BY ROB SHAW
There are often a few catchers who stand out as the finest of their generation. In the 1980s it was Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk. The 1990s brought us Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez. The 2000s were dominated by archrivals Jason Varitek and Jorge Posada. Now in the ’10s we have a fresh generation of talent.
The fifth best backstop this season will be Giants masked marvel Buster Posey. After a stellar rookie season that included 18 home runs and a .305 average, Posey was again enjoying some success last season while showing a little more plate discipline. This season Bloomberg Sports projects Posey to return to prominence after a nasty collision at home plate ended his sophomore season prematurely. Expect 17 home runs, 76 RBI, and a .282 batting clip.
Coming in at number four is the player with perhaps the most upside on this list, Carlos Santana. As a rookie last season, Santana powered 27 home runs with 79 RBI and 84 runs. Though he hit just .234, Santana’s 97 walks are a tremendous total for such a young player. Bloomberg Sports projects 25 home runs with 89 RBI and even five stolen bases for Santana this season.
The third best catcher this season is also the steadiest: Brian McCann. The Braves star has 20-plus home runs in five of the last six seasons. While he does not offer any speed on the base paths, he does have a great deal of power and usually hits for a high average. Expect 24 home runs with 85 RBI form the 28-year-old veteran.
Coming in as the second best catcher is Twins sensation Joe Mauer. Fantasy managers have to come to grips with what Mauer now offers. Since the move to Target Field, Mauer does not pack much pop. He also lacks speed due to the many leg injuries he has suffered behind the plate. On the other hand, Mauer is a high average option with solid run production. Expect 13 home runs with a .306 batting clip for the former MVP contender.
Finally, the top-hitting catcher in fantasy baseball is Mike Napoli. The Rangers slugger became a household name in Texas last season thanks to his 30 home runs and .319 average. Napoli proved his worth on the offensive and defensive side of the diamond and after going in the mid-to-late rounds of fantasy drafts last season he now ranks at the top of his position. Expect him to offer a repeat performance with 30 home runs and 87 RBI.
For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.
What a Catch!
The Best: Brian McCann, Braves
One of the most consistent catchers over the last five seasons has been Braves backstop Brian McCann. Though McCann has never had 25 home runs or 100 RBI in a season, the Georgia native has been an iron man, avoiding serious injury while blasting 20-plus home runs in each of the last five seasons. Best yet, at just 27 years old, McCann is still young and in his prime.
The Surprise: Alex Avila, Tigers
When Victor Martinez was originally brought into Detroit, it was assumed that he was responsible for most of the Tigers catching duties. It turns out that Martinez is truly the team’s designated hitter, while Alex Avila is the team’s top catcher. Just 24 years old, Avila has evolved into a slugger with 10 home runs and 45 RBI this season.
The Bust: Joe Mauer, Twins
Injuries have certainly played a large role in the Twins disappointing season. The problem is that even though Mauer has returned to the field, he is still seeking the potent bat that won him an MVP award just a few years back. Mauer’s last home run came on September 15, 2010. He has now gone 72 at bats without a dinger this season and he boasts just seven RBI.
Mauer is hurt by several factors including a lack of protection in the batting order and he calls home to a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Though he should improve this season, he likely will struggle to live up to his expectations entering the season.
The 2nd Half Sleeper: Wilson Ramos, Nationals
While most catchers break down late into the season, Wilson Ramos should be able to avoid a great deal of the wear and tear. That’s because at 23 years old, Ramos work behind the plate has yet to take its toll, plus the Nationals originally split playing time between Ramos and Ivan Rodriguez. In other words, as the team looks to provide Ramos with the majority of the playing time going forward, he should be fresher because of the limited action to start the season. A power bat with impressive plate discipline, Ramos is a rising talent.
By Bloomberg Sports //
Throughout All-Star week, Bloomberg Sports will be running head-to-head match-ups, pitting Bloomberg Sports analysis against Keith Hernandez’s decades of wit, wisdom and experience. Check back throughout the week as we cover first-half Bulls and Bears predictions for every position.
Leading off today: Catchers
The Machine (Bloomberg Sports) says:
Brian McCann has been one of the most consistent fantasy batters over the past three seasons. Starring at catcher, always a weak fantasy position, owners could pencil him in for 40 doubles, 20 home runs and 90 RBI. So far in 2010 his numbers are down a bit, with 16 doubles, 10 HR and 37 RBI.
Looking at McCann’s RBI total for 2010 we can see that he is just below the league average.
…while last year McCann’s RBI total was well above league average.
McCann has especially struggled with runners in scoring position so far, posting a .241 batting average in those situations in the first half. If he bounces back in the second half, as we should expect him to, his RBI numbers should increase significantly and help your fantasy team.
McCann’s low counting stat totals for the season have been buoyed by a strong performance in the month of July (he has posted a .905 OPS in the month so far) and they should continue to rise in the second half. He has actually walked significantly more often this season (up to 13.8% of his plate appearances from his career rate of 9.0%) which shows that he’s being more patient at the plate. This patience should help him be a more productive hitter overall and the boost in walk rate is responsible for him scoring 40 runs in the first half (his career high is 68) which is a nice bonus in 5×5 leagues, especially for a catcher.
If you can buy low during the All-Star break, the Bloomberg Sports computer thinks McCann will be a rock behind the plate for your fantasy team in the 2nd half.
The Man (Keith Hernandez) says:
“I think Joe Mauer this year has had a problem with the new stadium. He’s a guy who has won three batting championships. He’s had an OK first half. He hasn’t hit a lot of home runs, a lot of those home runs that were hit at the old ballpark were to the opposite field, and the new ballpark is a lot bigger; they’re being caught. I think he’ll make the adjustment, start hitting line drives and have another big strong finish.”
The Machine says:
If you own him, Miguel Olivo has given you great first-half production. Even so, this might be the perfect time to sell high on the Rockies catcher. Olivo’s first-half batting average of .325 is 76 points above his career average of .249. This is due, in large part, to his .398 batting average on balls in play, a figure which is much higher than the league average, as we can see in the graph below.
Olivo’s career mark in BABIP is .303 and he posted a .305 BABIP last season, so you should expect a large regression to the mean during the second half of the season.
While Olivo is walking more (he’s already set a new career high with 20 walks and is walking in 7.9% of his plate appearances, double his career rate) he is striking out at about the same rate he has established over his career. He’s already scored almost as many runs (42) as last season (51), a number which has been boosted by his high batting average and on-base percentage and which is therefore extremely likely to regress as well.
Olivo set a career high with 23 home runs last year and is at about the same pace with 11 so far this season. The power and walk numbers might be for real but, according to Bloomberg Sports tools, Olivo will have a hard time sustaining his batting average, runs and RBI over the second half of the season. With regression looming, and Chris Iannetta waiting in the wings, now is a perfect time to sell high on Miguel Olivo’s strong first half.
The Man says:
“Ronny Paulino has had a terrific first half for the Marlins, he’s hitting over .300; he’s getting a lot of playing time because of the injury to John Baker. Paulino is a player who has never kept himself in great shape. I think the excess playing time in the first half will wear him down in the second half.”
For more on catchers to buy, sell or hold for the second half, check out Bloomberg Sports’ complete suite of fantasy baseball tools.