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ADP Cost Analysis - Carson Kelly vs Willson Contreras

It's the middle of the draft and the elite catching options are long gone. All of a sudden, an owner drafts a catcher. Then another catcher gets taken, then another. As your pick is approaching, the mid-round run on catchers has officially started and you feel a hint of pressure staring at the empty "C" spot on your team.

In times like this, it can be tempting to join the positional run and nail down that spot on your roster. That's where the RotoBaller ADP cost analysis series comes in. We'll compare two players that could produce similar fantasy value, but at very different costs. Today, we'll examine the catcher position and how to handle the aforementioned scenario.

As tempting as it may be to grab a catcher with the rest of your league-mates, it would be a wasted draft pick just to grab one to avoid being the last to draft a catcher. Catcher is fantasy baseball's weakest position and it's not particularly close. Almost no one is going to draft more than they're required to start, so waiting out the position can be smart, especially when we comparing the numbers of one particular late-round sleeper, Carson Kelly of the D-backs, with his mid-round counterpart, the Cubs' Willson Contreras.

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2019 Production

Last season, Contreras had a solid bounce-back year after a nightmarish 2018 campaign that saw him bat just .249 and slug under .400. The Cubs' backstop slashed .272/.355/.533 in '19 to go with 24 homers, 57 runs, 64 RBI and one stolen base. A hamstring injury limited him to 105 games, but when he was on the field, Contreras was a productive fantasy asset, explaining the demand for his services this season. Contreras is currently being drafted as the fourth catcher off the board and around 114th overall.

However, if we look further down the rankings, we can find similar production over 100 picks later at pick No. 220. Kelly is currently the 12th catcher off the board and offers just as much -- if not more -- upside than many of the catchers going before pick No. 200. Last season, he slashed .245/.348/.478 with 18 homers, 46 runs and 47 RBI in 111 games played. On the surface, those numbers are certainly lower than Contreras, but definitely not worth the 106-pick difference in their ADP, especially when we look under the hood and try and project forward into 2020.


Batted Ball Data

2019 xBA xSLG Avg Exit Velocity Hard Hit Rate (FanGraphs)
Contreras .250 .476 88.3 MPH 37.3%
Kelly .247 .466 89.0 MPH 48.7%

As we can see from the chart, Kelly and Contreras are much closer in expected outcome than their actual numbers would indicate. According to FanGraphs' hard-hit metric, Kelly made hard contact over 11 percent more often than Contreras, resulting in a higher average exit velocity. Contreras' strong batting average and slugging percentage take a hit when we look at Statcast, as the batted ball data suggests that he should've hit just .250 with a .476 SLG based on his quality of contact.

In addition to their batted ball data being similar, Kelly has Contreras beat in type of contact. Contreras hit 50 percent of his batted balls on the ground last season, not a good recipe for success for a catcher. In fact, his 50 percent groundball rate is the lowest of his career. You'd have to go back a decade to Contreras' Rookie League years to find a time he elevated the ball more than half the time.

More balls in the air typically lead to more fantasy production. Contreras relied on an unsustainable 27.3 percent home run to fly ball rate to put up the power numbers that he did a season ago. That number should regress towards the mean and Contreras' power production will likely come down as a result. We've already seen Contreras' fantasy floor when he struggled to a .730 OPS in 2018; if he experiences any dip in quality of contact or has an unlucky BABIP this season, he could be labeled a bust by the All-Star break.

Kelly, on the other hand, was much better at elevating the ball. His 21.6 percent line-drive rate was nearly six percent higher than Contreras' and his 41.1 percent flyball rate was over seven percent better. Kelly's HR/FB rate was high as well, but not to the extreme that Contreras' rate was. Kelly's high rate can also be more easily explained thanks to his 40.3 percent sweet-spot percentage, third among all catchers last year. Kelly makes quality contact and elevates the ball, the exact type of player that you should be targeting with late Draft picks.



Contreras is one of the better catchers in the league and someone most fantasy managers would love to have on their squad. The issue with Contreras isn't so much his skill level, but how high he is being drafted. Pick No. 118 is simply too high for a catcher who won't stand out at the position when there are so many serviceable options available later in the Draft.

Kelly has the skill set to be a productive fantasy catcher as he enters his second season in Arizona. The 25-year-old backstop has some prospect pedigree as a second-round pick in the MLB Draft, as he was once considered the heir apparent to Yadier Molina in St. Louis. He boasts elite plate discipline, as his 13.2 percent walk rate was third among all catchers, giving him extra value in fantasy leagues that reward OBP. The D-backs have a strong lineup, and while Kelly will bat towards the bottom, he should drive in plenty of runs and not hurt your team in batting average. His numbers may not be higher than Contreras', but given his upside, he is likely the smarter pick in fantasy baseball given their 100-plus pick difference in ADP.

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