The First Annual Catchies!

*Small smattering of applause that sounds a lot like my wife imploring our kids to “please just clap for Daddy doing his dumb thing”.*

Thank you, thank you – and welcome back to the nation’s most premier(est) fantasy baseball award ceremony! We’ll be starting our offseason festivities off with the tools of ignorance – and no, I’m not talking about my projection methodology (awkward pause)…

*obviously canned audience laughter*

There it is! Now, please, just sit back, relax, and get ready for more bad jokes and lots of talk about the grown men who play on our pretend baseball teams.

It’s the Catchies!

And the Catchie for “Big Dumper, Biggest Thumper” goes to…Cal Raleigh!

The committee was in on Raleigh big time for 2023, loving the power but thinking there could a lot of fantasy gravy coming from a big PA bump.

From archival footage:

“Raleigh, Raleigh, Raleigh, oy-oy-oy. Cal went boom in 2023, taking over full-time duties in Seattle while smashing 27 HR in the process – and in just 415 PA! His HR per PA rate finished in the 98th percentile (10th overall), rising from the 96th in the first half to the 99th in the second. Or, for added context, only Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, and Albert Pujols hit home runs at a higher rate than Raleigh did in the second half. And while playing with a torn ligament in his hand for the last month!”

“No, if there’s any extra sauce to be had with Raleigh, it’ll come via an increase in plate appearances leading to more compiling of HR+R+RBI. Remember that 2022 started with Raleigh in a timeshare with Luis Torrens. But between struggling and the IL, Torrens quickly took a backseat, eventually being banished back to the minors for a spell. Presumably, Raleigh will be in for the lion’s share of playing time from jump street in 2023.”

Our pal, Cal, certainly delivered on both hopes, leading all catchers with 30 HR and going from 415 PA in 2022 to 569 PA in 2023 (6th most). Raleigh finished as the #6 Catcher on the NBPR after being drafted in the 12-15ish range, while also leading the league in dumps like a truck. What, what.

But really, the extra (extra!) sauce came from Raleigh not being an absolute batting average sink again, having come into the season carrying a .202 AVG over his first 563 PA in the big leagues. Raleigh finished with a (relatively) pristine .232 AVG in 2023, which is super weird because it’s not like some massive rule change happened that was nearly guaranteed to give a BA boost to a certain type of hitter:

Dr. Dumper and Mr. Hyde
2021-2022 vs Shifts 422 .201 .224
2021-2022 vs No Shifts 132 .224 .289
2023 New Rules 569 .232 .273

Is a .232 AVG some groundbreaking revelation? No, of course not but I (and most) don’t really need my catchers to provide me with a big average – but I’m also not trying to be the Rock:

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If Raleigh is going to continue to be a .230ish kind of guy, that’s fine by me and will be again be fine for my teams in 2024, especially given how deep catcher should again be. Raleigh isn’t going to go with top dogs but should be a fine consolation for those not wanting to spend up.

And the Catchie for “Imagine If He Hadn’t Gotten Hurt?” goes to…Jonah Heim!

Heim finished as a top-five catcher even though he had a wrist strain that may have technically only cost him a couple of weeks in early August but clearly affected his performance after he returned. For one, the switch-hitter was only able to hit right-handed after he came back until well into September. While he was a better overall hitter from the right side (.338/.386/.500) compared to the reverse (.241/.303/.424) in 2023, 16 of his 18 HR came from the left side.

After returning from the IL on August 13, Heim hit just one home run over his next 22 games before getting a mini-barrage of 3 HR in 9 games in mid-September. And while he did finish the regular season with a 10-game homer drought (and hasn’t hit any in five playoff games), we don’t need a pile of power for Heim to earn his fantasy keep – his is a balanced profile that gets a lot of value from the elite lineup that surrounds him.

But ultimately, sometimes you just have to keep it simple; wrist injuries tend to really suck for hitters and will often hinder them even after they return:

Pre-Injury: 90 G – 328 PA: .280/.337/.479, 14 HR – 49 R – 70 RBI – 2 SB

Post-Injury: 41 G – 142 PA: .202/.268/.333, 4 HR – 12 R – 25 RBI – 0 SB

Given his second-half performance and the depth of the position, I’m going to bet that Heim won’t get a ton of ADP love in 2024 and could make an excellent acquisition for those looking to kick catchers down the drafting road. In the first NFBC draft of the season (which naturally pushes catchers up because of the two-catcher format), Heim was the 14th player taken, making him a possibly great #2 if you’re looking to lock in a pair of top options but he could also really shine as a #1 for the punters that aren’t afraid to wait. And in one-catcher leagues, Heim could be a last couple of rounds All-Star.

And the Catchie for “Best Contreras Brother” goes to…William Contreras!

The disadvantages of writing up your catcher rankings in November…To the Archives!

“The pop is for real – all Contreras has done since hitting the majors is hit home runs at an elite rate and his exit velocities don’t think that’ll be slowing down. No, the problem is Travis d’Arnaud and the $8 million he’ll be making in 2023. Barring a trade, Atlanta is likely to be a timeshare situation, and that makes relying on Contreras as my primary in a one-catcher league, a bridge too far. To keep beating that drum, there are just too many good options to be messing with unreliable playing time situations.”

How quickly an unreliable situation can become reliable – two weeks after I wrote the above, Contreras ended up in Milwaukee after Atlanta engaged in a raucous threeway with the Brewers and A’s. And right into a full-time job, with Contreras finishing with 611 PA in 141 games. Oh, he also finished as the #1 catcher in fantasy after slashing .291/.369/.459, with 17 HR – 86 R – 78 RBI – 6 SB. nbd.

Not too shabby especially considering he still finished first even while his home run rate dropped considerably after hitting 20 HR in just 376 PA in 2023. But his exit velocities were still above average and he increased his contact rate by six points, finishing with a 21% K% and 11% SwStr% that were both career bests.

And the Catchie for “But What If He Played All Season?” goes to…Bo Naylor!

The superior Naylor finally got his chance in 2023, being called up in mid-June but while the power output was mostly steady, Naylor really hit his stride in September, finishing the season by slashing .304/.444/.607 over 72 PA, with 4 HR and a .438 wOBA. It wasn’t just a BABIP-fueled fever dream either (.302 BABIP in September), Naylor was also being way more choosy at the plate, running a 19% BB% and 14% K% for the month after a 10% BB% and 27% K% from earlier in the year.

Just for funsies, let’s give keep all his rates the same but give Naylor 500 PA instead of the 230 PA he finished with. Oh jeez – #4 catcher, huh? Dangerous to prorate, it is but it’s a quick and dirty way to see how valuable a small sample could be.

Naylor’s power was never really in question and he brought it to the majors for his rookie season, with a .048 HR per PA that put him right in the mix with the position’s other power guys. And playing time shouldn’t be much of an issue either, with Cam Gallager (for now) the only other catcher on the 40-man. But it’s still hard to rely on young catchers in fantasy, so while I really like him as a player, I suspect my Naylor exposure will depend largely on price.

And the Catchie for “I Swear Tyler Stephenson Will Be Awesome if He Can Just Get 500+ PA – Well, Crap” goes to…Tyler Stephenson!

No. No. No. No. Never. Never. Never. Ever. Ever. Again. I’m out; Nick be gone and his fantasy soul is finally free of hoping that this next year will be the one. Nope. Done-zo.

Stephenson finally got a full season under his belt, with 517 PA blowing the doors off of his previous high of 402 PA but promptly fell on his fantasy face, slashing just .243/.317/.378 in 142 games, with 13 HR – 59 R – 56 RBI – o SB, after slashing .296/.369/.454 over his 190 games prior. That meager output was good for just 19th on our player rater, narrowly edging out Jake Rogers and Danny Jansen – neither of whom was being drafted as a top-10 catcher like Stephenson was.

So, I’m out. Just can’t do it again. Which, of course, means: Stephenson/Career Year, collision course.

And the Catchie for “Remember When Alejandro Kirk Was A Thing?” goes to…Alejandro Kirk!

What’s shaped like a bowling ball and was an unmitigated disaster in 2023? You guessed it. Looks like it turns out one good half does not necessarily a great fantasy asset make.

From the archives:

Did you know that Kirk was the #2 catcher in the first half? Pretty, pretty good. But did you also know that he was only 20th in the second half? Well, you certainly did if rostering him – Kirk was an absolute killer in the second half, relative to the first:

Alejandro Kirk 2022 by Half
1st Half 83 306 11 45 37 0 .315 .395 .487 .882 .384 155 .172
2nd Half 56 235 3 14 26 0 .246 .340 .320 .661 .299 95 .074

It’s not that I think the second-half version of Kirk is the one we’ll get in 2023, it’s more that I worry about players for whom much of their value is tied up in batting average – when it goes, their value drops just like all the beats did back when DJ Rapadactyl was roaming the sky.

Ha-ha! Victory lap! In…Your..Fa-

*(More) From the Archives:*

“Even when the aforementioned red flags on power and overreliance on batting average, I still think Kirk is going to have a fine fantasy season. It’s just that, like many others at the position, his draft price is just going to be too high considering all the questions I still have.”

What the hell – who put that there? How dare you?? Thou shalt not interrupt a victory lap with silly things like full context and facts. So it is written.

And the Catchie for “Best Mitch Garver Renaissance” goes to…Mitch Garver!

I had Jonah Heim on many, many teams but luckily, I was able to grab Garver on almost all of them after Heim hit the aforementioned IL with a wrist sprain. But after Heim came back, Garver still stuck around on my teams because he just refused to stop hitting and the Rangers refused to send him back to a part-time role.

Garver spent most of April/May on the IL and the rest of the first half as a part-timer. Not that he was terrible, hitting 4 HR in 101 PA, with a .781 OPS and .339 wOBA but he didn’t really blow up until hitting the full-time stage again. From July 29 on (the day after Heim went on the IL), Garver slashed .283/.389/.543 over 217 PA with a fairly ridiculous 14 HR.

But is it that ridiculous? Garver hit 31 HR in our year of the juice, 2019, running an unreasonable .086 HR per PA, followed by a .025 HR/PA in 2020’s tiny 23-game sample. But he’s been pretty steady since, with a .053 HR/PA in 2021, .047 HR/PA in 2022, and now a .055 HR/PA in 2023. The pop hasn’t really gone anywhere, it’s just been cratered by his lack of a full-time job. So, depending on where the unrestricted free agent lands in 2024, Garver could quickly become a sleeper cell candidate.

And the Catchie for “Wait, Ryan Jeffers Hit What???” goes to…Ryan Jeffers!

After acquiring a Christian Vázquez-shaped chip on his shoulder, Jeffers retooled his swing in a big way in 2023 and it showed – he slashed .276/.369/.490 over 335 PA after entering the season carrying a .210/.285/.390 for his short career. But while Jeffers may be much improved (and might be making the Twins wonder why they just lit $30 million on fire) but his playing time in 2024 will still have a zombie-Vázquez gnawing at its neck.

And the Catchie for “Why Is Gary Sánchez Wearing a Francisco Álvarez Mask?” goes to…Francisco Álvarez!

Q: How can 25 HR, 51 R, 63 RBI, and 2 SB in just 423 PA be turned into overall fantasy value that only slightly edged out Ryan Jeffers, Mitch Garver, and Yan Gomes?

A: When it comes with a .209 AVG

And he would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you damn kids.

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4 months ago

After years of targeting catching early, I think 2024 becomes the year that I wait longer at this position. There is a lot more depth than in years past, providing a healthy middle class even for those in 12-team leagues that start 2 catchers.