The catching position in fantasy baseball was supposed to get beefed up in recent years. The new wave of young catchers was expected to join the ranks of Mauer, V-Mart and McCann, adding much needed depth to the position. Geovany Soto and Matt Wieters were hyped the last two years; now, everyone is talking about Carlos Santana and Buster Posey. Both have really taken off and pushed Soto and Wieters into the background. In the ďwhat have you done for me latelyĒ category, itís not very stylish to write about the prospects that didnít take off in their first year, or had a sophomore slump, but weíll give it a shot anyway. Itís time to take a look back at these once highly touted catchers and see what each could offer your team.
Make Sure to Eat Your Wieters (by Conan Hines)
After a disappointing first half in his first full major league campaign, Matt Wieters found himself on the DL right before the All-Star Break. The switch-hitting golden-boy was the biggest talk of the town before Strasburg came barreling towards the bigs. Now he is owned in less than two-thirds of Yahoo! leagues, and owners appear to be wary of him going forward. He might not be the most secure acquisition for a contending team at right now, but I see no better time to pounce on this kid before he finds his groove.
Wietersí K-rate is in-line with his minor league numbers (21.6%), and his walk rate has increased from last year (7.3% to 9.1%). He is striking out less and walking more than he did last year - this is certainly good news going forward. His average is sitting at a worthless .245, but his BABIP is only .291. That doesnít seem like a terrible BABIP, but keep in mind Wieters has never been below .352 in his professional career. Is that sustainable? I think so. He had a .356 BABIP last season in 385 AB, and I believe he is going to be closer to that number than the sub-.300 one he is carrying right now.
So, what explains the low BABIP? Wieters is hitting more groundballs this year. Not known for his speed, the escalated worm-burning rate is not favorable for his cosmetic stats. Beyond that, he is taking more first pitch strikes (60%), and is swinging at pitches outside of the zone a lot more (30%). If you look even closer, heís actually making more contact with pitches outside of the zone (9% increase) and less contact in the zone (10% decrease) than he did last year. Now, itís okay to swing at pitches outside the zone - itís even expected from power guys - but Wieters doesnít seem to be swinging over these pitches. Heís making contact with them and thus producing some pretty feeble balls in play.
Being that it is still early in his career, Iím willing to chalk his new fishing methods up to youth and adjustments made by the rest of the league. Wieters is too good and too advanced to maintain such a childish approach. Once he starts learning how to swing over breaking pitches and changeups, heíll improve his command of the zone and thus his fantasy value. His walk rate still has room for improvement; and once it clicks, I believe weíll start to see his power numbers blossom into what we thought they would be all along.
Hitting in the midst of a lineup such as the Orioles doesnít help. The Oriolesí youth has slumped overall and that always comes into play when evaluating fantasy worth. Once Nick Markakis and Adam Jones start to hit again, it will only add to Wietersí fantasy potential. With more people on base, heíll see more pitches in the zone. Also note that Wieters had a five-game hitting streak and recorded at least one hit in 13 of his last 15 games before finding the DL. He should come back healthy, and hopefully strong, in the second half. If it doesnít happen this year, I would still be on the hunt in keeper leagues where your team may have fallen out of contention. The golden boy will break out, and it will happen soon.
Say It Is Soto (by Justin Green)
After an atrocious 2009, Geovany Soto looks to have regained his 2008 form when he was voted National League Rookie of the Year. Sotoís fantasy numbers are better, his peripheral numbers are better, and he is competing in one of the weakest divisions in baseball. All of these factors point to a return to form for the young catcher. If other owners in your league havenít picked up on it yet, now is the time to grab Soto.
If we were to call it a season today, Soto would have provided fantasy owners with more value than he did all of last year. True, Soto was on the DL for a bit in 2009, but in 106 fewer at-bats, Soto has a line of 34-12-33-0-.293. Thatís seven more runs, one more home run, and 14 less RBIs than all of 2009. It would be hard to argue Soto isnít providing fantasy owners more value in 2010 than he did last year. The real question is, will the performance continue? I say yes.
The most important stat to look at when considering Sotoís performance this year is BABIP- it has finally recovered to a reasonable level. In 2008, Soto had a .332 BABIP. In 2009, it plummeted to .246. This year, he has a solid .340 BABIP. The league average is .299 this year, so there is some potential for a slight correction, but guys like Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera have BABIP well above that average (.366 and .353 respectively) and Soto should be able to maintain a high BABIP as the year continues. A .246 BABIP is horribly unlucky and unlikely to happen again.
Another important factor is Sotoís improved eye at the plate. His walk rate has been climbing since his rookie year from 11.0 percent, to 12.9 percent in 2009, to 16.9 percent this year. He has walked 46 times, just four shy of his total from 2009 and 16 shy of his 2008 number. As one would expect, Sotoís percentage of balls swung at outside the zone has decreased as well since 2008, going from 20 to 18 to 14.6 percent over the last three years. He is seeing the ball better than he has in the past and is waiting for good pitches, which means his 2010 numbers are likely to continue.
Finally, Soto is in a weaker NL Central than 2009. The NL Central has some of the worst records in baseball in 2010. Teams like the Astros, Pirates, and Brewers are all really struggling and have terrible pitching staffs - those teams have three of the six worst team ERAs in the Major Leagues. They are also all in the bottom half of the league in fielding percentage. Soto is facing weak pitching and weak defense, and his fantasy numbers have reflected this and benefited fantasy owners. He is owned in just 69 percent of Yahoo! Leagues. If Soto is still available in your league, now is the time to grab him.