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Value Shopping: Catchers in 2013

Fantasy sports are all about maximizing the value at each selection and in this review I am going to take a look specifically at the value maximization of the catcher spot in 2012 and how to better maximize catcher value in 2013.

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If you know anything about real life baseball you know that the catcher position is often the least offensively productive position on the field aside from the pitcher spot in the National League. If you are a regular fantasy baseball player you have probably learned that the catcher position is often the most difficult to predict since very rarely do catchers log more than 500 at-bats per season and for the most part their offensive production takes a back seat to their game calling and defensive expertise-neither of which are fantasy counting stats. Taking these facts into consideration most fantasy players go one of two ways on draft day. They either draft a premiere catcher early or they wait until the later rounds and take a flier on a guy who they hope won't kill them over the course of the season (I’m looking at you Jarrod Saltalamacchia). The 2012 season is a perfect example of how both strategies can be successful but when you take a deeper look is it really all that smart to spend a top 100 pick on a catcher?

Prior to the 2012 season there were five catchers tabbed by Yahoo Sports (standard 5x5 scoring) as top 100 players in the fantasy baseball game. Those players were (in order): Carlos Santana (44), Mike Napoli (55), Brian McCann (72), Buster Posey (76), and Matt Wieters (93). Of those five players only Buster Posey is among the still among the top 100 checking in as the 32nd best player. Needless to say the people who drafted Santana and Napoli in the 4th or 5th rounds have taken huge losses as Santana is the 182th best player and Napoli is way down there at 524th overall. But the key take away is that every catcher that was rated a top 100 (sans Posey) has underperformed and left there owners in the red.

So how can we make sure that we don't get caught taking huge losses behind the dish in 2013?

The first thing that needs to happen is that owners need to take a look at the historical trends and set realistic expectations. Take for example the 2010 season. There was only one catcher who was worthy of a top 100 spot and that was Joe Mauer. Mauer finished the season as the 83rd best player. Not bad by any means. But upon further review he was probably drafted in the 3rd round at the very latest coming off of his outstanding 2009 season so even with his top 100 finish his owners were still operating at a loss. Flash forward to 2011 and only two catchers were left in the top 100 at season end. They were Victor Martinez (53) and Mike Napoli (58). Martinez, who was also widely considered a top 100 pick prior to 2011 after his strong campaign in Boston, posted only 12 home runs but was aided by a gaudy 103 RBI's and an outstanding .330 batting average which allowed his owners to at the very least break even or maybe turn the slightest profit finishing near the top 50 by seasons end. Napoli on the other hand came out of nowhere to finish in the top 100 and since pretty much everybody knows the story with Napoli, who had one of the best single seasons second halves in fantasy baseball history, there isn't much left to say besides he was not on anyone's top 100 list prior to 2011. So here we are in 2012 and the song remains the same as only Buster Posey is rewarding his owners with a profit from the preseason top 100 while the rest have ranged from mild disappointment to complete bust with two guys (Yadier Molina and Joe Mauer) who were rated outside the top 100 also providing their owners with a nice return on investment in 2012.

The second thing that owners need to take into consideration when drafting a catcher is multi-position eligibility. There are several catchers out there who are offensive forces that just need the at-bats to maximize their value but fail to receive them because the rigors of the position necessitate off days, late game substitutions, and higher risk of injuries associated with the role. Some players that fit this profile are Brian McCann and Miguel Montero. Both of these guys have shown that they are more than competent at the plate but consistently fail to deliver top 100 production because they often fail to log more than 500 at-bats over the course of a full season. That's where a player like Buster Posey and Joe Mauer derive quite a bit of extra value as they spend their time logging at-bats from a variety of other positions. One of the most overlooked aspect of drafting catchers in fantasy baseball is idea that just because a guy is a starting catcher for his respective team does not mean he is going to be taking the necessary amount of at-bats to help your team enough to justify his draft position.

So with the idea that most catchers who are rated as top 100 players entering the draft will eventually be nothing more than replacement level (for fantasy purposes) let’s take a look at a few of the players that we can and should target in 2013 to get good value because really at the end of the day it will be the team that gets the most value out of their players that wins the championships.

Catchers I'm targeting at a discount in 2013:

1.) Victor Martinez, C/1B, DET: Martinez spent all of 2012 on the disabled list and for those in standard redraft leagues he is a guy that should be targeted in the 5th round or later to maximize his value. Most managers will jump early on the 2012 success stories and ignore Martinez on draft day due to his injuries and his advanced age but from 2009-2011 he logged the most games (427), the most plate appearances (1805), the most hits (505), the most runs (228), and the most RBI's (290). He also possesses a terrific eye at the plate with a career 457:533 BB/K rate which is a skill he will continue to show in 2013. He also plays for one of the most offensively dynamic teams in professional baseball and will be hitting in the middle of a lineup that features both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the Tigers will figure out a way for Martinez to see at-bats from the catcher spot as well as first base and designated hitter spots in 2013. Look for a line of somewhere in the realm of .300/.360/.450 with 15-20 home runs, 75 runs, and near 100 RBI's from the consistent slugger firmly placing him within the top 75 players in 2013.

2.) Salvador Perez, C, KC: Perez was one of the buzziest catching options prior to 2012 but was quickly injured and has been limited to only 68 games and 275 plate appearances for the Royals this season. Most of the casual fantasy players will see his limited experience and the fact that he plays for the decrepit Royals and steer clear. Do not be that guy. Perez has a few things going for him that should not be ignored. First he has a clear line to a ton of playing time with his only threat being Brayan Pena (so no threat) and his team friendly long-term deal that he recently signed bodes well for him being tabbed as the catcher of the future for the Royals. He is also a terrific hitter who makes excellent contact and strikes out at a 9.5% K-rate. Meaning that he puts balls in play and should sustain a solid batting average over the long haul. Another important factor that will undoubtedly be overlooked is the fact that the Royals are a pretty good offensive club that is in the upper half of the majority of team offensive categories which bodes will for Perez's value from a fantasy standpoint. If you can nab Perez between the 10th and 15th rounds the chances of you turning a profit over the course of the season is very high. As I could easily see him producing numbers similar to Miguel Montero's 2012 next season at what will likely be a fraction of the cost.

3.) Mike Napoli, C/1B, TEX: The only thing faster than Napoli's meteoric rise in the fantasy ranks in 2011 has been his meteoric decline throughout 2012. From a consensus top three fantasy catcher to waiver wire bait in just one season Napoli will have owners in 2013 hesitant to pull the trigger on the powerful slugger. But as the saying goes one man's junk could be another man's treasure. Napoli was way over-hyped and way overpriced in 2012 and was almost assured to under deliver in 2012. But that may change in 2013 as his price tag will definitely drop and could be a huge bargain on draft day. The slugging backstop went from posting a career low 19.7% K-rate and career high BABIP of .344 in 2011 to posting a career high 29.6% K-rate and the second lowest BABIP of his career at .283 thus far in 2012. His batting average has plummeted 91 points as a result and his fantasy value has suffered as a result. But what often goes understated is that he has been the victim of a pretty severe quad injury that has limited his power and his ability to stay in the lineup in 2012 and while his strikeouts remain high he has set a new high in his BB% at 13.8% which bodes well for him getting on base and returning to an offensive force. He has still hit 20 HR's which is outstanding considering he has played in only 99 games and his hitting environment (provided he resigns with Texas) couldn't get any better. If Napoli is available in round eight or later he could be a huge bargain as I fully expect his BABIP to move closer to his career average of .301 (thus move his batting average closer to the .250 range) and his power to come back once he has an off-season to rest his legs. Just for some perspective in the last 10 games since returning from the DL Napoli has hit .389 with 3 HR's and a .500 OBP. Plus he plays multiple positions giving Ron Washington more options to keep his bat in the lineup and fantasy players the option of using him as 1B if necessary.

4.) Wilin Rosario, C, COL: Rosario is a guy who could go one of two ways in 2013. He could either repeat his 2012 campaign where he posted the numbers that Carlos Santana was supposed to post and deliver top five fantasy catcher stats or he could get eaten alive in his second go around in the big leagues due to his mortal fear of taking a walk and strike out tendencies. I believe in the former. Considering he is owned in only 52% of Yahoo leagues there is a real chance that he will continue to fly under the radar on draft day and will probably come off the board in rounds 8-10 in competitive leagues and even later in the not so competitive leagues. He is poised to continue his power streak in the high altitude of Colorado and has taken a firm hold on the starting gig in the Mile High City. I think a 25 home run campaign with a solid enough batting average (.260+) with solid RBI and run totals is very much in the cards for Rosario in 2013 and he is going to benefit from an improved Rockies lineup that will see Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer return at full strength. So while some other owner buys into the A.J. Pierzynski break out it would be wise to wait a round or two and nab Rosario who at age 23 will be much more inclined to deliver a profit.

5.) Yasmani Grandal, C, SDP: Grandal was sent to San Diego prior to the 2012 season when the Reds decided to go all in on Devin Mesoraco. It would not be a surprise to see Grandal paying off huge dividends to the owners who invest in him in 2013 where he should see ample time in the light hitting Padres lineup. The 23 year old has done nothing but hit since getting an extended stay in the big leagues and has posted a very solid .274/.379/.452 slash line with 7 home runs, and 30 RBI’s in just 198 Plate appearances. He is the guy who I believe will deliver the most fantasy value in 2013 relative to his draft spot as he is likely to get overlooked do to his limited big league exposure and the fear that all fantasy owners have in Petco Park. I know this isn’t the best way to sell a player but if you were to extrapolate his 2012 performance over a full 162 game slate (he will not play 162 games in 2013 or probably ever) he would deliver 22 home runs, 93 RBI’s, and 84 runs firmly placing him within the top five of all fantasy catchers. Realistically I believe Grandal could post upwards of 15 home runs, and 75 RBI’s and 75 runs and finish 2013 a top ten catcher but his draft price will likely be in much later probably somewhere in the 13-15th round. So while some may invest early on a brand name and more than likely take a loss, do the smart thing and fill another need and wait until the later rounds and grab Grandal who will give you the most bang for your buck.

Catchers I'm avoiding in 2013:

1.) Yadier Molina, C, STL: It’s nothing against Molina as he has proven to be one of the truly elite catchers both offensively and defensively in all of baseball. My biggest problem with him is that he is already a top 100 fantasy asset checking in at 67th overall according to Yahoo Sports which means his 2013 draft day stock is going to be too high to realize any potential value. Owners will be looking to pick up Molina within the first five rounds in 2013 and there is just no room for him to turn another profit even if he is able to duplicate his 2012 success something I do not believe he will do. On the season he has posted career highs in at-bats, hits, home runs, RBI’s, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all by a very large margin which leads me to believe that he will have very little room to improve and thus reward the owners who will undoubtedly take him within the top 50 picks. I think he is going to post a line in 2013 very similar to his 2011 season where he hit .305 with 14 HR’s and 65 RBI’s and checked in as the 177th best player. Still a very valuable asset but not worth the price some owners will pay to have him in 2013.

2.) Brian McCann, C, ATL: In what has been a very tough year at the plate for McCann I do see him bouncing back and being more valuable in 2013 but I think that he is one of those catchers that is consistently overvalued in fantasy baseball. It is commonplace to see him taken in the top five of all catchers but statistically he hasn’t produced top five catcher results since 2010 and even then he was the 173rd best player in fantasy baseball. Perhaps the ravages of the position have gotten to him but even with a bounce back year he is unlikely to be a top 150 player and spending even a top 100 pick on him in 2013 will leave owners taking a significant loss.

3.) Buster Posey, C/1B, SFG: Posey is hands down the best catcher in all of fantasy baseball and arguably real life baseball. There are no glaring weaknesses in his game and he has multiple position eligibility which will allow owners to start him even when he isn’t in the squat. My only problem with Buster Posey is that in 2013 people will be drafting him as early as the first round. This means that he will more than likely have to post a line like Josh Hamilton, Andrew McCutchen, or at the very least Adrian Beltre to have owners break even. Frankly that will never happen since he lacks the five category contributions that all owners should look for with their first pick. Just for perspective Posey, who will have a lot of helium leading up to 2013 draft day, is still producing less (for fantasy purposes ) than Alex Rios and Aramis Ramirez, two players who will undoubtedly be drafted much later. There is more value to be had on draft day than Posey will offer and owners would be wise to keep that in mind.

4.) Joe Mauer, C/1B, MIN: Mauer has been the fantasy catching poster boy since he burst onto the scene in 2005. He is a career .324 hitter who will give you solid counting stats in both runs and RBI’s. He will have very little value as a home run threat and will offer virtually nothing on the base paths. He is a rated as the 54th best player in all of fantasy in 2012 up sharply from his disastrous 2011 were he was ravaged by injuries and even up from his 2010 campaign where he was the top rated catcher in baseball but still only the 83rd best player in all of baseball. It’s almost a guarantee that he will be rated amongst the top five and maybe even top three fantasy catching options in 2013 and there will be a guy in the draft who reaches for him in the first three to five rounds and I would urge you to not be that guy. Despite Mauer having the multi-position eligibility, which adds tremendous value, he plays on one of the worst teams in baseball and is not a guy who is going to give you the kind of five category juice that would merit such a high selection.

5.) Carlos Santana, C/1B, CLE: Santana was rated by most as the top catcher heading into 2012. He has multi-position eligibility, he hits for power, gets on base, drives runs in, logged 658 plate appearances in 2011, he’s young, blah, blah, blah. Yahoo had him as the top catcher in all of baseball prior to 2012 by a wide margin and predicted that he would be a top 50 player over the course of the season. So owners invested an early pick in the guy and he was long gone on draft day before fifth round in most leagues. Then he got off to a horrible start posting a .221 batting average with only five home runs before the All-Star break. Making the owners who sunk a third round pick in him look like fools. He has of course since righted the ship and posted a .296 average with 13 home runs after the break just in time to keep owners who tabbed him as the number one catcher invested and buzzing about 2013 being the break out year 2012 was supposed to be. He will again be one of the top three catchers off the board in 2013 and could go as early as round three again and probably no later than round five despite being the 182nd best player in the game. When will people learn? To put it plainly if you spent a top 50 pick on Santana you got burned and if you do it again you will get burned…again.

So to wrap it all up your strategy going into 2013 drafts should be to maximize value with each selection and really try and limit the times you reach for a player because often times those risks do not pan out like you would hope. If you are going to spend the 10th pick in the draft on a player you better try and make sure that player has a real shot of finishing within the top 10 and so on and so on. The fastest way to lose in fantasy baseball is drafting guys who might be tabbed by the "experts" as top 100 picks only to realize that they really produce like the 200th best player. It might seem intuitive on the surface but once you’re in the heat of draft day you would be surprised how many people reach early in March only to end up disappointed in September.