Catcher is not typically a position of offense. So few players can do it well-enough defensively, that most major league catchers are there to be behind the plate, and not so much what they can do at the plate. Therefore, when a guy can handle his defensive duties, but also swing a good stick, he's going to be held in that much higher regard. Especially in fantasy.
Coming into the season, it looked like we were going to have a whole new wave of offensive-minded catchers. Guys that would be a force in fantasy by driving in runs, smacking homers, and hitting for average. Along with steady veterans like Victor Martinez, Joe Mauer, and Brian McCann, 2011 would be the year of Carlos Santana, Buster Posey, and JP Arencibia. It hasn't exactly worked out that way.
Here's how Yahoo ranked the top catchers going into the season:
All 6 of them in the top 100.
How has that worked out so far?
Victor Martinez is basically having the same season he had last year, if not somewhat inconsistent week-to-week. Perhaps he was just overrated by Yahoo to begin with. Buster Posey was doing just okay before he was lost for the whole season.
Joe Mauer has had all of 34 at bats this year, and with the Twins at the bottom of the MLB there is no reason for the Twins to rush him back. McCann has been very good this year, and perhaps should have been ranked at the top all along.
Santana had a good first week, but in his last 40 games is hitting .188. Soto seemed to be getting back on the horse last season, but is hitting .222 this year with just 3 HR and 12 RBI.
While some catchers have stepped up their game this year to fill some of the void left by these surprising setbacks, keep in mind that none of them are top 100 players yet.
Current rankings after the jump:
Rather than objectively give you my own personal rankings, I will instead just go by how they're ranked in fantasy this season, with my notes on how sustainable this production is.
1. Russell Martin, NYY, .253/.363/.479, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 5 SB
There was a time when Martin belonged on a list like this. That time was 2007/2008. I guess never underestimate the power of playing in the Big Apple. Martin is posting the highest OPS+ of his career at 129 and the highest ISO of his career at .226.
Surprisingly, Martin's BABIP stands at .252. It doesn't necessarily mean that Martin will actually get better as the season goes on, but it could mean that he won't fall of a giant cliff at some point either. Martin's production also means there won't be a rush to bring another young catching "stud" up too soon either, leaving Jesus Montero fans weeping.
Rest of Season Outlook: Good
2. Miguel Montero, ARI, .287/.368/.470, 6 HR, 27 RBI
Surprisingly, Montero is only about a year younger than Russell Martin. Now in his fifth major league season, Montero could be a hot free agent commodity after 2012. He caught the attention of fantasy owners with a breakout 2009 season, but injuries in 2010 pushed him back down again. I don't think anyone is surprised to see Montero doing well, just that he's playing everyday. Let's hope that continues. The D'Backs have won the last 11 games that Montero has played in, and he's hitting .372/.438/.581 over those 11 games.
Rest of Season Outlook: Good
3. Alex Avila, DET, .280/.350/.531, 8 HR, 29 RBI
So if I told you before the season that a Detroit catcher would be #3 on this list, you would have totally believed it was Avila, right? This wouldn't have been crazy to believe after the 2009 season, when in only 29 games Avila crushed the ball pretty well to the tune of: 279/.375/.590, 5 HR, 14 RBI in 61 at-bats for a 22 year old.
Things didn't go as well in 2010, and he hit .228 in 104 games. But Avila is still really young, and he's really seeing the ball well this season. Avila is only hitting .246 in May, but he did add 5 HR and slugged .522. I believe the power to be real, but he may be more like a .250 hitter than a .280 hitter. Perhaps a JP Arencibia comp is reasonable here.
Rest of Season Outlook: Moderate. He'll come down, but still be top 10.
4. Brian McCann, ATL, .304/.366/.464, 6 HR, 29 RBI
These rankings are literally taken straight from Yahoo. I do it that way so you, the reader, don't get caught up in the ordering of the number so much. What point does that have? Why should anyone care if Player X is 4th and player Y is 5th? What's the difference? All you really want to know is how they are doing and how they will do. At least, I hope that's what you want to know. That's why McCann is ranked fourth. Is he the best catcher in the major leagues, fantasy or otherwise, based on a history of doing great consistently and again doing great? Probably.
Rest of Season Outlook: Very McCannish
5. Mike Napoli, TEX, .229/.364/.571, 10 HR, 25 RBI
I don't know where Napoli would have ranked going into the holiday weekend, but I am guessing it was lower than 5th. Why? Because in his last 3 games Napoli has 4 HR, 9 RBI, 5 R and 2 doubles. Yeah...
Napoli fanboys aren't surprised though. They would say "He wasn't being used enough in Los Angeles, he was going to the happy-hitting Rangers" and so on. Sure enough, there is some truth to that. He's also walking more than he ever has in his career, striking out less than he ever has, posting his highest ISO, and has a .197 BABIP. But my word of caution is this:
Take out the first 5 games of the season and the last 3 games of the season and Napoli is hitting .139/.292/.304 in 29 games. That's not a player you start at any position.
Rest of Season Outlook: Pray that you start him on the right week, or just get rid of him and pray less.
6. Victor Martinez, DET, .298/.359/.482, 5 HR, 27 RBI
V-Mart might never be quite as good as he was in his heyday with the Indians. But this is still very good production from a catcher. I would have never had him ranked as the top catcher, or even a top 3 catcher, in the big leagues.
Rest of Season Outlook: I think you can just pace out the numbers he already has and put a stamp on it.
7. Yadier Molina, STL, .311/.356/.457, 3 HR, 24 RBI
Uhh.. yeah... are you seeing now how shallow the catcher pool is? I just wouldn't dive in head first if I were you. Molina is a fine player, and he'll probably go to his 3rd straight All-Star game. But a career .695 OPS, and consistently hitting 6-8 HR per year over his career, I wouldn't expect him to be a fantasy all-star any time soon. Somethings just in the water in St Louis for hitters these days. His .329 BABIP is a career high.
Rest of Season Outlook: I'll pass, thanks. He's old enough for me to know he won't continue to post an OPS that's 118 points higher than his career OPS.
8. JP Arencibia, TOR, ..259/.321/.503, 8 HR, 26 RBI
I'm on board with JP. the power is for real. He hit 32 HR in 104 minor league games last season. He might not even be as good as hit .259 average, but the .294 BABIP isn't unsustainable. If he's a .240 hitter the rest of the way, but that comes with 15-20 HR, I'll always take that from the catching position.
Rest of Season Outlook: Good
9. Jon Lucroy, MIL, .312/.356/.480, 5 HR, 24 RBI
Lucroy always posted good numbers in the Brewers minor league system and he does seem like a decent hitter. However, he's posting a .374 BABIP, so he probably won't hit .312 all season long.
Rest of Season Outlook: He might fit into the 10-15 range at some point in terms of catcher ranking, but probably never a star.
10. Chris Iannetta, COL, .241/.386/.466, 7 HR, 22 RBI
This might be the least-Scrabble name of all time. All those letters... all those 1 point letters...
Iannetta was once a hot prospect for the Rockies, and fantasy owners let visions of a 40 HR catcher dance in their heads. Don't let the thin air of Denver fool you into believing that every Rockies player will have a Dante Bichette season like its 1999. Tonight we're going to party like its 2011, and in 2011 it's not a sure thing that any player in Colorado will hit like a stud.
Rest of Season Outlook: If you can withstand a .220-.240 batting average, it might be worth the 20 HR season he might post. But I would count on Chris to get worse as the season goes on, not better.