As discussed in my last column, Joe Mauer is the top pick among a thin catching corps in the American League. Things will play out a little differently in NL-only drafts, as there is more company at the top. Despite the NL having two more franchises than the AL, there are actually fewer catchers to consider, because there are fewer teams that have catcher at-bats up for grabs. Only the Astros and Phillies have a wide-open competition for catcher this spring. So while there are plenty of good No. 1 catchers to go around in the NL, finding a No. 2 catcher with regular playing time could be a dicey proposition.
The Elite: After a great rebound season in '08, Brian McCann reestablished himself as the NL's premier catcher. Adding heft to the elite category is the emergence of Chris Iannetta, Geovany Soto and Ryan Doumit. Because Iannetta accumulated just 333 at-bats last year, he was not in the same league with these other Fantasy producers. Look for that to change this year, as he grabs more playing time away from Yorvit Torrealba.
Cohort Analysis: Chris Iannetta vs. Geovany Soto. Can Iannetta really ascend to the ranks of Soto if given more playing time? Little separates these two mid-20s catchers except for their whiff rates. That goes a long way to explain why Soto's batting average was 21 points higher than Iannetta's last year. The Rockies' catcher could close that gap this year, bringing his rate closer to the sub-20 percent marks he compiled in the minors. Until he actually accomplishes that, Soto will still be a hair better.
Solid No. 1 Catchers: Once you get past the top five NL catchers, the Fantasy talent starts to thin out quickly. Chris Snyder represents the rickety bridge between the elite talent and the masses of Molina-level catchers in the NL. If you miss out on the top catchers and pass on Snyder, Ramon Hernandez is a sound pick, as his move to Great American Ballpark and low 2008 BABIP (.269) suggest a slight uptick in '09. If Miguel Montero is traded to a team that can provide him with more playing time, he will be right on par with Snyder.
Cohort Analysis: Chris Snyder vs. Miguel Montero. Because Snyder will probably keep his spot atop the Diamondbacks' depth chart, he is, at least for now, a much better pick than Montero. To make this interesting, let's say that Montero gets traded to another NL team. Even with a surge in his whiff rate in '08, Montero is a much better contact hitter than Snyder and would beat him in the batting average category. With full-time at-bats, Snyder would hit approximately 20 home runs, whereas Montero would most likely top out in the mid-teens.
No. 1/No. 2 Catchers: The NL is blessed with a bevy of borderline backstops. The Molinas and Brian Schneider have the longest-standing track records, but relative newcomers John Baker, Jesus Flores and Nick Hundley also stand to spend plenty of time in the lineup. The remaining foursome -- Chris Coste, Carlos Ruiz, Ronny Paulino and J.R. Towles -- have the least certain hold on playing time. None of the four merits the distinction of being a No. 1 catcher, whether in a 10-team or 12-team NL-only league, but given the lack of alternatives, each is a legitimate No. 2 catcher, even with part-time play.
Cohort Analysis: Bengie Molina vs. Yadier Molina vs. Brian Schneider. Looking at the three-year RC/27 trends below, Bengie Molina seems to be a step above the other two in this group. So why is he listed as part of this cohort? Extreme contact hitter that the eldest Molina is, his seven percent rate from last season won't last. His .292 BABIP will also probably tumble, unless he can rein in his 47 percent flyball rate, and this will drop Bengie's batting average a few more notches. Though his average could drop 15 to 20 points, he will still provide more power than Schneider and brother Yadier. What the latter two offer is the potential for more runs resulting from higher on-base percentages.
The Rest: Where is the "Solid No. 2 Catchers" category? It doesn't exist in the NL. Once the borderline No. 1/No. 2 tier has been wiped from the board, all that is left is a handful of guys who produce empty at-bats by the gross. Hopefully, you will have taken care of your catching needs before you reach this point in the draft, yet those in deeper leagues may find themselves needing to pick from this group. Kendall is the clear choice for an endgame catcher, since he has a better chance of accumulating at-bats than any of the Astros' candidates.
| Runs Created per 27 Outs (RC/27) -- An estimate of how many runs a lineup would produce per 27 outs if a particular player occupied each spot in the order; ex. the RC/27 for Miguel Cabrera would predict the productivity of a lineup where Cabrera (or his statistical equal) batted in all nine spots; created by Bill James |
Component ERA (ERC) -- An estimate of a what a pitcher's ERA would be if it were based solely on actual pitching performance; created by Bill James
Base Hits per Balls in Play (BABIP) -- The percentage of balls in play (at bats minus strikeouts and home runs) that are base hits; research by Voros McCracken and others has established that this rate is largely random and has a norm of approximately 30%
Isolated Power -- The difference between slugging percentage and batting average; created by Branch Rickey and Allan Roth
Walk Rate -- Walks / (at bats + walks)
Whiff Rate -- Strikeouts / at bats
Al Melchior was recently a Fantasy columnist and data analyst for Baseball HQ and will be providing advice columns for CBSSports.com. Click here to send him a question. Please put "Melchior" in the subject field.