2018 Dudes and Don’ts: Catcher
Welcome to the 2018 series of Dudes and Don’ts! What is a Dude and a Don’t, you ask? Well, essentially, a sleeper and a bust but with a fancier name. These are players that I like or dislike for the 2018 season, broken down by position. For each position I’ll give you one Dude, one Don’t, and one Deep League Dude. The exception to that will be for outfielders and starting pitchers, where I’ll give some extra guys since those positions are deep.
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Before we begin with catcher, some context: These are players I’ve chosen based on Fantrax ADP. It’s all about value. You kill the value if you draft a Dude 50 picks early. On the other hand, if a Don’t somehow drops 50 picks in your draft, then maybe I become interested in that player at such a discount. It’s all about the production you’re getting relative to the price you have to pay. For example, last year I couldn’t understand why anyone was drafting Brandon Crawford at his ADP when you could get the same production from Zack Cozart much later. They don’t all work out as well as that one did, but that’s the goal here.
The Dude – Wilson Ramos
It sucks to start this series with catcher since it’s such a crummy position. It’s kind of like kickers in fantasy football. Nobody really likes them, but they’re a part of the game and you need to know about them just like any other position. This year’s Dude is going to be the optically superior Wilson Ramos of the Tampa Bay Rays. Prior to the 2016 season, he had Lasik surgery to help with his vision. Immediately after that, everyone collectively looked at each other and said, “Uh, what?! You couldn’t really see the ball this whole time? Why on earth would you wait until you’re 28 years old to get this done?!”
Well, get it done he did. He went from a 62 wRC+ in 2015 to a 124 wRC+ in 2016. His average went from .229 to .307, and he set career-highs across the board, including HR (22), R (58), RBI (80), and doubles (25). Unfortunately, his season ended with a torn ACL, and in 2017 he didn’t get back to the field until the end of June. When he did return, the power was back (.188 ISO), but the average and OBP (.260/.290) weren’t what you were hoping for. Ramos has never been one to walk much, so he takes a ding in OBP formats, but it was also asking for too much for him to repeat his .300 average from 2016. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit closer to .280 this season. He has maintained a 33-35% hard contact rate over the past two seasons, and his 11.3% pop-up rate from ’17 came out of nowhere, so I’d expect that to come back down.
He also increased his pull% by 8% to 46.3%, making his 20.8% HR/FB rate a bit more believable. It definitely sucks that the Rays are gutting the team since that means fewer R/RBI for Ramos. Even if his production takes a hit in that department, though, I think he will be such a value in HR/AVG that I’m ready to invest in him heavily this season. He’s just the 13th catcher off the board on Fantrax, ADP 269 overall. In standard mixed leagues with one catcher, you can wait until one of your last picks before you have to take him. In two-catcher formats, I’m going to be a bit more aggressive this year on my first catcher. However, if you wanted to wait and make Ramos your first catcher, that’s a viable option, too.
2018 Projection: 500 plate appearances, 55 R, 25 HR, 70 RBI, .280 AVG
The Don’t – Mike Zunino
I’m predisposed to enjoy anyone with a “Z” in their name just because it’s kind of cool, but you cannot suck me in again on Mike Zunino. I’ve bought in too many times, only to be burned with a sub-.200 batting average, and I refuse to let that be a part of my life again! It’s agony!
Last year Zunino launched an impressive 25 homers in just 124 games, giving him a .258 ISO that should be sneezed at by no one. Also, stop sneezing at things, people. Cover your mouth. Zunino has always had plenty of power, though, so that wasn’t a huge surprise. What was different was his actually tolerable .251 average. If you pair that kind of power with an average that won’t sink you, well, that’s quite the player. That’s how drafters are seeing him this year, but I’m here to warn you not to buy in.
Zunino managed that .251 average with a .355 BABIP that is almost as undeserved as Jack’s death in The Titanic. That board was big enough for both of you! Zunino’s strikeout rate actually increased from 2016 when he hit .207. His K% went from 33.9% to an astonishing 36.8%. That’s the type of strikeout rate that makes you a Quad-A player. To put his 2017 BABIP of .355 into context, his career rate is .273. League average is around .300. Despite a very high hard-contact rate (38.6%), Zunino puts way too many balls in the air (45.6%) and pops up too much (12.5%) to maintain such a high BABIP. Oh, and also I should mention his 17.9% swinging strike rate and 63.8% contact rate that rank among the worst in baseball.
Will Zunino hit for power? Yes. He always has. But at his ADP you are banking on him repeating a .250 average, which is not going to happen. If it’s power with a bad average you want, wait 65 picks for Yasmani Grandal, or 130 picks for…
2018 Projection: 450 plate appearances, 50 R, 25 HR, 60 RBI, .215 AVG
The Deep League Dude – Chris Iannetta
…Chris Iannetta! What could go wrong with banking on a 34-year-old catcher, right? Well, catcher is just so damn ugly this year that this is what we’re left with for two-catcher leagues when we cheap out. Going off the board as the 22nd catcher (329 overall), Iannetta managed to improve his home park this offseason. It’s hard to do considering he was upgrading from Chase Field, but it doesn’t get any better than heading back to Coors. Iannetta is a career .231 hitter with a 13.6% BB%, so this call is more geared toward OBP leagues, but in standard roto, I can get interested, too. Coors Field should help float his average around the .250 mark where it was last year, and honestly, just having the floor of a guy not killing you as your second catcher is a good start. He’s maintained a 35% hard contact rate over the past two seasons, as well, so he should be able to put up double-digit homers. That’s about as good as it gets when you’re this deep into the murky waters of catcher.
2018 Projection: 335 plate appearances, 45 R, 14 HR, 50 RBI, .250 AVG