Reality Check: There's a catch at catcher
John Buck and Evan Gattis are two popular additions to many Fantasy rosters. Our Scott White explains why you should go after one and not the other in his latest Reality Check.
They're two of the most added players at one of the weakest positions in Fantasy. They're homering in bunches, playing critical roles for teams that initially viewed them as no more than placeholders.
And yet they're still destined to lose their jobs later this year.
John Buck and Evan Gattis . They're alike in more than just their beardedness. And yet they require distinct approaches in Fantasy because of one key difference:
One has a long history of nothing. The other has a brief history of ... well, something.
Which sounds more appealing to you?
Oh, well, that's not entirely fair to Buck, is it? He had that All-Star appearance in 2010 with the Blue Jays, when he set career highs with a .281 batting average and 20 home runs. That's something, isn't it?
Sure, but he followed it with two nothing seasons for the Marlins in which he hit a combined .213. And for that little something he did in 2010, he still produced a .314 on-base percentage. Only 28 qualifying batters had a lower mark than that.
And only two of them were catchers.
So during his one "great" year, Buck was really just average. And what about this year? Even with everything he's done right so far, his on-base percentage is still only .318.
Oh, you Moneyball types kill me with your on-base nonsense. Baseball is a big game of Battleship. Hit or miss. That's all that matters. Batting average makes the world go 'round, and anyone who says otherwise can walk over here and see if I hit or miss.
About that. Apart from 2010, Buck's highest batting average for a single season is .247, and he entered this season with a career .235 mark. Yeah, he has some pop, but between the low contact rate and minimal walks, he's the definition of all or nothing.
|1.||Evan Gattis , C, Braves||63|
|2.||Tony Cingrani , SP, Reds||51|
|3.||John Buck , C, Mets||38|
|4.||Jake Westbrook , SP, Cardinals||38|
|5.||Barry Zito , SP, Giants||35|
|6.||Chris Carter , OF, Astros||30|
|7.||Brandon Crawford , SS, Giants||30|
|8.||Brandon Moss , 1B, Athletics||28|
|9.||Matt Adams , 1B, Cardinals||25|
|10.||Andrew Bailey , RP, Red Sox||24|
And too often, the nothing takes precedence.
Oh, pish posh. Didn't you see The Lion King? The past is the past. Learn from it or get hit by a stick. You remember A.J. Pierzynski ? Carlos Ruiz ? It's happening again, and it's mine this time! I know it! I've always known it! You won't trick me into dropping him, Scott White! You lose, suckers!
Ah yes, Pierzynski and Ruiz, two catchers who, at a stage when their best should already be well behind him, eschewed all historical data with career-best numbers. And they both did it last year, rendering all Fantasy writers' cries of track record, sample size and regression to the mean nothing more than white noise.
White noise? That's everything you write!
Oh, thank you, Statler. Give my regards to Waldorf, will you?
But come on. Just because you can identify an aberration or two doesn't mean it's the new basis for comparison. Think of all the players whose hot starts went on to mean absolutely nothing.
Having trouble? Well, that's kind of the point.
In 2004, Hee-Seop Choi hit nine home runs in his first 21 games. He would hit 21 more in his career. In 2005, Brian Roberts hit six home runs in his first 14 games. We all know him as a power hitter today, right? In 2006, Craig Wilson hit six home runs in his first 13 games. He finished that season as a bench player for the Yankees. Also in 2006, Jonny Gomes hit 10 home runs in his first 20 games. It wound up being half his total in a year he hit a Buck-like .216. In 2008, Casey Kotchman hit six home runs in his first 20 games. Yes, the same Casey Kotchman whose career high in homers is 14. That actually happened. In 2010, Jose Guillen hit seven home runs in his first 18 games. He hit .242 the rest of the way and hasn't played in the majors since.
Just last year, light-hitting, contact specialist Omar Infante hit five home runs in his first 13 games. Remember that? Probably not. It turned out to be completely irrelevant
The bottom line with these early-season overachievers, particularly ones with track records as extensive as Buck's, is that, outside of natural progression for a player in his mid-20s or some mechanical adjustment for a player who has long fallen short of his pedigree, they almost always revert to their usual selves.
Take Alex Gonzalez . His career batting average and OPS are about on par with Buck's, and he has demonstrated similar home run potential throughout his career. If he hit six home runs in his first 11 games, like Buck has this year, where would you expect him to go from there?
Well, he did hit four home runs in his first six games back in 2010 and had seven to go along with a .946 OPS by the end of April. But he proved to be exactly who we knew him to be the rest of the way, hitting .243 with a .701 OPS.
Look, if you came into this season planning to use catcher as sort of a vagrant position, continually swapping out your starter for the hot hand off the waiver wire, then yes, Buck certainly qualifies as the hot hand.
But if you have any hopes of landing a fixture at the position, you should look elsewhere, perhaps digging as deep as Tyler Flowers or Jason Castro or preemptively stashing a next-in-line type like Travis d'Arnaud or Mike Zunino . And certainly, if you still have a shot at Gattis, who remains unowned in more leagues than Buck, you have to make the switch.
Oh yeah, Gattis. Talk about fool's gold. The guy's 26, and he's just now reaching the big leagues? Hey, I've got another hot pickup for you: Mike Hessman . Or how about Crash Davis? Yeah, that's a good one.
OK, so maybe Gattis didn't appear on all the top prospects lists prior to this season, but only because he didn't have enough time to make an impression. He was a top recruit coming out of high school but battled addiction and depression soon afterward, going four years without playing baseball.
Once he got a chance to play in the Braves' minor-league system, he showed he hadn't lost his touch, beating up on lower-level pitching before proving himself at Double-A Mississippi late last year.
He's patient at the plate and makes hard contact when he does swing, hitting screaming line drives all over the field. And as for his power potential, one look at him tells the story there. I'm talking forearms the size of my neck.
Well, what about Brian McCann ? A six-time All-Star getting displaced by some flavor of the week? That's rich.
But it's not so far-fetched given the way the Braves have already come to value Gattis' bat. In a lineup loaded with power hitters, he's the one batting cleanup with Freddie Freeman out, and while reigning NL MVP Buster Posey , another catcher, has to sit every fifth day for the Giants, Gattis gets to play other positions on his "off" days just so manager Fredi Gonzalez can keep his bat in the lineup.
Already this year, the Braves have used Gattis at first base. In the minors last year, he played mostly left field. It's not like he's a catcher, and so when McCann comes back, that's it. He's a slugger who happens to play some catcher, among other things.
And no, that's not a subtle jab at his defense.
Obviously, McCann will get his at-bats when he returns two or three weeks from now. He's a six-time All-Star, a leader and all of that. But he's also coming off shoulder surgery after a career-worst season and, as an impedning free agent, most likely isn't in the team's long-term plans.
Translation: Full-time at-bats probably aren't in his future.
Here's how I see it going down: McCann gets most of the starts at catcher, perhaps four a week, but Gattis gets more starts overall. The Braves have equipped him with the versatility to make it possible. Plus, all three of their starting outfielders are capable of playing all three outfield positions, so Gattis can fill in for any of them at any time.
Let's say one week he gets two starts at catcher, a spot start for Freeman and a spot start for Melvin Upton . Great, that's four starts. Let's say the next week he gets two starts at catcher, a spot start for Jason Heyward and a spot start for Justin Upton . Great, that's another four starts.
It's less than perfect, sure, but catchers don't play every day anyway. Four starts per week, for a player with Gattis' offensive ability, is potentially enough to make him a top-12 option at the position.
And of course, if Heyward or one of the Upton brothers gets hurt, as they've been known to do, he's back to playing full-time.
You know who might not be able to survive a playing time crunch? Buck. That d'Arnaud guy I mentioned earlier, the one who was ready to break into the majors before tearing a knee ligament last July, he's knocking on the door at Triple-A Las Vegas, and if Buck hits .180 over the next three weeks, as he's apt to do, the prize of the R.A. Dickey deal is likely to break it down.
And once he does, Buck might have to go the Craig Wilson route to get halfway consistent at-bats.
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