By Dalton Del Don
The value of the catcher position varies depending on format, as it increases if your league uses two spots in the starting lineup. However, even in 2-C formats, few catchers are drafted highly because of a couple factors: 1) The taxing physical demand playing the position limits their plate appearances, reducing their upside simply through lack of volume and 2) Over the past 10 seasons, just eight catchers have finished with more than 10 steals, revealing a position that inherently helps you in four categories at best.
While these in-season issues rightfully knock down catchers’ ADP, year-to-year consistency is also often a problem. According to Baseball Monster, over the past five years, just five catchers have finished with top-five fantasy value in multiple seasons, so there’s not a lot of overlap. Getting a negative return investing in the catcher position has been highlighted greatly so far in 2012, which is best illustrated when comparing Yahoo’s “O-Rank” – an overall player rank based on current and prior seasons that gives a good idea how they were valued before the 2012 season started – versus their “Rank,” which applies only to the stats from the current season.
Carlos Santana: O-Rank 44 vs. Rank 411 – Judging from the O-Rank and ADP, Santana likely cost fantasy owners a third or fourth round pick, but Yahoo says there have been 410 more valuable fantasy assets so far in 2012. ESPN’s Player Rater has him similarly low, at No. 342. This doesn’t take position scarcity into account, but it’s hard to argue those who selected Santana have taken a huge loss. A career .290 hitter in the minors, Santana has hit just .240 over 896 at-bats in the major leagues despite a strong 208:173 K:BB ratio. His drop in power is likely a fluke, and Santana will surely be better from here on out, but with a career BABIP of .266, it looks like BA will remain a problem.
Mike Napoli: O-Rank 55 vs. Rank 200 – The 11 homers are nice, but last year’s .320 batting average will almost certainly go down as a career high for Napoli. Despite playing for a loaded Texas lineup, the counting stats are lacking with just 32 RBI and 29 runs scored, really limiting his overall value.
Brian McCann: O-Rank 72 vs. Rank 307 – McCann has stayed healthy, and while his BA is down, he’s hit nine homers. Still, the problem remains with the counting categories. McCann might be one of the most underrated players in real baseball, but he’s averaged just 59.5 runs scored and 3.2 steals over the past six seasons, which makes him overrated in fantasy terms.
While not every catcher has been a total bust when comparing preseason perceived value to now, and others like Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz have made huge profits, there are many others who’ve followed this same path so far in 2012: Matt Wieters (O-Rank 93 vs. Rank 220), Miguel Montero (104 vs. 285), Alex Avila (109 vs. 674), Jesus Montero (131 vs. 288), J.P. Arencibia (176 vs. 360) and Geovany Soto (179 vs. 1,054), among others.
While catchers typically aren’t taken really high, and position scarcity needs to be factored in, it’s clear they were routinely drafted far too early before the season, something that doesn’t appear to be an aberration. Remember that next year, when you shouldn’t consider drafting a catcher until at least 100 picks are off the board and likely far more than that.