numberFire’s 2014 Catcher Rankings: Is Mauer Still the Best Option?
I've now gone through our rankings for every non-pitching position. Oh, what's that? I have to talk about catchers? Great.
The rankings below result from projections and what we call our “numberFire score”. The score, from a high level, takes a player’s contributions across all relevant scoring categories (5X5 league) and adjusts for position scarcity. It’s all placed in one fine, cute number, but the amount of math that goes behind it is significant. After all, that’s what we love – we love math.
Without further ado, here’s who the algorithms like this season at catcher.
1. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Mauer will retain catcher eligibility throughout 2014, but his move to first base will have a big impact in years to come. While he's been one of the best catchers to hit a baseball, he becomes just a very good hitter at the first base position. Fortunately though, we don't have to worry about that until next year. He should see an increase in plate appearances now that he's at first, and with that could come more cumulative production. He's not quite the same batter he was back in 2009 where he hit 28 homers and had 96 runs batted in, but Mauer can provide a solid average and moderate power, which means he'll continue to beast at the catcher position in fantasy. Keep in mind that his batting a three-year high last year on 508 plate appearances (.324), but it was likely a result of a career-high .383 BABIP. That's a main reason we have him pegged at .308.
2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Molina hit double digit home runs for his third straight season, continuing his career turnaround at the plate. He's now batted no worse than a .305/.349/.465 slash over his last three seasons, while that hovered more along the lines of .275/.340/.370 during his seven years prior. A lot of this can be credited to a line-drive rate that's soared past 24% over the last two seasons, all while keeping a similar flyball rate. Yadi could see a slight regression this season in average due to his .338 BABIP, but if he can continue to hit line drives like he has, we shouldn't expect it to be significant. His power may not hit his 2012 mark again, but he should be able to produce well in every non-base stealing fantasy category.
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Plenty of experts have Buster Posey as the number one catcher this year, and it's understandable as to why. He hit to a .294/.371/.450 slash in what could be considered a "down" year for him, and really struggled down the stretch due to a fractured finger. Compared to his 2012 campaign, Posey saw a decrease in power (ISO dropped 57 points), and as a result, he saw his major fantasy categories drop tremendously. His .312 BABIP was far lower than his .330 career average though, so perhaps a little bit of misfortune was involved. Or, maybe this is what to expect from Posey - a 15 to 20 home run hitter who will struggle to reach 80 RBI. That's what our numbers think, at least.
4. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Santana isn't a strong defender behind the plate for Cleveland, but that doesn't really matter in fantasy. He'll see a good number of plate appearances given he probably won't catch as many games as some of the guys (well, not Mauer) above, which is good for fake baseball. With Santana, you can expect a decent home run total - potentially the most at the catcher position - and a good number of runs scored and runs batted in. But don't expect a strong batting average. Since 2010, Santana's best average has been .268 (last year), and during that season, he batted 20 points better on batted balls.
5. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
Lucroy comes in as our fifth-best catcher, as he finished with a .280 average, 18 home runs, 82 RBI and 59 runs scored in 2013. Not a bad stat line at all, and there wasn't any huge outlier that screams regression. Perhaps his RBI totals drop a bit, but his batted ball profile is desirable, and he has the capability of stealing more bases than any other catcher. With a numberFire score of 2.91, Lucroy sits in his own little tier.
6. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies
Rosario's power dropped from 2012 to 2013, and in turn, so did his home run total. He's still a powerful bat though, finishing fifth among 250-plus plate appearance catchers in ISO last year. He doesn't walk a whole lot, giving fantasy owners more potential every time he steps up to the plate. Rosario had a high BABIP last year of .344, which caused his average to soar above .290. Expect a decline there, but if he can get his power going again, he should produce in fantasy.
7. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
There's nothing dreamy about Wieters' numbers, but you can expect consistency with regards to power. He's now hit 22 or 23 home runs in each of his last three seasons, with an ISO that's hovered between .182 and .188. Perhaps his .235 batting average was so low because of his horrendous .247 BABIP, which is why we see a bit of an uptick in his 2014 projection. He's an average hitter overall, but it's the catcher position, making him a top 10 guy to draft.
8. Brian McCann, New York Yankees
Our own Chris Kay document McCann's potential in an article earlier this month, noting that McCann's home run production should increase dramatically due to the shorter right field in New York. There's plenty of upside with him as a result, though our numbers are taking a more conservative approach to his first season with the Yankees. He's always had pretty good power, and is almost a near lock to get 20 home runs. The problem with McCann in fantasy is that he may hurt your strikeout totals (.230 and .256 in each of the last two seasons, respectively), especially if it continues to rise like it did a season ago.
9. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
Perez played his first full season in the bigs last year, and was able to put together a solid .292/.323/.433 slash. He doesn't have the same kind of power as some of the other catchers in fantasy, but we're projecting him to have the fourth-best batting average among all catchers with at least 480 plate appearances. Perez has had an above-average line-drive rate throughout his brief career, and could easily improve on his 20.5% rate from last season, making his personal high BABIP negligible. Catchers are catchers, but Perez has upside given his age and potential.
10. A.J. Pierzynski, Boston Red Sox
It'll be A.J. Pierzynski's first year with the Red Sox, as former catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia took a gig with the Marlins. The veteran saw an incredibly low walk rate last season - even for him - but was still able to hit for a good average, drive in 70 runs and hit 17 long bombs. Since 2003, Pierzynski has had 11 seasons with at least 497 plate appearances, and during that time, he's hit fewer than 11 home runs just twice (9 and 8 in 2010 and 2011, respectively). We've got him slated for a typical Pierzynski season, hitting .276 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI in his new uniform.