Post Break Preview: Catcher

Cool Hand Luke tops Fantasy Catchers going foward
Cool-hand Luke tops fantasy catchers moving forward

It used to be a catcher preview started with Buster Posey and ending with Joe Mauer. However, entering 2014 there were enough intriguing options emerging that the “depth” word started to surface. I have never been a proponent of drafting a Buster Posey type at the point in drafts that it would take to get him. So far so good this year, but with the injuries to Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters the margin for error is closing quickly. In order to rank the catchers for the second half I will look at how this season is going while taking into account what the catchers have done over the last statistical year (last 365). Not only that, I will also list how ZiPS feels about the second half by projecting how the catchers are projected to finish the year. But first, some fun with numbers:

• Player A – 148 G, 63 R, 20 HR, 77 RBI, 1 SB 288/331/450
• Player B – 145 G, 60 R, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 1 SB 267/335/382
• Player C – 104 G, 60 R, 12 HR, 44 RBI, 1 SB 256/332/415

One of my favorite parts of Matthew Berry’s fantasy baseball work was his blind test for players. If you take the names out of the equation you cannot make a decision about a player based on perceptions (or name value). Of course all of us would want player A in this scenario and it is a player I was very high on entering the season. He was on the All-Star team for the American League and on his way to being an elite fantasy baseball catcher. Players B and C are both in the National League but were drafted nowhere near each other. The aforementioned Buster Posey’s last 365 days are represented above but Player C is Wellington Castillo. Yes, of the Cubs. Even though our mind says that player A is Buster Posey, it doesn’t always happen that way. As the season enters the second half, here is how the catchers stack up via ESPN’s player rater:

1. Jonathan Lucroy
2. Devin Mesoraco
3. Evan Gattis
4. Salvador Perez
5. Buster Posey
6. Miguel Montero
7. Yan Gomes
8. Derek Norris
9. Yadier Molina (DL)
10. Kurt Suzuki
11. John Jaso
12. Carlos Santana
13. Joe Mauer (DL)
14. Russell Martin
15. Brian McCann

I feel like I am bashing Buster a bit and he is still in the top five on the first half player rater. That is not a slight on him but at his pre-season ADP, it is a disappointment. After his All-Star game performance, Jonathan Lucroy may finally get some attention for being the top fantasy catcher not only in the first half, but moving forward. If people do not rank players the way they are accustomed it is frowned upon but I promised myself a year ago to trust my gut. I hyped Salvador Perez, Devin Mesoraco and saw Evan Gattis as a bargain compared to Brian McCann. If you had Kurt Suzuki on your radar entering 2014, my hat is off and I tip it to you. So how did this happen? Are there predictors? Not always, but as much as I was right about Perez and Gattis, I have been way off on Carlos Santana. Although, Santana can definitely salvage his season in the 2nd half. Are you listening Wilson Ramos? Please fantasy gods, allow him to stay healthy and not hit eighth in the second half for about ¾ of my teams, thanks. Using WAR (wins above replacement) to rank the Catchers over the last 365 days here is how they stack up, with statistics included (I excluded Yadier Molina who was fourth on this list):

1. Jonathan Lucroy – 78 R, 15 HR, 76 RBI, 10 SB 304/376/474
2. Salvador Perez – 63 R, 20 HR, 77 RBI, 1 SB 288/331/450
3. Yan Gomes – 62 R, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 0 SB 280/333/449
4. Russell Martin – 43 R, 12 HR, 53 RBI, 6 SB 244/357/375
5. Devin Mesoraco – 47 R, 21 HR, 67 RBI, 1 SB 279/331/511
6. Chris Iannetta – 40 R, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 3 SB 262/376/419
7. Carlos Santana – 74 R, 23 HR, 69 RBI, 4 SB 235/363/416
8. Jason Castro – 50 R, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 0 SB 254/334/427
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia – 56 R, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 4 SB 246/326/430
10. Wellington Castillo – 33 R, 12 HR, 44 RBI, 1 SB 256/332/415
11. Buster Posey – 60 R, 12 HR, 62 RBI, 1 SB 267/335/382
12. Carlos Ruiz – 47 R, 7 HR, 45 RBI, 3 SB 261/344/382
13. Miguel Montero – 47 R, 16 HR, 63 RBI, 0 SB 262/346/417
14. Evan Gattis – 49 R, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 0 SB 265/308/484
15. Wilson Ramos – 37 R, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 0 SB 269/307/429

Using a ranking system like this is far from perfect, but being able to see the numbers from the last year does provide some clarity. To sort this list out I also had 350 at bats as the minimum so there may be a couple of emerging players who were omitted from this list but it is a nice start to try and rank the catcher going forward. Of the players in the player rater top 15 not listed above, Brian McCann was 18th, Joe Mauer 19th, Matt Wieters 20th and Kurt Suzuki 21st as you go down the list provided above. These are a nice baseline, so now here are ZiPS projected leaders for standard categories for the rest of the season (ROS):

ZiPS Runs leaders:
1. Carlos Santana: 31
2. Joe Mauer: 29 (DL)
3. Buster Posey: 27
4. Mike Zunino: 26
5. Jonathan Lucroy: 24
6. Salvador Perez: 23

ZiPS HR leaders:
1. Carlos Santana: 9
2. Evan Gattis: 9
3. Brian McCann: 9
4. Wilin Rosario: 8
5. Posey, Mesoraco and Zunino: tied at 7

ZiPS RBI leaders:
1. Buster Posey: 33
2. Carlos Santana: 32
3. Jonathan Lucroy: 30
4. Miguel Montero: 30
5. Brian McCann 29

ZiPS batting average leaders:
1. Jonathan Lucroy: .291
2. Buster Posey: .287
3. Salvador Perez: .286
4. Joe Mauer: .285
5. Kurt Suzuki: .272
6. Wilson Ramos: .271

Being projections, these are not completely going to fit the script. But, it does give a glimpse into what the computer projects for the remaining games of the season. While his average is not great, it does suggest a bounce back is in the offing for Carlos Santana and Jason Castro, two disappointments thus far. Evan Gattis in on rehab assignment now and if he gets back soon, should not see a huge drop in his first half numbers. The wild cards are players like Devin Mesoraco and Wilson Ramos. One is emerging and the other just needs to stay on the field. Below are my rankings for catchers for the second half of the season. I will be wrong, Wilin Rosario will not be hitting 30 home runs this year or ever, but I think there are emerging players who are worth a shot. As always these are up for debate.

My top 20 post-ASB catcher:
1. Jonathan Lucroy – Milwaukee – I believe as should you
2. Salvador Perez – Kansas City – Any uptick in power is a plus
3. Devin Mesoraco – Cincinnati – No Dusty to screw him up, watch him emerge
4. Carlos Santana – Cleveland – Still think he is a buy low, real low
5. Buster Posey – San Francisco – Solid, but not number one anymore
6. Wilson Ramos – Washington – Hit 16 HR in 287 AB in 2013, health risk though
7. Evan Gattis – Atlanta – Power is legit, hope back holds up
8. Yan Gomes – Cleveland – Very underrated but helps across the board
9. Miguel Montero – Arizona – Could be a trade target for St. Louis
10. Wilin Rosario – Colorado – Better days should be ahead, but not elite
11. Russell Martin – Pittsburgh – A poor man’s Lucroy as he adds steals but an average risk
12. Brian McCann – New York Yankees – Still has power but the shift is killing him
13. Jason Castro – Houston – Bounce back candidate in second half
14. Stephen Vogt – Oakland – Has hit his way into the lineup a 2H sleeper
15. Travis d’Arnaud – New York Mets – Has mashed since his demotion/promotion, sleeper
16. Mike Zunino – Seattle – Power is real but his batting average weighs it down
17. Kurt Suzuki – Minnesota – Just the opposite, has the average but little power
18. Derek Norris – Oakland – Great first half but wrong side of platoon and back worries
19. John Jaso – Oakland – Solid but Vogt is pushing his way ahead of Jaso
20. Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Miami – Solid #2 catcher but that is his upside

Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!

Statistical credits: Fangraphs.com (including the ZiPS Projections), Baseball-reference.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/z8UxPA

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