January 10, 2017
Fantasy Tiered Rankings
Today, we kick off our positional tier rankings. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by a star rating.
Five-star players are the studs at their position. In general, they are the players who will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and will fetch mixed-league auction bids over $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be early-round selections, and they are projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late-round sleepers and roster placeholders. The positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of last year's values but rather offer insight into what we expect will happen in 2017.
Positional eligibility for the series is determined by 20 games or more at a position in the majors, with priority determined using the following order: catcher, shortstop, second base, third base, outfield, and first base, and designated hitter. Designated hitters are ranked with first basemen. Players who played fewer than 20 games at a position in the majors are ranked at the position they played most frequently. Players who did not play in the majors in 2016 are ranked at the position they played most in the minors. Although Blake Swihart caught 21 games in the majors and minors combined, he is only eligible in the outfield using our criteria.
Dollar values come from last year's PFM using a 12-team, standard 5x5 scoring format, with 23-man rosters and the following positions: C (2) 1B (1) 2B (1) 3B (1) SS (1) CI (1) MI (1) OF (5) UT (1) P (9). The minimum bid for players is $1, and we allocate $180 of a $260 budget to hitters. The PFM is customizable, so if your league uses a different format you can adjust it to match your league settings and see how it impacts players' dollar values.
The first edition of the series tackles catchers.
Posey and Lucroy are the safest choices you can make at a volatile position. Posey's value rests primarily in his consistency and ability to stay on the field. Barring injury, he's a safe bet for 15-20 home runs, 70 runs, 85 RBI, and a .290 AVG. He had a down year in 2016, but the contributions in batting average are part of what make him such a stalwart. Lucroy had a career year in power and took his game to another level after he was traded to the Rangers at the deadline. I wouldn't bank on another 24 home run season from Lucroy, but 18-20 dingers with a .280 batting average is a reasonable expectation and playing in the AL could allow the Rangers to slip him in at DH from time to time as well.
Four-Star Value Pick: Gary Sanchez.
Most value at catcher comes from power, so it is not surprising that the three-star tier is dominated by 20 home run hitters and has a rookie in Contreras who was on pace to hit 20. Perez's home run totals have climbed every year since his rookie campaign in 2012 but this has come a significant drop in batting average during that time. Gattis would be ranked higher if it his path to playing time was clearer. The raw power is among the best of anyone at the position.
Realmuto is a positional oddity: a catcher without a lot of power but who steals bases and hits for a solid batting average. Be wary of the batting average. Realmuto saw a 72-point upswing in BABIP in 2016 even though his batted ball profile stayed relatively stable. Realmuto isn't worthless if the batting average slips, but for a hitter without a significant carrying tool, it is a concern. Realmuto's framing metrics are poor, so he has less room for error on offense than other catchers do.
Three-Star Value Pick: Yasmani Grandal
Even in one catcher leagues, at least a couple of fantasy managers will get stuck with a catcher in the two-star tier. Raw numbers have remained steady at catcher, but thanks to the increase in offense and home runs across the board, the fantasy value at the position has plummeted, even when taking position scarcity into account. In two catcher leagues, the question is whether it is worth rolling the dice on a catcher in this tier in the hopes of any kind of production or if you should spend a dollar and allocate your auction dollars elsewhere.
Most of this tier offers double-digit home run power with poorer batting averages than we have seen in prior tiers. Stability and reliability is what makes most of these catchers stand out over the one-star tier. Getting 450 plate appearances with 15 home runs from a catcher goes a long way in this climate. If you insist on upside, Ramos is the clear play. If Ramos' self-assessment is correct and he makes it back to the field by May, he could return three-star value easily.
Two-Star Value Pick: Travis d'Arnaud
The one-star tier is a mix of catchers who will play but have no upside and others who could break into the two-star tier but whose playing time is tenuous at best. Norris will start barring another Nationals trade or signing, but unless that batting average cracks .200 it is difficult to have faith in a sustainable rebound. Safe plays at catcher used to be safer, but because of the real-life emphasis on framing and defense, a poor hitting catcher with 450+ plate appearances could be an offensive drag.
As is the case in every catching tier, there is power to buy, but the batting averages attached in the bottom tier are mostly bad. Rupp would easily sit in the two-star tier if not for the legitimate risk of losing part or all his job to Jorge Alfaro at some point in 2017. Murphy could be great in a regular role while playing half his games in Colorado but it sounds like the Rockies may opt for a job-sharing arrangement between him and Wolters.
Hedges is the best breakout candidate in the tier based on the combination of talent and opportunity. El Paso inflated his offensive numbers last year, but Petco is no longer the offensive graveyard it once was, particularly for right-handed batters. Zunino's power perpetually fascinates but he has always had difficulty making enough contact to stick as a starter.
One-Star Value Pick: Andrew Susac