Coming off a .239/.351/.447 season with 27 home runs, 79 RBI, 84 runs and five steals in 2011, Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana was the first catcher taken in Yahoo leagues with an average draft position of 43, and the second catcher taken in ESPN leagues with an average draft position of 56. Those who selected Santana so highly thinking they solved their catcher spot and wouldn't have to tweak in-season ended up disappointed, as he finished as the 11th best catcher on ESPN's Player Rater, making him one of the worst values at the catcher position in 2012 -- Mike Napoli and Alex Avila also come to mind.
On Monday, Fake Teams published Part I of its consensus catcher rankings for 2013 (Part II on Wednesday), and Santana tied Joe Mauer for third on the list with 96 points, with three out of four writers ranking him No. 3 or better. I think that's overly optimistic. Even during Santana's 2011 breakout season, he finished outside the top 5 in leagues using standard 5X5 scoring, and I believe he'll be on the outside looking in once again in 2013.
Outside of batting average, Santana saw every single one of his major statistical categories drop in 2012. His RBIs went down by three, runs by 12, steals by two, and home runs by a whopping nine (9!). The aforementioned average went up slightly from .239 to .252 thanks to a late season surge, but even that was aided by an increased BABIP of 15 points.
So how did Santana go from a sure-fire, top-5 catcher to a catcher outside the top 10?
Santana, like any young player in the beginning stages of his career, is going to have his ups and downs. Last year had more downs than ups, but he did finish the season strong, with 13 of his 18 home runs coming after the All-Star Break. Still, it was wishful thinking to expect Santana to put up another season of 27 home runs and nearly 85 runs and 80 RBI, especially with a below-average strikeout rate of 20.2-percent and what I believe is an unsustainable home run-to-fly ball rate of 16.0-percent -- both numbers from his 2011 season.
While it was nice to see his strikeout rate improve to 16.6-percent, his home run-to-fly ball rate fell to 11.5-percent and his ground ball-to-fly ball rate increased for the second consecutive year, despite an increased line drive rate. His ISO also plummeted nearly 50 points from .217 to .168. Those aren't particularly good signs, but I concede they are likely to rebound a bit next season.
In 2013, I can see Santana blasting 20 home runs or so with solid run production, but the modest increase in his batting average from .239 to .252, which is what everybody pointed to in 2011 as a major question mark, didn't prove anything. We still don't know if Santana's true talent is as the .290-hitter he was in the minors, or as the current .247-hitter he is in the majors.
Next year, I believe Santana is a top-10 catcher in fantasy leagues. His talent alone puts him in the conversation for top 5, but I'm not ready to claim his 2011 season is the standard going forward while not taking into account his decrease in production in 2012. Frankly, I believe there are other catchers who have earned the benefit of the doubt ahead of Santana, and I would much rather draft them and be more confident in doing so.
So give me Buster Posey, Mauer, Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, Matt Wieters and a recovering Victor Martinez before Santana. I'd even take Napoli later on knowing I will get the same amount of power. Santana is good. He's just not elite good, not yet. Let him prove it first. At 26, he's got plenty of time.
Statistics from FanGraphs.