Catcher is never a flashy position, but there are a few players you can get at value that could return pleasing stats for you this season. It’s all about being BOLD! So here I am, giving you five bold predictions for the catcher position in 2021 fantasy baseball.
1. Austin Barnes will be a top 10 fantasy catcher by year’s end
I’m not saying Will Smith (the Dodgers’ other catcher) WON’T have a good year, but Austin Barnes (in what could be argued was a down year) had three stolen bases, nine RBI and 14 runs while batting a .244 across just 29 games played in 2020. Barnes actually played over half the games in a shortened season last year as Will Smith DH’d a fair amount, so playing time is not a concern. MLB.com had a great piece on hitters whose season looked markedly better when you factored in the postseason. Among them is Austin Barnes, whose wRC+ went from 94 (regular season) to 103 when you add in the postseason (this takes him from below average to above average).
2. Gary Sanchez scores over 70 runs for the second time in his career
Sanchez had an abysmal season in 2020, with his batting average dropping to .147, his strikeout rate spiking to 36% (bottom 2% of the league), and his BABIP dropping to .159. This is a culmination of him chasing home runs, as his ground ball rate has trended downward from 49.3% (2016) to 38% (2020) and his fly ball rate has spiked from 34% (2016) to 45% (2020). All this while his hard hit rate was 92nd percentile, exit velocity was 89th percentile, and his barrel rate was 97th percentile. This type of Gary Sanchez is no help to the Yankees, as they have PLENTY of hitters who can hit a home run. I don’t see any reason why they won’t work this offseason to increase Sanchez’s quality of contact and lower his launch angle from the 19.2 degree mark he had last year—to allow for more line drives and less pop outs. If he bats ninth he has DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton coming up after him...
3. Mitch Garver hits 10x as many homers in 2021 as he hit in 2020
To be clear that’s 20 home runs. Mitch moved from a 31-homer 2019 down to just two in 2020. Granted his 2020 HR/PA was more commensurate with 2018 but I have to believe the intercostal strain was a large part of his struggles. His average against fastballs, a pitch that would lend itself well to home runs, dropped in half from 2019 to 2020. He has historically thrived against fastballs and a lack of inner core strength would make it difficult to rotate properly and connect with the fastest pitch. A healthy Garver can focus more on quality contact and see his Z-Contact move back to a normal 88% (he dropped to 76% last year) and thus spike his home run total.
4. Travis d’Arnaud finishes 2021 outside the top 15 catchers
After a promising start to his career as a prospect, d’Arnaud hit a down spot where, for four years he batted below .255 with more than 60 RBIs just once—and never more than 20 homers. Granted, a catcher will never light the lamp, but he had a promising backing which came to fruition last year with a .321 average, nine homers, and 34 RBI across just 44 games. A full season of that would have been around 33 home runs and 125 RBI. The kicker is he had a .411 BABIP (unsustainable) and his contact with fastballs and off-speed pitches went up almost 50%. I think there is “some” sustainability in his recognition of pitches here, but there was also a large luck factor with his BABIP that will come down to earth in 2021. He was off the charts in exit velocity (98th percentile), hard hit rate (100% percentile), and xSLG (90th percentile).
5. Sean Murphy finishes as the best catcher in 2021
I’ve wavered back and forth on Sean Murphy. There are reasons to be skeptical. For example, he’s been below a .250 BA his first two years in the league, his strikeout rate is above 25%, he has not hit over 10 homers in a MLB season, and he doesn’t steal bases. None of this is earth breaking but no one stat has jumped off the charts as elite. Yet his underlying set of metrics is also positive. He has a 10%+ walk rate, he showed positive growth from 2019 to 2020 in RBI, runs, homers, walk rate, strikeout rate, EV, LA, barrel rate, hard hit rate, pull rate (going down as his spray chart improved). That Exit Velocity, Hard Hit% and BB% were all top 10% of the league. If even 70% of the stat categories I quoted CONTINUE to increase, he has top five potential easily. That’s not an easy thing to do, but there is evidence it could happen.
What’s your boldest prediction for the catcher position in 2021?