Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011 Fantasy Baseball Over and Undervalued: Catchers

Now that my draft is over and my rankings are no longer a state secret from those who would use them against me, it's time to share the, um, knowledge. Or, at least, try to get something out of all of the work that I did in draft prep. Use in good health.

Overvalued

1) Buster Posey, SF.
Is he the best catcher in baseball? Well, he was last year, when he finished up a Rookie of the Year campaign with a World Series ring and generally outstanding play. But this year, with the Giants having actually useful options at first (Aubrey Huff and rookie Brandon Bolt), and no Bengie Molina around to clutter up things, he's just going to play less at anywhere but catcher, with more high-impact innings. And when you look at his numbers from last year, he does most of his damage early (.959 OPS pre All-Star break, .812 after), when he was sharing time with Molina.

I still think he's an outstanding player, and in terms of real-world value, he's the best in the business. If you've got him cheap in a keeper league, hold on tight. But I don't think he's going to be the best in 2011, and sophomore slumps happen for a reason. Pencil him in for .280 / 20 / 80, and at least one "What's the matter with Posey?" story.

2) Victor Martinez. In 169 career ABs at his new digs at Comerica Park in Detroit, V-Mart has 4 home runs, a .225 batting average, and a .671 OPS. And it's not as if all of those years in Cleveland were spent facing a top-flight pitching staff.

Now, let's look at his 2010 in Boston, playing with one of the better offenses in baseball: .302 / 20 / 79. Pretty airtight, really: .824 OPS before the break, .864 after. But is he going to have the same number of opportunities with half of the lineup (Austin Jackson, Scott Sizemore, Brandon Inge and Alex Avila) projecting as below-average hitters, especially in terms of getting on base?

Two more factors at work here: Martinez is a career .723 hitter while DHing, compared to .836 at catcher. Again, maybe I'm making too much of a small sample here, given that Martinez only has 116 ABs as a DH, but it's not as if that DHing is always an easy move to make. And the final point is this: Martinez is 32 now, with over 1,000 games played. This is when things start to slow down, and with a worse park and less meat on the table, the slow down will be notable. Count on .280 / 18 / 65, and spend your big early dollars somewhere else.

3) Matt Wieters. OK, this one's personal, but at what point can we simply stick a fork into the notion that this guy is anything but an ordinary catcher masquerading as a great prospect? Last year's .249 / 11 / 55 year of meh isn't even as good as 2009's .288 / 9 / 43 year of so what, and if this guy is a viable switch-hitter, I'm an airplane (.622 OPS left, .766 OPS right).

After 226 career games and 800 ABs, Wieters is basically a journeyman in waiting, with middling defensive numbers and an offensive game that's completely ordinary, even in a hitters' park with plenty of opportunities. This year, as his clock to arbitration starts to wind down and the Orioles look to mitigate the damage without completely losing the hope that was his initial hype, he's going to sit more, hit lower in the lineup, and continue to disparage all of the statheads who thought he was a middle of the order hitter. Look elsewhere for your .254 / 10 / 45, and jump the gun on next year, when no one overpays for him.

Undervalued

1) Joe Mauer.
Sure, it's not exactly a risk-free move to go with the injury prone guy who struggled in a new home park that looks like it might be worst hitters' environment in the American League. But even at his "worst" last year, you still got 88 runs scored and 75 RBIs with over a .400 OBA... which is to say, outstanding production. And I just can't shake the idea that Mauer's going to adapt to his surroundings this year, and his teammates will do the same. Write him down for .325 / 15 / 95, along with health, and a very happy year. Especially when you compare him to what the rest of your league will be getting from the catcher's spot.

2) J.P. Arencibia. The Blue Jays' rookie made a splash last year, then slid back, but the scouts still love his tools, and I love his situation this year. Toronto's power surge last year didn't come out of the ether, and while the AL East has any amount of quality arms, you also wind up facing some worn out staffs from all of the bandboxes and patient hitters. He's not going to get on base all that much, and there will be struggles, but the power is real. At the end of the year, I think you'll get .275 / 25 / 75, and that's genuinely useful, especially in a year where power is down.

3) Jake Fox. OK, far from a real catcher, and I'm probably over-reacting to his MLB-leading power binge in Florida this spring. But in a 2-catcher league where you have to go more than 20 deep, the benefit of an everyday player is minimal, given the damage they tend to do to your batting average or OBA. With Fox, you're going to either get a useful 350 to 400 AB four corner guy who hits enough to help, or you'll get a AAAA guy who you won't mind cutting for someone hot. The potential for a bargain-basement .260 / 20 / 60 year is here, because there's a very real chance that the power that he's showing in Florida is real... and the Orioles will find him at-bats as long as he's showing it. Besides, I'm already on record as saying Matt Wieters sucks, so why not take the guy who will take up his ABs?

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