If there is one thing I hate about fantasy baseball it is selecting a catcher. Catchers are the least sexy players in baseball, mostly because they spend all day in a squat position. I’ve found catcher stats to be equally strong turn offs, though.
We face this problem every year. Historically we could count on there being one or two great catchers early in the draft, and a lot of acceptable guys to grab in the later rounds.
That system wasn’t elegant, but it worked. And every year fantasy experts would remind us that it made perfect sense to look past the best catchers because there was good value in the later rounds. In soothing voices they would tell us we would be fine if we passed on Buster Posey and took Yan Gomes.
But this year is different. This year there is no reassuring voice telling us we can win if we take a catcher in round 15 or even round 20. This year the sky has fallen and left us only one draftable catcher.
Rational fantasy writers everywhere are warning us that there is no catcher but Gary Sanchez. Many catcher previews are focusing solely on the drop off from Sanchez and every other catcher. The message is clear – draft Gary Sanchez or lose everything, your league, your family, your 401(k) and even your dog.
Their argument is simple, in 2018 the catcher position is unusually thin, dismally thin even. But there is one ray of hope in Gary Sanchez. Sanchez isn’t only the best player at the position but is an unusually gifted batter no matter the position. The argument goes that Sanchez’s stats will be so gaudy compared to every other catcher that the league championship is inevitable.
And it’s true, Sanchez is far superior to all other catchers, but his numbers suggest a player drafted 30 picks later than his current ADP. My complaint isn’t with Sanchez’s skill but with taking him with the 23rd pick in the draft. You read that right, Sanchez’s ADP is 23. I believe Sanchez’s draft position will kill your team.
The problem with the Sanchez lie is that you don’t win leagues by having a positional statistic advantage. You win leagues by having the best total team statistics. And Sanchez has the potential to hurt your team simply because of his ADP. If you take Sanchez in the late second or early third round you are passing up superior players and leaving a lot of stats on the table.
The scarcity bias explains Sanchez’s draft position much more than his numbers. The scarcity bias is the idea that we place an irrational value on an object because we perceive there to be uniquely limited supply or extremely high demand for the cherished item.
There is a very limited number of catchers who can hit 30 home runs while scoring 75 Runs and driving in 85 RBIs. But there are a fair number of batters who can do this. Those numbers aren’t overly scarce. You can get similar numbers from batters going a couple of rounds later. Edwin Encarnacion and Anthony Rendon come to mind and they are going around draft choice 50, far later than Sanchez. Edwin and Rendon just aren’t as sexy as a squatting catcher playing in the Bronx.
Lets to take this from the emotional to the analytical. I don’t want to compare names, I want to see cold, hard numbers. I want to know what are the real consequences of drafting Gary Sanchez in the third round?
Lets say you pass on Sanchez in the third and take Cody Bellinger instead. Then, because the rules require you draft a catcher, you wait all the way until 13th round and draft Yadier Molina. Molina’s ADP is 161 but I’ve seen him fall all the way to pick 185 in some mocks. Using Steamer’s projections, these two combine for 47 Home Runs; 128 Runs; 150 RBIs; 15 Stolen Bases and a cumulative .263 Average.
|Cody Bellinger, LAD||513||81||129||36||97||10||.251|
|Yadier Molina, STL||414||47||115||11||53||5||.278|
Now if you take Sanchez in the third and Ian Kinsler in the 13th, about where Molina is going, you end up with 49 Home Runs; 151 Runs; 147 RBIs; 15 Stolen bases and a cumulative .261 Average.
|Ian Kinsler, LAA||552||80||141||19||64||12||.255|
|Gary Sanchez, NYY||452||71||121||30||83||3||.268|
That is pretty close to a tie. Sure Molina is a 35 year old coming off his best season, but I would look past this detail and take Bellinger over Sanchez every time, and I’ll explain why after the next comp.
The other comp I want to look is J.D. Martinez. You could pass Sanchez to take Martinez in the third round then hold off grabbing a catcher until the last useable guy is still on the board. Maybe you say that guy is Wilson Ramos because you can’t count on Jonathan Lucroy any longer and don’t want a catcher who hits .230. Ramos is going at ADP 206. Steamer projects your duo of Ramos and Martinez to hit 47 Home Runs; 118 Runs; 142 RBIs; 4 steals and a cumulative .273 average.
|J.D. Martinez, BOS||484||81||138||33||98||3||.285|
|Wilson Ramos, TB||312||37||79||14||44||1||.253|
The person who grabbed Sanchez would be looking at Odubel Herrera in the 17th round, right about the time you snagged Ramos. The Sanchez-Herrera combination netted that team 45 Home Runs; 147 Runs; 150 RBIs; 16 SB and a cumulative .271 Average.
|Odubel Herrera, PHI||571||76||156||15||67||13||.273|
|Gary Sanchez, NYY||452||71||121||30||83||3||.268|
When you do the math it is fairly clear, taking Sanchez doesn’t give you the glaring advantage some fantasy gurus are promising and may put you at a disadvantage. In fact taking Sanchez can hurt you.
But there is one more reason I would take Martinez and Bellinger over Sanchez every single time – catchers get hurt. I want as little risk in my lineup as possible. And injury risk is always present. Some players are more injury prone and some positions are more injury prone.
The catcher position has a greater likelihood of injury. A Forbes evaluation following the 2015 season found that catchers had the highest injury rate of position players, just ahead of second basemen.
Sanchez hasn’t shown a unusual propensity for injuries, but he has missed time due to a biceps strain in 2017 and a broken thumb off a foul tip in 2016. So do you want to risk your second or third round pick on a player who will give you numbers equal to players two rounds later and plays the most dangerous position on the field? I don’t either.
A lot of fantasy success comes from simply not messing up your early round draft picks. I believe a second or third round catcher pick is exactly the kind of mistake that can kill your fantasy hopes. So get to know players with names like Austin and Wilson because they will serve you better in the later rounds than the best catcher in baseball.