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Midseason position look: Catchers

Perhaps no position has turned out as difficult to predict as the backstops in 2014. We look at who has surprised us, in both directions.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season, I'd have made the argument to you that catcher was relatively deep. I had Geovany Soto ranked as my No. 18 catcher, and while our consensus ranks didn't list him at all (here and here), I still would have forwarded the argument that Soto was a viable starting catcher, so long as the rest of your roster was strong. Carlos Ruiz, Alex Avila, and Travis d'Arnaud all came in the bottom half of my personal rankings and/or the consensus ones, and there were reasons to think all three would be fine fantasy starters.

Those are all nice thoughts. The reality of the 2014 season, though, is that catcher as a position has collapsed. Joe Mauer was hitting an almost completely empty .271 before hitting the DL. Wilin Rosario's power has largely evaporated, and his batting average has gone with it. Carlos Santana is hitting .207, and sat at .159 at the end of May. Jason Castro, last year's darling, has seen his numbers plummet in every category except strikeouts, where he's on pace to shatter last year's number.

That's not to say there haven't been success stories. There have. The thing about most of them, though, is that the most successful catchers in 2014 have, by and large, not been full-time players. Say it takes 300 plate appearances to make a "full-time" player right now. Derek Norris has been great, but he has 235 PAs. Devin Mesoraco has 228. Evan Gattis, 243. John Jaso, 251.

The No. 1 catcher by any measure is Jonathan Lucroy, and yeah, he's played more than any other catcher. But even if you stumbled into the No. 2 catcher (Mesoraco) or believed in the No. 3 (Gattis) more than I did, you've had to have another catcher just to get through the season.

Basically, catcher has not been nearly the deep position we might have thought. To wit, in the preseason, ranked in our top 10 were guys like J.P. Arencibia and Ryan Doumit. A.J. Pierzynski was our No. 16 catcher, and he got DFA'd last week. It's been a real pick-your-poison position. With that in mind, let's look at our preseason rankings, and see where we went right (not much) and where we went wrong (lots more).

We thought they'd be great

  • Buster Posey was our consensus No. 1 catcher in the preseason; seven of eight rankers had him No. 1 overall. He's been ... fine. He's ranked sixth at the position in the ESPN Player Rater and fifth in end-of-June Equivalent Fantasy Average. That said, it's been his worst season by OPS+, and a far cry from both his 2012 MVP peak and his very strong 2013. Problem is, if you drafted Posey, you burned an early pick (or a lot of auction dollars) to do so, far earlier than any other catcher. He hasn't returned close to that value. You aren't devastated by owning Posey, but you sure ain't ecstatic.
  • Moving to first base was supposed to save Joe Mauer, especially considering the fact he maintained catcher eligibility. Five of eight rankers had him No. 2, and everyone had him at least top five, yet he's only 14th in ESPN, 13th in EFA, and now he's on the disabled list. There's no way to claim this is anything but Mauer's worst season (every single rate stat is at a career low, and the only thing that might keep him from a career-worst strikeout total is his injury). There's no timetable for his return from an oblique strain; I won't advocate dropping Mauer for another catcher if you need the roster spot, but I wouldn't condemn it either.
  • I predicted Carlos Santana as fantasy's No. 1 catcher a year ago; he has never followed all the way through on the potential he's shown. He was ranked as high as second, as low as sixth in our preseason ranks, coming in at third. Santana, now playing more at first and third base than at catcher, was an early-season fantasy disaster, with the only value he offered for much of the year coming through his league-leading walk total (dude's always had a good eye). Since the start of June, he's hitting .277/.386/.521, with eight homers and 20 RBI, which has bumped him up to at least No. 12 on ESPN, No. 10 in EFA. He's salvaged his value, but there's still a ways to go to get to where he was supposed to be.
  • There was a lot expected out of Brian McCann heading to the lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium. We had him as our No. 4 catcher, with individual rankers having him anywhere from first to eighth. Unfortunately, the best thing you can say about him this season is that he's been healthy; his batting average is near a career-low, and his on-base and slugging percentages are already there. Only six catchers have more homers than his 10, so there's that, but overall, he's only 15th in ESPN, 14th in EFA.
  • Yadier Molina has been okay so far. We ranked him fifth, and he's eighth in ESPN, ninth in EFA. There's nothing wrong with his numbers, and so far in the season, no one who used a draft pick on him is too upset. Of course, now he's on the shelf with a torn thumb ligament, and he might not be back until the very end of the season. He's been fine so far, but by season's end, his ranking is going to plummet.

We thought they'd be good

  • Our preseason 5-10 have three failures and two successes. We had Wilin Rosario sixth, Jason Castro ninth, and Matt Wieters 10th, but Rosario (16th in both ESPN and EFA) is the only one of the three who has been even close to quality. Castro ranks 21st in ESPN and 18th in EFA, while Wieters is out for the year with Tommy John surgery.
  • The flip side of that coin is Jonathan Lucroy, who we ranked seventh. He's been the No. 1 catcher in baseball, and it hasn't been close; interestingly, both his batting average and slugging percentage are down from 2012, but he wasn't really a full-time player then. We were wrong about him in the preseason, but we still liked him. Also, Salvador Perez, who we ranked eighth, has been fourth in ESPN and seventh in EFA, and has been one of the Royals' two best hitters. Perez is only 24, but has had an OPS+ of more than 100 in all four of his seasons. Both of these guys ought to be good for a while.

Other notables

  • No one was very high on Devin Mesoraco. Our consensus had him at 20, and so did I, going one step further to write about my relative disdain. After years of sporadic play and middling results, though, Mesoraco has been incredible this season, with a .298/.364/.600 slash line and 16 homers despite a pair of DL stints. He's No. 2 in both ranking systems, and there's little reason not to believe it's real (with the possible exception of a career-best .331 BABIP).
  • I loved Jarrod Saltalamacchia entering the season, ranking him as my No. 7 catcher. The group at large wasn't nearly as enthusiastic, and he came in 15th. He started hot, with a slash line at .301/.405/.570 on May 5, but has hit only .159/.257/.262 since, and missing almost three weeks with a concussion. He's ranked only 24th in ESPN, 22nd in EFA, and I guess I'll concede defeat.
  • We didn't even rank Derek Norris in our top 30. I had him at No. 24, so yay me, but considering he's ranked seventh in ESPN, sixth in EFA, despite less than full-time playing time, I can't claim much in the way of correctness.
  • It's also tough to hype my correctness when I went on record that Evan Gattis' poor defense and inability to hit righties would relegate him to bench duty. I ranked him 27th, while the consensus had him at 13th. Even that was too low, though, as he's third at the position in both measures despite DL time.

Here's a full rundown of our consensus ranks, my personal preseason ranks, and the ESPN and EFA results:

Rank Site preseason rank My preseason rank Current ESPN rank June EFA rank
1 Buster Posey Buster Posey Jonathan Lucroy Jonathan Lucroy
2 Joe Mauer Joe Mauer Devin Mesoraco Devin Mesoraco
3 Carlos Santana Carlos Santana Evan Gattis Evan Gattis
4 Brian McCann Wilin Rosario Salvador Perez Miguel Montero
5 Yadier Molina Yadier Molina Miguel Montero Buster Posey
6 Wilin Rosario Jonathan Lucroy Buster Posey Derek Norris
7 Jonathan Lucroy Jarrod Saltalamacchia Derek Norris Salvador Perez
8 Salvador Perez Brian McCann Yadier Molina Yan Gomes
9 Jason Castro Jason Castro Yan Gomes Yadier Molina
10 Matt Wieters Salvador Perez Kurt Suzuki Carlos Santana
11 Wilson Ramos Matt Wieters John Jaso Mike Zunino
12 Miguel Montero Wilson Ramos Carlos Santana John Jaso
13 Evan Gattis Welington Castillo Russell Martin Joe Mauer
14 Russell Martin Russell Martin Joe Mauer Brian McCann
15 Jarrod Saltalamacchia A.J. Pierzynski Brian McCann Dioner Navarro
16 A.J. Pierzynski Miguel Montero Wilin Rosario Wilin Rosario
17 Travis d'Arnaud John Jaso Chris Iannetta Kurt Suzuki
18 Yan Gomes Geovany Soto Mike Zunino Jason Castro
19 Welington Castillo Yan Gomes Dioner Navarro Russell Martin
20 Devin Mesoraco Devin Mesoraco Stephen Vogt Chris Iannetta
21 Mike Zunino Alex Avila Jason Castro A.J. Pierzynski
22 Alex Avila Chris Iannetta Robinson Chirinos Jarrod Saltalamacchia
23 Carlos Ruiz Carlos Ruiz Alex Avila Tyler Flowers
24 John Jaso Derek Norris Jarrod Saltalamacchia Carlos Ruiz
25 Yasmani Grandal Travis d'Arnaud A.J. Pierzynski Robinson Chirinos
26 Dioner Navarro Mike Zunino Matt Wieters Alex Avila
27 Josmil Pinto Evan Gattis Carlos Ruiz Welington Castillo
28 A.J. Ellis Josmil Pinto Welington Castillo Josmil Pinto
29 J.P. Arencibia A.J. Ellis Wilson Ramos Ryan Hanigan
30 Ryan Doumit Dioner Navarro Carlos Corporan Brayan Pena