How bad is the 2017 catcher pool?

Catchers are the most frustrating offensive position in fantasy baseball. Yes, they offer the shallowest depth of skills, but just how bad is it? Should we really be pushing Buster Posey into the early rounds? How much damage do the end-gamers really cause?

Here is a chart of the Broad Assessment Balance Sheet (BABS) skills ratings by position, indexed to the mean. It measures the asset values of the top 5 and top 15 players at each position (three outfielders, but no middle or corner infielders). League average would be 1.00.

Pos Top 5 Top 15
Ca 0.94 0.84
1b 1.06 1.08
3b 1.02 1.06
2b 0.99 1.00
ss 0.96 0.99
of 1.03 1.02

At each position’s top 5, catchers are pretty much in the same ballpark as 2Bmen and shortstops. But expanding the analysis to the top 15 and catcher skill quickly starts to plummet.

This reflects just one catcher per team. Now let’s build it out to a full fantasy roster for a 15-team league, with middle and corner infielders, and two catchers.

Position No. Index
Catchers 2 0.70
Corners 3 1.15
Middles 3 1.09
Outfielders 5 1.06

Is it any wonder why the industry has been pushing away from two-catcher leagues?

Let’s break down the skills that catchers offer. Guess how many catchers on the BABS list are at least mid-timers (minimum 300 plate appearances) and possess at least one positive asset?

The answer is 24.

So, if you are in a one-catcher league, no sweat. If you are in a 15-team mixed league with two catcher spots, there will be six slots filled with backstops that will do damage to your team. And if you are in a 12-team AL/NL-only league, about half of your 24 catcher slots will be occupied by bats that will hurt you outright.

It gets worse.

Of those 24 catchers, only 10 are multi-asset players, meaning that they are above average in at least two skills. Given that catchers don’t contribute in speed, we’re talking power and batting effectiveness (our proxy for batting average). Another seven have above average power but are batting average liabilities.

So the big question is, should you overpay for those upper tier bats in order to avoid the cesspool that some owners will undoubtedly end up in? You don’t want the sewer-dweller to be you.

The answer is the same one I’ve been giving for a long time. Don’t overpay or overdraft the cream of the crop because the premium you’ll pay is too high. Posey is being drafted as early as the third round, but his (p,AV) skills profile is in an asset group with players ranging from Hunter Pence and Victor Martinez (ADPs over 200/$5ish bids) to Ryan Braun and Christian Yelich (ADPs in the 50s/high teens bids). Posey is being drafted in the low 30s and going in auctions for just short of $25.

Instead, settle for the middle ground. Even if you have to overpay or overdraft a mid-level catcher, that premium will not be as much as you’d have to pay for the Posey-level players. But do everything you can to avoid the end-game wasteland. Those $1 backstops are not only dead spots, they are downright toxic.

Here are the BABS ratings for the 24 catchers who will provide some positive value to your team:

MARKET ASSET LIABILITY
ADP R$ BATTER Tm PT Pw Sp Av *   Av Inj Ex
93 $13 Contreras,Willson CHC F PW AV EX
48 $20 Sanchez,Gary NYY F P+ a EX
35 $23 Posey,Buster SF F p AV
50 $19 Lucroy,Jonathan TEX F p AV
93 $13 Gattis,Evan HOU F PW a inj-
123 $11 Perez,Salvador KC F p a inj-
191 $6 Wieters,Matt FAA F p a
209 $5 Vogt,Stephen OAK F p a
227 $5 Murphy,Tom COL M P+ a EX
176 $7 Castillo,Welington BAL F p
110 $12 Realmuto,Jacob MIA F a
144 $9 Grandal,Yasmani LA M P+ * inj-
192 $6 Molina,Yadier STL M AV
361 $0 Herrmann,Chris ARI M p SB AV INJ e
166 $8 Martin,Russell TOR M p *
316 $1 Gomes,Yan CLE M p INJ
254 $4 Ramos,Wilson TAM M a INJ
380 $(0) Barnhart,Tucker CIN M a e
296 $2 Zunino,Mike SEA M PW AV
160 $8 McCann,Brian HOU M p AV
245 $4 Rupp,Cameron PHI M p AV e
277 $3 Norris,Derek WAS M p AV inj-
364 $0 Castro,Jason MIN M p AV
364 $0 Flowers,Tyler ATL M p AV inj-

ASSETS: PT (Playing time), Pw (Power), Sp (Speed), Av (Batting Effectiveness), * (OBP help)
LIABILITIES: Av (Batting Ineffectiveness), Inj (Injury), Ex (Experience)


Complete details about the Broad Assessment Balance Sheet (BABS) can be found in the PDF eBook, “The BABS Project: Uncovering the Truth About Winning at Fantasy Baseball” for only $5. The Kindle version is available at amazon.com. Or, get the eBook for FREE with a one-year membership to RonShandler.com, for $19.95. Here is what you get with your membership.


While Posey and Lucroy are typically the first names off the board, neither has the best skills profile. That honor goes to the new kids in town – Contreras and Sanchez. That is not to say that these youngsters should be drafted first – note the big “EX” on the liabilities side of the ledger – but their skills could lift them to elite levels before long. Perhaps this year. So reaching even slightly on that pair could yield dividends.

Just like last year, Posey and Lucroy have identical (p,AV) asset ratings. Unlike last year, Lucroy has lost his (inj-) nick on the liabilities side. Now they are truly interchangeable commodities. In fact, an argument could be made to push Lucroy slightly ahead based on his more favorable home ballpark.

Three catchers are rated for extreme power skill – Sanchez, Grandal and Tom Murphy. The new Rockies backstop is a particularly interesting speculation.

Looking for a catcher with no major liabilities? There are only eight. So, unless you target that octet in your draft, be prepared to allocate some of your risk budget to this position.

Who are some obvious names missing from this list? While they might end up being drafted higher, the percentage play is to avoid guys like Travis D’Arnaud, James McCann, Francisco Cervelli and Devin Mesoraco. BABS sees no above average skill that you can count on, and tons of potential risk.

However, should you find yourself closed out from positive valued players, remember the adage, “first do no harm.” In catcher terms, that means finding guys who will not get many plate appearances but could provide some positive assets. If you are willing to budget for the injury risk, there are still options like Robinson Chirinos (P+), Nick Hundley (p,a) and Miguel Montero (p,*).

The master BABS list contains ratings for over 100 potential contributors at this position. It is not a pretty sight. Experts advise you not to stare directly at the ratings; they can damage your retinas.

Stay connected to Ron…

       


Complete details about the Broad Assessment Balance Sheet (BABS) can be found in the PDF eBook, “The BABS Project: Uncovering the Truth About Winning at Fantasy Baseball” for only $5. The Kindle version is available at amazon.com. Or, get the eBook for FREE with a one-year membership to RonShandler.com, for $19.95. Here is what you get with your membership.


31 thoughts on “How bad is the 2017 catcher pool?

  1. michael stevens

    Nice ending……

    1. shandler Post author

      I always try to protect my readers.

  2. FRANK BRANAMEN SR

    Was surprised that Kurt Suzuki wasn’t mentioned.
    Do No Harm type player at least. (BA 2.50 ?)

    1. shandler Post author

      Sure, he could have been added there. My examples were not all inclusive.

  3. Douglas Harvey

    Wilson Ramos at $4 worth stashing as 2nd catcher in a 12 team mixed?

    1. shandler Post author

      Given that there are only 24 catchers of any value – per the above – and a 12-team mixed required 24 catchers, Ramos does have SOME value. $4 worth? Probably not, but as I’ve often written, there is no precision to end-game purchases. Maybe you could get him back in the draft for $1. Given his injury situation, I’d think there is a high likelihood that you would not have to pay more than $1 or $2 for him.

  4. Carl Moyer

    You’ve always said drafting the skills and not necessarily the position is best. We only need to carry 1 catcher in a 12 team mixed league. We used a snake type draft and don’t have a salary cap to worry about. Each team keeps 6 players from the previous year. Hypothetical question for you: IF Willson Contreras(except for the EX) and Edwin Incarnation are both available in the 1st round of our draft, which one would you draft? Also, assume that I’ll keep 3 position (Trout, Correa, Bryant) and 3 SP’s (Carrasco, Hamels,Alex Reyes) from last year. If you suggest drafting EE, I’d wait to pick up say Welington Castillo, Realmuto or Rupp. Look forward to your response. I really enjoy your work!

    1. shandler Post author

      I would definitely take EE because you should not HAVE to take Contreras that early, and there is enough risk to make it ill-advised. Besides, in a 1-catcher league, there is no reason to reach. There are clearly 12 rosterable catchers even if you wait until the last round.

      1. Carl Moyer

        Thanks, I thought that would be your response. Will do!

  5. Ivar Anderson

    It would be a welcome change for the standard league to employ just one catcher. I have played in zero catcher required leagues before (and no kicker leagues in fantasy football) and been very satisfied on draft day. No reason you cannot use a catcher in a utility position, and I realize that to mimic baseball we need to consider using a backstop, but it is a constant challenge to find a worthwhile roster addition if your main catcher goes down with injury.

    1. shandler Post author

      As a traditionalist, it’s tough for me to break away from the 2-catcher format. But it may be time to break tradition. Not sure I would like a 0-catcher format, but one catcher would be just fine.

  6. James McKnight

    I’ve played almost entirely in one catcher leagues, but now I’m intrigued about two catcher leagues. It might lead to tough draft day decisions, trying to avoid both overpaying and the catcher wasteland.

    1. shandler Post author

      Keep the TUMS handy.

  7. Dave Dube

    9 team AL Only league. I can keep Sanchez for $4. Seems like a no-brainer. Lucroy represents the top of our market, so would Gattis the logical target for catcher #2?

    1. shandler Post author

      Sanchez for $4 is a no-brainer. If you can get Gattis for your #2, that would be a small coup.

  8. James McKnight

    For playing time, would you consider an F+ for more than full time players (if that makes any sense) for Posey and Gattis who get to play at other positions? Maybe that’s just something for teams to keep in mind as actually writing F+ in there might raise more questions than it’s worth.

    1. shandler Post author

      More than full-time? Is that even something you can count on? If every player starts with a 25% chance of getting hurt, I don’t see how you can expect anyone to reasonably achieve an F+ rating. Sorry, but gonna pass on this one.

  9. Scott Peterson

    Babs assigns zero speed to Realmuto? Does he not own the running skills then?

    1. shandler Post author

      Compared to the rest of the catching pool, he is relative speed demon. Sort of. But in perspective of the entire player pool, his running skill is still below average (he BARELY merited an “s” rating last year). Yes, he might buy you double-digit bags, but if he was an outfielder, you wouldn’t be reaching for him because of those steals. In terms of your entire roster over 6 months, those steals will likely be inconsequential.

      Look at it this way… during your draft, if you see that your roster is becoming dead-legged, the natural response is to try to scratch out steals wherever you can. If you’re really aggressive with those fringe 10-SB guys, you might eke out a point or two in the SB category a roto league. But in want of that one category, what would you be giving up? That’s why it’s best to focus on players with at least above average skill (minimum “s” players here) because they are the only ones who can really move the needle.

  10. rob fleming

    My son was a catcher.
    I used to be a catcher.
    I love catchers.

    But catchers are worthless because all they do is get hurt.
    They frustrate me to no end.

    1. shandler Post author

      Um, sure. There’s that.

  11. Randal Divinski

    I am in a 12 team NL-only league with 2 catcher slots, which means it is a challenge to avoid the “end-game wasteland” for one catcher slot. If it gets to the point were there are no good options at catcher, doesn’t the injury liability flip to being an asset of sorts? That is, if my only choices are catchers with an Av liability, won’t it be better to take one who also has the Inj liability, because the more time he spends on the DL the less he can hurt me?

    1. shandler Post author

      Sure, worst case scenario. As I noted at the end of the article, “first do no harm” is important at this position. Skimming off ANY positive asset should be your first goal, but yes, particularly in AL/NL-only leagues, then minimizing the playing time damage would be your fallback.

      I wouldn’t call that injury liability as an asset, though. While you’d be minimizing the damage of a bad batting average (and that is really all we’re talking about here), all other categories can only provide a positive contribution. So your injured guy would not be accumulating any runs or RBIs, or any latent HRs. Better than a dead spot, but not by much.

  12. Stephen Picciocca

    WHERE WOOD SD HEDGES FIT?

    1. shandler Post author

      No assets. (|AV-,EX) Liabilities.

  13. Stephen Picciocca

    BARRING AN INJURY, WHEN WOULD/COULD TORONTO’S TELLEZ, MILWAUKEE’S PINO, AND WASHINGTON’S SEVERINO BE WITH THE BIG CLUB? ANY OTHER ROOKIE THAT WOULD/COULD MAKE AN IMPACT IF THEY MAKE TEAM OR COULD BE BROUGHT UP IF CIRCUMSTANCE ARISE?

    1. shandler Post author

      So, in the case of Tellez, are you asking WHEN Justin Smoak and/or Steve Pearce are going to fail, or WHEN is Toronto going to tire of the lack of production at 1B, or if Tellez hits a ton HOW LONG will it be before Toronto can no longer hold off bringing him up. Is that what you’re asking? When? Okay…. June 12. For your other question, BABS is terrific at uncovering high-skilled youngsters. Just check the master list. Generally they are the players with terrific skills profiles but Experience risk. Tellez (P+,AV*) is a great example.

  14. JOHN HERRIMAN

    Austin Hedges –
    Formerly a top SD prospect. Known for his defense, but hit .326 in AAA last year.
    Struggled in his MLB stints.
    By all accounts projected to be the main backstop in SD… looks competent on basepaths (I saw him leading off on 2B yesterday – looking pretty spry).

    I’m in a 2 catcher 14 team roto league.
    Also in another league where I’ve considered punting the catcher spot.
    Can you give any insight into Hedges – or do we still need to wait for the 800-1000 ABs?

    http://m.mlb.com/news/article/217333862/padres-austin-hedges-looks-improved-at-plate/

    1. shandler Post author

      Scouting is an important part of the assessment process. Along with minor league stats – converted to MLEs – they comprise our entire data set to project how a player will fare in the majors. But that leap to MLB is handled differently by every player. We forget that Gregory Polanco was just as well-hyped four years ago as the Bryants and Turners were more recently, but he took 3 full years to start looking like the player we were expecting. Some players hit the ground running, some don’t, but 800-1000 ABs gives us the sample size necessary to get a true read.

  15. Hector Rodriguez

    Ron,

    In a one-catcher league, I am highly considering drafting Contreras or Lucroy over Posey. My concern is playing time for Contreras – I sense he will have more rest days than Posey/Lucroy. Would this be something to consider? I am in a H2H league so I’d be losing on counting stats. I have never had an elite catcher (I was normally content with Grandal since our league considers OBP/BB). What would you personally do, or BABS do in cases like these?

    1. shandler Post author

      The new BABS update will be downgrading Contreras to Mid-time status, so your concern is valid. BABS sees Sanchez as having the best skills but there is major experience risk. Posey and Lucroy are both in the same asset group, but Lucroy is available a round later. I think Lucroy is an excellent pick.

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