Champ or Chump: Stephen Vogt & Mike Zunino

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While there is no shortage of contenders for the title of Worst Individual in Human History, whoever decided that fantasy owners should roster two catchers ranks highly on the list. They put up mediocre stats roughly five days a week, losing to every other position in both quality and quantity.

Bearing this in mind, you are probably less than satisfied with your catcher production to date. Perhaps you've even considered searching the waiver wire for a better alternative. Let's take a closer look at Stephen Vogt and Mike Zunino, two recently hot catchers who may be available to you.

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Stephen Vogt (C, MIL) 15% Owned

Vogt hasn't hit much this year (.226/.291/.396 with six HR), so his low ownership rate is excusable. However, it is time to invest in Milwaukee's latest acquisition. He hit 14 homers last year and 18 in 2015, making him mixed league-relevant in both campaigns assuming two catcher slots. He should be even better on a rate basis for the rest of 2017.

Vogt should be seen as a power option given his past power output. His raw power indicators have been lacking, with a middling average airborne exit velocity of 90.6 mph and 4.7% rate of Brls/BBE. Last year was not significantly better with an average airborne EV of 90.1 mph and 5.1% Brls/BBE. Thankfully, Vogt has never relied on raw power to hit dingers. Instead, he hits a ton of flies (41.5% FB%), producing acceptable pop by pulling a lot of them (33.9% Pull% on fly balls). The resulting 10.7% HR/FB isn't special, but it gets the job done.

This brings us to why Milwaukee is such a perfect spot for him. Oakland's Coliseum is hostile to power, especially power hitters with a quantity over quality approach like Vogt. Miller Park is the complete opposite in that it rewards players seeking to squeak past the fence. Thirty-two of Vogt's 51 career homers thus far came on the road, with two of his 19 big flies at home occurring in Milwaukee on June 30. Vogt would have multiple 25-HR seasons to his name already if he played in Milwaukee instead of Oakland. That would cost a fortune in fantasy, but Vogt should be free.

Vogt's substandard batting average to date is largely the result of a .240 BABIP. The primary culprit is an inflated IFFB% (19.6%) that produces a lot of outs considering Vogt's fly ball tendencies. His career IFFB% is 9.4%, so he should be able to cut down on the pop-ups he hits. Vogt has also been prone to the shift (.223) despite a career mark suggesting he shouldn't be (.271). He still pulls a relatively low number of his ground balls (56.9%), so there is no obvious reason the shift should continue to bite into his average. Finally, Vogt's line drives (.571 BABIP) have underperformed relative to their career production (.672).

Slow-footed catchers should not be expected to run .300 BABIPs, but even a return to Vogt's .275 career mark would be a significant improvement. He rarely strikes out (17% K%, 6.7% SwStr%), so he doesn't need a huge BABIP to avoid dragging down a fantasy team's average. He's also willing to take a walk (8.8% BB%) for those of you in OBP formats.

Vogt should perform at a 25 HR pace with a neutral batting average over the rest of the year. His counting stats will largely depend on his ultimate slot in the Brew Crew's order, but it's encouraging that he moved up to sixth from seventh after his two-dinger game. He should be owned in nearly all formats with two C slots.

Verdict: Champ

 

Mike Zunino (C, SEA) 50% Owned

Zunino returned to the major leagues loudly, compiling 11 HR and a career-best .240/.312/.486 line. Fantasy owners have known for years that Zunino could hit one out of the park. The lifetime .201 hitter simply strikes out too often (career 33.3% K%) to post a reasonable batting average.

This fact remains true despite his appealing surface stats, as his K% is up to an astronomical 38.7%! The underlying SwStr% (16.8%) is roughly equivalent to his career rate (16.6%), so he hasn't gotten any worse at contact. He also isn't any better, so expect him to torpedo your batting average in the near future.

Zunino's batting average is also getting propped up by a ludicrous .348 BABIP. He is somehow hitting .333 on ground balls (career .220) despite being a slow-footed catcher with pull tendencies (63.6% Pull% on grounders this season, 68.1% career). His 24.3% LD% also seems out of place considering his career mark of 18.3%. Neither of these BABIP boosters are sustainable moving forward, leaving Zunino with no defense against his absurd strikeout rate.

These flaws could be overlooked if Zunino took his power game to a new level, but his contact quality indicators are moving in the wrong direction. His average airborne EV is a solid 94.3 mph in 2017, but his 95.6 mph mark last year was even better. Likewise, this season's above average 11.8% rate of Brls/BBE pales in comparison to 2016's 15% rate. His FB% has also fallen precipitously (52.5% to 43.7%) despite remaining plus. Zunino is actually a worse hitter now than he was last year, when he was of no fantasy interest.

The Mariners don't trust their catcher at all, batting him ninth despite his recent success at the plate. Zunino can't hit better than he has, so he appears locked into the least valuable batting order slot. It's fine to ride Zunino while he's hot, but don't be afraid to drop him.

Verdict: Chump

 

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