How to correctly value catchers has always been up for debate. As a position, they are by far the worst hitters in the league. Last season, catchers posted a .713 OPS while second basemen were next with a .745 OPS. Most player calculations give catchers a valuation boost to attempt to even them out with the other hitters. This theoretical boost always exceeds the actual cost paid by draft picks or auction dollars. I assumed some experts knew more than me (safe bet) and the catcher projections have a wider range of outcomes. Owners don’t want to pay for these gambles. By examining historical values, I found the complete opposite. Catcher projections are the least volatile.
I’m not going to rehash why catchers need a positional adjustment. I’ve written a whole section on it in The Process. For anyone new to the subject or just wants a refresher, Ariel Cohen wrote an in-depth article on the subject.
As Ariel’s notes in this table, the ideal method (Full Adjustment) to determine catcher values overvalues catchers compared to the market (Market Pricing).
He goes into one method on why the difference exists but I’m going investigate another theory. Catchers are volatile and fantasy owners aren’t willing to pay for the increased risk.
The theory goes …. since catchers are behind the plate with balls and bats flying around them, they get injured more and their playing time and production should suffer. Therefore their production becomes volatile (i.e. risky depending on the definition) and fantasy owners aren’t willing to pay a premium on these gambles.
The concept makes sense but I wanted to see if the numbers back it up. From 2010 on (my extent of Steamer projections), I compared the projected plate appearances and OPS for catchers and non-catchers. I found the average and median differences in 50 PA ranges. And most important for this study, the standard deviation (variation) of the two differences. Here are the results:
The standard deviation in plate appearances for the catchers hoover somewhere around 110. For the non-catchers, the value is closer to 150 PA. Projections seem to have an easier time knowing how many times a catcher will come to bat compared to everyone else. The trend continues into OPS where catchers have a variation around .085 OPS and non-catchers are over .100.
Catchers actually seem to be a safer investment compared to other hitters. I expected to find the opposite. As I explained last night in the TGFBI podcast, I determine the ideal (i.e. full) replacement level, figure out the market value, and then find the best values. With this study, I don’t see a reason to think catcher production is at all “risky”. Instead, it’s one of the safest draft day investments.
While some beat your favorite author leagues will be starting soon, feel free to go to the NFBC and sign up for their Draft or Online Championships. Also, for those with deeper pocket books, the NFBC Main Events are quickly filling up.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.