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Fantasy Baseball 2011: Catcher Primer

January 29, 2011

Catcher is one of the shallowest positions in all of fantasy baseball, if not the shallowest. Unlike the other shallow positions like shortstop and second base there aren’t even a handful of catchers who are head and shoulders above their peers at the position. At shortstop you’ve got Hanley and Tulo who are far and away the best at their position. At second base you’ve got Cano, Uggla and Utley who are much, much better than most of their counterparts.

But at catcher, where some might think Joe Mauer is far and away the best option at the position, the difference between the No. 1 catcher and the No. 10 catcher is very miniscule. On ESPN’s Player Rater Mauer ranked No. 1 last year. But Jorge Posada at No. 10 had nine more home runs and only 18 fewer RBIs. The No. 9 catcher, Carlos Ruiz, had a .302 average and only one fewer homer than Mauer did. Mike Napoli (No. 6) led the position in home runs with 26 – and no one else was even close.

Last year several fantasy analysts urged fake baseballers to draft Mauer in the first round because he was far and away the best catcher option in fantasy. That was because of Mauer’s monster 2009 season where he posted career highs (by miles) in homers, RBIs and average. But to urge fantasy owners to draft Mauer ahead of other studs who would produce better numbers across the board at other positions just because of one big season was a bad call, because even if Mauer reproduced his ’09 season his numbers (besides average) still weren’t insanely better than a few other catchers. And the catchers ranking in double digits can even produce good numbers (speaking for the catcher position) in homers, which is the most important hitters’ fantasy stat.

So my general rule of thumb is: Wait to draft catchers, and then wait some more. Let the other suckers draft Mauer early (or even keep him) or the other catchers listed in the top tier below, and then go ahead and draft Mike Napoli with the 205th pick of a 16-team league, which is what I did last year when I won our league’s championship (I will reference this many a more time in later posts) or try to find some late-round or waiver wire gold in a Miguel Olivo or John Buck.

Tier 1 – Guys I’m not drafting

Joe Mauer – I put Mauer first because he’s still young and has room to grow more power-wise; hits for such a high average, which puts him on base more than any other guy; and if he can even approach his home run totals from two years ago he’ll be the no-doubt No. 1.

Brian McCann – McCann finished fourth on ESPN’s Player Rater last year, but I put him at two because of his consistency (between 18-24 homers each of his full seasons), his OBP and he’s in the middle of a very nice Atlanta lineup.

Victor Martinez – VMart over Posey because VMart is more proven, but I won’t be mad at you if you take Posey first. Detroit’s lineup will hurt VMart’s RBIs and run totals.

Buster Posey – He sacrificed his average in September (.256) for homers (7), so it appears pitchers were able to exploit his weaknesses. He’ll have to overcome that this year, but he should be able to put up numbers similar to what he did last year. Don’t expect anything more than 20 homers, and I believe his average will fall down to the mid-.280’s.

Tier 2 – Guys I want on my team

Mike Napoli – Led all catchers in home runs, but he’s been traded twice in the last couple weeks. He’s now in Texas and there’s a log jam at every spot he could play at (catcher, first and DH). If he plays regularly he’ll put up stats similar to last year’s numbers, and now he’s in a better lineup and park. If you draft Napoli, just put him in your C spot and see what happens the first month. If he’s not playing, pick someone else up.

Geovany Soto – He rebounded nicely after his sophomore slump to post a career-high OPS. Expect 20 homers and 80 RBIs this year, and laugh while you take him six rounds later than the fool who took Mauer in the second round.

Carlos Ruiz – Loaded lineup. Keen batting eye. Great August and September numbers. I would write, “Laugh while you take him six rounds later than the fool who took Mauer in the second round,” but that would be redundant.

Kurt Suzuki – Suzuki’s one of a few catchers who get a ton of at bats (495 or more the last three years), and his RBI totals are elite for a catcher.

Tier 3 – Upside for sale

Matt Wieters – He’ll be able to benefit due to an improved lineup this year. Had better numbers post-break so hopefully he’s catching on.

Carlos Santana – He crushes righties at a .314 clip, so if he can recover from that gruesome leg injury and hit lefties (.146) a bit better, he’ll be a steal late in the draft.

Miguel Montero – Suffered a letdown last year, but when you’re digging for catchers in this steaming pile Montero looks real good.

Tier 4 – Uncertainties

Jorge Posada – So many question marks here, but he’ll undoubtedly be taken just because of his name value and team. He’ll be the Yankees’ primary DH this year, so that should help him get more at bats, and if he can put up another 18-20 homers, his owners can undoubtedly settle with a low batting average (.230 post-break last year).

John Jaso – Jason’s batting eye (59 walks, .372 OBP) will help him get on base and score but don’t expect much help in the homer and RBI department.

John Buck – Be wary of the contract year phenomenon. He’s got some pop, but his terrible plate discipline (111 K’s, 16 BBs) will bring that average back down.

Miguel Olivo – Averaged 16 homers the past five years.

Tier 5 – Boring, but you have to fill your C spot right?

A.J. Pierzynski – If your league is deep enough he’ll be on someone’s roster. There’s nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with liking Justin Bieber…unless you’re a male or out of high school.

Yadier Molina – He hit .315 post-break and had a career-high in RBIs. A revamped Cardinals’ lineup may help him grow.

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