The Change: Catchers, Who Needs Them?

Well, it wouldn’t be much fun if the ball just rolled to the wall every time the pitcher threw it, so obviously the game needs a catcher, even if robot umps take over. But my impression of trying to draft stud catchers from year to year is that it’s folly.

Maybe because the position is so demanding defensively, my impression of their ability to hit is somewhere between ‘American League pitcher’ and ‘Defensive Replacement’. The numbers say that catchers debut later, but even that finding is muddied by late-career backup catcher debuts. Aging for catchers seems about the same, and finding value in a catcher is easy even if they hit 13% worse than league average as a group this year, worse than any other position players — you still need to fill the position, so even an okay batter should be valuable.

Still… am I crazy? It seems that catchers are more volatile, year to year, and I just want to shop in the bargain bin for the most part. Let’s jump in and see if I am loony tunes.

Here are the top 30 catchers in combined value over the last three years. This year’s values come from the auction calculator, which now has “2016 year to date” as an option. N/A was converted to a zero, and we started with 2016 catchers, so retirees won’t show up.

Top Three-Year Catchers
Name 2016 $ 2015 $ 2014 $ sum
Buster Posey $21.50 $25.04 $22.26 $68.80
Jonathan Lucroy $22.60 $1.14 $16.15 $39.89
Russell Martin $12.40 $14.63 $7.35 $34.38
Brian McCann $10.20 $14.31 $8.32 $32.83
Salvador Perez $11.50 $9.17 $8.56 $29.23
Evan Gattis $17.40 $0.00 $4.78 $22.18
Wilson Ramos $20.60 $1.07 -$1.39 $20.28
Stephen Vogt $7.90 $9.59 $0.00 $17.49
Yadier Molina $13.80 $0.99 -$1.15 $13.64
Yasmani Grandal $12.50 $0.09 $0.53 $13.12
Derek Norris $2.10 $8.00 $2.99 $13.09
Gary Sanchez $8.60 $0.00 $0.00 $8.60
Welington Castillo $9.80 $2.81 -$4.13 $8.48
Yan Gomes -$5.30 -$2.77 $13.24 $5.17
Willson Contreras $4.50 $0.00 $0.00 $4.50
J.T. Realmuto $15.80 $3.97 -$16.92 $2.85
Miguel Montero -$0.90 $1.00 $2.23 $2.33
Kurt Suzuki $3.10 -$4.26 $1.00 -$0.16
Tony Wolters -$0.60 $0.00 $0.00 -$0.60
Nick Hundley $3.30 $5.58 -$10.74 -$1.86
Francisco Cervelli $2.00 $5.40 -$11.36 -$3.96
Tyler Flowers $1.90 -$6.97 $0.07 -$5.00
Travis d’Arnaud -$4.50 -$1.34 -$0.47 -$6.31
Bruce Maxwell III -$6.80 $0.00 $0.00 -$6.80
Omar Narvaez -$6.90 $0.00 $0.00 -$6.90
Jason Castro -$0.20 -$6.73 -$1.17 -$8.10
Matt Wieters $9.30 -$6.58 -$10.85 -$8.13
Dioner Navarro -$3.80 -$10.45 $5.60 -$8.65
Robinson Chirinos -$3.10 -$4.76 -$2.94 -$10.80
A.J. Pierzynski -$7.00 $3.42 -$7.71 -$11.29
SOURCE: Auction Calculator, Zach Sanders
From End of Year value posts, assumes one catcher league.

One stud, and three ten dollar catchers… yeah this looks bad. If you look at it from a lens of consistency, it looks even worse. Buster Posey is bankable, and nobody else. Maybe we just got that one bad year from Jonathan Lucroy mucking things up, but look up and down the top offerings.

There’s nobody that was consistently awesome other than perhaps Posey. You have some consistency, of course, because summing up the values will bring those to the top. But the consistent catchers were the ones with flaws in their offense. Brian McCann has seen the shift kill his balls in play, Salvador Perez has not added anything to his one-note approach, and Stephen Vogt has been pretty good but not amazing.

Still seems like a position to pass on, especially if Posey’s not going to get your $20+ bucks. Gary Sanchez is intriguing, but what if his sophomore season has a dropoff just because of the grind of a Major League seasion? What if Russell Martin’s body gives out again? Where will McCann play? Ditto Evan Gattis? Wilson Ramos just broke out super old, what if it was as much luck as LASIK?

Call me when we’re drafting Yasmani Grandal, Welington Castillo, and Stephen Vogt, I think.

Just to make sure this isn’t a problem for everyone, let’s look at first basemen through the same lens.

Top Three-Year First Basemen
Name 2016 $ 2015 $ 2014 $ sum
Paul Goldschmidt $30.50 $36.65 $15.21 $82.36
Edwin Encarnacion $27.30 $24.75 $20.46 $72.51
Anthony Rizzo $24.20 $25.54 $22.11 $71.85
Miguel Cabrera $28.20 $12.51 $29.73 $70.44
Jose Abreu $15.00 $20.28 $29.94 $65.22
Albert Pujols $18.50 $16.61 $23.47 $58.58
Freddie Freeman $25.80 $4.61 $17.83 $48.24
Adrian Gonzalez $10.10 $13.28 $23.10 $46.48
Chris Davis $13.40 $26.95 $4.25 $44.60
Joey Votto $28.20 $24.52 -$10.85 $41.87
Eric Hosmer $15.60 $20.52 $1.76 $37.88
Carlos Santana $16.80 $6.59 $10.89 $34.28
Chris Carter $14.30 -$4.29 $14.83 $24.84
Wil Myers $24.10 $0.00 $0.00 $24.10
Lucas Duda $0.00 $4.82 $16.42 $21.24
Brandon Belt $8.60 $9.61 -$8.39 $9.82
Pedro Alvarez $0.00 $4.90 $0.00 $4.90
Adam Lind -$2.70 $9.75 -$3.19 $3.86
Brandon Moss $3.70 $0.00 $0.00 $3.70
Ryan Howard -$5.80 -$0.17 $7.83 $1.86

Heck yeah this looks different. Not only are the studs more studlier, but they’re more consistent. When Miguel Cabrera takes a Lucroyian step back, he’s not worth one dollar, he’s worth $13. Albert Pujols is the Russ Martin here, trying to stave off father time, and he has no single digit seasons, yet.

We have four first basemen worth more than the best catcher, and a whopping seven guys that have been double-digit for three straight years. And we have only one catcher that has managed that, and only four if we soften the lighting and play some Enya or Blackstreet (aka use a lower benchmark to reflect that the position is lower at the top, too).

The first part of the problem is that there’s no position other than catcher that has a designated sub, and a standard operating procedure that has the starter sit at least twice a week. The second part of the problem is that the catcher has to spend so much time honing his framing, improving his game calling, and going over the hitters with the pitchers. The third part of the problem may be all the squatting.

But it certainly looks like depending on a catcher year to year is a problem.

We hoped you liked reading The Change: Catchers, Who Needs Them? by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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OTMHeartBBC
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Member

This is an argument for getting Posey on your team more than anything, get him and lock in 2x the production at C and blow out the rest of the league C’s.

He is like Gronkowski in Fantasy Football – no equal at TE and you have a distinct roster advantage in having him

Anon
Member
Member
Anon

Good comp with Gronk. I think Posey is vastly underrated in standard fantasy formats. Look at this year – he was off a little from last year and some other guys surged and he was still the 2nd or 3rd best catcher. THat’s a down year for Posey. For everyone else, they have a down year and they are actually a net negative.

The other problem is lists and “degrees”. Most sites have lists of players and lists of catchers, but the separation between 1 (Posey) and 2 is greater than the difference between 2 and, what, 7 or 8 maybe?

In my main league, I will probably continue for the next couple years to be the guy who takes Posey way too high (2nd round this year).

killerweaksweet
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Member
killerweaksweet

I dont know. I’m not sure that Gronk is a good comp here. With him, you are getting a top 10 player overall and he plays a bad position. With Posey you are getting a top 75ish player that plays a bad position.

You would still be drafting Gronk in the first round even if he qualified at WR only. You would not do the same with Posey if he was 1B only.