Archive for ‘Catcher’

Thursday: 06.30.2011

The Hail Mary Team, Part 1

As of right now 13 others are at 82 games, 11 teams are at the exact halfway point (81 games) and the remaining six are very close.  By Monday, every team will be at or beyond the halfway point so it’s safe to say the fantasy baseball season is also at the midpoint.  By now you should have a pretty strong feel for your team one way or another.  Unfortunately for some of us, that way might be “another” meaning lower end of the standings seemingly without a prayer.

You might not be like me, a guy who plays multiple leagues, meaning your summer could essentially be ruined before the fourth of July and with football (and with it fantasy football) in limbo, things look bleak.  But fear not, I am here to help.  While things may seem hopeless, they aren’t always as they seem and there may still be some hope or at the very least you can put in every last bit of effort and buy yourself at least another month to six weeks of fun trying climb back into the race.  Remember, while it best to win the league, many leagues still have a strong incentive to finish second, third or fourth (and sometimes fifth depending on league format) assuming there is a prize pool on the line (or a minor league draft which is often the reward for that first spot out of the money).

With that, I present to you the Hail Mary Team.  This team is for the owners who are down deep in the standings and for whom it looks like nothing short of a miracle will save them.  The Hail Mary Team is a list of currently underperforming (and thus almost certainly undervalued) assets who can reasonably be believed to be in for a major upturn in the second half of the season as they regress toward their career mean (regression to the mean isn’t always negative).  Whether they are dealing with a rash of bad luck, injury, flat out poor play or all three, their track record says they are way better than this and thus why not invest, especially at a discounted rate?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula to determine if a team is a candidate for this method, so you will have to base it on your league and the standings are stratified (though feel free to contact me in the comments or on Twitter if you want my opinion on the matter).  Ideally, you would want to have the most points to gain the counting categories (HR, R, RBI, W, SV, K) as opposed to the rate stats (AVG or OBP, ERA & WHIP) because the rate stats will be much harder to move at this point and going forward.  As you pile up innings and at-bats, great performances, even the best of the best, have less impact on those three categories.  That doesn’t mean you want to be dead last in the counting stats, but ideally a few (if not all) would be nicely clumped to where a surge could earn you several points instead of needing 6 HR for 1 pt but then another 20 for the next pt and still 10 more the third point, etc… you get the point.

The guys on the HMT should be available via trade at less than full price in your league (and some may even be waiver wire assets).  What you might do is trade one of your decent guys (not stars) for two or even three (depending on the players involved) of these players so the end result is still a net gain (assuming the Hail Marys [Maries?] connect, of course).  You may already have some of these guys which has led to your issues in the first place.  Hang onto them, add more and hope to catch lightning in a bottle.  The really fun part here will be the building of this team since actually winning is a longshot.  So if you team is on the ropes and you love trading, then this is a strategy for you.

Don’t be afraid to trade your stars in this strategy, but make sure you get a mint and that the extra assets are filling for zeroes or close to it.  Also make sure to get the upper echelon Hail Mary Teamers for your stars.  Don’t trade off your solid Hunter Pence for two “Also Keep In Mind” guys.  That will make more sense when you see the players, but the main point is that if you are getting several assets to plug some of the many holes that buried you in the first place, then don’t trade your star asset or at least don’t trade him to the owner who won’t pay.  Ideally you would like to keep your two or three best assets while adding a handful of the HMT’ers to the equation.  As always, I am available on Twitter (@sporer) clarification or for advice on potential offers.

One other thing before we get to the team of players, this is best executed in redraft leagues for obvious reasons.  If you are toast or near toast in a keeper league, you should be building for 2012 (and reading my Keeper Building Block series to help you with that) as opposed to taking a flier on winning the league or pushing your way into a money spot.

I will break this up a bit, but the entire team will be out by Monday so you can spend your fourth of July day off working the trade wires (or hanging out by the pool with some cold ones… either or).

CATCHER:

Carlos Santana (CLE) – Right or wrong, fantasy managers still pay a lot of attention to batting average and let that be the primary indicator as to whether or not a guy is playing well.  Santana’s batting average is .226 meaning he could be discounted.  However, some owners may realize he has 11 home runs already and he’s on pace for 23 with 74 runs scored and batted in along with an unexpected six stolen bases which is damn good from catcher even with a bad batting average.  If your league’s Santana manager is one of those realizing his full value, just move along, I have another name for you to fall back on.

Mike Napoli (TEX) – He is coming off of a busted month where he only played eight games before getting hurt.  He is slated to started his rehab assignment soon so now is the time to pounce.  His owner might look at the .221 average and think, “Man, I knew he wouldn’t be a batting average asset, but I wanted better than this, plus he only has 10 homers, dude’s weak.”  Dude’s not weak.  He’s toting an .836 OPS and .365 wOBA despite that garbage average because he’s walking at a near-career high clip (15%) and smashing a bomb every 14 at-bats.

Also keep in mind: Joe Mauer.  I can’t imagine he is anywhere near full price.  Some people never discount big names, though.  But check in on his team’s manager, you never know.  He won’t offer the power potential of the other two, though, and his primary asset (batting average) is the toughest category to fix.

FIRST BASE:

Coincidentally, both Santana and Napoli qualify at first base so you could use one of them or go with the obvious name…

Adam Dunn (CHW) – Do I really need to enlighten you on why he’s on this team?  Seven seasons of 38+ home runs including five with 40+, he didn’t just forget how to play.  He’s never been great against lefties, but a career mark of .234 with an .800 OPS is a helluva better than the 1-for-53 superslump he is current mired in against southpaws.  He might suck the rest of the year, there’s a real chance of that when you see him play.  That’s why it is a Hail Mary Team, because he might also smash 20+ home runs and getting some BABIP fortune to push his current .262 BABIP closer to his .294 career mark.

Also keep in mind: Aubrey Huff.  Should be dirt cheap and he was great as recently as last year.

SECOND BASE:

Dan Uggla (ATL) – Going with the obvious name here again, but it’s the best fit so there’s no reason not to put him on this “team”.  He does have 12 home runs so he isn’t terribly far off the pace of the 31 average he has set the over the last five years, but it comes with a .178 average and modest RBI and runs scored paces of 55 and 69, respectively, so he certainly shouldn’t be untouchable.  He is basically on pace for Aaron Hill’s 2010 season at this point right down to the absurdly low .189 BABIP so there is a precedent for this kind of season out of a proven player, but his power upside is worth the gamble for this experiment.

Ryan Raburn (DET) – He has become the second half surge posterboy over the last two years.  Last year he ended the first half with a .637 OPS and just two home runs.  He went on to rip 13 home runs, drive in 46, hit .305 and post a .900 OPS in the second half.  In 2009, it wasn’t so much that he languished through the first half, he was solid (.842 OPS, 6 HR in 50 G), but he took it to another level in the second half.  From the trade deadline to season’s end, he hit .350 (in 55 games) with 10 home runs.  Something about the dog days of summer puts a spring in Raburn’s bat.  He has the added benefit of dual-eligibility at second base and in the outfield.

Also keep in mind: Kelly Johnson & Hill.  Johnson is another guy who might draw a discount because of his .210 batting average, but a more savvy owner (or just one paying attention) realizes that his 26 HR/16 SB pace takes a lot of the sting out of that batting average.  You won’t know if you don’t inquire.  Hill’s comically low 3.2% HR/FB can’t  stick all year can it?  Not after years of 15% and 11%, right?  Although he did go a full season with a 4% rate back in 2004 plus he loves being the outlier of bad luck in metrics (see also: his 2010 BABIP mentioned above).  He can be a last resort at this position.

 

Next: Shortstops & Third Basemen

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Tuesday: 03.15.2011

Why Joe Mauer Isn’t the Top Catcher in 2011

This will serve as the 3/15 Daily Dose (Ed. note – I’ve got time for one post a day right now, so it’s either a feature like this or the DD).

Catcher is always a tricky spot in fantasy baseball.  It’s usually pretty thin putting a premium on the studs, but that is counterbalanced by the fact that even the studs are guaranteed to miss time by not catching at least a day and sometimes two each week.  There is a firm ceiling on a catcher’s output because of those built-in days off plus the significant risk of more missed time due to injury.

Despite all of that, Joe Mauer remains the consensus top catcher and usually goes very early.  Whether people are still salivating over that MVP season from 2009 and hoping it will return (only for a full season this time instead of five months) or they just want to get the perceived best player at a perceived scarce position who will at the very least give you a major boost in an oft-forgotten or at least generally mishandled category (batting average).

First things first, catcher isn’t as scarce as conventional wisdom suggests.  It’s not superstar-laden, but the upper crust (8 or 9 guys spread across two, maybe three tiers) is thicker and the mid-to-late round options contain about 10 or so guys who don’t vary much in their overall value.

The point of this article is less about scarcity and more about that perceived top option.  I have nothing against Mauer.  Despite being a Tigers fan with the Twins as one of our chief rivals, I really like the guy.  I actually want him to become the guy he was in 2009 and I was convinced he would be for most of the 2010 offseason until March hit and I came to my senses and backed off in the nick of time (a lot of it had to due with reading some convincing pieces, namely by Ron Shandler).  I still think he’s capable of being truly elite when it comes to power and pure hitting, but until he shows it that 2009 season is a major outlier.

When I posted my catcher rankings back on February 9th, I had Mauer first.  In fact every single one of the seven offseason magazines I sheepishly admit to having bought (Borders giftcard + addiction to fantasy baseball = win!) did, too.  I have thought long and hard about it and I’m making a change.  This is not home team bias driven, but I think Victor Martinez should be the top catcher for 2011.

Before I get into why, I want to clarify that this doesn’t mean you have to draft him first.  I think he will have the most value, but you will still see at least Mauer go before if not Brian McCann, Buster Posey and maybe even Carlos Santana, too.  Be careful, though, catcher is a position that tends to go in runs so if you see Mauer go, it is probably time to pounce on Martinez if you’re on board with my thoughts.

The reason I like him as the top catcher is the obvious one: he’s not going to be catching much at all.  The problem with catchers is the position.  It’s a grueling position that inherently wears guys down and cuts into their offensive value in a myriad of ways, most of which I already covered.  The general degradation of their bodies as the season progresses just eats into their value.

The Tigers are planning to play Martinez at DH most days, catcher every once in a while to spell Alex Avila and some first base when Miguel Cabrera needs a partial day off and moves to DH.  Speaking of Cabrera, if a worst-case scenario came to fruition for the Tigers whereby they missed Cabrera for any amount of time due to his off-the-field issues, then that would just mean more time for Martinez not catching as he is the primary backup at first.

So what does not catching do to his value?  We have a glimpse of it in the form of his 2009 season.  He caught 85 games and played first for another 70 logging a career high 155 games and essentially matched the production in line with his best seasons.  Coming at age 30 for a catcher, that’s impressive.  His OPS+ was 126, 3rd-highest of his career (130 as a 26 year old, 129 at 28).  He hit .303 with 23 homers and 108 RBIs (2nd-best HR, RBI totals and 3rd-best AVG of his career).

In the 2011, his split between games catching and not catching will be much greater which should result in another 150+ games played and could even yield career-high production.  I think we could see as much as a 7-10% increase of his production from 2009 season with the bulk of his catching duties removed from his plate combined with the fact that he is still in his prime (although 32 years old is generally regarded as that final year of the prime).

Just using the low end of that increase yields a .324 average, 25 home runs, 116 RBIs and 94 runs scored, which would no doubt lap the field in terms of catchers.  In fact, unless Mauer repeats his 2009, Martinez with “just” a .300-20-100- season is better than Mauer at .330-10-80.  Mauer’s batting average advantage offers .002 more to the bottom line over Martinez, but Martinez more than makes up that difference with 10 more HRs and 20 more RBI.  Martinez has three 20-100 seasons; two included a .300+ average.  He also had .302-20-79 last year in just 127 games.

Consider also that power is drying up recently making his 20+ ability all the more valuable, especially since it doesn’t come with the deficiencies found in a Mike Napoli 20-homer season (granted, V-Mart costs more than Nap, too).  Mauer’s batting average boost is nice, there is no denying that, especially since he is capable of .350 in any given season, but Martinez is hardly a liability there and he often logs more at-bats than Mauer.  Mauer has yet to reach 540 at-bats in a season while Martinez has four such seasons, three of which topped 560.

For as great a hitter as Mauer is, he has yet to rack up 100 RBIs in any given season, either.  Martinez has three such seasons.  I’m struggling to see why Mauer is an unchallenged #1 at the position.  The batting average impact is undeniable.  His “worst” season in the last three was last year’s .327, but compared to Martinez the advantage isn’t as glaring.  Apart from 2009’s explosion of 28 homers, he has reached double digits just once (13, 2006).  Same with topping 85 RBIs, only 2009’s 96 fit the bill.

Instead of betting on what Mauer can be, why not invest in what Martinez already is?  There is too much risk tied up in catchers already before you even get into the personal situations of each, but then you look at Mauer with his injury history combined with the underwhelming production save the one star category.

Looking at Martinez, you’re alleviating a great deal of the risk associated with catching by getting a catcher-eligible DH/1B, combining that with a proven track record of power production at a position lacking it (just four 20+ HR hitters in 2010; more than four just once since 2003 [2009]) with a guy still in his prime.  Adding it all up, you have a new #1 atop the catcher rankings.  Martinez is your guy if you want to go with catching early.