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 Tom Trudeau
The inaugural LABR mixed league draft was held this past Saturday night, causing some of the industry’s brightest minds to miss the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Competing against an experienced group of fantasy owners made it even more important to dig deep for undervalued commodities. Using Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office 2012, I was able to find those commodities at the catcher position.
Determining replacement level and evaluating positional scarcity are two of the toughest tasks facing an owner in a deep league with a lot of positions. A top-200 list for a typical 10-team league should look very different from a top-200 list for a 15-team league with two catchers, five outfielders, a middle infielder, and a corner infielder, since any change to positional requirements affects replacement level across the board.
It’s hard to overstate how much more valuable catchers are in a two-catcher league. Front Office generates “B-Ranks” for each player based on the league’s settings. For example, Mike Napoli’s B-Rank in a one-catcher, 15-team league is 42nd, while Carlos Santana checks in at 55th. For mixed LABR, those B-Ranks jump to 21st and 28th, respectively. B-Ranks for backstops increased enough to make catchers roughly twice as valuable in the LABR draft, by far the biggest increase of any position. This made catchers the most undervalued commodity on draft day, relative to a typical top-300 list or even the ADP results that the experts study.
With this in mind, I was thrilled to land the top-ranked catcher, Mike Napoli, with the 32nd pick, Joe Mauer with the 59th pick, and Salvador Perez with the 269th pick. Perez’ B-Rank of 109 made him one of the best value picks of the day for my squad. He instantly becomes either an overqualified backup or a valuable trade chip in a league where other owners will be forced to start catchers such as Ryan Hanigan, Wilin Rosario, and Yorvit Torrealba.
Click here to see the complete results.
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.
By Bloomberg Sports //
Last season’s AL MVP, Joe Mauer, has seen his home run numbers drastically decline this season as compared to his 2009 level. Mauer hit a career-high 28 homers during his MVP campaign, but so far this year he has hit only two.
Using Bloomberg Sports’ statistical tools, we can see that Mauer’s home run output both in 2009 and in 2010 were uncharacteristic, and that his power numbers should regulate somewhere in between the two.
First, it must be mentioned that Mauer’s OPS in 2009 was unusually high for his career, and a neutral observer might conclude that 2009 was a fluke. Others could argue that this surge had to do with natural age progression, as he reached the age of 26, a milestone at which many players begin to peak. Thus, despite Mauer’s current career OPS of .887, it could be argued that his 1.031 2009 OPS would have some staying power. Mauer’s monster season prompted the Twins to hand him an eight-year, $184 million contract extension in March.
Mauer’s two homers this year-to-date have thus raised concerns in Minnesota. We can point to his fluctuating home runs per flyball rate as a cause of this season’s power outage – as well as Mauer’s 2009 outlier season. From 2005 to 2008, that rate ranged from 6.5% to 10.8% — league average typically hovers around 10%. However, in 2009, Mauer’s HR/FB rate jumped to a stratospheric 20.4%. Thus maybe this shift, rather than indicating anything in particular about Mauer’s game, indicates that a lot of Mauer’s power in 2009 was the result of a statistical variation. If this dramatic increase had been accompanied by a drastic change in body type it would be understandable, but Mauer’s body did not noticeably change.
This season, Mauer’s homerun per fly ball out rate has regressed to just 5.7%, a career low, but also closer to the pre-2009 range. The numbers clearly point to 2009 being an outlier in this respect. Granted, a couple of unmentioned variables might be pulling down Mauer’s HR/FB rate this year. One, the Twins’ move to Target Field from the Metrodome might be affecting his power numbers, especially through the early, colder-weather months of the season. Second, pitchers might be attacking Mauer differently this season, following his ’09 power outburst. Let us explore these two possibilities.
Mauer’s new home, Target Field, has been the third-worst ballpark for home runs, in front of only Citi Field and the Oakland Coliseum, according to ESPN.com’s MLB Park Factors. However, through just over one-third of the season, it is tough to say that this phenomenon is reliable or that it will remain constant. After all, it typically takes three years before you can properly trust a given stadium’s park factor. Meanwhile, Mauer’s previous home, the Metrodome, played as roughly home run neutral. The dimensions of the two fields are very similar, so expect Target Field to be less home run-stubborn than it currently is, especially in the warmer summer months. To date, Mauer’s OPS is 80 points lower at home than away.
Maybe pitchers are attacking Mauer differently too. This argument could potentially explain some of the catcher’s power struggles. Pitchers, in fact, have been unwilling to throw him fastballs in certain counts, and seem to have replaced them with changeups, and occasionally curveballs. In 2009, on 0-1 and 2-2 counts, Mauer saw a majority of fastballs. However, this season, in the same counts, he’s seen a fastball only about one-third of the time. This change by the pitchers seems smart, as Mauer had a lethal 1.077 OPS against four-seam fastballs from 2006 through 2009. Meanwhile, he now sees almost three times as many curveballs on the first pitch and in 2-2 counts, according to Bloomberg Sports tools, when compared to 2009. This adjustment by pitchers seems appropriate, as Mauer had a .483 OPS against curveballs dating back to ’06. Lastly, Mauer has seen more changeups in 1-2, 2-1, and 2-2 counts, although he has fared well against the changeup in his career, so this adjustment should have had no effect.
Target Field’s low home run rate and the new approach by pitchers may be hurting Mauer’s home run numbers. But the statistical variation in his HR/FB rate also helps explains the drastic difference between 2009 and 2010. That rate suggests that Mauer’s MVP-type numbers may have been affected by a statistical outlier, and that fans and teams may have to reassess their expectations for Mauer’s power numbers. In regards to how pitchers are approaching Mauer, it seems unlikely that the recent adjustments can explain this year’s low home run total, as he has been a top player in the league since 2004, and pitchers have been adjusting to his tendencies every year. Meanwhile, Target Field has been playing like a large shopping mall – but it does not explain Mauer’s low road home run total, or the fact that he has yet to hit any homers at home.
Expect a middle ground to emerge between the home run binge Mauer showed last season and the drought he’s experienced in 2010.
By Eriq Gardner
Last season, Joe Mauer took home the AL MVP after slugging 28 HR, 96 RBI, and a .365 AVG. It’s nearly indisputable that Mauer had one of the finest seasons ever by a catcher. Yet hardly any fantasy baseball idea is more controversial than the prospect of taking a catcher in the first round.
Some people who blanch at Mauer as a high pick might be nervous about the inherent risks of investing in a catcher, the one position on the diamond (other than pitcher) where no player can every day, and where injuries and wear are big concerns. Others point to Mauer’s HR-to-flyball leap (from 6.5% in 2008 to 20.4% in 2009), seeing it as a clear sign that “Mauer power” is illusory.
However, the best case for Mauer as a solid first-round pick has nothing to do with faith he’ll keep up the HRs. Nor does it have anything to do with batting average, his most famous advantage over other players. It comes down to another category in which he’s so spectacular, he holds the potential of helping a team go a long way toward winning it.
That category is runs — probably the least-considered one in fantasy baseball. It’s also the category that’s been shown repeatedly as most correlative with a fantasy team’s hitting success.
Competitors tend to dismiss the runs category, perhaps because they see it as outside of their control. A player crosses the plate, after all, not just based on his ability, but also due to other players’ ability to drive him in.
However, it follows that getting on base is a skill, and that those who do it well score more runs. Over the last three years, only three batters with more than 600 at-bats (Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, and Todd Helton) have gotten on-base more than Joe Mauer.
The result is that Mauer crosses the plate a lot. Over the last three seasons, he’s averaged 85 runs scored. He scored 94 in 2009. In 2010, he’s projected to score 92 times.
How valuable is that? Let’s put it in perspective.
Among catchers, he’s a beast. Last year, he scored 30 more runs than the average Top-10 catcher. He did this despite missing the first month of the season. Here’s a graphical look at Mauer’s performance last year. Note, too, those 112 AB as a DH:
Going into 2010, Bloomberg projects Mauer to have a 25-run advantage on the top-10 leading run scorers at catcher. Is that a lot? Let’s look at how other players in the first round stack up in the runs category compared to the top-10 projected run scorers at their respective positions.
As you’ll see above, Mauer (+25) holds a bigger advantage compared to his peers than Pujols (+12), Chase Utley (+12), Alex Rodriguez (+12), and Ryan Braun (+1).
Perhaps it’s time we began to look at things differently. Maybe Joe Mauer is to runs as players like Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are to steals. This may sound controversial, but after going through several drafts already this year, and then projecting the seasons out, I’ve typically found that the team in my league that drafts Mauer is usually the one projected to win the runs category — and give himself a huge leg up on a league title.
For more information on Joe Mauer and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy tools.
Welcome to the debut of the Bloomberg Sports blog, a partner of Major
League Baseball and part of the MLBlogs network. Starting today and
continuing through the final pitch of the World Series, we’ll cover all
the hot topics in baseball and fantasy baseball, with the help of Bloomberg Sports’ proprietary software and analytics.
Say you’re preparing for your fantasy draft, targeting Joe Mauer as
your starting catcher. Bloomberg Sports’ Draft Kit includes rankings
for every player, called B-Rank. Using B-Rank, you’ll see how Mauer
stacks up against all other players.
You can then delve deeper. Say you want to eyeball a player’s value against others at the
same position, then make an informed decision on when in the draft to
grab him. Bloomberg Sports’ Scarcity vs. Demand graph shows you a graph
of the top 10 players at that position, how high each one should be
drafted, and where the best values might lie. If you’re scouting Mauer,
the yellow dot representing the Twins catcher will show up far above
all other catchers, a sign of his unique value.
Now let’s explore a player whose ranking isn’t as obvious, newly signed Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Adam LaRoche.
According to B-Rank, LaRoche rates 17th among all major league first basemen for projected 2010 fantasy value, given standard 5×5 criteria. In a 12-team National League-only league or deep mixed league, LaRoche would be worthy of a starting job. He would project as a mid-to-late round pick, in a cluster with decent but unspectacular players like the Dodgers’ James Loney in the Scarcity vs. Demand graph.
Using our Spider Chart, you can see that LaRoche derives most of his value from counting stats such as home runs, runs scored and RBI, with less value derived from his batting average and virtually none from stolen bases. At a glance, you can spot LaRoche’s 2009 totals in every category against other players major league-wide, or just other first basemen. His 25 home runs, for instance, placed just below the average of 27 homers for qualifying MLB starters at first base, well below the MLB-leading total of 47 at that position.
Using the Scatterplot tool, you can
compare LaRoche’s value across two categories at once, measured against the top 10 players
in that two-category combination — home runs and batting average, RBI and stolen bases, and other customizable combinations.
The Bloomberg Sports team of writers will then dig up more nuggets of information for your perusal. Say you’re satisfied with LaRoche as a low-end starter for your team. But you’re concerned about his large splits – for his career, LaRoche has batted .252/.326/.447 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in the first half, with a much stronger .300/.363/.546 line in the second half. You might then view LaRoche as someone to target in trade around the All-Star break, rather than spending a pick on him in your draft or auction.
Ascertaining why a player fares better in one half of the season compared to the other can be a tough task. Often it’s the equivalent of flipping a coin and landing on heads five times in a row: a rare but possible occurrence that’s based simply on random chance.
Occasionally there might be other reasons. Some players perform better in warmer weather, or at least hit for more power in warmer weather. In Pittsburgh and even Atlanta, where he played the bulk of his first six major league seasons, LaRoche’s power indicators jumped across the board as temperatures rose. For his career, he’s hit home runs on 12.7% of his flyballs in March and April, 11.7% in May and 12.8% in June. That number soars to 18.9% in July and 17.0% in August, making LaRoche a greater power threat in the warmer summer months. In sweltering Phoenix, LaRoche can expect average highs of 84 in April and 93 in May. By June, the Diamondbacks will likely close their retractable roof for most games, with average temperatures near or over 100 for the final four months of the season. The closed roof would in turn create cooler home playing conditions as the season wore on.
We can’t say for certain if LaRoche’s superior performance and higher power output in the second half is the result of warmer weather – it could simply be another way to look at the same random streak of better second-half performances. If it is weather-related, though, playing in Arizona, and facing warmer-weather opponents more often in the NL West, could portend a hotter-than-usual start for LaRoche.
LaRoche could also get a boost from more favorable ballpark effects. Chase Field consistently ranks as one of the most favorable stadiums in baseball for hitters – second behind Coors Field in run factor last season and second behind Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Chase’s configuration also plays to one of LaRoche’s greatest strengths as a hitter. LaRoche has averaged 37.5 doubles per year in the past four seasons, ranking him among the league leaders in that category. Only Fenway Park, with its shallow, towering Green Monster, has yielded a higher doubles effect in the past two seasons than Chase Field.
Once the season starts, Bloomberg Sports’ In-Season tools let you
track a player’s day-today performance down to the finest details. Say
you drafted LaRoche and he got off to another slow start, hotter weather and all. The Visual Benchmark
tool lets you plot how LaRoche’s three home runs through the first 40
games of the season compare to different cohorts: other players at his
position, other National League players at his position, or the league
average for all players.
Still not sure if you should hold or cut bait? Using the
Competitive Factors tool, you can see how LaRoche’s new team stacks up
against the rest of the league. Last year, the Diamondbacks ranked 19th in batting average (20th in MLB in runs scored), despite their hitter-friendly home park. If Chris Young, Stephen Drew and other talented but erratic teammates don’t fare better in 2010, that suppresses LaRoche’s potential to score
and drive in runs – meaning you might want to consider a different option at first base.
This blog will help you leverage these and many other tools, by pairing Bloomberg
Sports analysis with the latest MLB happenings. Joining myself and
Bloomberg Sports’ Tyler McKee are the following writers:
His work has appeared in Baseball America, USA Today, ESPN.com, The Hardball
Times, FanGraphs, The Graphical Player, and RotoJunkie’s Annual
Baseball Draft Guide, The Fix.
Erik Hahmann: His baseball and fantasy baseball writing has appeared at Heater Magazine, DRaysBay and Beyond The Boxscore.
Tommy Rancel: He’s written for a number of publications, including Beyond The Boxscore, Inside the Majors and The Hardball Times.
Eno Sarris: He’s covered baseball and fantasy baseball for FanGraphs, Yahoo Fantasy
Baseball, RotoExperts and GodBlessBuckner on the Fanball network. He
won a Fantasy Sports Writers’ Association Award for his work at Fantasy
Pitchers and catchers are reporting throughout the Grapefruit and
Cactus Leagues and we couldn’t be more excited to start the season.
Bookmark bloombergsports.mlblogs.com for the latest news and analysis. You’ll also find us as a Featured blog at MLBlogs.com, as well in the MLBlogs.com Pro Blogs pull-down menu, under Fantasy.
Then, be sure to check out Bloomberg Sports’ Draft Kit and In-Season Tools.