Derek Norris, John Jaso, and the Platoon of Awesomeness


The Oakland catching tandem has been dominant this year, and adding both guys would give you a single dominant catcher as well.

Platooning can be hard in fantasy baseball. You find a guy who hits lefties well on one team, and one who hits righties well on another, and that sounds great. On the other hand, with the vagaries of scheduling and the different pitchers various lineups face, your best bet is to find the righty-facing guy you like and play him all the time, and just toss your lefty-facing guy out there on the rare occasions he does face a lefty.

It gets complicated that way. The other way is to pick a single team's set of platoon-mates. That's simple, elegant. All you need is one team's schedule. But when you do that, you're balancing someone like Seth Smith, who has been dominant this year, with someone like Chris Denorfia, who ... hasn't. Or Logan Forsythe and Matt Joyce. Or Corey Dickerson and Brandon Barnes. Or half the Cubs' roster - they're platooning just about everyone.

No, usually, guys who are platooned - particularly the right-handed half of a platoon - aren't good enough hitters in general to really rely on in fantasy from either side of the plate. Platoons tend to be the lefty masher who can't hit lefties - think Ryan Howard - and a righty-hitter who isn't anything special against anyone, but at least doesn't embarrass himself. That's functional in real baseball, but unremarkable in fantasy.

The biggest exception to that in 2014, though, has been the Oakland Athletics catcher tandem of Derek Norris and John Jaso. Neither is super-widely owned, but if you've been scuffling at all at catcher in your league, my advice is to grab both guys and play your lineups.

Norris, in his third big-league season, has put up a .302/.405/.509 line in 201 plate appearances in 59 games. Jaso, meanwhile, is at .271/.360/.458 in 203 plate appearances, also in 59 games. These two guys have split their time almost exactly this season, and they've combined to give Oakland the No. 2 catcher-unit in baseball so far this year, behind only Milwaukee (which really means behind only Jonathan Lucroy).

OPS ranking of team's catching unit, 2014
Rank Team Players OPS
1 Milwaukee Brewers Lucroy, Maldonado .910
2 Oakland Athletics Norris, Jaso, Vogt .855
3 Cincinnati Reds Mesoraco, Pena, Barnhart .828
4 Atlanta Braves Gattis, Laird, Doumit .826
5 Los Angeles Angels Iannetta, Conger .790
6 Minnesota Twins Fryer, Suzuki, Pinto .760
7 Arizona Diamondbacks Montero, Gosewisch .760
8 St. Louis Cardinals Molina, Cruz .741
9 Philadelphia Phillies Ruiz, Nieves, Rupp .735
10 Kansas City Royals Perez, Hayes, Pena .733
11 Cleveland Indians Kottaras, Gomes, Santana .728
12 Pittsburgh Pirates Sanchez, Martin, Stewart .726
13 Detroit Tigers Martinez, Holaday, Avila .725
14 Colorado Rockies McKenry, Rosario, Pacheco .715
15 San Diego Padres Hundley, Rivera, Grandal .710
16 San Francisco Giants Posey, Sanchez .698
17 Seattle Mariners Buck, Zunino .696
18 Baltimore Orioles Wieters, Clevenger, Joseph, Hundley .687
19 Miami Marlins Saltalamacchia, Realmuto, Mathis .680
20 Houston Astros Castro, Corporan .660
21 Chicago White Sox Nieto, Flowers .649
22 New York Yankees Murphy, Cervelli, McCann, Romine .649
23 Texas Rangers Gimenez, Chirinos, Arencibia .639
24 Toronto Blue Jays Thole, Navarro, Kratz .632
25 Washington Nationals Ramos, Lobaton, Leon .619
26 Boston Red Sox Pierzynski, Ross .619
27 Chicago Cubs Castillo, Baker, Whiteside .558
28 New York Mets Centeno, Recker, d'Arnaud, Teagarden .556
29 Los Angeles Dodgers Olivo, Ellis, Butera, Federowicz .556
30 Tampa Bay Rays Hanigan, Molina, Solis .533

(Source: ESPN)

Jaso, the lefty hitter of the two, simply doesn't face left-handed pitchers if it's avoidable - he's logged only 20 plate appearances against southpaws this year, and has scuffled to a .176/.300/.176 line against them. Norris, on the other hand, hits righties well (.271/.386/.427), but demolishes lefties, to the tune of a .342/.430/.616 slash line. Basically, if you could take only Jaso's at bats against righties and Norris' against lefties - and no, it's not that simple by any means, but it illustrates a point - the two are slugging a combined .480.

These aren't flukes. Norris was seen as a high-end hitting prospect, and was one of the key pieces coming to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez trade. Jaso, less of a prototypical stud, has always been an OBP machine. The Mariners traded him in a three-way deal that netted them Michael Morse before last season, and that trade didn't even make any sense at the time. Jaso is something of a rich man's George Kottaras, and if you can explain the distaste MLB teams have for Kottaras to me, I would greatly appreciate it, because I'm stumped.

In Yahoo! leagues, Norris is 52-percent owned and ranks fifth in the Yahoo! player rater among catchers. Meanwhile, Jaso sits at 13 percent and is the No. 10 catcher. The only catcher in the top 17 at the position with fewer at bats than either guy is Devin Mesoraco, who has been simply insane (and made my preseason piece on him look not-so-smart thus far, but whatever).

Basically, for the cost of a bit of waiver claiming, you could have two top-10 catchers in Norris and Jaso. Individually, they are decent catchers whose weaknesses hurt their rate stats and cost them plate appearances, keeping either single guy's value with a clear lower ceiling. You could certainly do worse than either one, but separate, neither is currently that special. Together, though, Norris and Jaso could pretty easily be the No. 1 or No. 2 "catcher" in the game.

It requires some extra work. You'll need to monitor the team's schedule, pay attention to daily lineup announcements and the like. But if you have both Norris and Jaso, it's a ready-made platoon that is far easier and more palatable than the vast majority of fantasy platoon options out there.

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