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2019 Fantasy Baseball Catchers: Pockets of talent

The catcher pool is simple this season: A few good ones & plenty of hold your nose and hope.

Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Catcher week is upon us. Understanding where pockets of production and value lie within a specific position is a major intellectual asset to bring with you on draft day. It’s simple enough to show up to your draft or auction with a dollar value sheet or some projections, however, with just a little additional research you can be armed with options at any given position or category.

Options can take many forms in fantasy baseball, such as multiple position eligible players, power/speed producers, and starting pitchers who are relief eligible. Having an understanding of the particular value tiers within a specific position is another way of acquiring options for your fantasy roster. For example, if you feel Catcher A, Catcher B and Catcher C are all reasonably projected to be worth a similar amount on draft day and are also expected to produce a similar statistical profile by year’s end, you’ve identified a way of giving yourself an option during the draft. If Catcher A is drafted, but both Catcher B and C are available and let’s say you don’t pick again for 29 selections after your time on the clock now, taking one of the remaining catchers at this level or tier would seem to make sense.

Of course the variable in identifying tiers at a particular position revolves around what the market is currently paying for Catcher A, Catcher B, and Catcher C. You can get by with or without ADP as many successful fantasy baseball managers have shown us over the years. Personally, I prefer to at least be aware of what the market is saying, however (and this is something that’s taken me nearly 20 years to fully come to grips with) the market as a whole is often quite different than your particular draft or auction that you’re relying on the data for. Don’t let yourself be addicted to the ADP or you’ll more than likely find yourself playing a game of chicken at a particular tier for a given position.

Playing chicken during a fantasy baseball draft or auction is the quickest way to watch your options disappear and to suddenly find yourself on tilt with the selection timer ticking down.

With all of that said, I introduce the 2019 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Tier Breakdown. The idea behind this post is typically an “Elite, Middle, and Bargain” type of format. In fact, we’ll more than likely see that format used for future position articles.

Not at catcher though.

The 2019 version of the catcher pool, much like the pools of the previous handful of fantasy seasons, is not worthy of a three-segment article. Instead, we will use a much simpler format for this position: Good Ones & Hold Your Nose.

We all need to roster a catcher and in many of the leagues I play, 30 catchers will START, let alone another handful rostered as “backups.” The position has some good players and we’ll discuss them shortly. The position also has a ton of players all projected for more or less the same season and that you simply draft to fill out your roster. You hold your nose and hope they don’t hurt your chances of winning and maybe even perform slightly above your low expectations.

Good Ones:

ADP DATA COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL FANTASY BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP (NFBC) (updated: 1-7-2019)

That’s it. Eight “Good” options at the catcher position for 2018. At least that is how I see it.

The next part of the equation is weighing potential returns versus projected cost (either draft pick or auction dollar).

Most projection systems have both J.T. Realmuto and Gary Sanchez as the top performers at the position. The fantasy baseball market is also expecting the same, with both players being selected around the third/fourth round turn in a 15-team mixed league.

Personally, I like Sanchez a little more than Realmuto going into the season. Realmuto had a great season with skill support to back it last year. Sanchez meanwhile had about as poor of a season as we can reasonably expect from him. Injuries also played a part in his down year. Prior performances, along with team contexts considered, the battle for top catcher is a close one in 2019.

If that price is too rich, Salvador Perez could be available about 50 picks later. Perez has maintained a steady skill set over the years. Owners in on base percentage leagues should bump Perez down their draft board slightly. All others, a 20-30 home run season is a reasonable projection, assuming health.

If you miss out on Perez, or simply want to scaffold your draft before it starts, which is easier with multiple players at a particular position available in a close range, then the glob of Willson Contreras, Yadier Molina, Buster Posey, Wilson Ramos & Yasmani Grandal might be for you. Five catchers are currently being selected between Rounds 9 and 11 in a 15-team mixed league. This is where I’m shopping for my first catcher (C1).

Even if I were playing in a one-catcher league (for which I do not), I’d still be aiming to get one of these eight catchers. While the return isn’t as high due to half the league shopping in the Hold Your Nose section, even a small advantage is worth it in my opinion, at least at the current prices. Also, it’s pretty standard practice that catchers are selected even later in single catcher leagues, meaning some of the prices shown above could actually be later/cheaper as well.

League Championship Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three
Grandal’s power numbers could be impressive in Milwaukee.
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Hold Your Nose:

ADP DATA COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL FANTASY BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIP (NFBC) (updated: 1-7-2019)

That is 30 catchers total. The ADP among the Hold Your Nose group ranges from pick 230 (15th round in 15-team mixed) to 538 (35th round in 15-team mixed). Obviously the pool also contains names of players I did not include above. The above list is my glob, yours may look slightly different.

Out of the names above, I am targeting the following players as either second catchers (C2) or as a I punted catcher because other players I liked more were available and now it’s time to find a diamond in the rough...or someone who won’t actively hurt my roster.

At his current price, Francisco Cervelli is towards the top of my list of targets for either a late C1 or a top-end C2. Injuries have limited and/or slowed his production for the last three seasons. Two of those injuries have been concussions, so this pick isn’t without worry. That said, when healthy, Cervelli is the perfect example of a catcher that won’t hurt you and as previously mentioned, that is half the battle at this position.

Around the same draft cost as Cervelli is Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart finished the 2018 season with 10 home runs and a .248 batting average. Using xStats we can see that Barnhart’s season was supported and potentially slightly below what the batted ball data would have predicted. This can be seen in his xTripleSlash of .273/.349/.404 with a .329 xOBA and a 105 xOBA+ (read more on these metrics at XStats).

Yan Gomes is another option for those who wait on their C1 and are hoping for enough production to not dig themselves too big of a hole at the position. Last season Gomes hit 16 home runs, however, his xHR of 19.6 shows that his power stroke is still alive and well. Sharing time with Kurt Suzuki in Washington could cut into his playing time, which is yet another reason to aim for Gomes to be your C2 instead of your C1.

Mitch Garver is one of my preferred C2 options early on in draft season. Currently Garver is slated to backup Jason Castro. Last season Castro missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, however, current reports indicate that Castro will be ready to go come spring. Playing time questions will keep the price down on Garver and that is a good time to buy. Before ending the season on the concussion protocol, Garver was displaying some intriguing skills. An xOBA+ of 111.1 over 335 plate appearances last season shows that Garver was 11% better than league average in this particular metric.

Another C2 I’m intrigued by is Omar Narvaez. Over the previous two seasons Narvaez has posted very strong results and xStats versus right-handed pitchers. In 2018, Narvaez hit .297/.371/.466 against right-handed pitchers (265 plate appearances). His xTripleSlash for the same period was .314/.387/.468 with a 135.3 xOBA+. His success versus right-handers was not just limited to 2018, as his triple slash/xTripleSlash over 241 plate appearances in 2017 versus right-handers was: .286/.375/.348 | .290/.379/.380 with a 108 xOBA+. Look for the Mariners to platoon Narvaez in 2019 which should help his final ratio statistics.

Danny Jansen, Willians Astudillo & Jorge Alfaro are all being selected based on a large serving of hope. This isn’t to say that hope in these players is completely lost, however, all three still have plenty to prove at the big league level and their current ADP’s put them ahead of more proven second-tier backstops. If you want to speculate here make sure to land a top-end C1 and use your C2 spot to hope one of these three pops in 2019.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians
Omar Narvaez is shaping up to be a force against right handed pitching.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

That about does it for the 2019 catcher pool. It’s easy to complain about the position and rightfully so. That said, the plan seems pretty clear given the distribution of talent. Land a back-end C1 from the glob described above, and select your favorite Hold Your Nose C2.

Catcher week continues later today with a look at Willson Contreras.