We’re beginning our Positional Avoid series today with a look at catchers. The catcher position is one of the most intriguing and difficult to read year-in and year-out. Some seasons it seems as though the best strategy is to get one of the top-tier catchers to avoid a complete hole in your lineup at the C spot.
Other seasons it seems as though there are a few sleepers buried outside the top ten, so waiting on a backstop won’t hurt you. Only one thing is a guarantee each year, though: we always overrate a few catchers. Here are this year’s catchers to avoid.
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Catcher Bust Candidates for 2017
Wilson Contreras (5th catcher in RotoBaller ranks; ADP of 88 in NFBC)
Contreras fits the mold of the sexy young breakout candidate on a great team. A potential fantasy baseball manager can easily imagine Contreras racking up the runs and RBI in a lineup stacked with the likes of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo et al. Contreras is just 24 years old and is coming off a productive rookie campaign in which he sported a wRC+ of 126 - second among catchers with at least 100 plate appearances.
All that said, there are some warning signs for 2017. For one, Contreras will most likely be batting around the seventh spot in the lineup for the Cubs in 2017. For all the upsides of having a great lineup, being pushed to the bottom is one definite downside. The seventh spot means fewer RBI chances given that the middle of the lineup (Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist) has plenty of HR potential, but it also means having Jason Heyward in front of you and John Jay/the pitcher behind you. That’s not exactly the warmest security blanket for boosting R and RBI totals.
Contreras also got a bit lucky in his rookie season. His BABIP of .339 was fourth-highest among catchers with as many plate appearances in 2017 and his rather poor line drive rate (17.9 percent) suggest that figure was more luck than skill. The deal was the same with the 12 HR Contreras hit in 2016. His HR/FB rate of 23.5 percent was third-highest among catchers with as many plate appearances and his hard hit ball rate (32.3 percent) was the lowest of those three. In fact, his hard hit ball rate was the lowest among any of the top ten catchers in HR/FB rate, a serious flag for those assuming Contreras will just roll to 20 HR this season. Contreras is definitely going to be fine in the long run, he was an elite prospect and showed a nice ceiling in his first season, but don’t be shocked when he suffers a “sophomore slump,” it’s just a bit of regression to the mean for his numbers. He’s not worth the high pick this season.
Evan Gattis (11th catcher in RotoBaller ranks; ADP of 103 in NFBC)
I’m in total agreement with the crew here at RotoBaller on this one. Gattis comes in as the sixth-ranked catcher in NFBC average draft position which seems beyond crazy to me. As of right now, Gattis isn’t even projected to be in the Astros starting lineup! Now we all know injuries/incompetence can open up plenty of doors once the season gets underway, but to use a near-top-100 pick on a catcher who won’t be in the lineup on Opening Day seems like a stretch. It’s also a bold strategy to bank on Brian McCann (the current Astros starting catcher) to miss many games. Yes, McCann is 33 years old, but he has also played at least 100 games in each season since his rookie campaign, and he has played at least 120 games in all but one of those seasons.
With another aging wonder - Carlos Beltran - slotted as the starting DH and Evan Gattis not exactly flashing Kevin Kiermaier skills in the outfield, it’s hard to imagine Gattis getting to 100 games without a few breaks here or there. Gattis certainly has pop and he plays in a ballpark that does even more favors for that pop, but there’s a lot more value to be found from some of the guys just behind Gattis including the actual Astros starting catcher (McCann) who is going 60 picks later in NFBC.
This is one of those years it won’t pay to wait on catchers. As of now, RotoBaller has Matt Wieters slotted in as the 15th ranked catcher, and if I had any of the names after Wieters as my starting catcher heading into the 2017 season, I would be petrified. Looking at ADP in NFBC leagues, maybe you could get away with Tom Murphy (220) or Cameron Rupp (244) as post-Wieters catchers, but those two rank 13th and 14th in RotoBaller’s catcher ranks and with good reason. Anything after that is a wasteland.
The most tempting name on the post-Wieters list, for many, will be Sandy Leon. Leon is coming off a season in which he hit .310 with seven HR in just 78 games. He’ll also be in a lineup that is as talented top-to-bottom as anywhere in the big leagues in 2017. Of course, many of you know where this is going. Leon’s peripherals aren’t just calling for regression, they are jumping up and down screaming for regression. First of all, Leon was a 27-year-old non-prospect in his breakout 2016 season, which is never a good sign. He also ended the season with an absurd .392 BABIP, a figure way too high for any player to expect a repeat, let alone a slow-footed catcher. He also sported a 12.1 percent HR/FB rate, not outstanding on its own, but when looking over the minor league career of a catcher who never hit more than six home runs in any of eight minor league seasons, it is also begging for regression.
Then there’s the fact that Christian Velasquez (a superior defensive catcher) and Blake Swihart (a 24-year-old with a .274 BA season of his own) are just behind Leon on the Red Sox bench should he falter, and you have the perfect recipe for the fantasy dud of 2017. The RotoBaller crew is all over this, ranking him 27th among catchers, but his NFBC ADP is still hovering around 279, and that number is higher in CBS and Yahoo. There’s no league outside of an AL East-only, 12-team, two-catcher league where Leon is worth drafting in 2017 and that’s only slight hyperbole.