Archive for ‘Catcher’

Saturday: 02.9.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 13 Days – Victor Martinez

Only 13 days until live game action…

VICTOR MARTINEZ

The biggest issue with Victor Martinez in 2013 is one being settled before camps even start. His eligibility after a season lost to injury has been a topic of debate especially after CBS decided to make DH-only. I personally don’t agree with the decision at all, but they addressed it head on and there is at least reasoning behind it regardless of whether or not I agree. Both Yahoo! and ESPN will keep Martinez at catcher. He played 26 games at catcher in 2011. I get what Nando DiFino is saying with the “regular catcher” issue in that he hasn’t been a full-time backstop since 2010, but I don’t agree that he “used” his last year of catcher eligibility in 2012 and since he didn’t play he’s no longer eligible.

For those of your in CBS leagues, you should reach out to your commissioners to see how it’s going to be played so you don’t get surprised come draft day when you think you’re stealing a catcher late only to realize he lasted a couple of extra rounds because he is a power-light DH-only player. Speaking of DH, some AL-Only leagues require that you put an actual DH (20+ games there) in that spot as opposed to it being a utility spot for anyone. The usage of the spot in baseball has made that a much easier fill with 32 players registering 20+ games there and 27 of them putting up a 101 OPS+ or better. Add in Martinez and you should have trouble filling spot even after you remove guys like Carlos Santana, Evan Longoria, and Joe Mauer who have way too value at their original position to consider slotting them at DH.

As for Martinez himself, he is poised for another big season. His 12 homers in 2011 were the fewest he’s hit in a full season, but he made up for it with a .330 average and 103 RBIs. His flyball rate dropped from 42 percent in 2010 to just 33 percent, but most of the shift went to line drives explaining his career-best .330 mark. His 24 percent line drive was a career-best for a full season and seven percent higher than his 2010. He could bring his average back down to his .303 career level and still push 100 RBIs, but he would likely need the power to return a bit closer to the 20s we were used to from him prior to 2011.

In 2011, he had the bad Austin Jackson leading off with just a .317 on-base percentage. It was also Magglio Ordonez’s final season and he was hardly himself with just a .303 OBP. Miguel Cabrera was still excellent and Brennan Boesch had his best season. In 2013, V-Mart likely gets a much better Jackson setting the table while Torii Hunter will probably be close to what Boesch was that year (.341 OBP). Of course the treat is the Cabrera-Prince Fielder combo just ahead of him.

Last year Delmon Young was the primary fifth hitter for the Tigers. He managed a whopping .261 with men on base resulting in 63 RBIs. In 2011, Martinez hit an amazing .404 with men on. I wouldn’t expect a repeat there, but even his career .324 is markedly better than what Young offered a year ago. Young’s 63 RBIs came on 70 hits, a 90 percent ratio. Martinez’s ratio for his career with men on is 99 percent (664 RBIs on 670 hits). The league as a whole with men on a year ago was at 95 percent (17077-for-18073). Young had 268 ABs with men on last year and Martinez had 270 two years ago, so giving Martinez 269 this year with a .324 average is 87 hits. Using the league average (to be conservative) 95 percent RBI/Men on Hits ratio yields 83 RBIs.

He had just two solo home runs in 2011 after full seasons of 14, 10, 10, 15, 15, and 10 spanning 2004-2010 taking out his 67-game 2008. That’s an average of 12. Even that leaves us just short of 100 RBIs. Of course these are just estimates. He could get more at-bats with men on, he could simply hit better than .324, or drive in more guys than the league average 95 percent of RBI/MOH.

How his RBI total breaks down, I think he is going to be extremely valuable again in 2013 even if his power doesn’t return and even if you’re locked into using him as a DH-only. Obviously he will have much more value as a catcher, but he will also cost more. The price tag will likely fall significantly in leagues where he is DH-only unless you run into someone wanting to gamble that he accumulates enough games behind the dish. I would strongly advise against that bet. Everything I’ve heard out of the organization has said that he won’t catch at all.

If he is to keep his homer output from 2011, he will be looking to have just the 11th instance of 15 or fewer homers and 100+ RBIs since 1990.

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Friday: 02.8.2013

Top 10 C – Review

Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 First Basemen Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, former MLB catcher Dave Valle, and special guest Bill James. There was no list from Kenny this time around because he usually shares his on his show Clubhouse Confidential and unless I missed an episode, I haven’t seen one from him. So we’ve got the two guests and The Shredder, which is MLBN’s “objective” system that allegedly just uses the raw data of recent history to project 2013. The Starting Pitcher list for 2013 told me all I needed to know about its objectivity, though. There’s no way it’s simply processing data to come up with its list.

Here are all three lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:

top10Clists

The Shredder

There is no real way to justify Carlos Ruiz at three prior to his offseason news, but then when you factor in his 25-game suspension, it just makes no sense. As with first base, there isn’t too much disagreement among the actual guys who belong in the top 10, just slotting. At some positions, I had three or four different than some of the lists, but the max is two at catcher. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Buster Posey swept first place, but he really shouldn’t have since we are judging the best catcher. Yadier Molina is a significantly better catcher than Posey and he played nearly 200 more innings at the position than him. Posey outdid him offensively, but part of that advantage is mitigated by the fact that he played 29 games at first (and raked). In fairness, he still outhit Yadi in his catcher-only numbers, but that’s where the defense comes in.

Salvador Perez at six and more importantly ahead of Matt Wieters makes little sense to me, too. Wieters hasn’t hit like we expected when he was in the minors, but he’s better than Perez at this juncture.

My inclusion they didn’t have: Brian McCann

Dave Valle

I thought he too overrated Ruiz and not including Carlos Santana annoyed me a bit (though he isn’t particularly good at actually catching which I’m sure bothers Valle a good bit as a former catcher himself), but NO JOE MAUER???? Not at all? OK, his caught stealing rate was awful this year at 14 percent and he only played half of his games at catcher, but doesn’t the offense as a catcher at least merit a top 10 slotting?

My inclusions he didn’t have: Mauer, Santana

Bill James

This might be the first James list that didn’t have at least one head-scratcher selection. Well actually, A.J. Pierzynski is pretty close to that. He’s terrible at catching and James of all people can’t possibly believe his 2012 is a new level of performance that will be maintained. And he obviously cares about defense because I’m assuming Ryan Hanigan’s MLB-best 48 percent CS rate is the only reason he made the list.

My inclusions he didn’t have: Perez, Alex Avila

Thursday: 02.7.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 15 Days – Ryan Doumit

Only 15 days until live game action…

The backend of the doubleheader to catch up from yesterday’s missed piece and as I mentioned in the Napoli piece, I’m hoping to get several done this weekend to avoid any more delays as we head into the second half of the countdown.

RYAN DOUMIT

For years, fantasy managers would always wonder aloud “what if Ryan Doumit just stayed healthy one year and got 500+ plate appearances?” We finally know the answer. In 2012, he had a career-high 528 PA and put together a .275/.320/.461 line with 18 home runs and 75 RBIs, in other words he did exactly what we should’ve expected once extrapolating his previous numbers out over 500 PA.

The extrapolation game is dangerous with small samples, but after a while Doumit’s several similar small samples became a large body of work. Only twice in his seven seasons before 2012 did he top 450 PA with the other five yielding 304 or fewer each time. His triple slash stats bounced around a bit as he hit .318 one year and .208 in another, enjoyed a .357 OBP one year and .299 the next, and even had a .501 slugging percentage only to fall to .406 two years later (the .318/.357/.501 are all from his 2008 season).

Through it all, his 528 PA pace (number equals his 2012 total) in homers and RBIs was just about the same:

doumit

While not really a catcher in the conventional sense, he has maintained eligibility behind the dish throughout his career giving him a special appeal to fantasy managers. Offensive upside at catcher often costs a pretty penny and in 2008-2009 so did Doumit. He had an 813 OPS in 2007 leading to a high price tag in the spring of 2008. He backed it up with the season of his career which sent his price sky high heading into 2009. He tanked. He tanked hard. Ever since then, he’s been kind of an afterthought with most resigning to the fact that he’s just never going to play enough.

His value was always in his catcher eligibility, but at his value peak the tantalizing thing about him was the fact that he was only a part-time catcher – playing first and outfield as well – so if he could stay healthy he could rack up the playing time that other catchers wouldn’t since he didn’t need so many off days. That finally came to fruition in his eighth year in the majors.

He started at catcher 56 times, but also logged starts as a DH (48), LF (16), and RF (6). He got some time at first base in one game, too. Can he repeat? At 32 years old, can he log a 500+ PA season, a feat that eluded him for seven years, for the second straight season? The smart money is on “no”. I like smart money. I’m even more likely to avoid the bet this year because the price is once again on the high side. His current NFBC ADP is 170th overall.

I’d rather wait 60 picks and take Alex Avila.

Thursday: 02.7.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 16 Days – Mike Napoli

Only 16 days until live game action…

Got some make-up work to do! Wednesday was really busy and all of a sudden it was 11:42 PM and clear that I wasn’t going to finish this piece. Hopefully I will be able to get some Top 10 Right Now stuff done today, too, so I don’t have the same issue I had last week.

MIKE NAPOLI

Back in 2004-2005, Mike Napoli hit a combined 60 home runs with 217 RBIs, 190 runs scored, and 21 stolen bases as a catcher in the Los Angeles Angels system. Unfortunately he wasn’t really much of a catcher behind the dish. This would prove to be a problem given his big league manager, former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia. Scioscia takes defense behind the plate very seriously so he wasn’t likely to be nearly as enchanted with his three true outcomes catcher as were the fans and fantasy baseball managers.

He debuted in 2006 doing what he does best: rip bombs (16), walk (51), and strikeout (90). All in 325 plate appearances over 90 games. Though he hit a meager .228, his .360 on-base percentage more than made up for it. The next year was more of the same, but in just 75 games. Then 2008 was the best of the bunch. He started a string of 20-homer seasons while also posting a career-best .586 slugging percentage and adding some batting average to a much more palatable .273 mark, but in just 78 games. The “Free Napoli” campaigns were under way by this point. He was on a 36 homer pace over 500 plate appearances.

Fast forward three years.

He played 114 and 140 games during his final two years with the Angels, but he was traded during the offseason following 2010 first to Toronto in that awesome Vernon Wells deal and then four days later to Texas. Finally. It worth noting that not all of time missed was at the hands of Scioscia. Injuries played a role as he had two DL stints in 2007 and another in 2008. In that 2010 season before leaving LA, he’d finally been given a full season (his only 500+ PA season to date) and he was solid, but not special. His walk rate plummeted to a career-worst eight percent while his 27 percent strikeout rate was the second-worst of his career. The trade was almost inevitable.

Staying in Toronto would’ve been perfectly fine, but moving to Texas whetted the appetite of every fantasy baseball manager in the world. What could he do in that park? A lot, it would turn out, but he was hardly feasting on his home venue Coors Field-style. He was actually better on the road that year with 13 homers and a 1011 OPS in Arlington and 17/1078 on the road. He didn’t stay upright as long as in 2010 missing nearly a month to a strained oblique, but he hit 30 home runs for the first time and posting career-best strikeout and walk rates. The most surprising piece of his 2011 was the .320 average. Everyone would’ve bet on 50 home runs before .320.

The follow up wasn’t quite as sweet. To hear some tell it, you’d think he hit eight home runs in 400+ PAs with a .198 batting average. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it is portrayed at some outlets. Coming from 2011’s peak, it was definitely a tumble, but how bad are we really talking about here?

napoli1

The singular difference in those two lines seems to explain everything. Elevating your strikeout rate by 10.3 percent is never a good idea and it will unquestionably cut down the production from the previous year if everything remains the same. How different were these two seasons compared to what he was averaging coming into 2011? I gave the raw averages, but then scaled them to 425 PA to better compare them with 2011-2012.

napoli2

This is more or less the same as 2012 save a sharp difference in strikeout rate. At this point, it is becoming quite clear that 2011 was the outlier. Most fantasy managers knew this deep down, but in their hearts they wanted to believe he could maintain the level now that he was playing in such a hitter-friendly environment and delivering such incredible value as a catcher. Of course the similarities in his numbers aren’t surprising when you look at his remarkably consistent batted ball profile.

napoli3

Only the HR/FB rate and that coincides with moving to Texas. So again, the only significant difference between his 2011 and 2012 seasons is how often he struck out. In 2011, he was striking out far less and it was translating into bundles of hits. In 2012, regression hit hard and actually zoomed by his career rates into a new low.

Diving deeper into his numbers, we see that off-speed pitches ate him alive in 2012, a 180-degree difference from 2011. Was this injury-related? In 2012 Napoli was day-to-day with a head injury, an illness, and twice with quadriceps injuries until the strained left quad finally DL’d him for a month in August.

napoli4

If you didn’t know any better, I could convince you that those are the numbers of two different players. The 2012 performance against off-speed stuff isn’t congruent with the 2009-2010 Napoli, either. Those 2012 numbers add up to a 582 OPS with a 43.5 percent strikeout rate, compared to 757 OPS and 30.8 percent in 2009-2010. Yet again the 2011 performance of 908 OPS and 26.7 percent is a major outlier by comparison.

Where does all of this leave us? If he didn’t have a degenerative hip issue that cost him two years and $34 million dollars from his initial deal with the Red Sox that eventually became a one year, $5 million dollar pact, it wouldn’t be too hard to project that a healthy Napoli improves significantly on his 2012 as his strikeout rate regresses toward previously established levels. The problem is determining the likelihood of a healthy Napoli. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty big unknown making it difficult to value him for 2013.

How much risk can you stomach? His current NFBC average draft position is 104, or the seventh round (NFBC uses 15-team leagues). I personally cannot stomach that much risk. Even if this were normal Napoli and not Nahipoli (please shoot me for that one), you are still talking about a guy who has one 500+ PA season and a peak of 432 otherwise. There is seemingly always something amiss with his body so adding a balky hip that we already know is a mess muddies the waters enough for me to pass altogether. It helps that he likely won’t be catching at all to exacerbate his injuries issues, but even still he won’t be on any of my 2013 teams at this current cost. I’d rather Alex Avila 126 picks later.

Friday: 02.1.2013

Top 10 Catchers Right Now

Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall*”. They will air both the catcher and first base shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.

*I will not be doing a top 100

This is not a fantasy list!!

I didn’t really have anyone that I fretted over leaving off. Wilin Rosario doesn’t actually play catcher so his hitting exploits would have to be about 2x what they are currently. OK, he puts on the equipment and positions himself behind home plate, but to say he plays catcher is an insult to even the worst of defenders behind the dish, let alone the best.

Jonathan LuCroy was probably closest, but he was beat out by another guy who played under 100 games last year as I expect this guy to top LuCroy in 2013.

THE LIST

10. Salvador Perez (KC) – There is a lot of speculation on this one as Perez has just 115 games played in his major league career, but part of these lists is projected 2013 performance and I’m expecting a nice year from him which should be his first full season. Despite the small sample of work, he has shown a lot. He has shown legitimate power (.471 slugging percentage & 14 HR), a strong hit tool (.311 batting average), and an ability to make adjustments as he dropped his strikeout rate from 12.7 percent in 2011 to 8.9 last year. The Royals no doubt see the potential signing him to a 5-year, $7 million dollar deal before last year which includes options for 2018 and 2019 which will be remarkably affordable (at $5 and $6 MM, respectively) if he continues at the trajectory we’ve seen early one.

9. Carlos Ruiz (PHI) – He is on the shelf for the first month of the season serving a 25-game suspension for banned substances which is unfortunate as he looks to follow-up his breakout 2012. Of course, he put together his .325/.394/.540 line in 114 games last year so missing 25 doesn’t necessarily preclude him from repeating. Suspension or not, the big question is whether or not his spike in HR/FB rate (from 4.4 in ’11 to 15.1 last year) is legitimate and thus will sustain his 16-homer output. That’s huge spike especially in light of his flyball percentage shrinking five percent.

8. Brian McCann (ATL) – The latest news has McCann’s shoulder feeling better and gives him a shot to be ready by Opening Day. Last year was an unmitigated disaster given his standard of excellence as he played a career-low 121 games with a paltry 87 OPS+ output. He kept his 20+ HR streak intact, but that was probably the only positive point in his season. This ranking takes the injury concerns into consideration as he’d be much higher without them.

7. Alex Avila (DET) – Avila labored through a tough season after a huge 2011 breakout as nagging injuries hampered him from day one. Most catchers are usually dealing with an ailment or three by the time Spring Training hits the one-week mark, but Avila seemed to suffer more than his fair share and lower body ones to his hamstring and knee held his power numbers down quite a bit. Despite the injuries, he was still above average offensively and an offseason rest should help him chase down those 2011 numbers again in 2013.

6. Carlos Santana (CLE) – A rough start to 2012 didn’t stop Santana from putting together an excellent season and the only thing keeping him this low is that he’s not a particularly great catcher defensively. I wrote about him in detail in my Countdown to Spring Training series if you’re interested in more.

5. Joe Mauer (MIN) – He still played the majority of his games at catcher and after an ugly half-season in 2011, his numbers returned to what we expect from Mauer (unless you’re still expecting 2009, in which case just stop). He’s still an excellent player even if he spends most of his time at first base or DH, but he’s not a good defensive catcher so he can only be ranked so high as we move into the elite who combine offense and defense.

4. Matt Wieters (BAL) – He’s yet to become the offensive juggernaut we expected when he was coming up through the minors, but that hasn’t stopped him from rounding into one of the best catchers in all of baseball. The defensive piece is in place and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his offensive game take off in these final three years of his 20s.

3. Miguel Montero (ARI) – Like Santana, Montero didn’t sprint out of the gate in 2012, but that couldn’t deter him from a great season at the dish and he pairs that bat with great work behind the dish. In fact, he has improved a ton when it comes to shutting down the running game the last few years. After posting a 26 percent caught stealing rate in his first full season back in 2009, he has since posted rates of 31, 40, and 42 percent. The 42 percent a year ago was the third-best in baseball. He is really one of the best overall catchers in the game and yet doesn’t get nearly enough credit as such. I will be especially interested to see where he rates on the lists tonight.

2. Buster Posey (SF) – How much can really be said about this reigning NL MVP that hasn’t been said yet? His 2010 was a precursor to his excellence which was delayed a year by his injury in 2011. Those who were worried that the injury might take some time coming back from were shown the door immediately as Posey ripped the league apart for a 1016 OPS in April. But it was his second half of the year that really earned him the MVP as he posted a 1023 or better OPS in each month with 21 RBIs per month and his .364 average in September was his worst from July on as he hit a combined .371 in the three months.

1. Yadier Molina (StL) – This shouldn’t be too much of a shock. Sure, Posey won the MVP, but he also played 29 games at first base and Molina was a legitimate candidate finishing 4th in the voting. Long regarded as the unquestioned best defender in baseball, Molina’s offensive outburst the last two years puts him in the discussion as the single best player in the game if you were talking about building a team from scratch.

Monday: 01.28.2013

CBS Closes Victor Martinez Catcher Loophole

Out of sight, out of mind as the idiom goes. In baseball, a player’s season can be ended in February or March leaving a 12-month gap between when you last considered him as a fantasy asset. Now most guys aren’t completely forgotten, but even high profile players will have to climb their way back into the consciousness a bit, at least to get back on the level they were at prior to their injury. One such player for 2013 is Detroit’s Victor Martinez. The sweet-swinging catcher/first base/designated hitter ripped his left knee up last March and didn’t see the field at all.

His 2013 return has brought about some controversy. He was last a full-time catcher back in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox when he put the gear on 110 times in his 127 games played. Before that, he hadn’t been a full-time backstop since 2007. Back in 2011 when he last played, he was Detroit’s full-time DH with 112 appearances there. He had 26 games behind the dish and another six appearances at first base. Most fantasy leagues require a 20-game minimum the year before to maintain eligibility at a position. With 26 in his last year of play, Martinez is a 2013 catcher.

Not so fast.

CBS Sports, easily one of the most popular fantasy hosting sites, has made their ruling on the case and they have stripped Martinez of catcher eligibility making him a DH-only qualifier in their systems. Now custom league commissioners can fix it to however they see fit (I personally will making him a catcher in my AL-only league per our rules), but it looks like any standard league format at CBS will have to abide by the ruling. I found the decision curious myself noting (to myself) that Kendrys Morales had kept his first base eligibility upon his return last year after missing all of 2011. So I took to Twitter and asked CBS fantasy expert Nando DiFino what was up with this decision.

DiFino responded, “Reverts to most appearances the previous year overwhelmingly DH in 2011: 112 at DH vs 26 at C, six at 1B. He hasn’t played primarily C since 2010, it’s disingenuous”.

He continued, “…came down to original tout rules, fairness, lots of things. But having VMart at top 5 in a position he didn’t primarily play since 2010 seemed like it wasn’t in the spirit of the game. One [guy] in the league would benefit from that.”  (the entire exchange can be found here)

And in case you didn’t click the link earlier, here is an answer from the CBS FAQ

vmartCDH

You can make a case that this also should’ve applied to Morales then since Albert Pujols was brought in to play first base, but it wasn’t hard to envision Morales getting time there even if just as a backup or to give Pujols some half-days off where they switch and Pujols DH’s while Morales mans first.

In the case of Martinez, he is not going to catch this year. That has been the word from the front office all off season and it was confirmed again recently by general manager Dave Dombrowski. They Alex Avila entrenched as the workhorse starter and while they didn’t re-sign Gerald Laird, they were ready to go with Bryan Holaday as the backup before getting Brayan Pena via free agency and trading for Ramon Cabrera who was a deep org prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates (ranked 22nd by Baseball America in 2012).

So if you plan on countering this decision by CBS by drafting Martinez anyway and waiting for him earn eligibility via interleague or by spelling Avila, you are wasting your time. Obviously we can never say never and maybe V-Mart gets a few innings fulfilling some leagues who have a 1-game requirement, but you’re betting on a super longshot at that point and that’s a surefire way to ruin your chances at winning your league.

The closed loophole cuts a leg out of catching depth, but the position is working from a surplus and even without Martinez, it is a plentiful position. In my estimation, there are eight  star-level (for fantasy purposes) players leading the charge with another eight or so high quality options not to mention a handful of wildcards who could pan out nicely including a pair of suspended catchers: Carlos Ruiz (25 games) and Yasmani Grandal (50 games).

Martinez joins only David Ortiz as the only two high-quality DH-only assets this year. Billy Butler regained 1B eligibility playing exactly 20 games there and Adam Dunn has managed to the classification since joining the AL despite it unquestionably being his best “position”.

Update your lists accordingly.

Friday: 01.25.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 28 Days – Hanley Ramirez

Only 28 days until live game action…

OK, so the first actual Grapefruit or Cactus League game doesn’t take place until February 22nd, but the Red Sox are splitting up their squad and playing a couple of colleges on February 21st so we’re just 30 days away from organized professional baseball. So why not a countdown of this final, grueling winter month that includes some fantasy analysis?

Obviously my primary focus at this site is on pitchers and you’ll get quite a bit of my analysis on them in late February when the SP Guide drops, thus I was thinking of something surrounding hitters. With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

HANLEY RAMIREZ

After the unmitigated disaster that was 2011, it wasn’t going to take much for his 2012 to be considered a rebound and it was yet he was still a disappointment. While he wasn’t going 2nd overall like 2011, he still only dipped to 20th average draft position with a high of 12 and low of 26 according to Mock Draft Central. His 20-20 season with shortstop and third base eligibility wasn’t bad, but it didn’t earn that draft position back. ESPN’s Player Rater had him 63rd overall and 42nd among batters.

The problem was that there was virtually no rebound in his paltry .243 batting average from 2011. It went up to .257, but that’s barely a dent (8 hits over a 600 AB season) and he posted the second-worst BABIP of his career at .290 (up slightly from 2011’s .275). His batted ball profile was actually somewhat conducive to a batting average increase as he added 2.5 percent to his line drives, which have the best chance to become hits. His flyball rate rose continuing a three-year trend, and those are least likely to become hits. While his flyball rate only ticked up by 1.2 percent, his infield flyball rate jumped four percent and those are all but guaranteed outs.

His BABIP based on batted ball was league average all told (he was a little low on line drives, but high on grounders & flies) so we shouldn’t be too surprised that his .257 batting average was essentially on par with the league’s .255 average as a whole. He might’ve smoked a few more at-‘em balls than normal, but nothing that would leave you saying he was quite unlucky for the performance he was delivering on the field. Batting average is really what kept his 2012 from being a “Hanley” season considering 2009 and 2010:

hanley3year

Based on my rough math estimations, a .300 average would’ve boosted Ramirez to a tie for 11th among batters in the player rater with Adam Jones and vaulted him to 18th with Jones in the overall.

“Well ya, but he was playing a lot in that cavernous monstrosity that can gives your eyes an STD if you watch too many home Marlins games!”

*Bzzz* Try again.

Ramirez raked in Marlins Stadium as did the other two superstars on that team:

homemarlins

It appears that Ramirez’s batting average issues for 2012 fit under the Occam’s razor principle: he just wasn’t good enough. No logistical pretzels about this BABIP or that venue. He simply didn’t hit the ball well enough to earn a .300+ average. I mean, we’re really only talking about a hit a week here. Another 26 hits would put right at .300 (actually .2996688, but I think MLB would go ahead and give it to him) and that feels like a lot, but there are generally around 26 weeks in the season.

Where is going to get those hits in 2013? Ideally off of southpaws. For his two-plus seasons (92 G in ’11) from 2009-2011, he hit .305 off of lefties with a .339 BABIP. Those figures dropped to .263 and .293 in 2012. It wasn’t just one problem area either; they just handled him better than ever before. Though up and in and down and away do stand out a bit when comparing the two samples:

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Ramirez remains a hot commodity for several reasons:

  • He has a track record of excellence so the potential to return to those levels is still present.
  • He is still on the right side of 30, adding to the likelihood of the first point.
  • He has dual eligibility at the hardest spot to fill (SS) and another premium infield spot (3B)
  • His “down” seasons are still 20-20 seasons with 92 RBIs. Well down seasons without injury.

Ramirez is solid “buy” target for 2013, even as a second round pick (though his ADP is a ludicrous 42 in early drafts** over at Mock Draft Central making him a huge bargain if that holds, but I doubt it will). High floors are a market inefficiency and they can sometimes be more important than a high ceiling for an early round pick. Especially if you subscribe to the notion that you can’t win your draft in the early rounds, but you can lose it.

**ADDENDUM

In the mock drafts I’ve done to date, Hanley has gone as follows:

  • 23rd overall in a 15 tm mixer w/OBP instead of AVG
  • 27th overall in a 15 tm mixer w/OBP instead of AVG
  • 21st overall in a standard 12 tm mixer
  • $31 dollars in a 14 tm auction standard 5×5

In other words: ignore that ADP because there is very little chance you’ll get him at that price.

Don’t forget the countdown continues on the weekend! 

Thursday: 01.24.2013

Countdown to Spring Training: 29 Days – Carlos Santana

Only 29 days until live game action…

30: Desmond Jennings

OK, so the first actual Grapefruit or Cactus League game doesn’t take place until February 22nd, but the Red Sox are splitting up their squad and playing a couple of colleges on February 21st so we’re just 30 days away from organized professional baseball. So why not a countdown of this final, grueling winter month that includes some fantasy analysis?

Obviously my primary focus at this site is on pitchers and you’ll get quite a bit of my analysis on them in late February when the SP Guide drops, thus I was thinking of something surrounding hitters. With 30 days to go, I am going to do a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.

CARLOS SANTANA

If you just randomly poll some fantasy baseball managers asking them how Carlos Santana did in 2012, I think you’ll end up with answers suggesting it was a “down” or “poor” season. After all, he did drop nine home runs from his 2011 total, but the perception is likely built around the fact that he ended June with a .220 batting average and 673 OPS. It wasn’t so much that he got off to a poor start, either, he had an 863 OPS in April, but May and June were complete washouts as he put a 592 mark during the two months clearly playing at far less than 100 percent health and the concussion at the end of May certainly didn’t help.

In fact, from the concussion date (May 25th) to the All-Star break, he hit .172 with 527 OPS. With that in mind, how much more impressive are his final numbers of a .252 batting average and 785 OPS? The four days off served him well and he hit .281 with an 887 OPS the rest of the way. Throughout the year he continued to take his walks, but it felt like it was passivity during his May-June slump and he was missing worthwhile pitches opting for the free pass instead. That is based on probably 10-12 games of watching the Indians including some series against my Tigers so if you don’t want to lock that down in stone, I understand. Just letting you know what I saw.

Despite losing essentially two months where he was playing, but struggling majorly, Santana still had a very nice season. He sustained his OPS by raising his on-base percentage to account for the drop in slugging percentage. And he had just three fewer runs batted in despite 49 fewer plate appearances. Lost in the shuffle was the improved strikeout rate dropping from 20.2 to 16.6 percent while lightly boosting his walk rate from 14.7 to 14.9 percent.

Going into 2013, Santana is part a very deep catcher pool and analysts can’t seem to agree exactly where he belongs. There is plenty of established star power at the position with a handful of up-and-comers poised for breakouts, too. For me, he is an easy top three behind no more than Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, but the early rankings have him anywhere from two to seven:

It looks like drafters are following Steve Gardner at USAToday the most early on as his current average draft position has him as the seventh backstop off the board. In an OBP league, he’s easily behind only Posey, but most leagues still use batting average where he has a bit of a deficiency against righties. He is a switch-hitter who fares better against lefties, but he isn’t exactly crushing them, either. He had a .272 average against them last year which isn’t too far from his .278 career mark against southpaws.

An attribute to consider with Santana is his first base & DH playing time. It allows him to get those extra plate appearances that other catchers won’t accumulate and keeps some of the wear-and-tear off of him. This has allowed him to join Joe Mauer as the only two catchers with 600+ plate appearances the last two seasons. Meanwhile his 658 from 2011 is the second-highest total from a catcher since 2006 topped only by former Indian Victor Martinez who had 672 in 2009 with Cleveland and Boston.

Speaking of Martinez, he is another guy who deserves a boost because of playing time. He should still be catcher-eligible in any league worth its salt because of his 26 games there in 2011 when he last played and he won’t have to crouch at all in 2013. He should be the exclusive DH for the Tigers with maybe a couple of 1B starts mixed in to give Prince Fielder the proverbial half day off.

A healthy Santana can bring a .275-90-30-100 season to the table. And yes, I do think he can reach 100 RBIs with Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Nick Swisher ahead of him in the lineup.

Thursday: 07.12.2012

The Second Half Hail Mary Team

Your team sucks.  Way to go, idiot.  You are wallowing near or at the bottom of the standings with seemingly no hope.  It’s a redraft league so you don’t even have the option of trading for the 2013 which can be a fun exercise once you realize a season is lost.  So what do you do with the second half?  Hint: ignore your team and start looking for sleepers who will definitely fail in fantasy football is not the answer.  No, the answer is you throw conservatism out the window and chuck some Hail Marys to see if you can make a run.  Cross-sport reference!!!!

As dire as the situation may look now, there is time.  It’s not exactly the halfway point, four teams have played 87 games and all but two have (Washington & Kansas City at 83 & 84, respectively) played 85 or more, but a lot of baseball is still going to be played.  There will be plenty of Cinderella stories in October about a team that was buried at the All-Star Break only to surge through the standings in the dog days of summer en route to an improbable victory.  Let’s make that your story.

Presenting the Hail Mary Team for 2012.  This group of strugglers contain a ton of upside if they can reach previously established heights in the coming months.  Honestly, if you are one of the teams looking up at most of the league in your standings, you probably have a couple of these guys on your team.  They came into the season with elevated expectations and have failed to meet them for a bevy of reasons.  Their price tags have lowered (and if they haven’t, just pass, because there’s no sense paying full price) and with nothing to lose, they could be your ticket to a much better slot in your standings.

CATCHER Carlos Santana

He’s been wretched this year after a great 2011 season.  And it’s not just the concussion that sidelined him near the end of May as he was horrible in that whole month leading up to the injury (.233/.314/.344).  The concussion may be exacerbating the situation, but it’s just been a rough go since a solid .262/.417/.446 line April suggesting that maybe something other than the concussion is in play.  Nevertheless, this is a power force at a scarce position who can be a big time run producer if he gets back to the guy we saw in his first 201 games spanning part of 2010 and all of 2011: .244/.362/.459 with 33 HR and 101 RBI.  Brian McCann got some consideration, but his surge before the break (.421, 4 game HR streak w/11 RBI) likely allayed the fears of many and ate into any discount you could’ve gotten previously.

FIRST BASE – Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer

Both guys have been hot of late, but such wretched starts have their overall lines still in shambles resulting in their appearance on waiver wires in shallower leagues and making them available for little more than a song in leagues where they are on a roster.  Davis has a very healthy .294/.351/.635 line with 7 HR and 28 RBI in the last month so his price might be one of the higher ones on this list comparatively speaking, but I’d be willing to pay it as long as it still represented a discount against preseason expectations.  He’s been a bit Dan Uggla-esque circa 2011 where the batting average was just awful, but the power was still present.  I’m not sure he’s going to run off a 33-game hit streak like Uggla did, but who cares?

Hosmer ripped off a 3-hit game in Yankee Stadium in late May, his first of the year, and that seemed to be something of a turning point for his season.  From that game on: .289/.352/.430 with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 7 SB in 165 plate appearances.  He is still toting a .231/.299/.371 season line, though, which is why he still qualifies for this team.  Like Davis, he will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum among this list of players, but he should still be available at a sharp discount compared to the preseason which is what makes him a worthy Hail Mary target.

SECOND BASE – The Weekeseseseses, Rickie & Jemile

The Brothers Weeks have been awful this year lending to the decimation of the second base this year which could’ve been a plentiful position had players met or at least been near expectations.  Surges from Aaron Hill, Neil Walker, Jason Kipinis and Jose Altuve are only masking failures of the brothers, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Ackley instead of adding depth.  Back to these two, though, with Rickie first.

Injuries have always been a problem as he has just one season with more than 129 games played, otherwise he has usually performed quite well as long as he is on the field.  Until this year.  Even a depressed offensive environment can’t mask his woes as he checks in just under the Mendoza Line at .199 with just 8 HR and 6 SB in 81 games.  He hit 20 HR in 118 games last year, so even doubling his current output would be short of expectations.  He’s running at the same clip as last year, but he’s not really a speed asset these days anyway, that’s his brother’s area of expertise.

Speaking of Jemile, he has been an abomination thus far.  Imagine he were even average, the A’s might be above .500.  As it is, they are right at the mark and his return could help them stay there or exceed the level going forward.  The real bummer is that his poor half has overshadowed the huge gains in walk rate (up from 5% last year to 11% this year) paired with a small improvement in strikeout (down 1% to 13%).  If Dee Gordon can lead baseball in stolen bases (30) with a .280 on-base percentage, Weeks should have more than 12 with a more palatable .312 OBP.  He is an easy target if steals is a category where you’re severely lagging.

SHORTSTOP – Alexei Ramirez

When Ramirez ended up April with a paltry .498 OPS, some may have seen that as a prime buying opportunity as he routinely takes a while to get going.  Over his career, April is easily his worth month checking in with a .561 OPS compared to .721 or better in every other month peaking with .822 in July.  He sputtered to a .581 mark this May.  He improved to .678 in June so he is progressing, but not nearly as rapidly as usual.  In a scant 7-game sample for July, he is at 1.057 so maybe he finally ready to let loose.

The power has been noticeably absent throughout with just two home runs.  He has run a bit more to help alleviate a bit of the damage checking in with 10 SB, three more than all of last year in a full season.  He has long been one of those guys who is much better as a fantasy asset than as a real life one with only one season over 99 OPS+ (104 as a rookie).  He had become a bankable 15-70-10-80 with an average around .270.  It will take a helluva rally to get there this year, but if he just performs to the levels we have seen in the past, he will be a positive asset at shortstop at a nothing cost.

THIRD BASE – Ryan Zimmerman

I was surprised the other day when I heard some fantasy analysts dismissing him as a non-entity.  The basic premise was essentially that he’s never been any good so why are folks still hung up on him?  That’s just crazy talk.  He was excellent in 2009-2010 and was tracking toward another great season last year when injuries cut it short.  He hasn’t been good this year and I think injuries are a big reason again as he had a DL stint back in late April through early May and then he took a while to get going once he was back.

I’ll grant that he isn’t the sturdiest guy around.  That seems to come with territory when dealing with defensive stalwarts like Zimmerman, but he is definitely a damn fine hitter capable of big numbers.  In fact, he has been hot of late starting with a Coors Field trip (always a nice remedy for a hitter) totaling 14 games in all during which he has hit .333/.394/.683 with 5 HR and 18 RBI.  He has a 1.003 OPS with 3 HR in the non-Coors part, so don’t worry that he is Brandon Mossing us.  His bottom line is still gruesome (.694 OPS) enough that the price won’t be too steep.

OUTFIELD – Cameron Maybin

Proponents of Maybin’s are pointing toward last year’s second half dash to the finish that saw him swipe 28 bases after the break with an improved .268 average (up from .259) and hoping he has another such run (pun fully intended) in him.  The talent is there in glimpses, but those are all too brief because even when he’s hitting the longest home run in Chase Field, he’s still only carrying a .212 average.

Ichiro Suzuki

This is probably just the decline of a 38-year old former star, but it’s hard not to look at his 39 SBs from just a year ago and dream of him stealing 20+ in the second half.

Shane Victorino

He has been a far cry from what we expect in the slugging department thanks to a precipitous drop in triples as he has just two after leading baseball two of the last three years and notching 10 in the third of those seasons.  Aside from that, he hasn’t been awful save a little batting average misfortune.  I think the perception of his struggling is stronger than the truth of it as he already has as many steals (19) as he did in all of last year and his eight homers are just off of last year’s pace.  Try to prey on the trade rumors swirling about and his benching the other day for not liking his slot in the order as well as the general Phillie malaise that has seemingly stunk up every non-Hamels entity.

Bes Jond Unnings and D.J. Jupton

Paired together for obvious reason, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton have been colossal disappointments this year, though like others in the list they have run enough to stem the tide a bit on their being fantasy sinkholes.  Both have 15 SBs, impressive more so for Jennings coming in eight fewer games, but both are still on the wrong side of .680 OPS to date.  It looks even worse if you extend back into September for Jennings as he jumped off a cliff after a blazing hot run from late July through August.

Meanwhile, no one is expecting anything batting average-wise from Upton, but what is with the power outage?  He’s been around a 20 HR hitter the last two years which combined with his speed and 80ish runs driven in and scored made the batting average plenty palatable.  He’s now on pace for 13, down 10 from last year, but he can string together some 4-5 HR months and rally to or above 20 if he’s right.  Both of these Rays have plenty of upside that make gambling on them easy, especially at a discount.

Nelson Cruz

He has been lying in wait just ready for a Cruzian streak.  It may be bubbling up near the surface, too, as he entered the break with three multi-hit games including four doubles, but no homers.  When he gets hot he can carry a fantasy team so he is an easy inclusion even though he hasn’t been as rotten as the others with a 99 OPS+.  You may have to package one of your few worthwhile assets to get him and someone else on this list.  It could pay major dividends with a monster like Cruz.

PITCHING

Tim Lincecum

Duh.  Just look at the track record, I don’t really need to tell you why he’s a Hail Mary candidate.

Dan Haren

Currently injured making it a nice time to strike.  For the purposes of this exercise it also helps that he was terrible for five starts (8.67 ERA) before finally hitting the DL with a balky back.  His brilliant track record and the glimpses of greatness this year when healthy make it clear that he is still someone worth targeting.  The rest will hopefully get him back to 100% and he will return to his previously established level of excellence.

Rickey Romero

Let’s be honest, he didn’t really earn a 2.92 ERA last year from a skills standpoint. He still got the 2.92 ERA and I’m sure it helped many a fantasy team, but expecting that this year would’ve been silly.  Similarly, he isn’t a 5.22 ERA pitcher, either.  The skills have deteriorated this year without question, but not 5.22 deterioration.  His control is all out whack with a career-worst 4.7 BB/9.  That points to a potential mechanical issue which hopefully can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague is sweeping across the Toronto rotation so injury could be an issue, too, but he doesn’t seem to be laboring or hurting when I view his starts with my amateur scouting eye.  A 3.50 ERA from a workhorse who will put himself in position for decisions (and ideally wins given their stout offense) can go a long way toward fixing your flailing staff.

Derek Holland

We saw last year, specifically in the second half and playoffs, what he can do when he is click.  His skills are in line with last year’s save a bit of home run trouble which has no doubt led to his inflated 5.05 ERA.  He quietly came off the DL just before the break and had a quality start, strike quickly before he strings a few together and saps up any discount via trade or starts getting scooped up off the waiver wires.

Doug Fister

The infield defense has struggled as planned and Fister has been a prime casualty, but that isn’t the only factor as a 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 1.2 HR/9 rate.  That factor should regress, especially for a groundball artist (2.2 GB/FB ratio), and that will cut into his 4.75 ERA.  Completing the Hail Mary pass would be a tightening up of the defense allowing him to pitch to a level on par with his skills which would be around 3.45 or better.

Francisco Liriano

Personally, I don’t think he should be trusted, but we are talking Hail Marys here.  He has a 3.12 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his seven starts since returning to the rotation.  We know the upside he has when everything is going perfectly.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Is he the next Liriano after his fall from grace last year?  Probably so, but like Liriano he is streaking in his last seven with a 2.93 ERA and 44 Ks in 46 innings.  In fact, they both started their streaks on June 5th so they are even more similar this year.  They both have ace upside.  Doesn’t mean they’ll will reach it, but the chance is there.

Ervin Santana

He likes to throw a stinker season in every once in a while to keep everyone honest I guess, but his capability is a commodity as proven in three of the previous four years from 2008-2011.  Unsurprisingly home runs were his issue in 2009, too, so figuring that out will be the key to his potential success going forward.  He doesn’t quite have ace potential because he peaks around 6.8-7.0 K/9, but with the Angels clicking, he can run off a bunch of wins with quality ratios if he gets himself figured out.

Clay Buchholz

Another guy I don’t really buy into, but people I respect do and besides, I’m trying to fix your crappy team not mine.  Even including the thrashing he suffered right before hitting the DL, he had 3.35 ERA and 5-1 record (including 4 straight Ws) in eight starts whittling his ERA from 9.09 to 5.53 in the process.  He is currently sitting on the DL with terrible bottom line numbers making now the best time to strike if you are interested.

Wednesday: 06.27.2012

Yadier Molina’s Superstar Season

In “Year of the Pitcher: Part 3”, the headlines are being grabbed by R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Brandon Beachy before his injury, Stephen Strasburg (and actually the Nats rotation as a whole) and whoever is six-plus innings into a no-hitter or perfect game on a given night.  And rightfully so given how incredible those guys have been.  Apart from the wunderkinds (Bryce Harper & Mike Trout), Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp before his injury, hitters aren’t really getting as much run as individual story makers.

This attention on pitchers isn’t a problem, but it has left some hitters in the midst of great seasons off the radar including the brilliant season that Yadier Molina has had thus far.  The 29-year old backstop signed a five-year, $75 million dollar extension in early March that includes a mutual option for a sixth year that would keep him in St. Louis through 2018.

Instead of signing Albert Pujols, they essentially doled the money out to Molina, Carlos Beltran (2/$26mm) Rafael Furcal (2/$14mm) and Lance Berkman (1/$12mm) with Molina as the obvious centerpiece to be paired with Matt Holliday through the 2000-teens.  They are hoping that Molina can be their Jorge Posada in terms of longevity.

The challenge in that comparison is that Molina was up at 21-years old and full-time by 22 while Posada first saw significant time at 25-years old and that lack of wear and tear applied in his early 20s allowed him to remain an offensive force through his 30s with only two seasons below 101 OPS+ and zero below 90 (he was at 90 last year w/a .714 OPS).

However the story worthy of attention right now is that present-day Molina has become the best all-around catcher in baseball.  He has long been the league’s gold standard when it comes to the defensive discipline of catching, but he took a major step forward offensively last year and has not only continued it in 2012, but amped it yet another several notches.

When I saw Yahoo!’s Scott Pianowski tweet on the matter, I found myself nodding in agreement as I had just recently looked at Molina’s stat line over the weekend and marveled at the fact that he is ridiculously close to career-highs almost across the board in only 276 plate appearances.

He achieved career-bests in home runs (14), RBIs (65), runs (55), batting average (.305) and slugging percentage (.465) last year in 518 plate appearances.  He is already exceeding both rate stats (.319 and .512) to go with his 12 home runs, 44 RBIs and 33 runs scored in just 53% of last year’s plate appearance total.  His .369 on-base percentage is also tracking to be a career-best.  After an embarrassing 4-for-9 (44%) stolen base rate last year, he is just two away from his career-high with seven so far in eight attempts (88%).

It is a generally accepted fact that catcher’s develop later offensively speaking because the early part of their career is spent learning the finer points of handling a pitching staff and taming a running game, but that development is usually confined to a power spike.  Molina’s entire game is reaching new heights.

He is currently on pace for 26 HR, 95 RBI and 15 SB with his .317 batting average.  Only one catcher has ever reached or exceeded all four of those marks: Ivan Rodriguez in 1999 when he had 35 HR, 113 RBI and 25 SB with a .332 batting average en route to an MVP.  Of course the offensive environment was much different back then so while Pudge’s dream season netted a 125 OPS+, Molina’s carrying a 142 so far.

None of this offensive explosion is coming at the expensive of the defensive work that made him famous in the first place and earned him four Gold Glove Awards.  GGs aren’t a perfect measure of defensive prowess so you can’t just use them blindly, but I think it is universally agreed upon that Molina has deserved every single one he has earned.

In fact, a major & valid complaint of the awards is that they are often offensively driven for some ungodly reason, but Molina bucked that trend with his 2010 win as he was rather putrid at the dish netting a meager 84 OPS+, but even voters couldn’t ignore his MLB-best 49% caught stealing rate as he threw out a career-high 33 runners (against 35 steals).

So far this year he is popping runners at a 37% clip (13-of-35), but that doesn’t even tell the full story.  He is so good that he stops the running game before it even starts.  The opposition is running at a clip of nearly once per two games, easily baseball’s best rate.  There is currently an attempt once every 16 innings against Molina.  Compare that with San Diego’s Nick Hundley who doesn’t see six innings pass without someone attempt larceny on his watch.  Molina’s rate was even better a year ago when base runners ran just once every 17.7 innings.

The closest catcher to Molina this year is John Buck who is two innings behind (1 every 14 innings) and right behind him is Yadier’s brother, Jose Molina (13.8).  Yadier remains the most feared catcher in the game defensively speaking and with good reason.  The other bias usually associated with Gold Gloves is that multiple winners seem to get favored and ties usually go their way.  Arizona’s Miguel Montero is having a helluva year cutting down runners (22-of-42, 52%), but that might not be enough to trump Molina’s reputation.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Carlos Ruiz is another catcher also having a truly brilliant year at the dish (and behind it).  His .361 average is the best in baseball and his 10 home runs are already a career-best while his 41 RBIs in 67 games have already topped the 40 he amassed in 132 games last year.  He has been no slouch behind the dish, either, with a career-best 39% caught stealing rate stopping 22 of the 56 would-be thieves.  Runners are testing him exactly once per game, but he is meeting the challenge.  At 33 years old, his 171 OPS+ is fourth in baseball behind just Joey Votto (198), David Wright (180) and Mark Trumbo (174).

When I was first gathering data and thinking about this piece, I was thinking of suggesting that Molina could be a longshot MVP candidate based on his excellent all-around season and he may be, but if he is then Ruiz definitely has to garner some consideration and likely even more than Molina as he is out-hitting him and playing sharp defense that is at least in the county of Molina’s, if not in the same ballpark.  I still give Molina the edge as baseball’s best all-around catcher both now and going forward.

What is clear is that these two plus the out-of-nowhere breakout from A.J. Ellis, the insane offensive surge from A.J. Pierzynski, the emergence of Jonathan LuCroy before his hand injury and the continued dominance of guys like Buster Posey, Miguel Montero, Joe Mauer (not 2009 levels, but still very good) and Matt Wieters, perhaps we are in the midst of “The Year of the Catcher” as well as the third edition of TYotP.  Given the return to earth by Mike Napoli and the struggles of Carlos Santana, Brian McCann and Alex Avila, who’d have thought we would be talking about superlative catchers this year?

For the Cardinals, it is still very early (in fact, the extension for Molina hasn’t even kicked in), but it certainly looks like he is trending in the right direction (improved OPS+ in five of the last six years) offensively without losing anything in the defensive game that went a long toward earning him the contract in the first place.