2016 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings

We all know that the catcher position in fantasy baseball is the most shallow, which is a direct result of catchers not collecting as much playing time than other positions because of the need for constant days off due to the rigors of the position. So just how important is it to grab one of the top ranked catchers? There are a couple of factors that should be taken into consideration.

First, is your league a 1-catcher or 2-catcher league? (i.e. how many catchers does each team have in the starting lineup?) In 2-catcher leagues, catchers carry significantly more value because the output of a replacement level catcher (i.e. an un-drafted catcher that you could easily pick up off the waiver wire) is extremely low. So someone of Buster Posey’s caliber in performance and consistency could actually be a borderline top 12 pick in 2-catcher leagues.

Second, how many teams are in your league? The lesser the number of teams, the lesser the emphasis there needs to be on drafting a top catcher. For instance, in a 10-team league that starts 1 catcher, the value gap between the top ranked catcher and a replacement level catcher is considerably less than a 16-team league that starts 1 catcher.

These are just some factors to consider when talking about fantasy catchers.

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL CATCHER RANKINGS. Included for each player is “The Backwards K Quick Take” and a self-produced player projection for 2016. 

***Please note the following:

  • The player’s names are color coded to signal different tiers at the position.
  • The rankings reflect standard 5×5 roto scoring settings (AVG/HR/RBI/R/SB) with position eligibility requirements as 10 total games played at a position in 2015, or 5 total games started at a position in 2015 (i.e. Yahoo! settings).
  • The numerical order is not necessarily a suggested order to draft them in, but it is the order that is calculated based on each player’s listed projections, unless noted otherwise.
  • Noted in some players’ “Quick Takes” is if they gain or lose notable value in points leagues that factor in penalize hitter strikeouts and reward hitter walks. Continue reading

A Ray of Light for the Diamondbacks (and other notes from 7/7/15)

Just who is Robbie Ray?  You may remember has as part of a 3-player deal that occurred a couple months after the 2013 season ended where the Washington Nationals received Doug Fister from the Tigers in exchange for two pitching prospects, Ray and Ian Krol.  At the time, it looked like a pretty nice fleece job done by the Nationals to acquire Fister’s final two arbitration seasons for a couple of pitching prospects that were pretty decent but didn’t have overly impressive numbers in the Minors up to that point.

Ray spent most of the 2014 season for the Tigers at AAA, but did log 9 appearances and 6 starts for the Major League squad.  However, the 8.16 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 28.2 IP along with an unimpressive AAA performance must have been enough for the Tigers to have seen from the lefty, as they then shipped him over to the Diamondbacks in a 3-team deal that netted them Shane Greene upon the conclusion of the 2014 season.

Ray arrived with the Diamondbacks and was assigned to AAA out of Spring Training where after 9 starts, he had a 3.67 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, and 57 K/27 BB in 41.2 IP.  Ray struck out a lot of batters, but he also issued a ton of free passes and got hit pretty hard as well.  So when the Diamondbacks called him up when the need arose, not much was to be expected of the 23-year old lefty, especially after his huge disappointment in Detroit.

With the strong 7 inning performance where he did not allow an earned run against the Rangers on Tuesday, Ray improved to 3-4 with a 2.16 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and 38 K/12 BB in 50 IP.  Those are some quality numbers and at first glance at his career numbers both in the Minors and Majors, it would be easy to dismiss this performance as a fluke.  However, three things that we need to look at are his pitch velocity, arm slot, and pitch arsenal.

Last season, Ray’s average fastball velocity according to PITCHf/x data was 91.3 MPH, and that was with a few relief appearances worked in there (pitchers generally throw harder in relief because they don’t have to “save” their arm for the whole game).  But this season in his time with the D-Backs, he’s averaged 93.3 MPH — a full two ticks higher on the radar gun.  We see it so often how pitchers with increased velocity from one year to the next go on to have more success for the simple reason that harder thrown pitches are generally harder for batters to hit.  Then looking at FanGraphs, we can see his release point from last year was higher and closer to his head than this year.  In other words, he is pitching the ball from a lower arm slot that is more of a 3/4 motion than overhand.  So perhaps Ray is finding much more comfort from a lower arm slot, and maybe it is even the reason why he is generating more velocity.  But whatever it is, it seems to be working for him and is likely more than just a coincidence.  Lastly, his pitch arsenal from last season had him throwing his slider just 3.5% of the time and his changeup 27.1%.  But this season, he’s using his slider much more often at 17.1% while his changeup is down to 9.2%.  Also, his slider appears to be much harder with a 4.2% velocity increase from last season.

So looking at these things, we are seeing a different Robbie Ray than before, which could arguably be the reasons why Ray is having much better luck this season.  And while Ray is bound to regress from his excellent ERA and WHIP numbers that he is posting right now, he may not completely implode.  His BABIP currently sits at .255, which is lower than the league average around .300, but as a fly ball heavy pitcher he should be able to post a lower BABIP as long as he’s not giving up a ton of line drives (which he’s not).  Then his strand rate of 73.2% is slightly above the league average, but it’s certainly not crazy high.  But where his regression should come primarily is in the form of more home runs allowed.  As a fly ball pitcher, he can post below a below average BABIP, but that also should mean that he should allow home runs at a higher rate than his current 0.36 HR/9 mark — especially pitching his home games in a hitter friendly park at Chase Field.  If he maintains his current strikeout and walk rates, then I could see Ray finishing the season around a 3.50 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, which would be much more than anyone expected from him.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Tuesday’s action!

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When the Hard Hit Rates Don’t Match the BABIP (and other notes from 6/29/15)

Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox kept the bats of a powerful Blue Jays offense in check all evening on Monday and he defeated them by posting a line of 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K.  He improved to 6-6 with a 3.48 ERA and 1.24 WHIP with both healthy strikeout and walk rates (8.55 K/9, 2.05 BB/9).  Buchholz’ issue this season is that he has the occasional blow up game to cancel out some of the great work that he does.  And as I said after his last start, if he can receive some better fortune then he could have better looking stats.  It’s probably too late now, but he would have been in a position to be the Red Sox All-Star representative if he had some better luck up to this point.  To see how Buchholz is sitting on the wrong side of things, we look at league stats for pitchers hard hit rate and BABIP.

Hard hit rate is a statistic that is becoming more prevalent in the conversation in the performance of players, similar to the way that BABIP (batting average on balls in play) did several years ago.  Hard hit rate is just what it sounds like — it is the rate at which a ball is hit at a “hard” impact and it can be used for evaluating both hitters and pitchers alike.  For hitters, the harder a ball is hit, the more that it shows that they are squaring up the ball with good contact and the greater likelihood of a hit and positive offensive production.  For pitchers, the harder the ball is hit against them would suggest that they are more likely to have poor results, giving up more hits and runs.  BABIP for hitters is the rate at which balls that are put in play (i.e. any official at-bat that does not result in a home run or strikeout) go for hits.  For pitchers, BABIP is the rate at which they allow hits on balls that are playable by a defense.

So using the stats provided by FanGraphs, looking at the top 15 in lowest hard hit rate for pitchers entering June 30, 2015, we find Buchholz come in at the 11th lowest with 23.9%.  So with a pretty low hard hit rate, we would expect that Buchholz would have a pretty low BABIP or at least around the league average in BABIP, which is generally somewhere around .300. But it is the exact opposite that we are seeing from the Red Sox righty.  Buchholz actually has the 12th highest BABIP at .332.  So the fact that he has been one of the better pitchers in limiting hard contact but has one of the higher BABIP marks in the league would suggest one of two things (or both): 1.) Poor defense behind him  2.) Lots of bad luck

So now we turn to defensive statistics, yet again on FanGraphs, to see what the Red Sox defense has been doing this season.  They come in below the league midpoint in DEF (defense rating) and UZR (ultimate zone rating), but they are not ranked too low in either — 17th in DEF at 0.3 and 19th in UZR at -6.4 — so they can more or less be classified as a league average defensive team as opposed to a poor defensive team.  Because of this, we would have to lean towards attributing Buchholz’ contradictory hard hit rate and BABIP to bad luck, and it can further be shown in the fact that his xFIP of 3.19 and SIERA of 3.22 sit a bit lower than his 3.48 ERA.  As we approach the season’s official 81-games played halfway point (the All-Star break is commonly given the misnomer as the halfway point), Buchholz could be in for some better times if he keeps pitching at the level that he is (or better) and receives some added luck on his side.

Using this same method, there are a few other pitchers whose hard hit rates don’t match up with their BABIP.  Let’s take a look at the following:

  • Gio Gonzalez – .354 BABIP (2nd highest), 25.6% hard hit (21st lowest) / Nationals: -8.7 DEF (22nd), -10.7 UZR (22nd)
  • Tyson Ross – .346 BABIP (5th highest), 24.1% hard hit (13th lowest) / Padres -31.6 DEF (29th), -34.6 UZR (29th)
  • Jose Quintana – .335 BABIP (10th highest), 24.7% hard hit (15th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Jeff Samardzija – .329 BABIP (16th highest), 26.1% hard hit (24th lowest) / White Sox: -37.6 DEF (30th), -34.6 UZR (30th)
  • Mike Pelfrey – .315 BABIP (29th highest), 20.5% hard hit (1st lowest) / Twins: -6.2 DEF (19th), -4.2 UZR (18th)

Gonzalez comes up ten thousandths of a point shy of having the highest BABIP in all of the Majors (Nate Eovaldi currently has the highest), but he isn’t getting hit all that hard.  However, his Nationals defense has been pretty bad.  I would expect some regression here just given how high his BABIP is, but with the poor defense and career high line drive and ground ball rates, it’s not necessarily all bad luck that he is receiving.

Moving on to Ross, I talked about bad defenses and how they can affect pitchers in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense,” and his defense has been the second worst in all of baseball.  So while he should improve some, his 62.8% ground ball rate is not conducive for the poor infield defense that he has behind him and things may not get too much better.

Then both Quintana and Samardzija pitch in front of the league’s absolute worst defense (also mentioned in “Sometimes A Pitcher Is Only As Good As His Defense”), so it is no surprise that we see them appear in this statistical review.  Like with Ross, some improvement should be seen, but if the White Sox keep deploying the same defensive players and strategy then it might be tough sledding for them to show drastic improvements in their overall stats.

Then there is Pelfrey who got obliterated for the second time in four starts on Monday to give him a much uglier stat line and to push him up the BABIP charts a lot.  He’s more in the same boat as Buchholz with a mediocre defense rather than a poor one.  So he could see some better days, but because of his minimal strikeout appeal, he is not a great fantasy target to begin with.  But with some better luck, he can provide decently in ERA.

Something interesting though that all six of the aforementioned pitchers have in common is that they all appear in the top 21 highest medium hit rates.  So while they may not be allowing a lot of hard hit balls, they all give up a lot of medium hit ones.  So perhaps it is these medium hit balls that these average or below average defenses are struggling to defend due to either poor range or misguided defensive alignments.  Nonetheless, I would still expect Buchholz to have some better days ahead of him if he continues to pitch at the level he has been.

Let’s now look at the remainder of Monday’s action!

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Pat Venditte Gives A’s Bullpen a Hand (or Two) (and other notes from 6/5/15)

Switch hitting has been a prevalent part of the game for decades because generally speaking, hitters do better against opposite-handed pitching than they do against same-handed pitching as I have outlined in “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Using Platoons to Your Advantage.”  The idea behind it all is that hitters just tend to see the ball better out of opposite-handed pitching and have an easier time dealing with breaking balls that break toward them instead of away from them.

Many ball players will practice and develop the ability to hit from both sides of the plate when they are young as a way to gain this slight advantage, but it certainly is tough to master.  When I was in Little League, I would head to the batting cages before all my games to warm up and I would practice switch hitting just for fun.  As a natural righty, I would flip over and hit lefty in the cages sometimes and while I could consistently make contact with the ball, the same type of power was just not there.  So I think it is an impressive feat for any player that is a switch hitter and can hit equally for average and power from both sides of the plate.

But what about pitching with both hands?  If having the ability to hit both right-handed and left-handed gives an advantage for hitters, then wouldn’t the same be true for a pitcher who can throw with both hands?  A pitcher with this ability could pitch right-handed to all right-handed batters and pitch left-handed to all left-handed batters to obtain an advantage much in the same way that switch hitting does.  For me, trying to switch hit is hard enough, so I can’t imagine trying to switch pitch.  Heck, I can’t even brush my teeth left-handed let alone throw a baseball with the same type of accuracy and force that I do with my right hand.  But there is a pitcher in the Oakland A’s organization named Pat Venditte who was just called up to the Majors for the first time in his career, and you guessed it, he is a switch pitcher — the first of his kind to appear in the Majors since 1995.

The soon to be 30-year old Venditte was originally drafted by the Yankees and spent 7 years in their Minor League system before catching on with the Oakland organization for the 2015 season.  Venditte has been a relief pitcher for basically the entirety of his Minor League career (250 relief appearances in 259 total games pitched) and he has done pretty well with a career 2.37 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 9.99 K/9.  With numbers like that and the ability to switch pitch, it is a bit of a wonder why it has taken so long for him to receive a promotion to the bigs.  Not only does he switch pitch, but he also does it with a sidearm motion from both sides, giving him even more novelty.

Venditte made his Major League debut right upon his call up on Friday against the Red Sox and he pitched two scoreless innings allowing just one hit while also striking out one batter.  He’s going to work in middle relief for the A’s, but one has to wonder if he could ever work his way into the closer’s role.  He gained experience as a closer in his first two seasons in the Minors, but he has only recorded one save in the last 4+ seasons.  And because of his soft tossing ways (sitting around 85 MPH on his fastball), he does not profile as a typical closer.  However, Billy Beane and the A’s are known to be revolutionary in utilizing uncommon approaches to maximize the most out of the players on their roster.  And with last year’s closer Sean Doolittle back on the DL with his shoulder injury and severely diminished velocity, and fill-in closer Tyler Clippard likely to be shopped around since he is in the last year of his contract on a last place team, it wouldn’t be too crazy to think that Venditte could be closing out games for the A’s this season at some point if he shows success in a middle relief role first.

This is mostly just speculation on my part as I think it would be amazing to see a switch pitcher succeed and ascend to a more prolific role, so I wouldn’t put too much value into it.  It will be entertaining to watch and interesting to see what he can do.  If he ever does become a Major League closer, I will give him a hand, but it’s not like he needs one.

Let’s check out what else happened on Friday!

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Tex Marks the Spot (and other notes from 6/1/15)

Landing on the DL in each of the last 3 seasons, which includes missing all but 15 games in the 2013 season, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was all but an afterthought in fantasy drafts this season and overlooked by many, including myself.  But he is showing an immense amount in his on-field performance to earn the $22.5 million that he’s due this season.  So after hitting a grand slam off Felix Hernandez on Monday, Tex is now hitting .241 with 15 HR, 39 RBI, 26 R, and 1 SB, but should he be expected to keep up this type of performance?

From 2003-09, Tex hit for over a .300 AVG in three seasons and compiled a .290 AVG over the whole time frame.  With that type of ability to hit for AVG combined with the 35 HR per season on average that he posted in that same period, he had firmly established himself as one of the best hitters of the decade.  But once 2010 came around, his ability to hit for a good AVG took a turn for the worse as teams began to collect and use different types of data more to their advantage.  Tex became just one of many sluggers who became greatly impacted by the increased implementation of defensive shifts by teams all around the league.  So gone were the days of hitting .290-.300.  From 2010-14, Tex hit for a rather paltry .242 AVG as he also began to pull the ball into the shift and fly out a lot more.

However, something that never really evaporated was his ability to go yard.  Over the last three seasons, his power has been sapped a bit as he only homered once every 19.27 AB, opposed to once every 16.60 AB from 2003-11.  Also, his ISO fell below .200 for the first time in his career in 2012 and 2013.  But this slight loss in power can largely be chalked up to the injuries that he dealt with.  The main injury that plagued his performance was a wrist injury that began as inflammation during the 2012 season and it carried over to 2013 before worsening to the point where he needed to have season-ending surgery to repair it.  While the wrist injury wasn’t what sidelined him in 2014, it surely had to have been something that affected his swing.

This season he is showing himself as healthy as ever, appearing in 49 of the Yankees 52 games so far.  And other than the low AVG, which should be a continuous occurrence because of his inability to hit around the defensive shifts, Tex is a better hitter than ever.  The power is incredibly off the charts with a current .325 ISO, which is well beyond his career high of .279 from his 2004 sophomore season.  But what might be even more impressive is the locked in and refined approach at the plate he appears to have.  Tex is 1 of 8 players in the Majors who currently has more walks than strikeouts, and at a 14.9 BB% and 13.4 K%, he is on pace for career bests in both categories.

One could point to his average distance on his HR + fly balls is only 279 feet compared to 294 feet last season (according to Baseball Heat Maps) and believe that perhaps this rebound in his HR total is a bit of a mirage.  But the ESPN Home Run Tracker shows that only 2 of his 15 HR this year are categorized as “just enough,” as in having just enough distance to clear the fence.  So I wouldn’t worry a whole lot about the average distance since most of his HR are clearing the fence by more than enough — it’s just the fly balls that have stayed in the park that are bringing his average distance down.

There can always be some sort of injury that comes up, but with the wrist appearing to be fully healed and his excellent plate approach and discipline, I remain optimistic for Teixeira to remain productive and a fantasy asset the rest of the season.  I will give him the rest of the season line of (from June 2 onward):   .242 AVG, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 52 R, 1 SB, 54 BB, 70 K

Let’s see what else Monday baseball brought to us…

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Year to Date (5/5/15): Fantasy Catchers

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.

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 Continue reading

Top 25 First Basemen for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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Top 25 Catchers for 2015 Fantasy Baseball

*The order of these rankings are based on a valuation system for a 5×5 roto scoring league with 5 games played minimum for position eligibility.  This is not necessarily the order I would draft these players in, as different factors should impact which player to choose.

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