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Is Streaming Catchers a Smart Strategy?

The common adage is that you should be streaming at catcher, but sometimes I think we cling to that a little too tightly. We buy into the easy narratives of "Catchers can't hit" and "Don't waste high picks or FAAB on catchers" but I've always believed it was an oversimplification.

Yes, the deeper your league and the more catching spots you have, the shallower the talent pool seems. However, I feel like that's true of a few positions, and the catcher spot gets unfairly criticized because of the roster crunch in two-catcher leagues.

For that reason, I decided to look closely at whether or not streaming actually helps you at the catcher position by breaking it down categorically.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!



First, we need to establish what the goal of streaming actually is. The basic premise is that the player you're carrying on your roster won't consistently be better than some of the higher-performing players on waivers so instead of carrying the same guy the whole season, you play matchups, dropping and adding players who are around similar talent level in hopes of taking advantage of a better schedule or ballpark environment. The upside to streaming is that you get better stats for a given week, but the obvious downside is that you get worse stats, cut a better player, and then either can't get him back or use unnecessary FAAB trying to win back these players.

Given all of that downside, we better be sure that streaming is the right call. Especially in leagues where you can't place $0 bids, every FAAB dollar can count, so the goal of this article is simply to see if streaming at catcher actually helps you and, beyond that, to determine at what level you should be streaming. I'll use the offensive categories in a standard 5x5 league to see if streaming gives you any advantage in each of those particular categories.

In order to do that, I downloaded the Fangraphs leaderboard for all catchers with over 40 plate appearances on the season. I then deleted anybody that was no longer active in the major leagues or had only gotten at-bats due to injury (think Roberto Perez due to injury, Chance Sisco due to demotion, etc.). Lastly, I deleted anybody who had a 0% rostered rate according to Yahoo, since that would imply they are not actively being used as a streamer (e.g. Andrew Knapp, Aramis Garcia, and Chad Wallach). That left us with 45 catchers who can, in my opinion, be actively included in the streaming conversation, even in 15-team two-catcher leagues.

For the purposes of this article, we will be evaluating how much better Tier One catchers (the top 12 most-rostered catchers, according to Yahoo) are for your team than Tier Two catchers (the next twelve most-rostered) and the rest of the catching pool (the final 21). In doing so, I hope to find out not just IF it's beneficial for you to stream catchers but also exactly HOW MANY catchers are good enough to avoid being streamed over.

Tier One: Salvador Perez, J.T. Realmuto, Willson Contreras, Will Smith, Buster Posey, Christian Vazquez, Yasmani Grandal, Yadier Molina, Carson Kelly, Gary Sanchez, James McCann, Sean Murphy (Isiah Kiner-Falefa was not counted for this exercise because he is not C-eligible in most leagues)

Tier Two: Omar Narvaez, Austin Nola, Mike Zunino, Mitch Garver, Tucker Barnhart, William Contreras, Yan Gomes, Eric Haase, Wilson Ramos, Tyler Stephenson, Jorge Alfaro, Jacob Stallings


Batting Average (Catcher position average: .226 batting average)

Tier One: .252 average

Tier Two: .242 average

Rest of the Pack: .205 average

Batting average is one of the toughest stats to find in fantasy right now since the Major League average is .237. Interestingly enough, both the Tier One and Tier Two catchers would, theoretically, give you better than average results in that category. However, I think the ten points you're losing by streaming could be incredibly meaningful in the long run given the dearth of average across the league. There are some low-performing Tier One options in batting average (listed below), so if you were simply looking for help there, streaming could be beneficial.

I also think the drop from a Tier One catcher to a Rest of the Pack catcher is pretty huge here and will begin a trend of showing just how much you can lose by dropping too far down with streamers.

Worst of Tier One: Yasmani Grandal (.153), Gary Sanchez (.210), Sean Murphy (.222)

Best of Tier Two: Omar Narvaez (.317), Tucker Barnhart (.266), Yan Gomes (.258)


Runs (Catcher position average: 14.24 runs)

Tier One: 21.67 runs

Tier Two: 14.67 runs

Rest of the pack: 9.95 runs

Here we see a difference of seven runs, which isn't huge. Making up the difference in counting stats like runs is easier than ratio-based stats, so it's certainly something you can stream for later in the year as it comes down to the wire. However, the difference here makes sense given that many of the Tier One catchers are better overall hitters who hit in the top half of their team's lineup. That would generally give them a far better chance of consistently scoring runs. Again, dropping below the Tier Two level gives you a more sizable difference but not quite as much in runs as in some of the other categories.

Worst of Tier One: Gary Sanchez (16), Sean Murphy (15 - but he was hurt), James McCann (12)

Best of Tier Two:  Tucker Barnhart (25), Mike Zunino (22), Tyler Stephenson (19)


Home Runs (Catcher position average: 4.58 home runs)

Tier One: 7.25 home runs

Tier Two: 5.17 home runs

Rest of the pack: 2.7 home runs

Catchers typically aren't massive sources of power, so this checks out. Streaming at catcher likely isn't going to cost you any major ground and, to be honest, you really should be looking elsewhere if you're trying to make up ground in home runs. Even if you stream a catcher who hits more home runs than the guy you could have rostered, we're talking about three or four total home runs in most cases, that's not really enough to make a major difference in your standings. Personally, home runs is one of the last categories I'm looking for out of my catcher spot unless it's the final weeks of the season and I'm deadlocked and chasing one or two points.

Worst of Tier One: Christian Vazquez (3), J.T. Realmuto (5 - but he was hurt), Will Smith (5)

Best of Tier Two:  Mike Zunino (12), Mitch Garver (8), Eric Haase (7)


Runs Batted In (Catcher position average: 15.2 RBI)

Tier One: 24.17 RBI

Tier Two: 15.92 RBI

Rest of the pack: 9.75 RBI

This is another rather significant drop off. We're talking about almost nine RBI on average here and, while RBI is a counting stat that can be made up easier than a ratio-based stat, this is the second-largest gap in a category after the ten points of batting average you lose by streaming. The drop outside of Tier Two is also a brutal one and you're really putting yourself in a hole if you have to go down to that level. You'll notice that the Tier One players who do better in RBI also tend to do better in Runs because they're the same hitters who bat near the top of their team's lineups. That makes these players (Perez, Contreras, Vazquez, Posey, Grandal, Realmuto) way more valuable, in my opinion because they are vastly better than replacements in half of the categories.

Worst of Tier One: Gary Sanchez (15), Will Smith (19), James McCann (21)

Best of Tier Two:  Mike Zunino (24), William Contreras (17), Omar Narvaez (17) - Both Victor Caratini and Dom Nunez would also apply here, but Caratini is no longer the primary starting catcher with Nola back, and Nunez has lost a lot of playing time to Elias Diaz.


Stolen Bases (Catcher position average: 0.23 SBs)

Tier One: 1.08 SBs

Tier Two: 0.17 SBs

Rest of the pack: 0.10 SBs

Yeah, don't roster catchers thinking about stolen bases. Christian Vazquez has five and Realmuto has 4, but you're not really getting much value outside of maybe two of three guys.


What To Make Of This?

So, the quick and dirty summary is that the difference in production between a tier one and a streamer is likely:

 Tier One  .252, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 22 Runs, 1 SB
 Tier Two  .242, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 15 Runs, 0 SB
 Rest  .205, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 10 Runs, 0 SB

In truth, it's not a massive difference between Tier One and Tier Two, but there are some important gaps. The two biggest areas where it seems to hurt is in batting average and RBI - two places that make sense since those are most often connected to barrel skill and spot in the order. Since you're usually not rostering catchers for stolen bases, that means there is a clear difference in 50% of the categories, and, realistically, also a pretty noticeable gap in runs. In reality, it appears the only category that is really coin flip between streaming and holding a Tier One catcher is in home runs, and I already mentioned above how I don't think you should really be hunting home runs from your catcher spot.

The other obvious observation from this is that you don't really want to be picking from the "Rest" pile. That means that, outside of the top-24 catchers, finding production becomes a gross endeavor.


What If We Go Deeper?

For fun, I separated out the top eight catchers, who I list in my weekly catcher streamer article as being "undroppable": Perez, Realmuto, Willson Contreras, Smith, Posey, Vazquez, Grandal, and Molina. I believe these guys are consistently better than anything you will find on the wire, so I wanted to test that, which left only four catchers in Tier One (Kelly, Sanchez, McCann, Murphy) Here is the difference in production:

 Elite Tier  .262, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 24 Runs, 2 SB
 Remaining Tier One  .232, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 16 Runs, 0 SBs
 Tier Two  .242, 5 HR, 16 RBI, 15 Runs, 0 SB

Interesting. So here you see an even bigger gap in batting average between the Elite Tier and both Tier One and Tier Two. This stands out to me because losing a full 20 points in batting average is not something any of us should be trying to do this year. We also see that the Elite Tier also seems to get a slight boost in speed when compared to the other tiers, and the difference in Runs is also noticeable. If you compare just the Elite Tier to the Tier Two options, I think you're giving up too much in average, runs, and RBI to think about streaming these top eight guys.

HOWEVER... let's have a little more fun. I've separated out my favorite streamers from Tier Two (Narvaez, Garver, Stallings, Barnhart, Stephenson, Zunino, and William Contreras) and pitted them against both the Elite Tier and both the remaining Tier One and Tier Two (now 6 names). Max Stassi and Austin Nola may one day be on my list of favorite streamers, but we're going to leave them out for this exercise since they have both been injured for too long and haven't accumulated enough stats.

 Elite Tier  .262, 8 HR, 25 RBI, 24 Runs, 2 SBs
 Remaining Tier One  .232, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 16 Runs, 0 SBs
 Eric's Top Streamers  .247, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 18 Runs, 0 SBs
 Remaining Tier Two  .237, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 18 Runs, 0 SBs

So, here we go. My cherry-picked list of streamers falls below the Elite Tier in every category but is better than the remaining Tier One in average and runs while pretty much pacing in home runs and RBI. However, the remaining Tier Two catchers are actually not much worse than what you're getting from the bottom part of the Tier One catchers. That's not quite what I had expected but is interesting to see.


Final Verdict

With all of that information I've given you above, my takeaway is kind of what I came into this article thinking: we over-estimate the value of streaming at catcher. Yes, the position as a whole puts out some middling numbers, but there is a pretty clear gap from the top-eight to the middle-tier and from the top-24 catchers to those below.

What that means is, in one-catcher leagues, if you have a top-eight catcher, you are better off just holding onto him. That means all of Perez, Realmuto, Willson Contreras, Smith, Posey, Vazquez, Grandal, and Molina should be immune from the streamer conversation. The only way I would be getting one of them off of my roster (aside from an injury) is if you can trade one for an upgrade somewhere else and then add one of my favorite streamers.

If you're in two-catcher leagues, you should feel comfortable with any of the top-24 guys I listed above. Statistically, those guys are far enough about the rest of the pack that you should hold them and save your FAAB money for moves elsewhere. If you have anything out of the top-24, you can think about streaming, but know that you're not likely to see a major jump in production unless you play the cards perfectly. This means that you shouldn't be locked into streaming every week but should really only do it if you see a clear benefit in a positive hitting environment (like Coors), pitching matchups, or playing time begins to shift.

Also, as a final note, I just wanted to see how much worse the top-12 catchers were when compared to the top-12 most rostered players at other positions.

 C Tier One  .253, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 22 Runs, 2 SBs
 1B Tier One  .266, 11 HR, 33 RBI, 33 Runs, 2 SB
 2B Tier One  .268, 8 HR, 26 RBI, 36 Runs, 6 SBs
 3B Tier One  .259, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 31 Runs, 2 SBs
 SS Tier One  .271, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 32 Runs, 6 SBs

So catcher is clearly the worst position on the whole, but it's not drastically different from 3B outside of run totals. Anyway, I'm sure this is closer than many people assumed it was, so put some respect on these catchers' names and maybe don't continuously kick them off your roster because it's the trendy thing to do.

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