January 9, 2017
Catchers and Answers to Easier Questions
Catchers and Answers to Easier Questions on Draft Day
Hi all. Welcome back and, for those of you who are new around here, welcome.
The positional series is here and, thus, a lot of information and analysis is going to be available to us in short order. Here at The Quinton (which is amazingly even more self-important than the column title suggests), we are going to continue on our quest to improve on the process and strategy side of the equation.
Catcher is a strange position. To be successful, catchers have to be able to catch pitches, catch those pitches in a way that gets as many strikes called as possible, throw out runners trying to steal bases, and do all of that while in a crouched position. Additionally, some teams consider catchers’ abilities to work with pitchers and call the game to also be desired skills. This is all to say that there a lot of ways that catchers can be valuable to baseball teams outside of hitting the baseball, more so than is the case with any position outside of pitcher. As a result, catchers are the worst hitting position in the game. When we also consider that starting catchers play the fewest games and get the fewest at bats of all non-pitcher positions, it should not be surprising that catchers are the least prolific position in fantasy baseball by a substantial amount.
This is not a mind-blowing revelation or a revelation at all, but still, almost every draft, we see catchers get drafted too early. Those who draft catchers too early can rationalize it by saying the best catchers are much better than the worst catchers, but (i) that is true of every position and (ii) the good catchers are not as good as we might think. Regarding the latter, the most productive catcher in fantasy baseball last year was Jonathan Lucroy, who produced $17 of mixed league value. Lucroy was followed by Buster Posey, Wilson Ramos, J.T. Realmuto, Yadier Molina, and Evan Gattis, who respectively produced $16, $16, $15, $12, and $11 of mixed league value. The below table attempts to show how the catcher position compared to the other hitter positions last season:
Every infield position has at least three times as many $10+ hitters than catcher and outfield has eight times as many such players. And, as we see from the “$20+” row, catcher also provided the least amount of productive hitters in quality as well as quantity in 2017. And still, in our drafts this year, people will continue to take the best catcher left on the board too early. We hope to avoid this mistake. To do so, we will discuss why we make this mistake and how we can change our decision making process accordingly.
Why We Sometimes Draft Catchers too Early
In today’s 2017 rankings you will notice that there are no five-star catchers (as always, we are talking fantasy value, not real baseball value). This is the case because even when the best catchers are at their best, they still rarely return $30+ of mixed league value. But, you could reasonably contest, why then are there a handful of three- and four-star catchers even though odds are that a significant portion of them will not return double digit mixed league value? Why then, if catchers are not good, are they getting these ratings? We decided to structure the list this way because it makes it easier to consume (as opposed to a huge list of one star players), but we should make sure to note that a three-star catcher is not as valuable as a three-star outfielder or even a three-star shortstop, and that this will be reflected in the composite rankings and valuations.
Even in knowing this, though, when we are faced with a tough decision in a draft—when, for example, the players we were hoping to fall to us at Pick X all got popped right before the pick and we do not love the top players left on our board—it often feels better or safer to take the top catcher available than it does to make a hard choice between the two flawed outfielders our valuations are telling us have the highest expected value of the players available, especially when we have already drafted three of our five starting outfielders. Then, as we are running out of time to make our pick, going back and forth between these options, we might just choose the catcher because at least we know that the catcher is the best left at the position. What we have done in this situation, though, is that we have made a decision based on how it will make us feel rather than based on trying to give ourselves the best chances at winning. This is not uncommon to us (people) when it comes to decision making; psychologist and Nobel Prize Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow, “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”
Because the catcher position contains so few good fantasy players, the best catcher left on the board is usually pretty clear-cut and almost always more clear cut than the best pitcher, corner bat, or outfielder left on the board. Combine this with our ability to rationalize choosing a catcher because of positional scarcity and reaching for a catcher is common fantasy baseball mistake on draft day.
How We Can Decrease our Chances of Making this Mistake or Similar Mistakes
The first recommendation in improving our decision making process comes in the beginning of that process; it comes in the preparation. Knowing that catchers are both not as prolific on average and lack the upside of other players is helpful, but we should not be banking on getting all of our insights from reading articles. Writers, experts, and the like will try throughout the offseason to point out as many of these insights as possible, but they are never going to be in one centralized place and they are not going to be released in any systematized way. Moreover, very few fantasy baseball participants have the time and/or want to put in the effort to undertake such efforts. What we can do, though, is make sure to pay attention to contextual trends; thus, if you haven’t already, make sure to check out the Fantasy Categorical Breakdowns columns from this offseason. And as with using any publicly available analysis, there is often as much or more of a benefit in applying the logic and ideas used by the authors in these articles to other parts of fantasy baseball; so also do that.
Our next recommendation is not new, but it is the best recommendation we have and, thus, worth repeating: when faced with a complex decision, before we finally make the decision, we must ask ourselves if the decision gives ourselves the best chances (odds) of winning. The problem with this advice, though, is that we are good at persuading ourselves and therefore good at telling ourselves that a sub-optimal decision is in fact optimal. The best way to combat that problem on draft day is to have really gone over your composite rankings and valuations prior to the draft (and possibly even mock draft with them). Doing so allows us to find those players that we are more down on than our valuations imply (for example, the players in the previous example that we ended up passing on for the top catcher available) and either (i) dismiss our concerns as irrelevant or (ii) adjust our valuations accordingly.
None of this is new or sexy, but if we can be a little better than our competition is at dealing with this common problem (and not just with catchers, closers and, to a lesser extent, shortstops), then we can improve our chances of winning, which is the best we can do.