Fantasy Baseball: Preseason Catcher Rankings and Projections
Preseason Top 20 Catchers
We're almost two weeks into 2014, which means baseball season is just over three months away! Over the course of the next few weeks I will be releasing my projections and rankings for the 2014 season. I'm going to release them position by position and then at the very end I will release my top 250 players overall.
I have spent countless hours pouring over a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet developing these and before I dive into the catcher rankings, I wanted to provide a little insight as to how the process works. I have explored a few different methods at creating projections and I've found that rather than projecting statistics, it is more accurate to project the components that make up each individual statistic. For example, instead of projecting a hitter's home run total, the more effective method is to project the variables that directly influence it, such as, the hitters home-run-to-fly-ball rate, fly ball percentage and strikeout percentage. How an individual player forecasts in these variables determines what they're statistical projection will be.
I have found that I get a more accurate projection this way because underlying skill sets (i.e. strikeout percentage) are more stable from year to year than the surface results (i.e. home runs).
After the projections are developed the next step is to rank and there is also method to that. If you've ever played fantasy baseball on ESPN then chances are you're familiar with their player rater. If not, real quick, the player rater is what ESPN uses throughout the baseball season to rank how valuable players are. The player rater takes a player's performance in each category and compares how they're doing against the league average. Then, using standard deviation, they receive a value for that category. The values for each category are then added up to give the player an overall value and that number is compared to the rest of the player pool to establish an in-season ranking. I use the exact same method to rank players in the preseason, using my projections instead of in-season statistics..
If you have any questions about my rankings, projections, methods, or simply just want to chat about baseball you can find me on twitter @william_moy6 and feel free to "like" me on Facebook or add me to your network on Google
20. Mike Zunino
Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners
2013 Statistics: 193 Plate Appearances, 22 Runs, 14 RBI, 5 Home Runs, 1 Stolen Base, .214 AVG
2014 Projection: 450 Plate Appearances, 51 Runs, 50 RBI, 13 Home Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, .219 AVG
Zunino's production in 2014 will hinge on whether or not he has improved his ability to make contact. Zunino only made contact on 50 percent of pitches outside the strike zone (league average was 63 percent) last season and in the zone he made contact just 81 percent of the time (league average was 87 percent). As a result of his inability to make contact, Zunino posted a 25.4 percent strikeout percentage in 2013. If Zunino can put more balls in play (a hitter's strikeout rate tends to decline through about age 24), he has the power potential to be an impact player in fantasy baseball in 2014.
19. A.J. Pierzynski
A.J. Pierzynski, Boston Red Sox
2013 Statistics: 529 Plate Appearances, 48 Runs, 70 RBI, 17 Home Runs, 1 Stolen Base, .272 AVG
2014 Projection: 450 Plate Appearances, 45 Runs, 57 RBI, 11 Home Runs, 0 Stolen Bases, .266 AVG
The Red Sox roster is currently littered with catchers and I expect Pierzynski to spend the season sharing catching duties with David Ross. Ross bats right handed and Pierzynski bats left handed and I'm expecting the Red Sox to take advantage of that, resulting in Pierzynski riding the bench in more games than just the typical Sunday afternoon ones that most starting catchers sit out of.
Also, Pierzynski is leaving one of the easiest power parks for left handed hitters and he's moving to Fenway, which had the seventh lowest home run percentage for left handed hitters last season. Fenway is by no means a black hole for left handed hitters. The park that had the fourth highest OPS for left handed hitters last season was the home of the Red Sox, but the walls in right field aren't as close in Boston as they are in Arlington.
18. Alex Avila
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
2013 Statistics: 379 Plate Appearances, 39 Runs, 47 RBI, 11 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .227 AVG
2014 Projection: 455 Plate Appearances, 48 Runs, 59 RBI, 12 Home Runs, 2 Steals, .237 AVG
Last season marked the second in a row in which Avila recorded a fly ball percentage of just 29.8 percent (his career low). Avila also saw his strikeout percentage reach a career high, 29.6 percent. On the positive side, when Avila did manage to hit fly balls last season he hit them really hard: Avila was 15th in MLB last season, averaging a distance just over 302 feet per fly ball. If Avila's strikeout and fly-ball percentages both regress to his career norms, then he could be in line for a nice bounce-back season in 2014; if they continue to trend downward, though, it will be another disappointing season for Tigers fans and fantasy owners.
17. J.P. Arencibia
J.P. Arencibia, Texas Rangers
2013 Statistics: 497 Plate Appearances, 45 Runs, 55 RBI, 21 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .194 AVG
2014 Projection: 452 Plate Appearances, 46 Runs, 63 RBI, 21 Home Runs, 1 Steal, .212 AVG
Last season was absolutely abysmal for Arencibia, largely thanks to a career low walk rate (3.6 percent) that coincided with a career high strikeout rate (29.8 percent). Arencibia is never going to hit for a great average, but .194 should eventually go down as his worst single season batting average when his career comes to an end. Arencibia has hit at least 18 home runs in each of his three full seasons in the majors and should once again be a cheap source of power at the catcher position late in fantasy drafts.
16. Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins
2013 Statistics: 470 Plate Appearances, 68 Runs, 65 RBI, 14 Home Runs, 4 Stolen Bases, .273 AVG
2014 Projection: 435 Plate Appearances, 52 Runs, 54 RBI, 15 Home Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, .241 AVG
Saltalamacchia posted a career high .273 batting average in 2013 largely thanks to an insane .372 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play). Saltalamacchia's highest BABIP before 2013 was .304 in 2011 and in 2012 he had a .265 BABIP; I expect his 2014 BABIP will be much closer to those totals and nowhere near what it was in 2013. As a result, we should see a batting average much lower than .273 in 2014 as well.
15. Yan Gomes
Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
2013 Statistics: 322 Plate Appearances, 45 Runs, 38 RBI, 11 Home Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, .294 AVG
2014 Projection: 475 Plate Appearances, 59 Runs, 56 RBI, 17 Home Runs, 1 Steal, .257 AVG
Gomes posted a lower strikeout rate last season in 322 major league plate appearances than he ever did in the minors with the exception of the 2009 season in lower A ball. If Gomes can continue to lower that strikeout rate, he has the potential to be a breakout candidate in 2014.
14. Jason Castro
Jason Castro, Houston Astros
2013 Statistics: 491 Plate Appearances, 63 Runs, 56 RBI, 18 Home Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, .276 AVG
2014 Projection: 500 Plate Appearances, 59 Runs, 60 RBI, 16 Home Runs, 1 Stolen Base, .261 AVG
I'm a skeptic when it comes to Castro. The Astros catcher had a minor breakout last season, reaching career highs in more than a handful of numbers. Castro had demonstrated very little power potential during his minor league tour and the 18 home runs he hit in 491 plate appearances last season were 10 more than he had hit in his first 512 major league plate appearances. Castro also posted a very high .351 BABIP last season, which leads me to believe that at the very least, we will see a regression in batting average.
13. Miguel Montero
Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks
2013 Statistics: 475 Plate Appearances, 44 Runs, 42 RBI, 11 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .230 AVG
2014 Projection: 534 Plate Appearances, 58 Runs, 72 RBI, 14 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .260 AVG
Montero had the least productive season of his career in 2013 and I believe we will see improvement across the board in 2014. Montero struggled at making solid contact last season, evident by his career high 47.2 percent ground ball percentage and career low 74.6 percent contact percentage. If Montero were older, I would be more concerned, but he's still just 29 years old and despite his struggles last season, he still maintained great plate discipline (his 10.7 percent walk percentage was the second highest total of his career and his outside-the-zone swing percentage was just 29.8 percent -- 1.4 percent below his career average). Montero is definitely a bounce back candidate in 2014.
12. Wilson Ramos
Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals
2013 Statistics: 303 Plate Appearances, 29 Runs, 59 RBI, 16 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .270 AVG
2014 Projection: 450 Plate Appearances, 47 Runs, 65 RBI, 22 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .278 AVG
Ramos had a strange season in 2013. The Nationals catcher hit an extreme number of ground balls -- his ground ball percentage was 56.9 percent -- but when he did manage to hit a fly ball, over a quarter of the time it left the park. Just 23.6 percent of Ramos' hits in 2013 were fly balls, but he had 16 home runs due to a 27.6 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate. Ramos was fourth in MLB last season, behind just Carlos Gonzalez, Paul Goldschmidt and Pedro Alvarez, with an average distance of 309.51 feet per fly ball and if he can raise his fly ball percentage even just a little bit, he should have no problem reaching the 20 home run mark in 2014.
11. Russell Martin
Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates
2013 Statistics: 506 Plate Appearances, 51 Runs, 55 RBI, 15 HR, 9 Stolen Bases, .226 AVG
2014 Projections: 489 Plate Appearances, 53 Runs, 58 RBI, 14 HR, 8 Stolen Bases, .217 AVG
Martin's value compared to other catchers is entirely founded in his stolen base potential. When doing these rankings, Martin received a negative score (albeit just slightly in some categories) in every single category except for steals, in which he scored the highest.
10. Joe Mauer
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
2013 Statistics: 508 Plate Appearances, 62 Runs, 47 RBI, 11 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .324 AVG
2014 Projection: 535 Plate Appearances, 65 Runs, 58 RBI, 11 Home Runs, 3 Steals, .302 AVG
Mauer marks a tier in these rankings, there is a significant drop off from him to Russell Martin. There are 10 catchers you are going to want to target this season in fantasy baseball. If you don't get one of these next 10 guys, then chances are you're going to be shuffling the guys who ranked 11-20 in and out of your imaginary lineups this season.
9. Evan Gattis
Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves
2013 Statistics: 382 Plate Appearances, 44 Runs, 65 RBI, 21 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .243 AVG
2014 Projection: 450 Plate Appearances, 52 Runs, 77 RBI, 26 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .261 AVG
8. Jonathan Lucroy
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
2013 Statistics: 580 Plate Appearances, 59 Runs, 82 RBI, 9 Stolen Bases, .280 AVG
2014 Projection: 465 Plate Appearances, 50 Runs, 66 RBI, 15 Home Runs, 5 Stolen Bases, .293 AVG
Lucroy is a rare commodity at the catcher position; unlike most of his contemporaries, Lucroy contributes in all five of the standard roto categories. Typically with the catcher position, you're going to have to give a little bit away to get something in return. If you want a catcher who will hit 20 home runs, you'll probably need to stomach a poor batting average. If you want a catcher who hits for a good average, you'll probably need to stomach a poor everything else. There is nothing to indicate a dip in Lucroy's performance and the Brewers catcher is going to be 28 this season, entering what should be the prime years of his career. Barring injury, of course, Lucroy is a lock to be one of the 10 best catchers in fantasy baseball in 2014.
7. Salvador Perez
Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
2013 Statistics: 526 Plate Appearances, 48 Runs, 79 RBI, 13 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .292 AVG
2014 Projection: 550 Plate Appearances, 59 Runs, 77 RBI, 16 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .302 AVG
Salvador Perez exploded at the end of the 2013 season. From Aug. 1 through the end of the season he hit .318 with nine home runs and 37 RBI. Perez has a .301 career batting average in 933 Major League at bats and he isn't even 24 years old yet. The Royals catcher is truly talented with a bat in his hands and should have multiple years of being a top 10 fantasy catcher ahead of him.
6. Matt Wieters
Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
2013 Statistics: 579 Plate Appearances, 59 Runs, 79 RBI, 22 Home Runs, 2 Steals, .235 AVG
2014 Projection: 574 Plate Appearances, 66 Runs, 77 RBI, 19 Home Runs, 2 Steals, .242 AVG
Wieters had a career low .235 batting average last season and it's no coincidence it came in a season where he also suffered a career low .247 BABIP. Wieters' power numbers have been consistent throughout the last three seasons and he's still just going to be 28 years old this season. Wieters is never going to have a sparkling batting average, but he should continue to be a strong contributor in runs, RBI and home runs in 2014.
5. Brian McCann
Brian McCann, New York Yankees
2013 Statistics: 402 Plate Appearances, 43 Runs, 57 RBI, 20 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .256 AVG
2014 Projection: 520 Plate Appearances, 56 Runs, 72 RBI, 27 Home Runs, 0 Steals, .278 AVG
All you need to do to get excited about McCann's prospects as a Yankee is check out the ballpark overlay of Yankee Stadium and Turner Field. McCann hit 17 of his 20 home runs to right field last season and he is going to feast on the short right field in Yankee stadium.
4. Yadier Molina
Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
2013 Statistics: 541 Plate Appearances, 68 Runs, 80 RBI, 12 Home Runs, 3 Stolen Bases, .319 AVG
2014 Projection: 541 Plate Appearances, 63 Runs, 74 RBI, 14 Home Runs, 6 Stolen Bases, .298 AVG
Molina owns a career .284 batting average, but he has hit .293 or better in five of his last six seasons. Molina has been one of the most consistent fantasy catchers in the last three years and should continue to be a steady producer through 2014.
3. Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
2013 Statistics: 642 Plate Appearances, 75 Runs, 74 RBI, 20 Home Runs, 3 Stolen Bases, .268 AVG
2014 Projection: 636 Plate Appearances, 77 Runs, 77 RBI, 22 Home Runs, 4 Stolen Bases, .254 AVG
Santana has posted three seasons in a row of at least 18 home runs, 72 runs and 74 RBI. He's been as steady as they come as a power producer from the catcher position and there's no reason that should change in 2014.
2. Buster Posey
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2013 Statistics: 595 Plate Appearances, 61 Runs, 72 RBI, 15 Home Runs, 2 Stolen Bases, .294 AVG
2014 Statistics: 595 Plate Appearances, 67 Runs, 84 RBI, 19 Home Runs, 3 Stolen Bases, .304 AVG
There are going to be plenty of people who believe that Posey should be No. 1 on this list and you could definitely make a strong argument supporting that sentiment. I have Posey ranked No. 2, but in reality, he, Carlos Santana and the guy I have at No. 1 are 1a, 1b and 1c. I have Posey valued as a positive contributor in all five standard roto categories and only he and the guy ranked above him project that way.
1. Wilin Rosario
Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies
2013 Statistics: 466 Plate Appearances, 63 Runs, 79 RBI, 21 Home Runs, 4 Stolen Bases, .292 AVG
2014 Projection: 458 Plate Appearances, 66 Runs, 76 RBI, 25 Home Runs, 4 Stolen Bases, .280 AVG
Rosario is an absolute monster. For his career, Rosario boasts a 21.1 percent home-run-to-fly-ball rate, a .227 ISO and in the last two seasons, he has hit 180 fly balls that have averaged a distance just over 296 feet. Rosario has 49 home runs in his last two seasons and his power should only continue to develop. Rosario is a stud and heading into 2014 he is my No. 1 ranked catcher.
*All stats were taken from Fangraphs.com