Catcher Rankings for Fantasy Baseball

The Catcher position is always a tough one. From a higher risk of injury, to players generally inferior to the rest at batting, catchers are more difficult to evaluate. Strategy wise, one can go for the top two catchers and have some consistency at the position or they can wait during drafts and pick mediocre catchers while loading up on different positions. This list uses some advanced statistics to provide evidence. For those that do not know these stats, I recommend you head over to the FanGraphs Glossary. You can also comment; I will be happy to explain the stats in general. Personally, I prefer tiers to rankings because between a certain range (it could be 1-3, or 1-10), players are relatively similar and equal in value. At the same time, I also added rankings based on tiers if you prefer that.

Tier 1

1. Buster Posey: Posey continues to be the best option at the catcher position for multiple years now. Posey’s consistency is the best amongst the group and he hasn’t missed major time since 2011. Posey struck out less in 2015, making more contact to his second highest career batting average of .318. He’s good for 15-20 home runs, 70 runs and 90 RBIs. Not only is he the safest catcher to pick, he’s also the best.

Tier 2

 

2. Kyle Schwarber: The 22 year old Kyle Schwarber put his massive power on display belting 16 home runs in only 232 at bats. He had the fifth highest average flyball distance and few players hit the ball as hard as he does. Schwarber will be hitting in the heart of the dangerous Chicago Cubs lineup giving him many opportunities to score and drive in runs. While Schwarber does strikeout a lot, another season of growth will likely allow him to be more selective and have an overall better approach at the plate. Schwarber might fall victim to the sophomore slump but signs point to him being a strong power hitter for years to come. He should hit between 25-30 home runs and average .260.

Tier 3

3. Brian McCann: McCann has been consistent for the Yankees in his first two seasons. He looks to do more of the same in 2016. McCann will continue to bat around .230 but his value comes with his 20-25 homers. McCann is usually dinged up a bit every year. McCann stuck out more in 2015. He made just as much zone contact but missed on the outside part of the plate. If McCann continues striking out a higher rate, his average could fall closer to .220. McCann remains a top five option at catcher.

4. Salvador Perez: The World Series champ hit career high 21 home runs with a .260 batting average. Perez has been trending up in the power department with his homers increasing each season. His average flyball distance was the highest of his career, very similar to his 2012 season, which if extrapolated, would have seen Perez hit a similar number of home runs. Over the past couple of seasons, Perez has strayed away from being a solid average hitter into a more power-hitting catcher. At only 25, Perez could eventually find the best of both worlds and hit .280 with 20 home runs. In OBP leagues, Perez loses some value as he never walks. Perez is one of the top options at catcher. He’s remained relatively healthy thus far in his career and provides a solid floor (.260 average, 15 home runs). Perez may see his BABIP increase providing a better average and signs point to him being capable of hitting 20 home runs.

5. Jonathan Lucroy: The Brewers backstop had a 2015 to forget. His average fell, his power fell, and his defensive game wasn’t quite as sharp. But this is fantasy, and we don’t care about that last one. Here are the two halves of Lucroy with his career numbers:

First Half: 191 At Bats, .241 Average, .270 BABIP, .084 ISO

Second Half: 180 At Bats, .289 Average, .329 BABIP, .172 ISO

Career: 2500 At Bats, .282 Average, .309 BABIP, .148 ISO

The second half was most reminiscent of the Jonathan Lucroy we have come to know. The BABIP was higher than the norm as he produced many more line drives. With some regression, Lucroy’s second half is similar to his career averages. Furthermore, his hard hit percentage was the second highest of his career. On the flip side, his strikeout percentage went up reaching 17% in the second half. This will be something to monitor in April. Many will write Lucroy off, but he is only 29 and stands to prove his doubters wrong. I think he hits .280 with 10-15 home runs. He’s a solid option at catcher.

6. Russell Martin: The Canadian born Russell Martin had a good first season with the Jays. He hit a career high 23 home runs while batting .240. Signs point to Martin’s power not being as good as last season. His .218 ISO is well above his career average .148. His HR/FB was very high as well 20.7% compared to his career 12.4%. With a grounder rate at 50%, Martin most likely won’t be hitting 20 home runs. Martin stuck out more and walked less while hitting more infield flys. Martin’s BABIP might come up a bit but he will hit around .250. Martin remains a top ten option at catcher, and he could put up solid counting stats in the Jays lineup, but don’t expect a repeat of last year.

Tier 4

7. Devin Mesoraco: The 27 year old Mesoraco disappointed greatly. He would undergo hip surgery and says he feels good. His 2014 breakout was fueled by a high HR/FB but he also hit the ball very hard finishing 18th amongst batters with a minimum of 400 plate appearances in hard hit percentage. Mesoraco is as pull heavy as it gets finishing second behind Carlos Santana in the same group as above. This plays well into his low average heavy power approach. In 2014, 88% of Mesoraco’s home runs were pulled. He has potential for twenty dingers and a solid number of RBIs if someone other than Joey Votto can get on base.

8. Travis d’Arnaud: The 26 year old d’Arnaud can’t stay healthy. He has top five catcher upside if he can play close to a full season. He has shown above average power with his .173 ISO and 25 home runs over the past 624 at bats. d’Arnaud is a solid catcher who just needs to stay healthy. He can provide solid-counting stats as he generally hits around the 4-5 spot in the lineup. If you draft him, definitely plan for a backup. Travis would have been in the top five if not for injury concerns.

9. Wilson Ramos: Wilson Ramos was finally healthy for the majority of the season and he disappointed. Ramos, a sleeper candidate for the past three seasons, has had question marks in regards to health. He played a combined 181 games from 2012-2014 so Ramos playing 128 games in 2015 is a victory in of itself. Ramos struck out at a career high rate and walked at a career low rate. These don’t exactly inspire confidence. A .229 average was largely the result of his below average batting average on balls in play (.256). Ramos is capable of batting .260 with 15-20 home runs. If you go by Steamer projections, his average and home run output project to be very similar. Health will continue to be a question mark for Ramos, but when healthy, he has shown he can hit the ball well. Another area of concern is his average flyball distance falling for the third consecutive season, similar to his ISO. It is somewhat tough to gauge what his true flyball distance is as he is always injured, but it remained amongst the top 75 batters. Ramos average true home runs distance, however, remained consistent, a welcome sign. Personally, Ramos is a guy I will be targeting as a potential sleeper pick (again!).

10. Stephen Vogt: Vogt was pegged as a sleeper candidate heading into last season and he delivered in the first half and fell off a cliff during the second half of the season. He hit .287 in the first half with 14 home runs. His peripherals did not indicate he could sustain his run and prompt regressed in July. While Vogt struck out more, he also walked much more often. The ISO and HR/FB both indicate regression making it more likely Vogt hits 10-15 home runs rather than 16-20. Vogt is a middle of the pack option at catcher.

11. Yasmani Grandal: Yasmani Grandal’s first season with the Dodgers was of mixed bags. His value will be depressed due to his horrid second half where he hit .162 with 2 homers. Yasmani injured his shoulder and this likely contributed to his poor second half.. During the second half, Yasmani’s strikeouts were up and base on balls down.  He had a .212 batting average on balls in play, which also helped contribute to the low average. As a whole, Yasmani’s strikeout percentage decreased and his BABIP was below career average. He had the second highest average flyball distance for catchers in addition to his fifth ranked ISO. Yasmani has more value in OBP leagues. The shoulder injury may impact his power early on in the season but he still is capable of hitting 15 home runs.

12. Yan Gomes: Yan Gomes is another catcher looking to bounce back after a disastrous 2015 campaign. In 95 games, Gomes hit more line drives than your average hitter spraying the ball more towards center. His BABIP was almost 30 points below his career mark. Moreover, his ISO was down as well. Part of this has to do with the MCL sprain injury he suffered. Strikeouts were up and walks down, 2015 was not a good year for Yan. A healthy Gomes will be counted upon in the Indians lineup and he looks poised for a better 2016. Gomes value takes a hit in OBP leagues evidenced by his career .303 OBP%.

Tier 5

13. Nick Hundley: He plays half of his games in Coors; that’s reason enough to consider Hundley who had a career year at the ripe age of 32. His .356 BABIP will come down, however; he still should bat above average. He cut down on his strikeouts while showing some decent power. Hundley may be undervalued due to his age, but with him playing at Coors, Hundley will provide solid stats.

14. Derek Norris: In his first season as a Padre, Norris found a way to be somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, Norris had a solid season at the plate. With the BABIP coming down to more normal levels from 2014, the average dropped right around his career mark. The power remained similar to years past as his adjustments led to him hitting more flyballs. In his final season as an Oakland Athletic, Norris cut down on strikeouts. The return of these strikeouts is a troubling sign as this change in approach led to fewer walks. Norris past MLB plate discipline and his MiLB plate discipline suggest he should have a greater plate discipline. Whether it was a concerted effort to swing more (5% increase in swing%), or National League pitchers attacking him more often (5% increase in zone%), Norris will look to have a greater presence at the plate. His 2016 outlook is similar to 2015. He doesn’t offer much upside, but rather a decent floor. I expect more of the same from Norris.

15. JT Realmuto: Realmuto played three games in AAA before making the jump to the majors. The reason you will be drafting JT will be because he provides steals as a catcher. Realmuto stole eight bases in 126 games. Over two seasons at AA, Realmuto stole 27 bases. Going by FanGraphs speed score, Realmuto had second highest speed score amongst catchers with 400 plate appearances since 2007. He was tied for seventh in stolen bases amongst the same group all while having fewer plate appearances than all but one of the catchers above him. Realmuto will likely hit around the same mark as he did in 2015. His .285 may regress closer to league average so there is a possibility JT can hit closer to .270. Realmuto is a solid option at the catcher position. As it will be only his second season, Realmuto could have sophomore struggles so be prepared for a back up plan.

16. Matt Wieters: Wieters enters his second consecutive contract year after accepting the Orioles qualifying offer. As he came back from Tommy John Surgery, whether it was a change in approach or randomness, Wieters had a considerably different batted ball profile relative to his career. Fewer flyballs and more grounders in addition to his high liner rate, Wieters is somewhat difficult to assess. His liner rate fueled his BABIP and his ISO was right around career norms. He continued to pull the ball well which bodes well for home runs. Wieters made considerably less contact. His strikeout percentage was six points higher than his career and that most likely can be attributed to returning from injury. Wieters is a risk but he is the starting catcher for the Baltimore Orioles and showed some good signs. His 2010 season seems most likely except with a few more home runs.

Tier 6

17. Francisco Cervelli: Cervelli enjoyed a career season at age 29 with the Pitsburgh Pirates. It was his first season of playing over 100 games as he was a backup for much of his career and struggled with injuries. Cervelli’s strikeout and walk rates are right in line with his career mark. His BABIP at .359 was the highest of his career. He has a career .341 BABIP, but we should expect some further regression as his 2014 BABIP was just over .400. While there is some injury risk, Cervelli will continue to bat for a decent average and is a top 20 option at catcher.

18. Welington Castillo: Castillo found a home in Arizona on June 3rd after playing for the Cubs and the Mariners in 2015. From then, Welington batted .255 with 17 home runs. His ISO, .241 was more than one and a half times his ISO with the Cubs from 2012-2014 (.143). His HR/FB was close to 33% higher than career average. These indicate Castillo will see a decrease in power in 2016. At the same time, Castillo had the highest hard hit percentage of his career. Castillo remains a decent option at catcher, as he is the clear-cut number one option behind the plate for the Diamondbacks. This could lead to him coming close to his 2015 although fifteen home runs with a .240 average is more likely. Many will point to his career BABIP being much higher than 2015, I would argue his changed approach to generate more flyballs and less grounders will lead to a similar BABIP to 2014. Remember, his first name only has one L.

19. Blake Swihart: Blake Aubry Swihart will look to come into his own this season. The 23 year old had a decent first major league season with the Boston Red Sox. Swihart posted a .274 average with five home runs and four RBIs. His average was propped up by a .359 BABIP, which was led by his above average line drive percentage. Swihart has shown he can carry an above average BABIP in the minors, however; .359 is still pretty extreme. In the minors, Swihart always hit well and topped out at 12 home runs. Heading into 2016, more of the same can be expected. With a lower BABIP, Swihart should be expected to bat around .260 with upside to bat .270 if he can sustain a BABIP closer to .320 than .300. He very well could hit closer to .270 without a BABIP boost if he makes more contact in his sophomore year. Only once did Blake have a strikeout percentage above 20% in the minors, and that was in 71 plate appearances in AAA. He will hit between five to ten home runs and accrue five stolen bases.

20. Yadier Molina: The 33 year old Yadier Molina is coming off his worst season since 2010. With two successive seasons of declining average and hitting, Molina’s 2016 doesn’t look too bright. With his ISO falling for the third consecutive year, Molina offers more downside than upside. His hard hit % declined by five percentage points. Molina’s swinging strikeout percentage increased and as he posted the lowest zone contact percentage of his career. 2016 will see Molina with likely a similar year. He popped up quite a bit this year. Some regression here will allow Molina to keep his average from declining too much. Molina has had a good run. He remains a decent deep league option but he is replaceable in 12 team formats.

21. Robinson Chirinos: Over the past two seasons, Chirinos has shown us what he is: Low average, power hitter. The 31 year old showed stronger patience at the plate increasing his BB/9 by 50% from 2014. He hit more flyballs, pulled the ball more, leading me to believe he could hit 15 home runs over the course of a full season. His ISO over the past two seasons at .191 continues to support this. With some regression in the power department, Chirinos has more upside than downside.

Tier 7

22. AJ Pierzynski: He turned back father time hitting his highest batting average since 2009. Funny, he didn’t have a batting average on balls in play over .300 since 2009! Pierzynski dropped his strikeout percentage by 6.5 percentage points and upped his BB/9 ever so slightly. This increased contact definitely helped. Regardless, Pierzynski will likely end up in a platoon and he will be 39. Due to his low strikeouts, I can see AJ hitting between .265-.270 with a few home runs.

23. Miguel Montero: Montero’s first season with the Cubs saw him hit 15 dingers with a .248 average. After posting two consecutive seasons of a below average BABIP, Montero hit right at his career mark largely due to his career best 25% line drive percentage. His first half BABIP was similar to his 2014 but spiked to .356 during the second part of the season propping up his batting average. He showed some more signs of decline evidenced by his swinging strike percentage raised to career high levels. Moreover, Montero’s HR/FB was also well above average. Montero shouldn’t be drafted in most leagues with the home run output coming down slightly and an average that will end up closer to .230 than .250.

24. Dioner Navarro: Dioner Navarro may very well end up as one of the more valuable catchers if he can get the majority of playing time. He’s a better hitter than Alex Aliva and a comparable defender but there is a good chance he gets platooned. Navarro struck out more, but he also walked more often. His ISO remained consistent with his career with his BABIP below his career average. With around 400 at bats, Navarro could hit slightly above .260 with at least ten home runs. During his 2014 season with the Blue Jays, he managed 12 home runs over 139 games and a .274 average. Due to the likelihood of Navarro not being a full time catcher, he is waiver wire fodder in most leagues. If he’s starting against lefties, he may be a worthwhile pickup as he has a career .338 wOBA against southpaws.

25. James McCann: The Detroit Tigers starting catcher had a decent first year in the majors. More of the same can be expected. His .325 BABIP was above major league average; however, he has shown in the minors he can carry an above average BABIP. With only 400 at bats, we should look more towards that regressing to league average. He hits a lot of groundballs and isn’t a power threat by any means with his ISO topping out at .132 in AAA. I expect a very similar season for McCann with a slightly lower average.

Best of the Rest

  • JR Murphy
  • Caleb Joseph
  • Hank Conger
  • Chris Iannetta
  • Jason Castro

 

This concludes my current catcher rankings for 2016. Things can change from now and mid March. Looking at he list, I might be higher on Wilson Ramos than others and lower on Matt Wieters. There are a healthy number of bounce back candidates. Travis d’Arnaud is the most intriguing. If he can stay healthy, he can be a top five fantasy catcher. I hope you enjoyed my rankings. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate.

 

 

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