One of the more interesting debates in the fantasy sports world is the appropriate place for advanced metrics. I’ve tried relying on them before and they’ve landed me in last place. So, there are two keys to using advanced metrics. The first is to find the appropriate metric to use and then you have to make sure you don’t overuse it. Enter value over replacement player. Several sites have similar numbers. The idea behind it is to determine how many more runs a player produces in a season than the replacement level player.
VORP is a good compromise statistic because it measures both quality and quantity. Last year, I thought about different ways to use it and had problems with simply ranking players on VORP. It doesn’t account for positional scarcity. In other words, some positions are stronger and deeper than others. So, for each player, I took the three year VORP average and then subtracted the median regular player and came up with a relative VORP total. In the case of catchers, we took the 30 projected regulars and a few players that are still listed as catchers in fantasy circles but are slated to play other positions.
The key when looking at these numbers is to look for outliers and then determine whether the so-called experts are off base or whether there is something in the VORP numbers that would indicate why they are so different. We will start with the players that are ranked significantly better according to VORP than through Yahoo and ESPN.
Russell Martin— VORP (5th), Yahoo (12th), ESPN (11th)
The first thing we look for is to determine why the value is excessive. Sometimes a player’s third season is significantly worse than the first two. That doesn’t appear to be the case with Martin. Next, we look at statistics that are invisible in 5×5 leagues but are very much visible in real baseball. Since 2007, his walk rate has never dipped below 10.5 percent. Last season he had the best walk rate in this career since 2008.
If your league has a sixth category (walks or OBP) then you would be well-served to pay attention to Russell on draft day. Picking him as the fifth catcher overall is probably not the smart move. If you wait until nine or ten catchers are off the board, then you can pick him up and get top five production for the price of a lower round pick. If you are in a traditional league, he is probably appropriately ranked.
Carlos Ruiz— VORP (6th), Yahoo (28th), ESPN (22nd)
Ruiz is more of a classic combination between earlier career seasons and hidden value. His 2012 season might have been the best season by a Phillies catcher since they had Lance Parrish for two seasons in the 1980s. In real life, he is closer to Bob Boone than to Parrish, but he does bring a skill to the table that Boone never had. His career walk rate is at 9.9 percent. That’s not quite as good as Martin, but it is better than the league average.
All that being said, Ruiz should not be a regular fantasy catcher. He certainly won’t be picked in most leagues at all, so you can wait to add him on the waiver wire. For one, most of his positive value comes from that sterling 2012 campaign. He averaged 18 VORP in 2013 and 2014 which puts him barely above the median catcher. Furthermore, most of what gives him value (a solid OBP) is not recognized in 5×5 leagues. He ranks high in real baseball, but in fantasy baseball he is more middle of the pack.
This is a mirror image of the positive outliers. Usually one of two things happen. First, some players have two pedestrian seasons in 2012 and 2013 and then come on big time in 2014. We are left to decide whether 2014 was a coming out party or simply a career season. In the second instance, we get players that fill out that stat sheet, but struggle in numbers that matter to sabermetricians (like OBP).
Devin Mesoraco— VORP (16th), Yahoo (3rd), ESPN (3rd)
As you might suspect, Mesoraco falls squarely under the category of players that had pedestrian seasons in 2012 and 2013. Last year, he was legitimately a top five fantasy catcher whether you looked at traditional numbers or advanced metrics. His 42.9 VORP ranked fourth amongst fantasy catchers. If you are going strictly by 2014 numbers, you won’t be far off no matter who you trust.
The ultimate question is whether 2014 was the beginning of great things to come or whether it was simply a career year. If we knew the answer to that question we wouldn’t have our day jobs. We’d be working in someone’s front office or in Vegas. I’d suspect he will be markedly better than his three year VORP ranking, but I think third may be a bit too high. This is particularly true when you throw Carlos Santana into the equation in Yahoo leagues.
Yan Gomes— VORP (14th), Yahoo (6th), ESPN (6th)
Gomes suffers in terms of VORP value because of a very shaky 2012 campaign. He came of age in 2013 and continued to produce in 2014. Whether you trust the traditional numbers or the sabermetric numbers, he is a little ahead of Mesoraco because he has done it for two seasons. His rankings in Yahoo and ESPN look a lot more palatable than the overall VORP ranking.
If we were to use his two year average we would see that he would average 30.8 VORP and that would make him 13.8 above the median catcher. That would rank him fifth according to VORP. I think we can solidly put him either fifth or sixth on draft day based on everything we’ve seen. It all depends on which platform you are playing and who is eligible at the position.