Fantasy Baseball 2021: Fantasy Catchers
There are any number of formats we could evaluate, but my personal favorite has always been total points. It has a number of advantages. First, it is a growing format in that daily fantasy sites use it exclusively (although they may have different formulas). Secondly, it apportions an appropriate weight per event. In other words, it doesn’t overemphasize any event over another based on perceived scarcity. That won’t have as much an effect at catcher as other positions where stolen bases are given way too much weight.
The third and final advantage is that it allows you to compare players from different positions because it tells how much better one player is than another. This can help not only with positional rankings, but overall rankings as well. It helps to know the relative depth of a position when making those rankings. Knowing the difference between say the sixth and seventh best catcher could have a dramatic impact on your draft strategy.
We will look at the top ten catchers for the coming year according to two metrics. The first is total points over the past five seasons and the second is points per game. Generally speaking, the more data you have the better off you are and that is particularly true given the abbreviated nature of the 2020 season. We will also include a projection from baseball-reference for the 2021 season.
Total Points= TB + Runs + RBI + BB + SB + HBP – SO – CS- GIDP
J.T. Realmuto– Free Agent
Games: 595 (1st)
Total Points: 1357 (1st)
Points Per Game: 2.28 (3rd)
Projection: .263/22 HR/77 Runs/73 RBI/7 SB
It’s hard to project a guy that has no team yet, but it seems pretty likely he will end up back in Philadelphia. Once the Mets signed James McCann the spots for Realmuto dwindled. Back in the salad days of free agency an agent could manufacture a market for a player like Realmuto, but that just doesn’t seem likely these days. Either way, the fact that he has played more games than anyone in the past five years matters. In daily games there are better plays for the money, but over a full season he checks all the boxes.
Will Smith– Los Angeles Dodgers
Games: 91 (31st)
Total Points: 251 (26th)
Points Per Game: 2.76 (1st)
Projection: .260/22 HR/60 Runs/68 RBI/4 SB
This is a great example of how rankings by position provides very little overall perspective. Catcher is a position begging to be punted on draft day. A selection of Smith is very much based on spec. The Dodgers have other options (namely Austin Barnes) so there are no guarantees that Smith will get the volume of starts necessary to produce the projected numbers. There is an awful amount of swing and miss in his game, so a .260 average might be optimistic.
Gary Sanchez– New York Yankees
Games: 419 (12th)
Total Points: 1014 (5th)
Points Per Game: 2.42 (2nd)
Projection: .207/27 HR/63 Runs/72 RBI/2 SB
For all of the differences between fantasy and real baseball, they are remarkably similar. Both fantasy owners and real managers have to decide how much of a bad thing they are willing to tolerate to get a good thing. Sanchez has defensive lapses and a low batting average, but he does everything else at a very high level. So, how much are you willing to tolerate?
Yasmani Grandal– Chicago White Sox
Games: 594 (2nd)
Total Points: 1180 (3rd)
Points Per Game: 1.99 (11th)
Projection: .235/22 HR/66 Runs/66 RBI/3 SB
Grandal has two elite skills and neither show up on most fantasy rankings. Pitch framing is his elite skill and that’s why he has played the second most games over the past five seasons. The other is his ability to draw walks. He has drawn over 100 more walks than the next closest competitor over the past five seasons. That’s good if you are playing in a six category league, but not particularly helpful in most formats.
Willson Contreras– Chicago Cubs
Games: 493 (4th)
Total Points: 983 (7th)
Points Per game: 1.99 (10th)
Projection: .249/20 HR/70 Runs/68 RBI/4 SB
I love it when general managers are clearly lying. Jed Hoyer said the Yu Darvish trade wasn’t about saving money. Really? He also said that Contreras wasn’t on the trade block. What is truth and what is fiction? He hasn’t produced top five level production, but the position is aging overall, so some of the names above him are paper tigers. A part of this calculation is dependent on his situation. That’s up in the air.
Salvador Perez– Kansas City Royals
Games: 434 (10th)
Total Points: 895 (9th)
Points Per game: 2.06 (8th)
Projection: .256/20 HR/47 Runs/62 RBI/3 SB
Perez surprised everyone last season when he didn’t skip a beat offensively. However, you can’t help but think he is existing on borrowed time. 2021 will be his age 31 season and catchers don’t age well past their early thirties. He has enjoyed a decent career but one can’t imagine how he will get to the podium at Cooperstown. He surely won’t walk there.
James McCann– New York Mets
Games: 478 (9th)
Total Points: 665 (13th)
Points Per Game: 1.39 (20th)
Projection: .249/14 HR/47 Runs/46 RBI/3 SB
The example of going from the sixth to seventh best catcher wasn’t an accident. You could go with a few other names here, but none of them are particularly appealing. You are gambling either way. McCann has been better than this the past two seasons, so he gets the nod. Still, as you can see by his projections, you might be better off shoring up another position and kicking the catcher can down the road.
Yadier Molina– Free Agent
Games: 561 (3rd)
Total Points: 1184 (2nd)
Points Per Game: 2.11 (7th)
Projection: .251/14 HR/47 Runs/57 RBI/4 SB
I am moving under the assumption that Molina and the Cardinals will stop this dance and eventually just get together on a short-term contract. Molina is the Frank Gore of MLB. His total body of work will likely be Hall of Fame worthy even if he never produced one outstanding season offensively. He plays fairly consistently and 2020 was the only season where he had significant health issues. Gambling on 100+ games seems solid even if he is on the wrong side of 35.
Buster Posey– San Francisco Giants
Games: 505 (5th)
Total Points: 1133 (3rd)
Points Per Game: 2.24 (5th)
Projection: .256/5 HR/26 Runs/24 RBI/1 SB
The low projections seem to be a computer glitch based on him sitting out the 2019 season. He has had only one season with fewer than 400 plate appearances and since he is one of the game’s better defenders it seems unlikely that he won’t be the regular catcher. That’s even with the diminished offensive production. There’s also the chance that sitting out allowed him to rejuvenate.
Mitch Garver–Minnesota Twins
Games: 241 (22nd)
Total Points: 462 (19th)
Points Per Game: 1.92 (13th)
Projection: .250/17 HR/50 Runs/49 RBI/1 SB
His situation is nearly impossible to handicap. He came of age in 2019 and produced huge numbers. He took a huge step back last season. Was 2019 a fluke? Was 2020 a simple write off under the circumstances? The projections throw him a few pegs up the ladder to maybe even sixth or seventh. Yet, that represents the best guess from the folks at baseball-reference.com. It seems foolish not to put him in the top ten, but I don’t know how confident you can be beyond that.