Two to add and two to dump: Catcher Edition
One of the things that most fantasy players miss out on is the dimension of time. If you think of each position like a stock on the exchange then you could give yourself that needed edge. Memorial Day has traditionally been the cut off point between “it’s early” and “it’s time to panic.” So, we are beginning a series of looking at each position through the lense of batted ball data. It’s what I like to call process data. We are ignoring the traditional numbers temporarily to see if we can identify players that should surge and players that should slump.
Before I begin, I want to go over the numbers I will use. Most of you are familiar with BABIP (batting average on balls in play). We used to just base our assumptions on streaks based on that data alone. Of course, time marches on and we have learned a lot sense then. So, I’ve split the data in plate discipline and power potential. In plate discipline, we are looking at contact rates and chase rates. Chase rates are simply the percentage of balls outside the zone that hitters swing at. On the power side, we look at the percentage of balls a player hits hard in addition to the percentage of flyballs that turn into home runs.
These numbers by themselves mean little, but when we profile multiple players we see patterns. 29 catchers had at least 100 plate appearances through Memorial Day. So, what we are doing is finding the median for each of these numbers and identifying players that consistently outperform the median in each category. We found two players there. We also want to see if players consistently underperform. This is particularly important if their BABIP doesn’t match up. So, we start off with the median.
Hard Hit: 36.9%
Two to Add
Austin Barnes– Los Angeles Dodgers
Hard Hit: 37.8%
Yes, he is currently on the injured list, but he shouldn’t be out long. There is a reason why the Dodgers love him and these numbers are an indicator of why. When a player hits the ball harder than the average (or median) and somehow has a lower BABIP than the median then it is an indication that some growth is coming his way. Add in better than average contact and there is a lot of reason for optimism. Barnes plays particularly well in two catcher leagues, but even in one catcher leagues he is good for a bench slot.
The Dodgers also love his defense. That means he will play more than a typical catcher with his numbers. This is where you have to suspend your sensibilities a little. The numbers he currently has don’t get added to your team if you add him now. You only get what he gives you from this moment forward. Again, he’s not going to be an elite fantasy catcher even with positive regression, but he is a nice add for depth.
Carson Kelly– Arizona Diamondbacks
Hard Hit: 46.6%
Again, you have to adjust your expectations. If you are hunting for a regular catcher you might be in some trouble, but if you are looking to add a second catcher you could do a lot worse. Sometimes you can make it through platooning two mediocre catchers and make something out of it. Kelly is virtually unowned in Yahoo leagues, so you wouldn’t have to prepare a trade offer to acquire him.
In particular, Kelly has third best hard hit percentage of any qualifying catcher. 103 plate appearances may not be much, but is generally enough to outlast temporary streaks. The Dbacks also have Alex Avila, but you would imagine them playing Kelly more when he finally heats up and matches his hard hit contact. A position average in home run rates is also promising.
Two to Drop
Willson Contreras– Chicago Cubs
Hard Hit: 23.6%
No, of course you aren’t waiving him. The preferred route is to trade him to someone that doesn’t pay attention to these things. Contreras will still hit for the remainder of the season. He likely is winding up with an average around .260 with 20+ home runs. Not many catchers can do that, but that’s not really the point. You’ve already banked a dozen home runs. Can you find a catcher than can produce .260 with 8 home runs from now until the end of the season? I’d imagine you can and you can get another good asset in the meantime.
Be careful here. I had someone in my league offer me Stephen Piscotty straight up for Contreras. Imagine my surprise when I found Piscotty on the waiver wire two weeks later. You can afford to be patient and wait until you get an honest to God asset in return. The key though is that either catcher from above can give you the numbers Contreras is likely to give you from June on. If you can upgrade another position in the meantime then you have to do it.
Robinson Chirinos– Houston Astros
Hard Hit: 30.7%
Teams cannot afford to play the churning game like fantasy players can. Chirinos was obviously undrafted in most leagues, but fantasy players saw him get off to a quick start and added him. I was one of those. I added him in a couple of leagues. I’m beginning to look for upgrades. Chirinos may or may not fetch you something. You may be able to trade him for a struggling player on another roster. He hasn’t been good enough to warrant a frontline player, but if you add a Barnes or Kelly then you can upgrade slightly elsewhere. The key here is incremental improvement.
Again, we are talking about banking the numbers he has already given you and let someone else ride with the diminishing asset. At the end of the season he likely will wind up hitting around .240 or .250 with 15 or so home runs. That’s not bad, but he has already given you much of that already. Let him go and see if you can get someone else on the rebound.
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