Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Fantastic Thoughts: "A. J. Pierzynski is no longer very good...if he ever was." (Fantasy Baseball Catcher Preview)

I'm going to keep things simple and leadoff with a quote from last year:

"There are two logical approaches, in my opinion, assuming you're in a league that uses only one catcher.  Either you spend one of your first three picks on Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, or Brian McCann, or you wait until the very end of the draft and hope to strike gold with a flyer and some diligent waiver wire work.  Most everything in between - the Molinas, the A. J. Pierzynski's, etc. - aren't worth the money or draft position you will have to waste on them.  There will be a couple catchers who emerge this season with comparable stats (.275, 70 R, 15 HR, 70 RBI).  The key is identifying the potential candidates so you can jump on them in April or May, because in all likelihood, you won't be the only one combing the waiver wire for a better backstop."

That .275-70-15-70 line was even more unattainable than usual for backstops in 2010.  Only one catcher topped 70 R (Mauer).  Only four topped 70 RBI (Mauer, McCann, Martinez, and Kurt Suzuki).  And only five hit upwards of .275 in 400 or more plate appearances (Mauer, Martinez, Buster Posey, Carlos Ruiz, and John Buck).  Which only further emphasizes my point that it's silly to pay for a middle-tier catcher when you could've had players like Buck, Ruiz, Posey, and Miguel Olivo for next to nothing.  Moreover, some of the usually "safe" middle-tier selections - Pierzynski, the Molinas, Hernandez - suffered significantly down seasons.  

The result is that we've got a pretty top-heavy class in 2011.  

1. Joe Mauer, MIN
2. Victor Martinez, DET
3. Brian McCann, ATL

Nothing's changed.  These were my top three in 2010 and have all been top five for most of their careers.  I do think McCann is somewhat of a distant third, just because he doesn't hit for a high average and doesn't have the luxury of getting some "off days" at DH, but he's also got more power than Mauer or V-Mart.  

4. Buster Posey, SFG
5. Geovany Soto, CHC
6. Carlos Santana, CLE

I've seen a lot of analysts ranking Posey as high as #1 or #2, but I just don't see any reason why we should believe he's immune to the sophomore slump.  Sure, his talent is superlative, but I'd like to see at least one more year of exceptional production before I'm ready to rank him alongside a three-time batting champ and a four-time All-Star.  I actually flirted with dropping him to fifth.  The reason?  Do you know who led all catchers (with 300+ AB) in OPS last season?  It wasn't Posey.  It wasn't Mauer, Martinez, or McCann.  It was Geovany Soto.  He only got 97 starts, but hit .280 with 17 HR and 53 RBI.  Now that Lou Pinella had fled Chicago, Soto will likely be in line for increased playing time and could be considered an elite catching option by this time next year.

7. Jorge Posada, NYY
8. Miguel Montero, ARZ
9. Matt Wieters, BAL
10. Mike Napoli, TEX

Sadly, this is what passes for "tried and true" among the 2011 catching corps: a 39-year-old DH with several trips to the DL in his recent past, a 27-year-old who's started upwards of 75 games only once in his career, a former blue-chip prospect who had a sub-700 OPS in 2010, and a defensively-challenged power-hitter who doesn't have a clear hold on at-bats with his new franchise.  I rank them this way because I assume at least two of the four will finish well inside the top ten in terms of production by the end of the season, but in a one-catcher league I wouldn't touch any of these guys unless they fell deep on draft day or came at a significantly reduced rate (i.e. under $10).

11. Russell Martin, NYY
12. J. P. Arencibia, TOR
13. John Buck, FLA

These are the most interesting late-round flier/sleeper candidates.  Martin used to be a stud, but after two down years, the Dodgers essentially gave up on him.  If he's healthy, he's a solid bet for comeback of the year in New York, playing alongside his childhood hero, Derek Jeter.  The Jays showed their faith in Arencibia by letting Buck walk and trading Napoli to Texas.  The rookie has serious power potential at the Skydome, but could be an average drain in 5X5 leagues.  Buck is coming off a spectacular breakout season in which he was a top-five fantasy catcher, but he'd look dangerously like a fluke even if he weren't moving to a much less friendly ballpark in Florida.  

14. Carlos Ruiz, PHI
15. Kurt Suzuki, OAK
16. Yadier Molina, STL
17. Miguel Olivo, SEA
18. A. J. Pierzynski, CWS

You probably aren't interested in any of these guys unless it's a two-catcher league, but in that format they are quite valuable.  All are "iron-men" types whose managers keep them in the lineup as much for defense as anything else, but all those starts lead to decent totals in the counting categories.  You just have to cross your fingers that they won't destroy your average.

19. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, BOS
20. Chris Iannetta, COL
21. Jason Castro, HOU
22. Jonathan Lucroy, MIL

This is the second tier of high-risk, high-reward candidates.  They're all fairly young.  They've all got some upside.  And they all seem in line for full-time jobs.  That could certainly change.  Both Saltalamacchia and Iannetta have been given chances before.  They've always bombed.  But this could be the year, right?

23. Jesus Flores, WAS
24. Ramon Hernandez, CIN
25. Ryan Doumit, PIT
26. John Jaso, TB
27. Chris Snyder, PIT
28. Ryan Hanigan, CIN
29. Kelly Shoppach, TB 

When it comes to catching platoons, it really comes down to how much room you have on your rosters and how much you're willing to work for it.  Last year in Cincinnati, Hernandez and Hanigan combined for 55 R, 12 HR, 88 RBI, and a .298 AVG.  If you were cagey enough to have the right guy in your lineup every night, that line would've been equivalent to drafting a top-five backstop.  Can you get Cincinnati's daily lineup delivered straight to your phone?  I bet you could.  Will you?

The more reasonable sleeper here is Flores, who, before losing nearly two years to surgery, seemed to be developing into a solid hitter.  He's still just 26.  The Nationals catching situation, which also involves Pudge Rodriguez (questing after 3000 hits) and top prospect Wilson Ramos, is crowded, so Flores is unlikely to get a lot of opportunities in D.C., but there are several team's that might be willing to give him an everyday job and will be watching he progress closely during Spring Training.

30. Hank Conger, LAA
31. Wilson Ramos, WAS
32. Jesus Montero, NYY
33. Tyler Flowers, CWS

These are baseball's best major-league ready catching prospects.  Unfortunately, there's a strong chance most of them won't see substantial time in 2011.  Mike Scioscia seems committed to a folly named Jeff Mathis in Anaheim.  The White Sox resigned A. J. Pierzynski, despite a poor showing in 2010.  Wilson Ramos is blocked by Flores and Pudge; Montero by Martin and Posada.  However, injury or ineffectiveness could supply them with opportunity.  Were that to happen, they would immediately be fantasy relevant, even worthy of consideration inside the top 12-15 catchers.  

34. Rod Barajas, LAD
35. Alex Avila, DET
36. Yorvit Torrealba, SD
37. Jason Kendall, KC
38. Ivan Rodriguez, WAS

Somewhere, somehow your draft must have gone horribly wrong.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

AJ is going show everyone he should be ranked
In the top five. Watch out!!!