Today, I wanted to highlight a few catchers that caught my eye. Currently, all of these players are options only for mono leagues, or for the deepest of two-catcher mixed leagues. I feel that these players are under-owned or under-valued or are simply worth monitoring.
Remember – deep league catchers are not going to give you a full or broad base of statistics. Catchers hardly steal bases, not even the ones suited for shallow leagues. As a fantasy owner – what you hope to attain from a catcher in the #20–30 range is a player that possesses at least one skill. You want a catcher who either can provide you with a modest power boost, or someone who can accumulate a decent on-base average, or a catcher that will occasionally kick in some Runs/RBIs. Anything else is gravy.
Let’s get right into it.
James McCann – Owned 2% on ESPN, 15% on CBS
In 2018, James McCann had an abysmal season. He hit for an awful .220 BA, and just a .267 OBP in 457 plate appearances. He only hit 8 homers, which was down from hitting at least a dozen in the two prior seasons. What was unfortunate for McCann – was that he was given a relatively large amount of playing time for a catcher. He started a career-high 112 games for Detroit.
There was some bad luck involved last year. His BABIP, although not horrendous, was at .282. His career BABIP is over .300, so there should be a tick of batting average relief just from simple BABIP regression. What was even more strange, is that suddenly – McCann couldn’t hit lefties. His OPS versus left-handed pitching was a dreadful .514 – which was 88 points worse than against right-handers. In the prior season, his OPS versus lefties was .928 – 278 points above his OPS against RHPs.
His power output might have also been a tad fluky. McCann’s HR/FB rate dipped to 6.6% in ’18, but it had been 13-14% in each of the prior two seasons. Simply stabilizing that metric would lead him to a bounce back in power.
Let’s see how McCann is recovering thus far in the new year:
As far as McCann’s underlying skills, they appear to be much improved. His walk rate is up, and his strikeout rate is down. Contact rate stabilizes more quickly than other batted ball metrics, so this is a great sign. McCann has converted about 5% of his ground balls into line drives and has cut down on his soft contact. His HR/FB rate has now reverted back to his previously established levels. These are possibly the best skills that James has shown for his career.
What else is different? McCann now plays his home games at Guaranteed Rate Field, which is a much better park for hitters than his previous home at Comerica Park.
The White Sox have now been consistently playing McCann in favor of the struggling backstop, Welington Castillo. Lately, McCann has been a fixture in the cleanup spot – sometimes serving as the designated hitter – both feats which are highly uncommon for a 2nd backstop. As a bonus, he’s also stolen a couple of bases.
I own McCann in Tout Wars. It seems like the White Sox currently have faith in James McCann. For your 2nd catcher – shouldn’t you at least consider him?
Kevan Smith – Owned < 1% on ESPN, 1% on CBS
Kevan Smith, on the other hand, departed the White Sox in the off-season. Smith started the new season ice cold – but in the last 10 days, his triple slash line is a red hot .375/.423/.583, with a homer.
Smith will hit for very little power; his appeal is his ability to get on base at a high clip. He is a lifetime .280 hitter, which is terrific for a catcher.
This season, Smith is walking at a 9% clip. He is striking out at a decent rate of 13%. He has increased his line drive rate by almost 10 percentage points year over year, and has boosted his Hard-Hit rate to 46%!
Similar to McCann, but not as pronounced, Smith has also been moved up in the batting lineup – often found batting in the 6-hole. He too has played as the designated hitter this season (five times thus far).
For a catcher who is currently posting a .362 OBP, and one who is accumulating some meaningful playing time – a 1% ownership level seems extremely low.
Personally, my catchers (the ones on my fantasy teams) have managed to stay healthy. However, if I am in need of a short-term filler – Kevan Smith will be a strong consideration. He is a backstop who won’t hurt your BA or OBP, and while batting high enough in the lineup – he may also assist you with run production.
Smith isn’t a risky play and is not a gamble. Be aware of him should the need arise.
Matt Wieters – Owned < 1% on ESPN, 1% on CBS
Yadier Molina has played in 26 of the first 28 Cardinal games of the season. He is on pace for 150+ games as an almost 37-year old backstop. Does anyone think that will happen?
Molina is as tough as they come, playing in at least 110 games in each season since 2005. [I can’t remember if Molina played in 2006 though.] It certainly is hard to bet against Molina, but the current pace is incredible and unsustainable for the aging National League catcher.
If and when an injury to Molina occurs, or when the Cardinals decide to give him a lot more time off – Matt Wieters is the man who will crouch behind home plate for the Red Birds.
Wieters hasn’t had many chances thus far in ’19. He is batting .364 on the season, but that stat comes from a limited sample size.
Looking back at the past few seasons – Wieters has been gaining an eye at the plate. From 2016 to 2018, he has increased his walk rate from 7% to 8% to 11%. Last season, Wieters finished with one of the highest mPDIs [the Maddux Plate Discipline Index] of any catcher – at .712 – a sign of some excellent plate skills.
In terms of power, we are now a few years removed from Matt’s typical 22-23 HR level. Homeruns are still an old dog’s trick – I wouldn’t count out a 15 HR season if he fell into a fair amount of playing time. Wieters had increased his flyball percentage last season to 45%, so he may be trying to launch a few more in the air to help his power cause.
Wieters is not a player that teams need to roster at the moment. He will become more interesting in deep leagues if he backs into some playing time. Molina hitting the IL at some point this season is a plausible event. If not, Molina would still need a fair number of off days to get him through the season. When either happens, and if you need a 2nd catcher at the time – consider Wieters as part of your available options.
Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. He is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel was ranked by FantasyPros as the #1 fantasy baseball expert in 2019. His ATC Projections were ranked as the #1 most accurate projection system in 2019. Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational - Beat the Shift Podcast (@TGFBI). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, a member of the inaugural Mixed LABR Auction league and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.