2009 Fantasy Year In Review: Analyzing Catchers

Bryan CurleyCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - OCTOBER 11: Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins hits a run-scoring single in the 6th inning against the New York Yankees in Game Three of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on October 11, 2009 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Read this whole article, with graphs included, and more at Baseball Professor.

“The past is behind, learn from it.
The future is ahead, prepare for it.
The present is here, live it.”
-Thomas Monson, American Bishop

Who is Thomas Monson? To be honest, I don’t really know, but I think he was talking about fantasy baseball when he coined that commonly heard phrase. Just think about it:

“Last season is behind, learn from it.
Next season is ahead, prepare for it.
The presents are here, it’s Christmas!”
-Bryan Curley, Baseball Professor

Ok so maybe I took a few liberties, but come on… it’s Christmas! Over the next seven days we will be taking a look back at the 2009 season as we gear up for 2010. This season-in-review will get us started with identifying key trends that developed, players that broke out, and stars that faded, all of which we’re going to need as fantasy drafts are only three months away!

**NOTE: Sortable 2009 player stats from this article located at "2009 In Review:C."**

Comeback Player of 2009
Victor Martinez (BOS) – Entering 2008, Martinez was the top-ranked fantasy catcher, but entering 2009 most rankings had him rounding out the bottom of the top 5 due to his disastrous, injury-plagued ‘08 season. While a drop from 1st to 5th is normally fairly slight, at the catcher position it’s the cutoff point between studs like Brian McCann/Joe Mauer and fairly reliable stopgaps such as Bengie Molina/Chris Iannetta. With his 88/.303/23/108/1 season last year and his trade to Boston, Martinez is now a strong contender for number 2 at catcher in 2010. Welcome back to the ranks of the elite, Victor!
Honorable Mention: Jorge Posada (NYY)

Breakout Player of 2009
Kurt Suzuki (OAK) – In his third MLB season, Suzuki finally emerged as a viable fantasy starter. While he isn’t in the Mauer/Martinez/McCann category (but then again, who else is) he can give you solid AVG, R, RBI, and even the occasional SB. Before you discount his 2009 as a fluke, remember that in 2007 he posted very similar numbers on a per game basis.
Honorable Mention: Miguel Montero (ARI)

Most Disappointing Player of 2009
Geovany Soto (CHC) – The 2008 NL Rookie of the Year did his best vanishing act in 2009, posting a horrendous 27/.218/11/47/1 line. He batted above .240 in only two months (May and June) and under .140 in two other months (April and August). He will be 27 by opening day 2010, so there is still reason to believe that he will improve, and if he falls to later rounds he would be a great buy-low option because of his potential to repeat his .285/23/86 season in ‘08.
Honorable Mention: Russell Martin (LAD)


So what exactly are we looking at? Here is a quick explanation:

  1. When considering luck over a period of time, there are a few factors to look at. Two of the biggest are BABIP and LD% (line drive percentage).
  2. In general, line drives have a greater chance of finding open space and becoming hits than do fly balls or ground balls. This means players that hit more line drives tend to have higher BABIP.
  3. Also in general, a player’s BABIP equals their LD% plus 0.120.
  4. By looking at each catcher’s BABIP from 2009 and comparing it to their Expected BABIP (LD% + 0.120), we can get an idea of which guys caught some lucky breaks and which weren’t as fortunate. Anything over 0 in the “Difference” column indicates the probability of some luck, and anything under zero vice versa.
  5. This is in no way a definite or absolute statistic. It is merely a barometer that can be used to analyze trends. What is considered a line drive in one ballpark may not be the same in another, and not all line drives are made equal. For our purposes though, it is useful when interpreted correctly.

So what can we actually infer from this data? First of all, only one catcher that finished the season in the top five had a Difference over 0, Joe Mauer. This means that the success by Martinez, McCann, Suzuki, and Posada was in no way influenced by chance and was purely a product of their excellent performance. This isn’t to discredit Mauer in any way at all because you cannot hit .365 without immense baseball talent, but we can sleep well this offseason knowing that the stats of the other top catchers are legitimate.

Also notice how some of the most disappointing players last season (McCann, Martin, Iannetta, Soto) have some of the more negative Differences. While their struggles are due in large part to poor performance, we can induce that a little bit of bad luck probably exacerbated the extent of these struggles.