Platoons have long been a favorable method used by fantasy players who weren’t able to nab elite sluggers like Oakland A’s outfielder Khris Davis or base stealing studs that could win you an entire category such as Cincinnati speed demon Billy Hamilton. Leagues usually allow you to roster three outfielders and most teams utilize a fourth in the utility spot or as part of a committee maybe focusing on home/road splits instead e.g. a hitter at Coors Field.
This article isn’t about outfielders though. We’re looking at catchers, a position which is becoming much more specialized and much harder to accumulate a singular stud. Sure, you can try and waste a premium high round pick on Gary Sanchez of the Yankees or San Francisco backstop Buster Posey and be satisfied with your 120+ game Catcher as somebody you can rely on to be a solid, if not great, contributor to your team and final finish.
Instead, let’s look at the position in a different light especially when it comes to fantasy baseball circles. Only 9 catchers had over 420 AB in 2017 and only three of them hit 20+ home runs including Salvador Perez with 27 (and a broken windshield). If you are willing to bite the bullet and spend a pick that could’ve gone to your rotation on a catcher who may end up giving you just 60-65 RBI along with 14-18 HR then have at it. This article isn’t for you. On the entire year, only 25 catchers had over 300 AB and unless you are in a 10 or 12 team league while going injury free that’s a pretty damning statistic. The odds are greater that you’re looking at a guy with a top end of 375 or 350 AB if your elite pick goes down at any point in the season.
So how does platooning come into play to combat this issue? Most of you are probably thinking simple: Home/Road splits and taking advantage of say Colorado or Houston but then we run into a deeper problem, especially if you play in a league where you can only make Weekly lineup changes. Managers are relying on righty/lefty splits on a greater basis so your genius plan to platoon the Coors Field catcher goes out the window when you ignore that he sits against lefties and that week features 2-3 LHP starters, nullifying any advantage you would have had over your opponent.
That’s why we should be looking at catcher splits and the ability to get cheaper mid-round options while employing them against the pitchers they can hit very well. You not only can mostly avoid the issue of trying to decide whether a ballpark that’s a 106 park factor is better than a 103 park factor but you can better match up what the likely decisions will be via the manager in the dugout. Going into a week, if a catcher only has a handful of at bats against a certain handed pitcher, you can be pretty certain they’ll probably be sitting and you can take advantage. This won’t be 100% fool proof of course, but it’s a better platoon option to get greater value out of a position that’s becoming harder to get elite numbers from.
Let’s look at the production we’ll be trying to replicate first.
- Gary Sanchez (Yankees): .278/.345/.531 with 79 R, 33 HR, 90 RBI, and 2 SB
- Buster Posey (Giants): .320/.400/.462 with 62 R, 12 HR, 67 RBI, and 6 SB
- Salvador Perez (Royals): .268/.297/.495 with 57 R, 27 HR, 80 RBI, and 1 SB
- Yadier Molina (Cardinals): .273/.312/.439 with 60 R, 18 HR, 82 RBI, and 9 SB
The biggest impact will be the RBI category. That will likely be the toughest to replicate with our cheaper platoon combo but the other categories are pretty replaceable, especially if we’re smart with who we choose to combine together. Let’s take a look at just two options and how they fared last season.
- Christian Vazquez (Red Sox): Faced LHSP in just 55 AB compared to 269 against RHSP. If you played him only against righties you’d get the following line – .286/.325/.394 with 33 R, 3 HR, 23 RBI, and 5 SB. Right away you would see the benefits especially from those playing with BA and SB. While the lack of pop would hurt, the runs and RBI gives your fantasy team a great half to build upon with your lefty masher or righty masher.
- James McCann (Tigers): Faced RHSP by almost 100 more AB so we’ll roll with his 221 AB there. Just combining him and Vazquez would have given you 490 AB, about 40-60 AB shy of the elite catchers above. McCann ended up with at .258/.311/.412 with 24 runs, 7 HR, 38 RBI, and 1 SB.
- Vazquez/McCann Combo: 490 AB hitting .273/.318/.402 with 57 runs, 10 HR, 61 RBI, and 6 SB.
Just with that combo alone, you would’ve gotten a slightly lesser on base Buster Posey or a slightly less power hitting Yadier Molina for a much cheaper cost. Right now you would be looking at a 4th Round cost to take Buster Posey per his ADP in a 12 team league and even Molina would cost you a 12th to 14th Round pick most likely. If you went with the platoon combination above, you would save yourself major value as McCann would cost you an 18th – 20th Round pick and Vazquez would cost you a crazy low 24th to 26th Round pick. Imagine the better players you could build your squads around depth wise if you had an extra 6 to 12 rounds of value to play with!
Let’s look at a combination that would be incredible value, two guys who likely would go complete un-drafted (30th Round ADP or lower): Player 1 is Atlanta’s Kurt Suzuki who went insane against RHSP in just 213 AB. Suzuki ended up hitting .275/.352/.491 with 27 runs, 13 HR(!), 39 RBI, and 0 SB. That power is crazy and that alone would have made him a valuable late round selection but you get a solid BA, great OBP, and almost 40 RBI for your bargain bin pick up.
So you have one player but now who should we focus on? How about Yan Gomes of the Cleveland Indians? I mean, you look at him on paper and he was kind of okay, not elite like your Sanchez/Realmuto/Contreras selections, right? Well let’s put him against RHSP, like our other usual options, and we get a solid 226 AB. He ended up hitting .243/.324/.403 with 29 runs, 8 HR, 36 RBI, and 0 SB. If you’re relying on steals from your catcher position, your team’s in trouble so we only care about the power that we’d be getting from our Suzuki/Gomes hybrid.
- Suzuki/Gomes Mutant Slugger: 444 AB hitting .259/.338/.446 with 56 runs, 21 HR, 75 RBI, and 0 SB.
Suddenly you’re able to match the power potential you’d get from a Perez or Molina with comparable numbers in every other category. The only weakness is really the BA but the OBP’s solid and you’d get near 5th or 6th Round value out of two catchers who would likely go un-drafted or drafted in the last couple rounds in a 12 team league.
As your fantasy leagues are starting up either this month or next month, don’t think about overpaying for an elite stud catcher who would kill your season if they went down to injury. Be smart and take advantage of the statistics at your fingertips. Don’t even try to get cute and corner the market trying to spend for a hitter’s haven like at Colorado. Just study the catchers and aim for the guys who can start a lot for you, especially in Weekly leagues although this tactic is very valuable for Daily leagues too. Here are a few other names to keep in mind before you start your draft prep.
- Stephen Vogt (Brewers): Slugged .424 with 11 HR last year against RHSP. Has slugged .433 for his career.
- Russell Martin (Blue Jays): Put up an .814 OPS with 12 HR last year against RHSP. Career .340 OBP in over 1,000 starts.
- Francisco Cervelli (Pirates): Put up a .263/.354/.387 line against RHSP last year. Career .275 hitter with a .360 OBP.