Greetings fantasy baseballers! It has been a while since The Backwards K has had any new content, and I apologize as the season starting coincided with a real hectic time in my own life as I was swamped with things at my job and began the process of a career change, and I also spent over a week moving! But that is all over now, and I hope to provide you all with some more regular content, news, and posts. And I’ll be posting much more regularly to Twitter, so please follow @TheBackwardsK on Twitter!
So let’s get down to it and go over some things over the first month of the 2015 MLB season. We’ll break it down by surprise players and busts and what their rest of season outlook might be, and we’ll also talk about some injured players at each position and players to keep an eye on. For now we will focus on catchers.
Surprises: Stephen Vogt, A.J. Pierzynski
Vogt is definitely the top catcher so far and he has received my “Vogt” of confidence. Vogt is currently hitting .372 with 7 HR and 25 RBI in 25 games played and has established himself as a great option as the #3 hitter (at least vs. righties) for the A’s in the absence of Ben Zobrist. I definitely liked him as a late round catcher target coming into the season, as I dubbed him as “Posey lite-lite.” My main concern with Vogt was whether or not he could find himself in the lineup on close to an everyday basis to maintain relevance, but I am pretty sure that he will no longer have that to worry about. If you own Vogt then I would not necessarily be looking to sell him because you likely got him very cheap and I think that he will continue to produce decently well in the power categories, which are going to be extremely valuable as a catcher. He won’t be hitting .370 for the rest of the season, but his line drive rate is up from 19.6% last year to 23.5% this year. So it’s not like the high AVG is just miraculously appearing. Last year, Vogt did not hit left-handed pitching very well, as he had just a .205 AVG, but considering what he accomplished as a Minor League hitter with a .305 career AVG, I am not too concerned about last year’s poor splits. Will he be as good versus lefties as righties? Doubtful. But he should be able to hold his own to maintain a good average as his plate approach appears to be rock solid.
The game’s most hated catcher, A.J. Pierzynski, is off to a torrid start. This guy just does not seem to go away, no matter how badly we want him to. In the early going, A.J. has a .351 AVG with 3 HR and 14 RBI in 15 games played while splitting time behind the plate with Christian Bethancourt for the Braves. Pierzynski has always been a good contact hitter with a pristine 11.6% strikeout rate, but his current rate of 4.7% is not going to last, which will negatively affect his batting average. I’m not buying him and he would be a tough sell given his age and potential playing time platoon, so ride him while he’s hot.
Disappointments: Yadier Molina
The youngest of the Molina catching trio is still around, but after a disappointing season last year and just a .230 AVG with 0 HR through the first month of the 2015 season, Yadier appears to be diminishing into fantasy irrelevance. There was some belief that with the weight he dropped in the off-season that he would bounce back to his pre-2014 form at the plate, but I was hardly a believer in that and it certainly is not coming to fruition. His swinging strike percentage this year is 3.2% above his career rate and he also just isn’t hitting the ball with much authority when he does make contact. Also, what made Molina extra valuable during his heyday was his ability to sneakily swipe some bags, but those days appear to be over as well as he likely does not have the same type of leg strength and agility to be confident to attempt stolen bases. He wasn’t someone that I would have touched in drafts this year, and his future outlook isn’t so great.
Injuries: Jonathan Lucroy, Devin Mesoraco, Yan Gomes, Matt Wieters, Travis d’Arnaud
It has been a tough time for catchers in the early going as 3 of last year’s top 5 fantasy catchers have suffered serious injury, which makes someone like Vogt look exponentially more amazing after one month of the season. After mashing in Spring Training, Lucroy got a mashing on a foul tip while behind the dish that left him with a fractured toe. It was a freak injury that probably left some fantasy owners with broken toes of their own after kicking a wall upon hearing the news. Lucroy was not doing much, having just a .133 AVG through 12 games played, but when he returns either later this month or in early June, I would expect him to get lots of hits for what so far has been a very anemic Brewers offense.
Mesoraco has been ailed by a hip injury for most of the season now, which has kept him out of the starting lineup since April 11. But what is really strange about this situation is the Reds refusal to have placed him on the DL during that whole time frame. Here we are 23 days later on the 5th of May, and Mesoraco has made 6 pinch-hit appearances since his last start. It would have seemed wise for the Reds to given him a 15-day DL stint at some point. From a selfish fantasy perspective as a Mesoraco owner, it would just be nice to know whether or not he can be expected to play or not. If he was on the DL, then at least he could be stashed on a DL spot in leagues that have that setting available. But nope, the Reds are curiously continuing to roster an unhealthy player to waste a bench or bullpen spot on their 25-man roster. I really have not seen anything quite like this in my fantasy career. Given the nature of the injury, being to his hip, it gives some pause as to whether or not Mesoraco will even be productive when (and if) he does finally return to the starting lineup. Hitters get lots of their power from their hips, and if this lingers then Mesoraco could end up being a huge bust this year. This is definitely a situation to monitor.
Gomes had a breakout season last year, but any hopes of a repeat were squashed when Rajai Davis left Gomes with a sprained MCL in a collision at home plate. Like Lucroy, Gomes will be sidelined through the end of May or early June. I was expecting Gomes to produce similarly to his 2014 season, but even at a prorated pace when he comes back from the injury, Gomes could be hard pressed to peform in the same fashion as last year. I think the effects of the injury will linger a bit and he will not be as productive.
Wieters is still attempting to make his way back from Tommy John surgery, and he was placed on the DL to begin the season and just has not progressed as well as hoped. This is what I said about Wieters before the season: “Wieters had to go undergo Tommy John surgery but the hope is that he will be ready for Opening Day. Even if he is ready to play, I have to think that returning from the surgery is going to affect his play. His power could be sapped and the types of batted balls that he puts in play could be more on the weak side, which would make for easy outs.” Well, it is yet to be seen as to whether or not the surgery will sap his power stroke, but I was right to avoid him at all costs given that he is still out and won’t be returning till late May or early June. I still will stick by the notion that his power will be sapped once he does return, so he is not someone I would be targeting.
I had big things in mind for d’Arnaud this year as I labeled him “This Year’s Yan Gomes,” and he was off to nice looking start to prove me right as he began the season hitting .317 with 2 HR and just 4 K in 11 games. However, he was hit by a pitch that broke one of his fingers and like all these other injured catchers, he is looking at a return in either late May or early June. This was a mighty blow to the Mets and some of my fantasy squads, but look for d’Arnaud to keep displaying improvements when he does return to the lineup. The young catcher got a boost up to the #2 spot in the Mets lineup after David Wright went down with an injury, so monitor where he is inserted in the lineup once he returns. Obviously the higher the better!
Keep an eye on: Nick Hundley, Derek Norris
Hundley has taken over as the starting catcher for the Rockies, and as we all should know, Rockies hitters have good upside in their home games. To this day, Hundley is hitting .328 with 1 HR in 18 games. The HR total is not wow-ing us, but as a career .241 hitter, Hundley is hitting way above his head right now. Or is he? His strikeout percentage is 5 percentage points down from his career pace, and his line drive rate is out of this world at 28.3%. Yeah his .404 BABIP is not sustainable and that line drive rate is sure to come down, but do not underestimate the Coors effect on hitters. We saw it last year (and usually every year) with all the Rockies regulars having extreme home/road splits, which left many of them with incredible stat lines. Hundley’s home/road splits are pretty even so far this year, but with a slight edge to playing at home. But as the season goes on, expect the difference between home and road to grow and Hundley could conceivably grow into a top 10 play at catcher, especially when he is at home. Hundley hit 13 HR in 2013 playing half his games at Petco Park. And although it was a long time ago, he did hit 20 HR in 2007 at AA. So anywhere from 15-20 HR is not out of the question for him, and he can do so while maintaining a good AVG being aided by the Coors Field inflation.
With a .323 AVG and 2 HR and 16 RBI through 26 games, Norris could have been included in the “surprises” portion of catchers, but I am in “keep an eye on him” mode with the Padres backstop for this reason: He started last year in even better fashion when he hit .386 with 2 HR last April before tailing off quite hard the rest of the way. Norris is in a unique situation this year as he is a part of a Padres lineup that features a bunch of right-handed hitters, so they are going to have games where they all just feed off each other and dominate left-handed pitching. But there are also going to be the games where they just strikeout a bunch against good right-handed pitching. The Padres started out incredibly hot versus lefties, but have since hit a stumbling block and that stumbling block is named Madison Bumgarner who absolutely dominated them last night. Norris himself is hitting .520 off lefties so far, and he has always been a lefty masher who is much worse versus righties. But he finds himself in a surprisingly decent situation so far in the Padres lineup as he is regularly batting 2nd versus lefties and either 5th or 6th versus righties while getting near full-time at-bats (something that he didn’t get in Oakland last year). So I would keep an eye on him to see how he progresses in the coming weeks.