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.
By Tommy Rancel //
When you think of power positions in baseball you immediately gravitate toward the corners. In fact, last season nine of the top-10 home run hitters had fantasy eligibility at first base, right field, third base or left field. These four positions produced 15 hitters with at least 30 home runs including league-leader Jose Bautista, who started at three corner positions (1B, 3B, RF) in 2010. While the bulk of major league power will continue to come from these positions, there is some power to be had up the middle as well.
The following list is comprised of players with middle of the field (2B, SS, C, CF) eligibility who are projected to hit at least 25 home runs in 2011 by Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary system.
Uggla has been a steady source of power from the second base position. He has hit at least 27 home runs in each of his five big league seasons and has topped 30 in each of the last four years. Although he changed uniforms this offseason, Uggla shouldn’t see much of a difference in home runs and is projected to top the 30 home run plateau for a fifth straight season.
Moving down the list, reigning AL MVP Josh Hamilton and NL MVP candidate Hanley Ramirez come as no surprise. Both are ranked within the top-25 of all players according to Bloomberg Sports and will come off the board quickly on draft day.
While the list features some well-known names, there are two under-the-radar candidates among the bunch. After a breakout season in 2009, Aaron Hill hit just .206 with a .695 OPS last season. The good news is he still packed some punch and belted 26 home runs. His 62 home runs since 2009 are second behind Uggla (64) among second basemen. Bloomberg Sports’ projects him for another 27 home runs this year with a nice rebound in batting average as well.
The lone catcher on the list is Mike Napoli. Although he made a pit stop in Toronto, Napoli finds himself in a hitter-friendly environment with the Texas Rangers. He will spend some time at first base and DH, but Napoli’s value comes in his catcher eligibility. He led MLB catchers with 26 long balls last season and should have no trouble matching that number this year; especially in his new digs.
by Eno Sarris //
Most health updates at this point in the season are nigh useless. Yes, many major leaguers enter spring training in the best shape of their life. Why should we care?
In the case of Indians catcher Carlos Santana, there’s a little more significance to this latest piece of news:
Almost six months to the date after knee surgery to fix a strained LCL and hyper-extended knee suffered in this horrific collision, it looks like Carlos Santana is looking good again. He can catch and run the bases – he’ll get a full spring training.
Projection systems can’t always take injuries into consideration. Sure, they can read that he ‘only’ managed 438 plate appearances next year, and take that into consideration when predicting his playing time this year, but they can’t examine the knee and declare it structurally sound. Bloomberg’s Front Office tool did its best, using the sage B-Rank to project Santana for a .257 batting average, with 18 home runs, 66 RBI and one stolen base in 538 plate appearances. Those numbers look nice, and will play at a tough fantasy posiiton, even if we can’t see the MRIs and examine the ligament ourselves.
What we can do is remark how spectacular Santana has already been by taking a look at his abbreviated 2010 season. Last year, he showed an OBP over .400 by walking in as many at-bats as he struck out (19.3% walk and strikeout rates in 2010). He also had a .207 ISO (isolated slugging percentage, or SLG – AVG), which translates to above-average for the general population (.150 is about average), but even better when compared to other catchers. In fact, only eight catchers have shown an ISO above .200 since 2005, and none of them showed the same elite plate discipline.
Carlos Santana has already shown he belongs. Once he shows he’s healthy, his price will begin rising. And appropriately so – he’s likely to end the season as a top option at his position. Recent mocks have Santana going anywhere from the seventh to the fifteenth round, but with this news expect that second number to get smaller.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
By Tommy Rancel //
The New York Mets are headed toward the end of another disappointing season. With that in mind, the next month and a half should be more about the future than the present. One player who could benefit from this shift is catcher Josh Thole.
With a successful call-up in 2009 (.321/.356/.396 in 59 plate appearances) under his belt, and Rod Barajas’ injury, the young catcher has been receiving more playing time at the major league level – mostly as R.A. Dickey‘s personal catcher. As a fantasy player, he can help your team in batting average, and if your league counts the category, on-base percentage – two boosts you don’t normally expect from the catcher position.
Although he lacks power, Thole has shown the ability to get on base at every level. In six minor league seasons, he owns an on-base percentage of .378. In 48 major league games, he’s been on base more than 39% of the time.
After hitting .321 in his first 17 games last season, he is hitting .324 in 31 games this year. True to his contact-hitting label, the 23-year-old is making contact on 94.3% of the swings he takes. To put that in perspective, only two major leaguers who qualify for the batting title have a contact rate higher than Thole (Marco Scutaro and Juan Pierre).
Of course, when any player hits for a high average in such a small sample size, there is a chance it could be due to luck or random fluctuation. To help us look into that, we can check Thole’s batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Currently, his BABIP of .362 is well above the MLB average of .298. On the other hand, Thole has always had an above-average BABIP. In his minor league career, his BABIP is .326 – including a .359 mark last season.
Despite the high BABIP, the percentage of line drives hit by Thole is relatively normal. Since line drives are the type of batted ball most likely to fall for a hit, a high LD% would contribute to a flukishly high BABIP. In Thole’s case a 20.7% LD rate could be sustainable. In a bit of a surprise, the catcher has seen a decent number of hits come via the ground ball. Without great speed, this is one area where we might see some regression.
In addition to the average, Thole is walking 13.9% of the time – while striking out just 13.2% of the time. He is swinging at less than one-fifth of pitches out of the strike zone, and has whiffed on just 2% of his swings.
With good plate discipline, and the ability to slap the ball around the yard, Thole is a nice backup plan for any fantasy owner. Although he is only playing two or three times a week now, his playing time could increase as the Mets fall further out of contention. Despite the lack of power, his high OBP and AVG would be a welcomed addition to NL-only or deep mixed league squads.
For more on Josh Thole and other potential rookie pickups check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits
By R.J. Anderson //
It’s only reasonable that whenever a player goes from one of the best hitting environments in baseball to one of the worst, the expectations for his offensive performance should move down. Evidently, Yorvit Torrealba disagrees with the premise. The 31-year-old backstop spent the last four seasons playing in the Colorado Rockies’ hitter-friendly haven Coors Field, before signing on to play in the San Diego Padres’ pitcher paradise, Petco Park. Yet Torrealba is in the midst of a career year.
Torrealba’s career line with the Rockies, an aweless .258 AVG/.316 OBP/.394 SLG, falls into line with the five-year total he produced with the San Francisco Giants (.251/.318/.393). This year, he’s at .317/.381/.400. Before hounding on how unlikely this development is on so many levels (age, position, park, etc.) take a look at how players who spent time in San Diego and Colorado fared offensively (minimum: 150 AB with each team).
This is an imperfect set of comparisons because age isn’t taken into consideration whatsoever. It does a decent job, though, in illustrating that no matter the year, moving from Colorado to San Diego is less conductive to batting average increases. Of those 11 players, only four saw their batting average go up transitioning to San Diego, and the highest gain stands at a seven-point increase. Torrealba’s average is up more than 60 points.
Beyond the ballpark, look at Torrealba’s age and position again. Only Ivan Rodriguez, Javy Lopez, and Mike Piazza have topped Torrealba’s average since 2000 while being between 30 and 32 years of age. It’s incredibly rare for an older catcher to have his career best season. They generally age poorly at the plate, hence why most of the good offensive catchers, like Piazza and Johnny Bench, move away from backstopping as they age.
A few root causes to note: career-high .373 batting average on balls in play (mostly luck – his career line is .304), and a drop in K rate to 16.6% (career mark is 19.2%). Still, most of Torrealba’s unexpected production is probably just the usual noise associated with a small sample of just 226 plate appearances. In an NL-only league, especially one that rosters two catchers per team, Torrealba’s fine to hold. Otherwise, no need to give him a second look.
For more information on Yorvit Torrealba and hundreds of other players, and for dozens of tools to help you dominate your fantasy league, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.
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.
By R.J. Anderson //
To say Matt Wieters may have been a tad bit overhyped is more than fair at this point in the catcher’s career. Through the first 637 plate appearance of his career, Wieters slash line is a paltry .264/.322/.384. For the sake of comparison, Jason Kendall’s career line is .289/.367/.380. That’s counting some excellent seasons earlier in his career…but, still.
Everything about Wieters screams that he should be performing better than last year. His walk rate has increased nearly a full percentage point (from 7.3% to 8.1%), his strikeouts have declined (from 24.3% to 22.9%), and his ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average, an indicator of power hitting) has remained nearly the same (.124 to .115).
The elephant in the elevator is Wieters’ batting average on balls in play and batted ball profile. He’s hitting more groundballs than last year (roughly 5% more; or 47% total) and yet his BABIP has dropped nearly .100 points, to less .269 (league average is typically around .300).
Generally, putting the ball on the ground means more singles and fewer extra-base hits. Yet, that doesn’t always hold true when the batter isn’t fast enough to beat out close plays for infield hits. Wieters has all of four career infield hits; that lack of speed, combined with an unhealthy dose of poor luck, have been the culprits.
The reality of the situation is that Wieters’ hype has caused fantasy owners to hold on a little longer than they should. In keeper leagues, he’s well worth a hold.
But standard 12-team mixed league owners can probably find better options elsewhere. To name two: Angels’ catcher Mike Napoli’s already reached double-digit home runs, and Miguel Montero recently returned for the Diamondbacks and is mashing, while hitting in the middle of the Arizona lineup.
For more on Matt Wieters and other catchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
In the summer of 2008, the Dodgers acquired Casey Blake from the Cleveland Indians. Blake, 36, was a soon-to-be free agent after the season. In exchange for a few months of Blake’s services, the Dodgers parted ways with catching prospect Carlos Santana and minor league relief pitcher Jonathan Meloan.
The Dodgers re-signed Blake after the ’08 season, and the four-corner man (1B/3B/RF/LF) has been a good player for Los Angeles. On the other hand, he is far from an impact player. While it may have not seemed like it at the time of the trade, one of the players sent to the Indians may indeed become an impact player.
Jon Meloan has bounced around the league, from Cleveland to Tampa Bay to Oakland. Meanwhile, Carlos Santana has become a top-10 prospect in baseball. With the Indians already out of the race 2010, the focus has shifted to the future.
Santana figures to be a key part of that future. A former third baseman/outfielder, Santana was converted to catcher in 2007. His defense is still questionable, but Santana’s ability at the plate has him ready for the big leagues right now.
In 2008, while splitting time between the two organizations, Santana hit .326/.431/.568 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 21 home runs and 117 RBI. That said, 560 of his 568 plate appearances came at the Single-A level. The Indians promoted him to Double-A in 2009, and he responded by hitting .290/.413/.530 with 23 home runs and 30 doubles. Ready for the top level of the minors in 2010, Santana appeared in 57 games for Triple-A Columbus – compiling a slash line of .316/.447/.597 with 13 longballs in just 246 PAs.
Along with a good batting average, and very good power (.241 Isolated power, aka slugging minus batting average, in 2009), perhaps Santana’s greatest skill is his batting eye. As a member of the Indians farm system, he walked 145 times and struck out just 132 times over the past two plus seasons. Throughout his minor league career, he has 333 walks and 322 strikeouts. It is that fantastic plate discipline that should help ease the transition from a good minor league hitter to a good major league one.
So far, so good. In his first four games as a major leaguer, Santana had three walks and just one strikeout. He also belted his first major league home run on Saturday. Although his batting average may take an initial hit at the top level, his plate discipline should keep him on base at an above-average clip.
Despite playing in the same division as Joe Mauer, don’t expect Mauer-like production, at least not right away. Meanwhile, looking at the man Santana indirectly replaced, Victor Martinez, we may have a more apt comparison. If Santana is on your waiver wire, put in a claim immediately in all mixed-league and AL-only formats.
Not much has gone the Indians’ way in 2010, but Santana’s supernatural on-base ability should be fun to watch this summer.
For more on Carlos Santana and other top prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.
By Tommy Rancel //
Over the past few months we’ve warned about small sample sizes. This is especially true for veteran players with large career sample sizes, or big-named stars going through early-season slumps. However, there are certain times when you have to put sample size aside and jump in while the gettin’ is good. George Kottaras is a prime example of someone worth riding the sample size wave.
With Gregg Zaun out due to a torn labrum, the former San Diego Padres/Boston Red Sox farmhand is enjoying life as the Milwaukee Brewers primary backstop. It seems a little outlandish to get excited about a 27-year-old with 200 career plate appearances, but there is something very interesting about this career .234 hitter.
Though Kottaras has been ugly (.217), he’s been an on-base machine in the early stages of 2010, posting a .393 OBP to date. The secret to his success is simple; Kottaras likes to take 90-foot walks along the first-base line. In fact, nearly one-fourth of his plate appearances have ended in a base-on-balls.
Kottaras showed a good eye in the minor leagues (12% walk rate in Triple-A), but not this good. Beyond the nearly 25% walk rate, he is laying off pitches out of the zone (13.6% O-swing, or swings outside of the strike zone), and not missing when he does swing (3.8% swinging-strike percentage). Another key aspect is getting ahead in the count. While the league-average hitter sees a first-pitch strike 59% of the time, Kottaras falls behind just 51%.
Outside of the terrific patience, Kottaras is showing some nice pop at the plate. Twelve of his 18 hits have gone for extra bases, including five home runs. Of course, no one expects Kottaras to put up a .265 ISO (Isolated Power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) for the duration of the season. That said, Kottaras belted 22 home runs as a minor leaguer in 2008. ZiPs projects him to hit a home run once every 28 plate appearances and a double once every 17. If he amasses 400 PAs this year, that would give him around 15 home runs and 21 doubles.
As for the low batting average, Kottaras has a lower than normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) – even for a catcher. The league-average BABIP is .297; Kottaras’ is a microscopic .197. With more line drives (9.0%), Kottaras is likely to see positive regression in his average.
Because of that low average, and Kottaras’ relative obscurity, he is barely owned in fantasy leagues. While we don’t expect him to continue walking at Barry Bonds-like levels, Kottaras is a buy-low candidate, especially in NL-only leagues.
If he levels out to an average hitter with gap power by season’s end, that would still make him one of the better offensive catchers in the senior circuit. On the other hand, there is a fair chance that Kottaras is a sample size anomaly. Regardless, this hot hand is definitely worth the risk in deeper leagues, given the low cost and the shallow talent pool at the position.
For more on George Kottaras and other buy-low candidates, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
It was not too long ago when Geovany Soto was considered a future star in Chicago. The Cubs catcher looked like a major offensive weapon at a position largely void of heavy hitters, hitting .285/.364/.504 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in his breakout 2008 campaign and earning National League Rookie of the Year honors.
The bar was set high for Soto in 2009. But his season got off to a rough start. As a member of Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, word broke of a failed drug test. In addition to the off-field problems, Soto struggled on the field for most of 2009, hitting just .218/.321/.381 in his second full season.
Soto saw steep declines in several categories, including: home runs (23 to 11), RBI (86 to 47) and runs scored (66 to 27). After playing 141 games in ’08, he played just 102 games in ’09, as a strained oblique knocked out a chunk of his summer.
Healthy, and seemingly clear of trouble, Soto has rebounded to 2008 levels and beyond. The 27-year-old is hitting .298/.463/.468 after 32 games in 2010. He has already scored 17 runs after crossing the plate just 27 times last year.
Soto’s strong start is similar to that of Carlos Ruiz; whom we spoke about last week. Like Ruiz, Soto has been the beneficiary of a lucky batting average on balls in play (BABIP). His career BABIP is .310. So far this year that number sits at .353. On the other hand, his .246 BABIP in ’09 suggests there was some bad luck last season.
His high 2010 BABIP is driven by a robust 26.4% line drive rate. As mentioned in the Ruiz post, only four players had an LD% above 24% last year. Soto’s career rate is 20.3%.
There will likely be some regression here, but it shouldn’t be too damaging. ZiPs projects him to hit .275 at season’s end. That’s an expected 23-point drop from his current level, but still above his career average of .268.
In another similarity to Ruiz, Soto is walking more than ever. Soto has always had a good walk rate (12% career), but is now walking nearly 1/4 of the time. For the first time in his career, his walk rate (23.6%) tops his strikeout rate (23.4%). That’s a rare feat seen only among players with the sharpest batting eyes.
The improved walk rate has a direct correlation to improved pitch selection. Career-wise, Soto has swung at 18.8% of pitches outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%). In 2010, he is chasing just 12.5% of pitches out of the zone – the second-lowest percentage in the majors (min. 90 plate appearances).
If you own Soto, hang on to him. His batting average will likely regress, but the improved plate discipline should allow him to maintain an excellent on-base percentage. He also continues to show good power from behind the dish, another rarity.
If you don’t have Soto and need a catcher, make sure to put his name at the top of your shopping list. The bounty is likely too high right now, but if his average starts to slip, the price may come down. At that point, be prepared to strike quickly.
For more on Geovany Soto, Carlos Ruiz, and potential breakouts, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.