Top 20 fantasy catchers for 2011

Over the next two months, this series will present a top 20 list by position for the players who will be eligible at that position under Yahoo default standards. The rules of eligibility for Yahoo fantasy leagues:

The following conditions apply to a player’s position eligibility:
1. A player’s position eligibility will not be adjusted prior to the beginning of the season. (If a player in spring training is playing a “new” position, that position will not appear until a player has met the criteria for a change.)
2. Players will not lose eligibility at a previously established position at any time. (For example, if a catcher-eligible player begins to play first base exclusively, he will remain eligible at catcher for the entire season.)
3. It is not possible to customize this setting within Custom Leagues. All leagues are subject to the same constraints.

Gaining eligibility at a new position:
If a position player makes five (5) starts or 10 total appearances at a new position during this season, he will become eligible to play that position in Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Baseball. Pitchers need to make three starts to become eligible as a starter and five relief appearances to qualify as a reliever.

ESPN imposes a more rigorous default position eligibility standard (e.g., 20 games played at the position last season, 10 games played in the present season), so you may have to do additional research if you play ESPN fantasy to verify that players listed in these articles are in fact “position eligible” in your league.

These rankings are based on 5×5 standard Roto leagues. Rankings are not based on real life value, but fantasy value. Hence, guys like Juan Pierre will have value. Projections listed below are courtesy of Brian Cartwright’s Oliver projection system. I recommend that you purchase a subscription, as the pre- and in-season updates are an invaluable fantasy tool.

My rankings are not exclusively based on Oliver’s projections, however. Rankings are primarily determined based on total production by category, balance in production, and scarcity of production. If you have any specific questions about my rankings, please post them in the comments.

Here are my top 20 fantasy catchers for 2011:

Rank      Name              Team            Oliver Slash 2011**
1         Joe Mauer*        Twins           .331/.411/.493
2         Brian McCann      Braves          .279/.364/.481
3         Carlos Santana*   Indians         .267/.378/.479
4         Victor Martinez   Tigers          .278/.342/.426
5         Buster Posey      Giants          .300/.376/.480
6         Geovany Soto*     Cubs            .249/.348/.443
7         Kurt Suzuki*      Athletics       .261/.317/.392
8         Mike Napoli       Rangers         .257/.338/.507
9         Miguel Montero*   Diamondbacks    .265/.332/.431
10        Matt Wieters      Orioles         .272/.345/.419
11        Jorge Posada*     Yankees         .240/.324/.405
12        J.P. Arencibia    Blue Jays       .221/.261/.407
13        Russell Martin*   Yankees         .253/.353/.347
14        Chris Iannetta    Rockies         .229/.430/.434
15        Jesus Montero     Yankees         .289/.341/.509
16        Yadier Molina     Cardinals       .270/.335/.351
17        John Jaso         Rays            .259/.351/.375
18        Ryan Doumit*      Pirates         .253/.314/.403
19        Rod Barajas       Dodgers         .246/.287/.412
20        Carlos Ruiz       Phillies        .264/.355/.390

*Assuming health, being tender a contract.
**Oliver’s 2011 projections have been updated since I wrote down all of the prospective slash lines for my hitter rankings. Due to the sheer volume of time it would take to update my positional rankings for hitters, I am going to keep the Oliver 2011 category listed as is. Most of the projections are essentially similar, but for the most up to date projections, subscribe to THT Forecasts by clicking here. If you are unsure of whether to subscribe to THT Forecasts, you can read about why I love THT Forecasts by clicking here

Outside the top six, catchers are almost entirely fungible. Each either has a serious flaw (generally in the AVG/SB department, e.g. Napoli, Montero), has health/playing time concerns (e.g. Posada, Iannetta, Montero) or lacks some particularized value (e.g. Yadier Molina, A.J. Pierzynski, Jaso, et. al). On my blog Game Of Inches, I have routinely evoked a maxim that a not-top five catcher is not worth overpaying for (be patient) and that top five catchers are generally overrated, so avoid them accordingly.

Considering that most teams like to rest their catchers at least two days a week, few catchers play even 130 games. In fact, only Briann McCann and Joe Mauer eclipsed 130 games in 2010. This limits any AVG value that a player will provide a team (cough cough Posey/Mauer cough cough) and generally caps even the best player’s rate-stat totals (e.g. Soto, Napoli). Thus, it is hard to recommending drafting a catcher in the top five rounds, when the relatively rare five/four-category players are still on the table. Last year, Victor Martinez absolutely should not have been drafted over Nelson Cruz, but that’s what happened in most leagues.

The same theory applies to auction leagues. Do not pay that $3 premium for Miguel Montero when Mike Napoli and Matt Wieters are still on the board.

In terms of the rankings, the names seem pretty straightforward. I wish I could rank Montero higher in the top 10, where he might end up in terms of end-of-season value, but his playing time is questionable and he is not a proven major league commodity. Remember that Wieters guy? Keep that in mind when someone in your league starts a bidding war over Montero. Catcher is a physically demanding position to play, and that alone can zap a player’s health/skill (see Russell Martin).

Some may wonder why I ranked Martinez ahead of Posey/below Santana (who will be that much more valuable in OBP leagues, by the way). Carlos Santana has more power potential in 2011 than Martinez (though V-mart will likely get more playing time cycling through DH/1B on some of his “days off”) and similar batting average potential.

Likewise, I ranked Buster Posey below Victor Martinez because I am concerned that much of Posey’s 2010 power was a “fluke.” A look at Posey’s monthly splits reveals that his power bursts were largely limited to two months (July/September). In fact, his July power output was largely relegated to a five/six day span between the fifth and 10th of the month. I think Posey’s .290+ AVG potential is certainly legit, but his power leaves me with questions and thus I give the advantage to V-mart’s 20-homer power and RBI-potential batting around Miguel Cabrera.

As a Geovany Soto proponent, I wish I could slot him in the top five based on increased projected playing time with “I love to tinker with my lineup Lou” Piniella no longer skippering the Cubs, but I am not that much of a homer. Soto is the final catcher with marginal value over “the remainder,” however.

Below him, I ranked the hitters from Kurt Suzuki through Matt Wieters on a tier of their own. After that tier, I would place Jorge Posada (injury issues) and J.P. Arencibia (wild card) in their own tier. Each has a some risk and moderate reward upside. After that, Chris Iannetta is probably the most talented remaining catcher, but it’s really anyone’s guess once the top 12 guys are off the board.

Jesus Montero could be a great catcher option if given regular playing time, but with Posada, the newly minted Russell Martin, and Mark Teixeira already in the fold, where Montero would play regularly is anyone guess. This is why he is ranked so low. Neither Posada or Martin are poster children of health, however, so Montero could easily find himself in the Yankees lineup this year if, or should I say when, either goes to the DL.

As always, leave your love/hate in the comments. Next week, we’ll look at first base eligible players.

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Comments

  1. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Andrew,

    I can see the argument, but I have “an irrational hatred” of Chooch. I think he’s at best a Ryan Doumit type, though I prefer to risk the gamble on Doumit still…

  2. Josh Shepardson said...

    For the most part I like your list. You addressed your reasoning on the rankings of Santana, V Mart and Posey but personally I’d flip flop V Mart and Posed (though I agree on taking Santana over both). I’m in agreement with Andrew and view. Chooch as a top 20 catcher, right in your Doumit range. I also think it is time to drop Russ Martin from the top. 20. I look forward to your other positional rankings.

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Thanks Josh. I’ve received a handful of emails about Chooch, so maybe I should elaborate

    In terms of real baseball, I like Chooch. He’s a solid catcher with a decent bat and average defense. In terms of real life value, he’s pretty solid (3+ WAR capable). But lot of his real life value comes from his ability to walk (career .353 OBP, 11.4% BB%). I personally do not play OBP leagues. In an OBP league, Chooch is certainly a top 20 catcher. In 5×5 standard, however, he hits for a poor AVG (lifetime .260 hitter), has less than double digit HR power (career high = 9), has 10 stolen bases for his career (0 SB in 2010), and he is not much of a R/RBI producer (he’s never accumulated 50 R or 55 RBI in any season). He’s not a BAD catcher, but he’s got limited (if any) upside. I’d rather take someone who will give me a little of something than not much of anything

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    By comparison, Ryan Doumit has a slightly better career AVG (.268, though it should be noted that he has only twice hit above .255…), has hit at least 10 HR in each of the past 3 seasons, with clear 15+ HR upside (career ISO = .170). He swipes a couple of bags each season, and has the potential to go back in #6 hole if he plays full time next season. Furthermre, Doumit has been moved back to OF, where he will presumably be healthier and see more playing time. hence, even if Chooch and Doumit were comparables, Doumit has the PT upper hand

    Also, re: Martin, I think people forget how good a season he was having before injury re-derailed him last year. Look at his numbers thru May 15: .265, 21 R, 11 RBI, 4 HR, 2 SB. He was on pace for an 85 R, 45-50 RBI, 15-20 HR, 8-10 SB season. I’m pretty sure his first injury was mid-May, when he played thru it. Someone please correct me if I am wrong, however…

  5. Andrew said...

    It’s been shown that some catchers take longer to develop when it comes to hitting, likely due to the fact that they spend so much time devoted to defense. Ruiz is a late bloomer.

    Projecting Ruiz based on his career AVG doesn’t make much sense. Here’s a player who has displayed excellent contact and walks rates the past couple seasons relative to his position.

    To say that Ruiz brings nothing to the table is to discount the AVG category, and he doesn’t hurt in the counting stats. He was the #9 catcher last season, and he reasonably projects to be a top 15 catcher again in 2011.

  6. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Not using Chooch’s past to predict his future, just acknowledging pointing out that I think he is less capable than Doumit.

    Olive projects a .247/.346/.365 line next season with 7 HR, 45 RBI, 50 R. Decent production in OBP, but no power, no AVG.

    By contrast, doumit is pegged for a similar, but higher AVG, with more expected P.T., more power, more R/RBI. Hence, I’d rather have Doumit…

    Chooch’s limited production falls below at least the first 18 guys here in my eyes. I’ve justified Doumit, but I also would still rather have Barajas (poor AVG, 15-20 HR, some RBIs) than Chooch (poor AVG, <10 HR, mediocre R/RBI)

  7. Andrew said...

    I guess we can agree to disagree. I think Ruiz is capable of the following line:
    50 / 10 / 50 / .290

    Anyway, nice work. I’m llooking forward to future rankings… and maybe future debates. =)

  8. Josh Shepardson said...

    How far is Tyler Flowers off your list Jeff? I view him as a bit of a wild card and love his power potential. His huge strikeout rate obviously is a concern but he’ll certainly be on my radar in two catcher leagues.

  9. Jim C said...

    I think Posey should be ranked higher, because he is also going to play 1B on his day off, and, as hitting is so related to confidence, who will be more confident next year than a guy who was at the center of a World Series champion? As a Nats fan, what do you think of their pair of Pudge and Wilson Ramos for next year?

  10. Rich said...

    Jeffrey,

    Always good seeing early rankings in November. I do have to agree with Andrew that Ruiz is more of a late bloomer (many catchers are with batting). After the 2009 season with his walk and contact rates, it shouldn’t be shocking that his batting avg was solid last year. The power is lacking but a catcher with the potential/upside to repeat and hit over .290 again, score 50 runs, should make the top 20 imho. Enjoyed reading your rankings. Great job overall. Also, any hope for Adam Moore this season?

  11. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Jim,

    With respect to Posey, I doubt the Giants will play him on 1B on his days off so much as they will play him at 1B on days he would otherwise be playing C to give him additional rest.

    With respect to Ramos, I am unsure of what to make of him. He does not walk particularly much, hit for much power, or really hit for average. Oliver sees a .265/.299/.409 slash line, which is nothing to recommend. Maybe he’ll prove useful, but from what I can see from his minor and major league numbers, he is not a top 10 capable catcher. At least not reliably/consistently

  12. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Rich.
    Thanks for the comments. With respect to Moore, I think he’ll put up decent numbers, but like Ramos, the package/upside is limited. He’s got 15 HR power, but walks very like and strikes out a bit much, or at least he has in limited major league play. His minor league K% is not awful, but his BB% is. He could provide a plausible .260/.300/.400 line, perhaps.

  13. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Josh,

    I have him Ranked #23, actually. Chooch, by the way, is ranked 21 on this list. That #23 ranking is based on my expectation of limited P.T. I have a gut feeling the White Sox will sign Miguel Olivo or John Buck.

    Here’s #21-25:
    21: Chooch
    22: Chris Snyder
    23: Flowers
    24: John Buck
    25: Torrealba

  14. Josh Shepardson said...

    No worries Jeff, it’s the offseason, missing transactions happens every now and again.  I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to chime in on Wilson Ramos.  I personally am not a huge fan, but he certainly is worth watching.  He’s always rated highly in terms of scouting publications such as BA, but I think much of that relates to his defense, thus not fantasy relevant.  I also would have concerns about how much playing time he’ll rack up with Pudge still in Washington.  He did show some power promise in Syracuse after being acquired by the Nats, so it is possible he proves to have some worth, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  15. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Josh,

    I think you’re right. He’s supposed to be a solid defender with average offense (projected 700-750 OPS-type hitter). He won’t be relevant untill at least 2012, however. At least not until pudge goes away.

  16. Brad Johnson said...

    Fwiw, the Indians have indicated that Santana will spend a significant amount of time at 1b next season to help keep him healthy. I like to aim at guys with catcher eligibility who also play elsewhere.

  17. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Brad,

    Thanks for the heads up. Another guy to keep on your Radar is Jake Fox. I say that because I have an irrational love for Jake Fox.

  18. Dave Chenok said...

    Your rankings are similar to mine, but I think Martinez belongs above Santana for at least three reasons: first, as you point out, he will cycle between C and DH, and hence have more ABs.  More importantly, he has a track record; Santana is a terrific talent, but hasn’t done it consistently.  Yes he has upside, but as you point out the upside will accrue over a max of 130 games.  Finally, Santana was hurt last year, and while we might say that it is not the kind of injury that will recur, it is never a good sign when a young catcher misses part of a season due to an injury.

  19. Brad Johnson said...

    Josh,

    Something further to keep in mind about Ramos is that he also has Derek Norris to contend with as early as 2013 and Jesus Flores if he ever recovers from his shoulder problems (I don’t have a current report on him).

  20. Jeffrey Gross said...

    My bargain C for 2011 (best names to pick) are:
    Carlos Santana, Miguel Montero, Matt Wieters, Jesus Montero, Russell Martin and Ryan Doumit.

    I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that Geovany Soto will be undervalued on draft day, but I doubt it.

  21. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Jim,

    You raise a very good point. Still, I think Santana’s expectations outweigh Vmart and I think he’ll match enough of those expectations to be more valuable.

    I think of it in an economic sense: Value = Total*Percentage. I think Sanatana’s total is higher than Vmart and percentage of reaching that total (by PT or mere Talent filling out) is high enough to be greater than Vmart’s similar calculation.

  22. Zak44 said...

    Some stat geek should figure out a way to factor pitching staff performance into this. As with shortstops, offense is not the only measure of a catcher’s value to his team.

  23. Brad Johnson said...

    Zak,

    There’s a nice article by Sean Smith in the Annual about Catcher’s ERA. It’s worth checking out. If you’re not up to actually buying the Annual (which is well worth the money), it should be in B&N pretty soon so you could give it a look over there.

  24. Josh Shepardson said...

    @ Brad
    You bring up a good point about Norris.  I was looking at things from a short term point of view, but even long term there are questions abound about Ramos.  From a reality stand point, the Nationals have to be thrilled to have two useful catchers now (Pudge/Ramos), with one in the pipe line with a higher ceiling than Ramos (Norris), and one on the mend that could be useful once again (Flores).  With catchers always in high demand, they might have some decent trade chips to continue the youth movement/rebuild.  You might have something to get excited about in the short future JimC.

  25. william Groves said...

    i would personally take john buck over jp arencibia, rod barajas, and a handful of other guys on this list. Buck was easily a top 10 catcher last year, and should hit 15-20 hr with 50runs/50rbi next year. The wild card is the batting average. 280 isn’t going to happen next year, but if he hits around .250 he would definitely be a fantasy asset and at least a top 20 catcher.

  26. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I updated the Catcher rankings today. With Olivo signing with the Mariners, he drops off this list as he was only a power play at best. Jesus Montero has also been bumped down, with the Yankee’s signing of Martin. Napoli also skipped ahead of Miguel Montero, as I did some reevaluating.

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