January 13, 2017
Fantasy Players to Avoid
My greater concern is that Molina turns 35 years old this July. Only 10 catchers have more than the 6,157 plate appearances Molina has amassed through his Age 33 season. The results for those guys look as brutal as you might imagine they would look. The best-case scenario for these 10 catchers was Yogi Berra, who was a freak of nature. A few others hung on for another season or two at the same level before declining, but most of them simply fell off a cliff and saw their careers end abruptly. Perhaps Molina will fit the model of a steady decline. Given that he is coming off if two subpar seasons from 2014-2015 and has battled multiple injuries, I have no interest in rostering an aging hitter with almost nothing but downside at a high skill position. —Mike Gianella
Catcher A hit .260/.280/.426 in 553 plate appearances with 21 homers, 70 RBI, and 52 runs, and earned $10 of mixed-league value. Catcher B hit .247/.288/.438 in 546 plate appearances with 22 homers, 64 RBI, and 57 runs, and earned $6 of mixed-league value.
Catcher B is Salvador Perez last year. Catcher A is Salvador Perez in 2015.
The topline numbers are startlingly consistent, which is good, and we could toss 2014’s line in there to affirm just how startlingly consistent he’s been for a while now. But the value of those produced stats shrank last year on account of power's relative devaluation, and therein lies one of the main rubs.
Perez is currently going off the board as the seventh backstop in early NFBC drafts, and at first hazy glance the 26-year-old catcher who ranked seventh in earnings the previous season getting taken as the seventh catcher seems entirely logical. But then your brain snaps to attention, puts three and three together, and demands a held phone in frazzled intonations: the seventh-best catcher earned six freakin’ dollars last year?!?! Those earnings placed Perez right around 300th overall, amid a cluster of eight catchers who earned between four and six bucks.
So why, then, an outlay to meet his current eighth-round price tag in the 120’s overall? If the bill for catching north of 5,000 big-league innings before his 26th birthday didn’t come due in the second half, when he hit .201/.248/.357, it certainly arrived at the table. He got even more aggressive last season, somehow, and for his troubles he got worse at making contact when he expanded the zone. The swing-and-miss uptick and, perhaps even more alarmingly, a dramatic increase in fly ball rate that accompanied…these things do not suggest imminent improvement ahead.
Realistically, in any best-case reading of the approach and batted-ball data there just isn’t any indication that Perez is on the cusp of evolving into a better hitter than he’s thus far shown himself to be. And while his durability to date has been his greatest asset, it is increasingly the one carrying asset of a catcher who just isn’t that great a fantasy hitter on the merits. I’d really just as soon not look to fill my catcher slot at this stage of the draft, as there’s very little window for surplus value generation and the lost revenue of not spending elsewhere makes the investment sting twice. Perez is this year’s Ground Zero example, and I’ll be avoiding him across the board in re-drafts. – Wilson Karaman
Such factoids don't preclude Contreras from hard contact; the kid barreled up a ton of pitches. He simply made inconsistent contact, likely resulting from an aggressive approach that produced an inhibiting strikeout rate. Meanwhile, hitters with similar batted ball peripherals typically hit home runs about one-third less often than Contreras did last year. Accommodating power regression while granting a similarly robust batting average on balls in play (BABIP) plus marginal plate discipline improvements all put him at more of a 15-homer, .270 pace -- admirable, yes, especially when entrenched in baseball's most prolific offense, but a far cry from his monster rookie pace.
Batting average is something of a luxury behind the dish, so Contreras can certainly fulfill specific needs for your team, yet neither his power nor average are guarantees for 2017. Few prospects are perceived to be as safe as Contreras, but he still carries risk. Alas, drafting him as a top-five catcher while knowing he inarguably slots in behind Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, and Gary Sanchez establishes a greater chance of pitfall than profit. —Alex Chamberlain
Evan Gattis, Houston Astros
Now, let’s be clear about this. On pure offensive talent, Evan Gattis surely makes the cut as a reasonable catcher to target in fantasy drafts. We’re talking about the weakest offensive position on the diamond and a guy who can easily hit 25-35 home runs on a yearly basis with regular playing time. That alone would make him a top-tier catcher, and he mixes that with a decent, if unspectacular, batting average and legitimate run-producing skills.
Unfortunately, I’m not convinced he’s going to get the playing time necessary to justify a top-five catcher position or a top-100 pick overall. The Astros traded for Brian McCann and signed Carlos Beltran over the offseason, filling their catcher and designated-hitter slots. Those were the two positions Gattis played in 2016, and they are filled by players whose cost in money and prospects suggests they’ll get something close to everyday playing time. Gattis will likely get enough time to produce real fantasy value given how much better he is at hitting than the vast majority of backstops around the league. Still, there’s a lot of room between where he’s being drafted and where his playing time will likely leave him at the end of the year. If you’re picking a catcher in Gattis’ range, I’d rather opt for Willson Contreras. —Matt Collins
Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics
Travis D'Arnaud, New York Mets
There is no doubt that d’Arnaud has flashed promise when he’s healthy. He can hit double digit home runs, and that’s valuable given the state of the position. Yet over his past three seasons, he’s only played in more than 80 games once. The time he’s missed due to injuries hasn’t been limited to one issue, and a rundown of those injuries show how varied his struggles have been.
Over the past six seasons d’Arnaud has dealt with: a herniated disc, a torn knee ligament, a fractured foot, a concussion, a fractured hand, a hyperextended elbow, and a shoulder strain. That doesn’t even take into account the normal wear and tear that comes from being a major-league catcher.
Last season, the top 14 catchers by dollar value accumulated at least 280 at-bats. That’s a number d’Arnaud has fallen short of by at least 100 in each of the last two seasons. You’ve heard repeatedly this week that there isn’t much separation between catchers in the one star tier. If you’re faced with drafting a one star catcher, you could almost make that decision based on projected playing time. If that’s the case, d’Arnaud’s injury history plus the potential for increased playing time for Rene Rivera gives me enough reasons to look elsewhere. —Eric Roseberry