Post Break Prognosis: Catchers and First Basemen
Todd embarks on a four-part series by examining the post-break expectations of catchers and first basemen
Last week we surveyed the top earners in terms of 5x5-roto, providing some analysis and commentary as we head into the post All-Star break portion of the season. Today we’re going to embark on another series, this time a four-parter using my post-All Star break ranking as the foundation for discussion. The players will be listed in order of projected earnings for the rest of the season along with a quip for each. To help put the ranking in perspective, each player’s first half rank and initial projected rank will be included. Today we’ll cover catchers and first basemen.
1. Jonathan Lucroy (1H-1, PROJ-4): The leading first half earning receiver’s fine production is fully supported by skills as opposed to some good fortune. Lucroy’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) may drop a bit, but its present level of .337 was matched by a .338 mark in 2012. An 11 percent strikeout rate should minimize slumps and Lucroy will continue to hit in the heart of a potent order.
2. Buster Posey (1H-10, PROJ-3): It’s best to consider Posey’s 2012 MVP campaign as the best-case scenario and keep expectations to a more reasonable .300-15-90. Using that as the baseline, Posey is on course (his BABIP is a little low but well within plausible range of expectations). Posey is probably going to have another exceptional season or two, the key will be paying for the 50 percent projection, not the occasional MVP numbers.
3. Joe Mauer (1H-9, PROJ-2): Mauer’s top-three rank is more a reflection of no one else stepping up as it is his prowess. Please don’t misunderstand; Mauer is a fine hitter as evidenced by his #2 initial rank and #9 first half performance despite having an off-season. Playing time feeds into Mauer’s rank as even if his post-break is delayed a week or so, he’ll still get more at bats than most of the other catcher-eligible players. Reasonable expectations are for Mauer to hit low double-digit homers. He’ll probably fall short this season (only two thus far) but popping five more isn’t out of the realm.
4. Brian McCann (1H-17, PROJ-6): Whether it’s mental, seeing that inviting short right-field porch so close, something physical or just performance variance, McCann’s power output is falling well short of expectations. Almost all of the gauges we use to evaluate performance fall right in line with McCann’s history, save two – walk rate and home run per fly ball percent. Fewer walks may indicate McCann is a bit anxious but the fact he’s still making solid contact and isn’t trying to loft more batted balls suggest the power could return.
5, Salvador Perez (1H-5, PROJ-10): Perez has evolved into one of the most consistent and reliable catchers in the league. The only think keeping him from a higher ranking is the middle-of-the-pack run scoring of the Kansas City Royals. Perez hits in the meat of their order but as a team, the Royals are exactly league average with respect to runs scored.
6. Carlos Santana (1H-13, PROJ-5): Perhaps it’s a coincidence, perhaps it’s something more, but as soon as Santana was moved off of the hot corner, his offense picked up. That said, as great as June was for Santana (.308-6-15), his July has been a struggle (.222-2-4 with a 30 percent strikeout rate). This rank speaks more towards potential as it does reliability. Santana is a high-risk, high-reward proposition for the stretch.
7. Wilin Rosario (1H-16, PROJ-7): With the caveat that injuries may have contributed to the curious nature of Rosario’s first half, his metrics are all over the place and there’s no obvious narrative to explain it. His contact is improved but his power is down. Rosario’s 2014 hit distribution is not what you desire from a lead-footed receiver. Half of his batted balls have been grounders which severely limits the power potential. His career average 20 percent home run per fly ball mark has dropped to 15 percent. With a limited track record to begin with plus an injury-riddled first half skewing production, determining a baseline expectation for Rosario is still a chore.
8. Derek Norris (1H-6, PROJ-20): No one does a better job of putting their players in positions to succeed than the Oakland Athletics. Norris is proof-positive. That said, his first half was buoyed by some good fortune on batted balls which is likely to regress. Still, Norris will almost always have the handedness advantage with plenty of ducks on the pond. It also helps that his competition for catcher innings can play elsewhere so the A’s can keep all their sticks in the lineup.
9. Miguel Montero (1H-4, PROJ-13): As many prognosticators expected, Montero has enjoyed a bounce-back campaign, fueled by a better contact rate and HR/FB mark. In short, Montero is doing just as he’s supposed to do. His elevated first half rank is more a function of some of his receiver brethren scuffling than Montero vastly exceeding expectations. There’s no reason why Montero can’t keep on keeping on the rest of the season.
10. Devin Mesoraco (1H-3, PROJ-31): Some will look at Mesoraco’s #10 second half rank and call me a wuss. Well, they’re right but not because of my ranking. Mesoraco has always been a highly regarded prospect so a skills leap is not unexpected, but a 24 percent home run per fly ball rate is beyond what can be reasonably considered sustainable. That’s top-ten in the league level and with all due respect, Mesoraco doesn’t have top-ten power. In addition, a .341 BABIP is well above what Mesoraco usually carries so correction is likely. To be fair, Mesoraco’s success is not all luck. An elevated BABIP and HR/FB indicate he’s hitting the ball very hard. It’s just that continuing to square up in this manner the rest of the season isn’t likely.
11. Yan Gomes (1H-8, PROJ-21): Coming into the 2014 season, I had two concerns with Gomes. First was last year he sported a high BABIP that I was afraid others would pay for and receive a lower average in return. This has come to fruition but let’s be honest, this wasn’t a hard call. My second worry was Gomes improved his strikeout rate by a lot last season and I was leery he could maintain the gains. Turns out he has split the difference which is really all you can ask for. Gomes still has a limited track record so we’re not sure of his baseline, but his performance this season is a reasonable guess.
12. Wilson Ramos (1H-31, PROJ-9): Many consider health a skill and if that’s indeed the case, Ramos lacks this skill. When healthy, his production has been driven by a HR/FB mark above 20 percent, which is exceptional. This season’s level is half that so not only has Ramos spent a lot of time on the disabled list, when playing he’s struggled. Ramos has such a thin margin of error with respect to power since his fly ball percent is horrifically low, nestling in the twenties. You know, I used to like Ramos and thought health was the main concern. Now I’m not so sure – with that fly ball mark his power will be completely reliant on an elevated HR/FB and that’s a huge risk.
13. Carlos Ruiz (1H-20, PROJ-14): Hmm, this is a little surprising. As objective as I like to be with projections, taking a closer look at Ruiz is warranted so please give me a minute while I go consult my spreadsheet………………OK, I’m back. Thanks for your patience. I have Ruiz down for .275 with 4 homers. From a valuation standpoint, the ranking is driven by the batting average as I consider catchers to be their own player pool so each is compared to a replacement level catcher and in today’s landscape, the average of such a player is terrible. This adds value to catchers with a high average (see Mauer, Joe). So now the question is whether .275 is a reasonable expectation and to be honest, I’m skeptical. Ruiz is hitting .257 this year, on the heels of .268 last season. The elevated projection is fueled by .325 in 2012. Considering Ruiz’s advanced age, I think it’s fair to eliminate 2012 from the baseline which would drop his post-break projection in the .260 range. In the name of full disclosure, I plan on adjusting my projection but felt this analysis was of greater value than taking Ruiz out of the rankings and bumping #16 in. Russell Martin may disagree, but I doubt he has a clause where he gets a bonus if he makes my post-break top-15 catcher list.
14. Dioner Navarro (1H-14, PROJ-17): Navarro checks in at #14 for the rest of the season, exactly where he ended the midway point. When you’re asked to rattle off the top fantasy catchers, chances are you’ll get past this point before calling Navarro’s name. That’s a good thing since the market doesn’t price him this high but we’ll talk about that again next spring. For the rest of this season, it’s comforting knowing you’ve got one of the more reliable backstops (lacking the upside of the elite) but you’ll get consistent, useful numbers.
15.Jason Castro (1H-32, PROJ-12): In a lot of ways, Castro and Wilson Ramos are similar as both tease with solid numbers but it’s hard to produce from the disabled list. Though, this season, health hasn’t been the issue – making contact is the problem. Castro’s strikeout rate sits at a career worst 29 percent mark, growing for the second straight season. If you own Castro, you’re probably stuck with him as replacements are tough to come by (though Boston’s Christian Vazquez makes an intriguing flyer with the Cardinals’ George Kottaras being a real deep speculative play). I admit, I’m probably more optimistic than most Castro’s pedigree suggests a better second half is likely.
Paul Goldschmidt (1H-2, PROJ-1): There’s really not much to say. Were it not for a record-setting May by the next guy on the list, Goldschmidt would have earned his top projected ranking. As is, number two isn’t bad – especially since he’ll probably be the top-ranked first sacker for the season. If there’s anything negative to be said about Goldschmidt it’s his power is down a tad, but keep in mind last season’s total of 36 bombs was on the high end of what can be reasonably expected. Goldie’s more of a high-20’s guy than 30-something.
Edwin Encarnacion (1H-1, PROJ-3): We’re taking a pretty decent leap of faith that Encarnacion returns soon after the break. Indications are he will but expecting health from an injured player is a risk. Fueling Encarnacion’s power surge is lofting a few more batted balls than last season along with a slightly elevated HR/FB rate. When you’ve sported marks of 18.7 and 17.6 percent the past two seasons a level of 20.0 isn’t shocking. But still, that will be hard to maintain so when Encarnacion does return, expect a slower home run pace.
Albert Pujols (1H-8, PROJ-11): This is a little surprising since the post-break projection is a weighted average of what was originally expected and what transpired – which should result in a rank around ten. The key is Pujols’ original expectation was tempered by an injury hedge. We really didn’t know how he’d fare after shutting it down early last season when his plantar fasciitis was too much to bear. While his salad days are long gone, Pujols has proven he can still get it done. He’s even 4-for-5 with steals!
4. Jose Abreu (1H-3, PROJ-15): Let’s get this out of the way. I’m a geek, a nerd, I need to get my face out of my spreadsheets and actually watch a game (note – I watch as many games as anyone, probably more than most). Abreu is awesome, a great story, fantastic for the game and all that stuff. OK – here it comes. Sorry gang, there’s just no way he keeps up this level of power, buoyed by a HR/FB of 34.9 percent. Why am I so sure? Since 2004, only one player has maintained a level higher than that with a minimum of 250 at bats, that being Ryan Howard. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m not ready to proclaim Abreu as the second best power hitter of the past decade.
5. Freddie Freeman (1H-7, PROJ-7): People will continue to project a big power season for Freeman and one year they may be right. But for now, Freeman should be considered more of an all-around hitter than slugger as his fly ball rate is still low and his home run per fly ball just above league average. Freeman’s actually been rather unlucky this season as his (unsustainable) 32 percent line drive rate has resulted in a .347 BABIP that’s actually lower than last season’s .371 mark. Expect another consistently productive couple of months from Freeman.
6. Mark Trumbo (1H-35, PROJ-6): Welcome back #Trumbomb! Long-time site readers know of my bromance with Trumbo, going so far as to declare in February that he’d have a better season than Jay Bruce. The comparison is skewed by injury but I still feel compelled to call “Scoreboard!” While his early return did not pad his stats, knowing Trumbo will be good to go the rest of the season affords his owners some peace of mind. OK – I’ll change up the prediction for post-break and say Trumbo has a better rest-of-the-season than Jose Abreu.
7. Chris Davis (1H-18, PROJ-2): How come no matter what I cover an analysis of Chris Davis is always a part? Cliff Notes version: last season was the exception, 2012 was the norm and there’s no reason why Davis can’t produce in a similar fashion than that season.
8. Brandon Moss (1H-6, PROJ-18): We all know Moss hits primarily against righties, working the strong side of a platoon. But what everyone may not realize is he’s not horrible against southpaws. His whiff rate is a little worse and his power isn’t quite the same, but if Moss were a full-time player, he wouldn’t be embarrassed against lefties.
9. Anthony Rizzo (1H-4, PROJ-12): I recently wrote and discussed on a podcast that there’s a lot going on in a baseball season and not everyone can be on top of everything. Confession time: Rizzo’s outstanding first-half and into the second caught me by surprise. Or more specifically, I never would have guessed Rizzo had 20 homers at the break. His HR/FB is up and he’s lofting more batted balls. I’d expect one or the other to fall back a speck going forward. Rizzo’s power is for real. I just don’t see him as a 35 homer guy (which is his current pace), more a high 20’s sort.
10. Adrian Gonzalez (1H-10, PROJ-8): What you see is what you get. Every time Gonzalez hits a home run we’ll wonder why he doesn’t hit more. Then we wait a while before he hits another and we wonder all over again. If you own Gonzalez, take heed, his average should rise the rest of the way. His skills are right in line with normal but his BABIP is down. His line drive rate supports some positive regression.
11. Justin Morneau (1H-5, PROJ-21): On the other hand, largely due playing a lot of #DFS, I am aware of Morneau’s first-half prowess. Perhaps it’s due to the different movement on pitches in Coors or perhaps its happenstance but Morneau’s whiff rate at home is way down. The added knocks along with a return of his power stroke has Morneau on a pace for over 90 RBI, which would be as many as he’s had since 2009. So long as he’s healthy and they don’t move Coors to sea level, Morneau should have a solid remaining two and a half months.
12. Mark Teixeira (1H-13, PROJ-14): It’s sort of funny. Teixeira is doing exactly what he was doing before he got hurt. But pre-injury, he was a disappointment yet post injury, he’s a pleasant surprise. Face it, Teixeira is what he is – a low average, decent power run producer. Cover his average and he’ll help your homers and RBI while tallying a few scores of his own.
13. Matt Adams (1H-11, PROJ-13): If Big City keeps smacking homers no one will care about a scant 9 walks in 301 trips to the dish. But that’s a big if. On the other hand, Adams has cut back on his strikeouts. He’s still not trusted versus southpaws but then a .598 OPS in that scenario says that’s for a good reason. Adams is still a work in progress but platooning first baseman not employed by Billy Beane are rare so it would behoove Big City to learn a little more plate patience and handle southpaws better. But for this season, accept the role he’s but be wary of a drop in average as his .376 BABIP falls.
14. Eric Hosmer (1H-22, PROJ-10): Reading between the lines by Hosmer’s top-ten spring ranking combined with a #14 second half expectation on the heels of a 22nd best first half for a first baseman, I’m still drinking the Kool-Aid. Sigh. Hosmer has actually upped his fly balls a bit but his league-average HR/FB has been cut in half. Making matter worst is Hosmer’s double-digit steals are in jeopardy. This is it Eric, ten more weeks to get your act together then you’re dead to me.
15. Mike Napoli (1H-17, PROJ-16): Napoli’s power is down (which is too bad since his contact is up). With the Red Sox struggle to score runs his RBI are down but Napoli still checks in at the mid-teens in rank. This is a reflection of the depressed offensive landscape in MLB. By rights someone should knock Napoli (and Hosmer for that matter) off this list but homers are still declining so Napoli stays.
NEXT TIME: Second basemen, Third Basemen and Shortstops