Catcher tiers for Draft Day 2014
Fantasy owners tend to think of catcher as a weak position, and relative to the others, it is. It may always be, given the physical demands of the position. Catchers require more time off, and fewer at-bats mean fewer of everything else.
Tiers are designed to deliver the most efficient draft possible by
using player rankings to reveal the distribution of talent at each
position. A new tier begins whenever the next player down in the
rankings has a vastly different projected outcome from the one
preceding him. Reducing a position to five or six tiers instead of
30 or more individuals gives you a blueprint to follow as your
league's draft unfolds. Naturally, the position to target is the one
whose active tier is closest to completion. -- SW
Relative to itself, though, catcher just keeps getting stronger. The days of punting at the position if you don't get one of a select few early are long gone. More and more quality hitters are added each year, with fewer taken away. It's gotten to the point where the The Fallback Options, a perfectly serviceable tier at most every other position, are nothing more than overflow in standard 12-team leagues.
Yes, Travis d'Arnaud , a big-name prospect with an assured everyday role, might go undrafted in leagues where every team starts just one catcher. He's No. 14 at the position, after all, and it's not like anybody's using a catcher at utility. Again, fewer at-bats mean fewer of everything else.
Of course, leaving Yan Gomes for the waiver wire to begin the year would be even more egregious. With full-time at-bats, the 2013 breakout could be every bit as good as the seven catchers I rank ahead of him. But unless some owner doubles up at the position, which I certainly wouldn't advise, he's excess in 12-team mixed leagues.
With that kind of depth, perhaps we've come full circle with our approach to the position. Only instead of punting because we can do no right, we're punting because we can do no wrong.
The Near-Elite: Yadier Molina , Jonathan Lucroy , Wilin Rosario , Brian McCann
The Next-Best Things: Salvador Perez , Matt Wieters , Evan Gattis , Wilson Ramos , Jason Castro , Yan Gomes
The Fallback Options: Travis d'Arnaud , Mike Zunino , Miguel Montero , Jarrod Saltalamacchia , A.J. Pierzynski , Devin Mesoraco
The Last Resorts: Dioner Navarro , Yasmani Grandal , Alex Avila , Russell Martin , Josmil Pinto
The Leftovers: Carlos Ruiz , John Jaso , A.J. Ellis , Welington Castillo , Derek Norris , Chris Iannetta , Geovany Soto , Max Stassi , Jesus Montero , Stephen Vogt
Of course, just because the position offers 13 quality options doesn't mean all are on equal footing. Mauer, Posey and Santana are still the cream of the crop, with Molina and Lucroy not too far behind. With so many of the others crammed into the The Next-Best Things, though, that's where you'll get the best bang for your buck. Again, in one-catcher formats, you could conceivably wait until the end of the draft and still get a player from that tier.
Plus, at this position more than any other, the divisions between tiers are open for debate, thanks to the imperfect marriage between Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats, with power and plate discipline being the biggest points of contention. Santana, whose terrific walk rate doesn't make up for his .260-ish batting average in Rotisserie leagues, belongs in The Near-Elite in that format. Rosario and McCann, who mostly just provide home runs, are more like Next-Best Things in Head-to-Head points leagues. Go ahead and change them up if you like. No two leagues are the same anyway -- not unless you play the free game -- so as always, you should customize these tiers to suit your specific needs.
If anyone deserves emphasis beyond the tiers, it's Mauer. He'll be playing first base full-time this year, giving him the opportunity for more at-bats than every other catcher-eligible player. In other words, the condition that forever makes catcher the weakest position in Fantasy no longer applies to him. And if he's proven to be a stud in 120-130 games, just imagine him in 150.
So why not give him a separate tier? Well, he's still injury-prone -- hopefully less so at first base, but you should never assume a best-case scenario. Plus, tiering him separately gives him too much significance on Draft Day. The only other players with a top tier to themselves are Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera , and they go one and two overall. Should Mauer go after them? Obviously not, but going by the letter, he would deserve to as the player in the tier closest to completion. With no one to measure his value against, you don't know the appropriate time to take him. Your tiers should eliminate confusion on Draft Day, not create it. Tiering Mauer with Posey and Santana helps you keep your priorities straight.
That's true all the way down the line. Lucroy finished last year closer to Mauer, Posey and Santana than not, ranking second in Head-to-Head leagues and third in Rotisserie, but tiering him with them all but assures he's the one you'll get since he typically goes two or three rounds later. And as good as he is, he's not capable of the numbers Posey put up in 2012. You wouldn't want to limit your team's upside like that.
In two-catcher leagues, you'll obviously have to go a little deeper at the position, but you'll still be able to get at least one of The Next-Best Things at a discount. And because every player up to that point is considered "safe" in Fantasy, you'll still be able to choose from all the risk-reward types later. By now, you know what Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski will give you, but a breakthrough for d'Arnaud or Zunino would mean All-Star production. Mesoraco was about on their level a few years ago and is just now getting a chance to play every day. Even Last Resorts like Navarro, Grandal and Pinto qualify as sleepers to some degree, though the latter two are iffy for the start of the season.
The bottom line is the position has no shortage of depth, so even though you could make a case to tier Mauer and Lucroy higher, you'd rather be in a position to wait than reach for them.