Mar 15, 2012

"Don't Draft Catchers Early" | Strategy Mythbustin'




In the fantasy baseball universe, you're in one of two camps: those who try to get one of the top catchers (position scarcity!) or those who wait until the rest of their roster is already filled (all catchers stink!). The myth is that drafting catchers early is simply a bad strategy because the other players that you could draft early instead of a catcher are just too valuable to pass up on. That myth is strengthened by the thought that catchers are more brittle and will be more likely to spend some time on the DL.

To start, let's look at the 2012 projections by ADP and WERTH roto value to see how the value breaks down for the various rounds that catchers are being drafted in:
Catcher Avg Val
All Others
Diff
Round 4
-0.1
1.7
-1.8
Round 5
-1.2
1.8
-3
Round 6
-3.1
0.7
-3.8
Round 7
-2
0.8
-2.8
Round 8
-2.8
0.6
-3.4
Round 13
-3.8
-1.6
-2.2
Round 14
-4.2
-2
-2.2
Round 16
-4.8
-2.7
-2.1
Round 18
-4.9
-3.2
-1.7
Round 19
-6.1
-3.7
-2.4
Round 20
-6.3
-4.1
-2.2
If the projections hold true then drafting the first two catchers off the board in Round 4 (Carlos Santana or Mike Napoli) could work out just as well as drafting one after Round 13. The tier of catchers that goes from Round 5 to Round 8 isn't projected quite as well compared to the counterparts in the rounds they are being drafted though. From Round 13 to Round 20, the difference between drafting a catcher versus another position stays about the same.

What about the durability of these catchers though? Last year, two of the top four drafted catchers spent most of the year on the DL (Joe Mauer and Buster Posey) which brings the issue to the forefront. Of the 9 catchers that were taken within the earlier rounds last year, Mauer and Posey were the only two that experienced such dramatic drops in games played though. If you look at all players drafted in the first four rounds last year, there were 7 other hitters who experienced significant time lost on the DL (Hanley Ramirez, David Wright, Alex Rodriguez, Chase Utley, Ryan Zimmerman, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Morneau). So, having injuries hamper your season isn't unique to catchers necessarily.

Furthermore, if you look at the 2010 season, there were four catchers drafted before the 10th round and all four of them had over 500 PA that season. There were 7 hitters from the first four rounds at other positions that had significant DL time though. If we take it all the way back to 2009, there were five catchers drafted by the 10th round with four of the five having over 550 PA. In those two years, it was actually the catchers drafted between Rounds 10 to 15 that missed more time (6 of the 10 getting under 400 PA).

All in all, catcher does have some durability concerns on the whole but the catchers drafted at the top are more durable in most years. If durability is what scares you about the catcher position then drafting a top catcher should be more of a priority instead of waiting for the lesser options later on.

One other big issue with catchers is their reliability. Of the top 200 players last year, six were catchers and only one was drafted early. Mauer and Posey's injuries play a part in that but the position is still subject to some volatility. Brian McCannVictor Martinez and Mauer have been consistently among the top catchers drafted each year but the rest of the position fluctuates as Geovany Soto, Russell Martin, Ryan Doumit and others have shared time among being early draft picks.

When all is said and done, there is a lot of unpredictability at the catcher position. If you are going to invest in it, you want to invest in someone you trust. Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli seem to be worthy of your trust based on projections but they aren't the usual names you see at the top here. In the 4th and 18th rounds, you could grab Hunter Pence & Kurt Suzuki for nice value or Carlos Santana & Brennan Boesch for better projected value. The upside to the first option is that you have Hunter Pence but the downside is that you'll actually have to start Kurt Suzuki.

For this particular year, you have to go to one extreme or the other by drafting one of the top two or waiting until the tail end. The catchers who are being taken from Round 5 to Round 12 simply do not project well in comparison to who else you could be taking there. The catchers who are being taken at the very top actually do compare somewhat favorably though.

I wouldn't call this fantasy strategy myth completely busted but I would say it is plausible based on what we've seen in past years. For 2012, if you don't have one of the best, you might as well have one of the worst instead; there's no middle ground here.

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