MLB Daily Games Strategy: Snagging Your Catcher
Who else hates the catcher position? I mean, I do a ton of yoga and the catcher squat still makes me wince for my knees. Between that and the 90+ mph ball being hurled at your face a couple hundred times a game, no thanks. My 12 year old wanted to be a catcher a couple years ago. I supported him but was so relieved when he finally realized he's much better suited to the corner infield positions. He's also a middle reliever in one of his leagues, and every time I warm up him or one of his teammates I get bruised and/or bloody shins. So just to recap, catcher is not my favorite. Critically important to the team, but not my cup of tea.
But picking your daily games C, that shouldn't be so painful should it? Yet somehow, it seems to be an afterthought in many lineups. It's not really a stud position, so your expectations are low. If you have low expected output, you're liable to expend less of your lineup construction energy on C than other positions. This can lead you to just fill the spot with a top guy that everyone knows or whomever fits the salary bill. Catcher is also a common stack filler, where you can just use the C from the team you're stacking studs from.
I think there are a couple of exploitable features of the catcher position. First, because of the extraordinary wear and tear, it is one of the most platooned positions in baseball, particularly for teams without a clear all-star caliber defensive catcher. Those guys are more likely to play nearly every day, like Molina, Posey, or Lucroy. Other teams, like the A's, are able to platoon their C, so that Derek Norris (RHB) faces LHP and John Jaso (LHB) faces RHP. These two are two of my favorite daily catcher plays, btw. Norris ranks 2nd among catchers vs LHP this year, while Jaso ranks 3rd vs RHP (rank is for 2014 OPS, with minimum 25 PA vs LHP and 50 PA vs RHP). Norris is actually ranked 9th vs RHP as well, which leads the A's to use Jaso as a DH vs RHP sometimes. The Angels are anther team that rotates C effectively. Hank Conger is 4th vs RHP while Chris Iannetta is 4th vs LHP. Minnesota is the other really good platoon team for the catcher position. While Josmil Pinto is their guy vs RHP (ranked 2nd), Kurt Suzuki is a not too shabby 7th vs LHP. As is often the case with serious fantasy players, these valuable plays are guys that the casual baseball fan has probably never heard of.
Other platoon notables (guys you'd consider only against the proper pitcher opponent) include Jonathan Lucroy (ranked 1st in OPS), Carlos Ruiz (4th), Tyler Flowers (5th), Wilin Rosario (6th) Mike Zunino (9th) vs LHP and Devin Mesoraco (1st), Yan Gomes (5th), Matt Wieters (6th, hurt), Miguel Montero (7th), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (8th) vs RHP.
The platoon advantage is only half the story however. Where you can really exploit this position for daily fantasy is in the salaries. There is more inefficiency in C salary than any other position, as we'll see in future articles. I will say that the site I play on is really good about updating salaries but they are pretty stubborn about C. Here are the top 10 most expensive C, in order: Lucroy, Molina, Posey, Carlos Santana, Evan Gattis, Ruiz, Jordan Pacheco, Joe Mauer, AJ Pierzynski, and Rosario. There is less overlap between this list and the top performers than I would expect. But I only shared the platoon data, what about overall? Only Lucroy and Molina make the top 10 overall in 2014 OPS. Another question we might ask is how well does OPS correlate with average fantasy points per game on this site? In that case, Gattis and Posey sneak in to the top 10. Still there are six catchers priced higher than their performance dictates...
...and MANY catchers who are outperforming their salaries. These are the guys we want. The top 10 active C are scoring 7.5-13.5 FPTs per game at a salary range of $8750-11,100 (out of a $100K cap). The next 10 are scoring 7.2-13.3 FPTs per game at salaries from $7800-8300. This group includes Conger, Gomes, Montero and Saltalamacchia. Next, we get 3.2-18.2 FPTs per game for $6850-7800. The high mark here is Mesoraco, who has had fewer PA (though still meeting the minimum of 50 vs RHP). This group also includes my faves, Jaso and Norris, along with platoon studs Flowers, Pinto, and Zunino, who are averaging between 9.4-12.5 FPTs per game. Dropping one tier lower nets you Iannetta, Suzuki, Jason Castro, Dioner Navarro, or Welington Castillo (9.2-13.1 FPTs per game) for $6050-6800. Granted, none of these make my top plays list, but they are consistently producing top 10 FPTs for thousands of salary cap dollars less. The bottom line is that there is little correlation between average fantasy points per game and salary at the C position. So why pay up?
A final thought is that certain catchers bat in a better place in the order when the platoon advantage is favorable. You can usually get Norris at the two spot, or Ruiz, Santana, Castro, Montero, or Zunino batting 4th or 5th in the order, which really helps their value too.
For the reasons laid out here, I've avoided the big name large price tag catchers this year in DFS. I made an example of Posey in my first strategy article of this series, not to pick on him as a player, but to illustrate that past performance is not a terrific indicator of current performance in baseball. There were ~130 players in that analysis. It may well be the best indicator we have, but it just isn't as predictive as I would like. Posey is currently ranked 14th in OPS vs LHP and 16th vs RHP (18th overall) as the third most expensive option. Past performance is clearly playing a role in C salaries on my favorite DFS site. If it is on yours too (a quick glance says it is basically the same everywhere), it represents a great opportunity to take advantage of what we think of as a weak position. Use the platoon advantage to your advantage and don't pay for C, that's my advice for this week. Good luck this week, as always!