Some may question this brashness on Martinez with a rank of five, but Napoli has been an utter disaster recently, Wieters has been arguably as disappointing as Martinez, and Rosario has horrid plate discipline.

The key for Victor is figuring out off-speed pitches. Victor has been out-in-front against a bevy of changeups this season, batting .107 (3-28) against the pitch from right handed pitching (the side he hits best). Martinez has hit groundballs 66 percent of the time with just an 8%  line drive percentage on those 28 changeups put in play against right handers. Compare that to his mark against hard stuff from right handers, which Martinez is hitting to the tune of .298 with just a 9.32% strikeout rate. Additionally, when Martinez swings at a four-seam fastball from a right-hander, he’s missing just 2.45% of the time, an absolutely staggeringly low number. Martinez’s numbers will continue to improve against right-handed pitching going forward.

Of course, Martinez is hitting .227 against left-handed pitching and is missing on average of 10.50% of all hard stuff he swings at from righties. The discrepancy should continue, but the counting stats that are supplied by the uptick he’ll have in batting average make him the #5 catcher.

6. Brian McCann – Atlanta Braves: McCann rode a hot streak into the All-Star break and is currently hitting .290/.371/.546, an excellent slash line and his best OBP since 2010. While McCann’s BABIP is just .286, fantasy GMs should have severe reservations about McCann’s ability to continue to hit for this high an average. If not, he would be much higher up in the rankings. McCann has had huge trouble with the curveball in his career. Since Pitch F/X tracking began in 2007, McCann is hitting .179 (46-257) against the pitch. Even worse, this year he’s just 1-15, and last year in 2012 McCann went 0-29 against the curve. That’s right, an .023 batting average (1-44) the past two seasons against the curveball.

Typically hitters that sit around .290 to .300 have a pretty good all-around hit tool with few holes in their swings. McCann’s hole is blatant and McCann could be in line for a severe cold spell if the league catches on to his egregious struggles against the pitch. If he hits .290 with 20 home runs, that’s exceptionally valuable, but if he just hits .260, he’s not as valuable as guys below him on this list.

7. Mike Napoli- Boston Red Sox: The moniker “once you display a skill, you own it” is thrown around in the fantasy baseball industry a lot. In 2011 Mike Napoli displayed a skill that amounted to being able to recognize changeups and breaking balls more effectively than ever before. Since 2007, Napoli hits .235 and .237 respectively against breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Over that span he has a 37.75 % strikeout rate against breaking balls and a 34.58 % strikeout rate against off-speed pitches. Specifically, over that span Napoli has a 12.61 % line drive rate against the slider and a 14.69% line drive rate against the changeup.

In Napoli’s career year of 2011 when he hit 30 home runs and batted .320, Napoli had a 18.21% line drive rate and 15.91% line drive rate against the slider and changeup respectively. In addition, he had a career low strikeout rate against the changeup of only 22.95%. He also had a career low strikeout rate against the slider; 28.99%.

That skill has just completely vanished into thin air and Napoli has engaged in complete hacker mode this season. He’s currently hitting .154 against the changeup with an enormous 41.03% strikeout rate. Napoli simply won’t hit for average unless his recognition of secondary offerings improves. So until then, he’ll remain lower in the rankings than other top notch catchers.

8. Matt Wieters- Baltimore Orioles: Wieters has cut his strikeout rate against the breaking ball and the changeup by a modest amount this year. Wieters, who has a .206 batting average and a .214 batting average against breaking balls and off-speed pitches, is hitting an absurd amount of infield fly balls, which is just as counter-productive as the strikeout. Wieters simply isn’t progressing at the level fantasy owners and even scouts have expected of him. Until Wieters can hit more home runs (he only has 13 this year) his batting average drain will keep him near the bottom of the second tier of catchers.

9. Wilin Rosario- Colorado Rockies: At some point Rosario, who is seemingly the Mark Trumbo of catchers (lots of power no plate discipline), will hit a wall when it comes to batting average. Walking is a leading indicator of power, and with a walk rate that is now below five percent, Rosario is in danger of falling into more unfavorable counts that will cut his power and batting average production. Of course, Rosario could just keep swinging at the first pitch, which has led to great success this season. Rosario is batting .356 when swinging at the first pitch this season. It also bears noting that Rosario’s ISO is way off the pace from his 28 HR in 426 PA in 2012, garnering him an ISO of .260. This season, it’s just .192

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