Deviation From Career Norms: Catchers

Bryan CurleyCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2009

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 09:  Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the New York Yankees in Game Two of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There is a certain amount of comfort in fantasy baseball.  Although we don’t know exactly what a player’s stats will be at the end of the year, we generally have an idea of how a player will perform.  Some players  always hit .300 and other players always hit 30 home runs.  We know these things because a player has consistently put up these numbers throughout his career.  They are called trends and every fantasy manager must identify these in order to be successful.  But what happens if a player deviates from his norm?  If he has an unexpected power surge does that mean we can expect more of the same power going forward?  If a player has a down year is it just a blip in his career or the beginning of a new trend?  It is important to identify possible new trends before your draft because you don’t want to overpay for a player who probably won’t duplicate his career year or spend a high draft pick on someone who you think can rebound but is not a good candidate to do so.  In the coming days I will be doing a series where I will highlight players from each postion whose past year was different from their career norms and determine if it is the beginning of a new trend or just an aberration.  Here are the highlights from the catcher position.

Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer is the best catcher in fantasy, period.  He finished last year with a PSR (Position Scarcity Rating) of 12.75.  This was 57.8% higher than the next best backstop. But if he is head an shoulders above every catcher, then why is he on this list?  Mauer is on this list because he hit 28 HR last year, 15 more than his previous high of 13 back in 2006.  Now before drafting Mauer in the late 1st, early 2nd round (where it will take to get him), you need to determine if he is the guy who hit almost 30 HR or  the guy who averaged 9.5 HR from 2005-2008.  I’m more inclined to believe that Mauer will not approach 30 HR next year.  Last year his home run to fly ball ratio (HR/FB) was a staggering 20.4%.  His career average is 11.4%.  And his isolated power rating (ISO) was .222, significantly higher than his career average of .156.  While it is probable that Mauer is developing more power, his spike in HR seems more like an aberration than a new trend since his HR/FB ratio and ISO were much greater last year than in any other year.  In addition to a power surge, Mauer also hit .365, which was much higher than his career AVG of .327.  This can be attributed to the highest BABIP of his career.  His BABIP was .377 which is much higher than his career BABIP of .349.  This suggests that Mauer was a bit lucky last year in that more of his batted balls resulted in hits than in any other year.  Although Mauer had a year for the ages at the catcher position last year, he will be hard pressed to repeat his performance in 2010.  While still the best catcher in fantasy, he is not worthy of a 1st round or early 2nd round pick.

Russell Martin

Russell Martin made his share of enemies last season.  Many fantasy managers made Martin the 2nd catcher off the board on draft day and with good reason.  From 2006-2008 Martin averaged 80 R, 14 HR, 74 RBI, 16 SB, and .285 AVG.  However, last year Martin disappointed with 63 R, 7 HR, 53 RBI, 11 SB, and a .250 AVG.  Yikes.  Which Martin can we expect in 2010, the 2006-2008 version or the 2009 version?  I believe the 2010 version will be similar to last years version, thus 2009 was not an aberration but rather the beginning of a new trend.  Martin was able to put up good R and RBI numbers from 2007-2008 due his position in the Dodgers lineup.  In 2007, Martin hit 2nd 56 times, 3rd 170 times, 5th 56 times, and 6th 248 times.  In 2008, Martin hit 1st 73 times, 3rd 163 times, 5th 79 times, and 6th 98 times.  However, 2009 saw more of Martin’s at bats coming from lower in the order.  He hit 5th 98 times, 6th 130 times, 7th 128 times, and 8th 80 times.  The lower a player is in the order, the less chances he has to score runs or drive in runs.  In 2010 I expect Martin to again hit mostly in the bottom half of the order.  I find it hard to believe that he will hit at the top of the order with Rafael Furcal on the roster or hit above guys like Matt Kemp, Manny Ramirez, Andre Ethier, James Loney, or even Casey Blake.  This means that he is unlikely to approach 80 R or 74 RBI.  As for Martin’s HR, SB, and AVG, they have all decreased in each of the last 3 years.  His OPS has also decreased in each of the last 3 years culminating in an ugly OPS of .680 in 2009.  Another alarming note on Martin is his 2nd half splits.  He is a career .287 hitter before the All-Star break but only a career .263 hitter after the break.  I’m sure Joe Torre and the rest of the Dodgers staff are aware of this and may reduce Martin’s workload throughout the season, something that will surely hurt his counting stats.  When drafting Martin in your upcoming fantasy draft, understand that you’re not getting the 2006-2008 version, rather you are getting someone closer to the 2009 version.

Geovany Soto

Last year, Geovany Soto’s owners would have killed for Russell Martin’s stats.  That’s how bad your catcher position was if you were unfortunate enough to draft Soto last year.  After bursting onto the scene in 2008, Soto stumbled in 2009 and never recovered.  What gives?  Is he the player in 2008 who scored 66 R, hit 23 HR, drove in 86 runs, and batted .285 or the shell of that version who hit .218 with 27 R, 11 HR, and 47 RBI in 2009?  I think 2009 was an aberration and that the real Soto will stand up and perform closer to the 2008 version.  Since Soto has only 2 years of 300 or more at bats it’s harder to determine how well he will perform in 2010.  However, I am more inclined to believe that his poor performance  in 2009 was a result of injury.  He began the year battling shoulder issues and later strained his oblique muscle which resulted in a rather lengthy DL stint.  It’s no surprise then why Soto wasn’t able to duplicate his 2008 stats.  Although this doesn’t prove that Soto will regain his 2008 form, there are other encouraging signs that point towards a rebirth for Soto.  Even though Soto had a high BABIP of .337 in 2008, his high LD% (Line Drive Percentage) of 21% suggests that it is somewhat attainable.  Also, Soto showed tremendous hitting ability in the Minor Leagues.  For the Cubs Triple A team in 2007, he hit 25 HR with 107 RBI while posting a .349 AVG.  Although I wouldn’t recommend drafting Soto as top 5 catcher, don’t be afraid to take a chance on him after that.