You're going to see a lot of information this week on different individual catchers, whether it's player profiles, rankings or prospect information. But before we get into those specifics, it can be very helpful to take a step back. So the idea behind this State of the Position series which will run at the beginning of each week of coverage is to give you a sense of what to expect from the position as a whole in various types of leagues.
In 2012, catcher was once again one of the least reliable positions to fill. And if you were able to fill it, there were few options out there that both performed at a high level and stayed healthy. But that's what you expect out of the catcher position -- and that's why the auction prices and draft positions of catchers tend to be lower than that of other positions. What we didn't expect out of the position in 2012 was the sort of depth that we're just not accustomed to seeing. Twenty-five catchers hit double-digit HR in 2012. So when guys like Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Lucroy went down to injury, unheralded masked men like Erik Kratz and Michael McKenry were able to fill in admirably.
What 2012 also provided was a slight return to more playing time on the high-end of the position. Between 2010 and 2011 combined, there were only three individual seasons of 560 plate appearances or more by a catcher. In 2012, there were six: Mauer, Posey, Santana, Wieters, Montero and Molina. Why is that important? Counting stats. Over the last three years, the numbers of catchers who both scored and drove in 60 runs has increased from three in 2010 to five in 2011 to eight in 2012. The number of 20-HR seasons by catchers has gone up from four in 2010 to five in 2011 to nine in 2012. So as you would expect, total HR by catchers is on the same trend (480, 546, 627). What you might not have expected is that the 627 HR hit by catchers in 2012 was the most in major league history.
That additional power is great, but if there's more of it to go around in leagues, where can you differentiate yourself from your opponents? The first is batting average. There were five catchers who hit .315 or higher in 2012, compared to two combined the previous two seasons. However, as a whole, the catcher position's batting average has stayed relatively similar over that time period -- which means you're getting better bang for your buck with a high-AVG catcher. To a lesser extent, this applies to SB as well. If you wonder why Yadier Molina gets so much love, sure it's partially because of his AVG and HR, but he also had 12.5% of all catcher SB in 2012 (12 out of 96). To put that into a little more perspective, Mike Trout had just 3% of all outfielder SB and Jose Reyes had 7% of all shortstop SB. It matters.
The League Breakout
In the official Fake Teams consensus ranks (which will be coming out in subsequent posts), the American League trumps the National League 14-to-11 in our Top-25 catchers. At the top, the differences are small -- Posey/Molina/Montero vs Mauer/Santana/Wieters, but as you get further down the list, the American League has more lower-price, higher-risk/reward options (including some on the same teams). Both Toronto and Boston have power-only incumbents and potentially better options offensively coming. Seattle and Minnesota both have two legit options in AL-only leagues.
So, what does that mean you should focus on? If you're in an NL-only league that's more than 10 teams or uses two catchers, you're going to want to reach a little for one of the big guys this year, as the back-end gets pretty ugly fast. If you're in an AL-only league of that size, you can wait a little bit longer. On top of that, if you're in a one catcher AL-only league, it might behoove you to wait on catching and then grab two options from the back-end and see which one sticks. Once you get outside the top-5 catchers in each league, the upside is much greater in the American League.
Catchers in Name Only
There are few pieces of advice in this world greater than "never get involved in a land war in Asia" and "always draft a catcher who gets substantial playing time away from the position." In 2012, there were seven players who will still be catcher-eligible in 2013 that started at least 30 games at a position other than catcher: Buster Posey (32), Mike Napoli (37), John Jaso (48), Carlos Santana (50), Joe Mauer (72), Jesus Montero (78) and Ryan Doumit (93). This year could see more names added to that list as Victor Martinez is unlikely to put on his pads in a non-emergency situation and Ryan Lavarnway may see more playing time should David Ortiz have another injury plagued season. It could also apply to Wilin Rosario, who may have to start breaking in a first baseman's glove if he doesn't improve his defense behind the plate.
The Strategy in Mixed Leagues
The surprising depth at the position heading into 2013 means that you should avoid reaching for a top catcher at all in single-catcher leagues, unless they fall to a reasonable position. If Buster Posey is a top-15 pick, I won't have him on any teams. If Yadi Molina or Carlos Santana or Joe Mauer are top-50 picks, I won't have them either. I'd much rather spend the pick on another position and come back towards the end of the draft and take a Jesus Montero, Sal Perez or Ryan Doumit.
However, if you're in a two-catcher league that's deeper than 10 teams, you're going to want to make sure that you are one of the teams with two top-15 catchers (preferably with one being a top-6 option). It's a bit of a hole to start in if you're running Jonathan Lucroy and A.J. Ellis out there instead of Yadier Molina and Victor Martinez. These mixed leagues where more than 20 catchers are rostered will be more or less the only ones worth paying sticker price for any of the big named catchers.
The Rest of the Week
Now that we've covered the position from a macro perspective, it's time to dig in to the players. Ray will be bringing you the first part of our 2013 consensus positional rankings next (in just a few short hours), so stay tuned for that -- along with our catching prospect coverage which start tomorrow morning with Jason and Craig. The rest of the writing staff here will be working on bringing you in-depth profiles and sleeper picks. We've got a lot of information coming your way for both the rest of this week and the rest of the off-season, so empty some space in your brain and be prepared for a informational avalanche. Remember, if you haven't started your 2013 draft prep yet, you're already behind someone in your league (especially if you play in a league with me).