I say it every year – the catcher’s position is a field filled with landmines. There are certainly options that are elite when it comes to offensive output, but at the same time there is always an inherent risk with anyone who wears the tools of ignorance (Victor Martinez injured his knee – a torn ACL – knocking him out for the season. Was it the result of wear and tear? We may never know.). So what are my thoughts on how you should handle the catchers position, especially if you are in a league (as you should be) that has two starting backstops?
Consider the following.
Last year only one catcher appeared in 150 games – Carlos Santana (155).
Last year four catchers appeared in 140 games – Martinez, Alex Avila, Miguel Montero and John Buck.
Last year six catchers appeared in 130 games – Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters, Jonathan Lucroy, Kurt Suzuki, Carlos Ruiz and Miguel Olivo.
In total we have 11 catcher eligible players who appeared in 130 games, or, to put it another way, there were only 11 catchers who appeared in more than 80 percent of their teams games. How about this – there were only 11 catchers who missed as few as a month worth of games. Think about that for a moment. If you were in a 15 team league last year you had about a 50 percent chance that your starter behind the dish missed a month worth of game action. That alone should cause you pause when you think about reaching early for a catcher. Hidden inside this digression about games played is the point I brought up at the start – that is the fact that injuries are a huge issue for a backstop. Do you really want to spend a high level pick on a player that is, in the best case scenario, going to miss 15 percent of his teams games? What if there was a fair amount of risk that even that number would be missed (i.e. another injury – think Mike Napoli who is still dealing with an ankle injury from last season)?
How about this one – how many catchers stole 10 or more bases last year? The answer is zero. Moreover, only four eligible catchers even stole five bases (Russell Martin 8, Miguel Olivo 6, Chris Iannetta 6 and Santana 5). Strike two is a total lack of speed from the player who you will have fill the catcher’s position. There simply no juice at all from backstops in the steals category.
How about we talk about batting average. Amongst catcher eligible players who had 400 plate appearances do you know how many hit .290? The answer is four – V-Mart (.330) Napoli (.320), Yadier Molina (.305) and Alex Avila (.295). That’s a pretty high batting mark, so let’s drop the qualification down to .275. How many catchers hit .275? The answer is just seven (add in A.J. Pierzynski .287, Carlos Ruiz .283 and Miguel Montero .282). If we drop that number down to .270 we only add two more guys (Yorvit Torrealba .273 and Brian McCann .270). So all told we’ve got nine, not nineteen but nine, catchers who had 400 plate appearances that also hit just .270. Clearly catcher isn’t the place to look for batting average help.
Is there big time power at the catchers spot? The answer is not really (five catchers hit 20 homers in 2012: Mike Napoli 30, Carlos Santana 27, Brian McCann 24, J.P. Arencebia 23 and Matt Wieters 22). The reason, chiefly, is that they just don’t play enough games. There were nine other catchers who hit between 15 and 19 homers, but that makes my point for me doesn’t it? After a mere handful of guys, pretty much any catcher you will draft is going to hit you something like 15 homers. If the difference between the #6 guy at the position in homers and the #14 guys is just four homers, less than one a month, does it really matter who your catcher is? Further, there were also four more catchers who hit 14 homers (that brings the total to 18 backstops who went deep at least 14 times). The bottom line here is that there was a lot of parody at the catcher’s position, at least in terms of the power output they provide.
I know you have to take a catcher, and I know it matters who you end up with. There is no doubt that there is a significant difference between Mike Napoli and Kurt Suzuki, but my point is that I’m concerned enough about the potential injury situation to always be reluctant to spend big on a catcher. Further, with most catchers missing so much playing time, it just doesn’t make much sense to reach for a catcher. In addition, no catcher is a five category contributor which should further diminish the value of those players at the position. I’m not suggesting you wait until your stuck drafting the #19 and #23 catchers as your starters, but at the same time I’m also much more comfortable targeting catchers in the 8-15 range than I am reaching early, or waiting late, on getting my backstop duo.
Check out the link to Fleaflicker for their rankings on the catcher’s position.
By Ray Flowers