Catcher week continues on here at MLB Mayhem. If you’ve missed earlier posts in this series, check out the overview and ranks, a catcher I am targeting and one I am avoiding. With the catching pool being quite shallow and top-end talent rostered early, many fantasy owners decide to wait until the bottom of the player pool to jump in. With many of the solid catchers having deficiencies of their own, the players who inhabit the murky bottom of the ranking lists all have a glaring issue or two.
Today I want to try to find at least one redeeming quality the bottom-end catchers possess. Perhaps we’ll come away with a moderate target or two.
- Yan Gomes (CLE): Yan Gomes has been a terrible hitter for two seasons now. Back in 2014 Gomes hit 21 home runs fully supported by underlying power metrics. Since that season however, Gomes has dealt with numerous injuries. The once well above average power is now merely league average. League average power can play with the right bat-to-ball skill, but Gomes also lacks in that area. A low 70’s contact percentage, coupled with a walk rate below five percent and you’ve got yourself a hacker. Despite showing power previously, Gomes has watched his Hard% sit considerably below the league average rate as well. A hitter who has average power, but a poor eye seems like the perfect candidate to have a semi-surprising below average Hard%. Gomes is that player. But still…15 Hr, 50/60 R/RBI & a sub .240 BA is playable in deeper mixed leagues.
- Mike Zunino (SEA): From one free-swinger to another. While both Gomes and Zunino are complete hackers and perceived as power only catchers, Zunino appears to be the better bet to either improve in coming years or at least be the more consistent power hitter of the two. The interesting thing with Zunino was his ability to improve his walk rate from merely meh, to above average (11%). Zunino still has a ton of swing-and-miss in his game (16.4% SwStr%), but has decided to just swing less often it appears (3 year Swing%: 54.3%, 49.6% & 46.5% in 2016). As long as you’re able to accept that batting average will be sub-optimal, the power metrics behind Zunino’s profile look real as can be. Using Statcast data, we can see Zunino’s average distance per hit in play is well above the league average distance (249.80 feet vs 218.07 feet). Zunino is also hitting the ball with a launch angle that elevates the ball (17.94 degrees vs league average rate of 9.97 degrees). Zunino might not hit higher than .230, but he has 30 home run upside as well.
- Francisco Cervelli (PIT): Cervelli feels like a watered down version of J.T. Realmuto who was covered earlier in this series. Last season injuries limited Cervelli to a half season of at-bats. During his time on the field Cervelli’s power metrics were all down substantially from their typical league average rates. While the hard hit ability was down for Cervelli, his batting eye improved considerably allowing for a decent batting average and middle of the road runs+RBI. If healthy in 2017, a combined 10 HR+SB, to go along with 90+/- runs+RBI and a .270 BA seems like the fair projection. You could do a lot worse this late in the catching pool.
- Derek Norris (WAS): After taking a slight detour to discuss a semi well-rounded catcher, we’re back to the low batting average, high power potential backstop with Derek Norris. Norris had by far his worst season in 2016, hitting .186 (xBA of .212), which was justified with a drop in contact percentage (below 70% now) as well as a drop in consistently hitting the ball hard. This is strange as the Hard% found on FanGraphs does show a 34.4% rate, which would be a few percentage above the league average rate. In looking at Plate Discipline numbers, it appears Norris was swinging slightly less at pitches outside of the zone (O-Swing%), but was also making considerably less contact on those pitches outside of the zone that he swung at (52.6% vs league average rate of 63.9%). In fact Norris had a zone contact (Z-Contact%) of 85.6%, which was just below the 86.3% average in 2016. Using an ISO heat map from Brooks Baseball we can see that when the pitch is in the zone, Norris has a decent ability to drive the ball. When the pitch is outside of the zone and he swings the result is less than powerful. Norris is a player to watch early in the season and try to detect a possible change in approach which would unlock another level of power potential.
That will wrap up catcher week. The position isn’t overly exciting, but does offer some pockets to fish in. Personally, I’m quite interested in Jonathan Lucroy, Willson Contreras & Yasmani Grandal among the higher end catchers. If the dynamics of the draft do not allow for a selection of one of those three, then a fall-back plan of a Russell Martin, Welington Castillo or Brian McCann isn’t horrible for your catcher number one either. After the top-end options are gone, it’s going to be a later pick for me when selecting my catcher number two. Team needs will most likely play a role in this decision, but also what’s most likely available in the pool. As this post details, the likely available second catcher will be a poor batting average, high power potential stick. Make sure to plan accordingly and perhaps protect batting average some in your drafts knowing that a Yan Gomes, Mike Zunino or Derek Norris could weigh down the category for your squad.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison