Fantrax Staff Debate: Willson Contreras vs. Buster Posey
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One of the most enjoyable parts of fantasy sports in debating which players are better than others. We’ve all done it. You’re hanging out with some friends, probably enjoying a beer or two, and you get into a long discussion over which player is better than another one. Sometimes it might get heated, but that’s okay. We aren’t all going to agree on every single player. That would make fantasy leagues incredibly boring.
The same can be said here at Fantrax. We have a great group of writers and podcasters (that might not be a word, but who cares) who are all very knowledgeable, but we don’t always agree. So we figured we’d have some good ol’ fashion debates about two players that are close in potential 2018 fantasy value. We start with a couple of top-five catcher options.
Tale of the Tape
Anthony Franco (@affranco10)
Over the past three seasons, Posey has drawn nearly 200 more plate appearances than any other catcher, offering reliability at the game’s most grueling position. He showed no signs of slowing down last year, slashing .320/.400/.462 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He consistently runs high line drive rates, he almost never pops up, and he has a knack for consistently working solid at-bats, ranking fifth-lowest among catchers in soft contact rate.
Yes, his .347 BABIP is almost certain to regress somewhat; that said, his line drive approach has enabled him to hit for high BABIPs in every year of his career, and his extremely low strikeout rate makes him the favorite to lead all catchers next year in hits and batting average.
Additionally, the Giants offense should be massively improved thanks to some splashy offseason acquisitions as well as bounce-back seasons from its other core pieces, giving Posey more opportunities to hit with runners on base, and he should easily eclipse his runs and RBI totals from 2017.
Contreras is the better athlete of the two players, although neither player is much of a threat for steals. Contreras is also generally perceived as having more power upside, and he did hit 21 home runs last season versus Posey’s 12. However, he did so with a bloated 25% HR/FB rate, which seems unlikely to hold. And Posey actually had a higher average exit velocity on balls in the air and a higher fly-ball rate than Contreras last season, so the power gap may not be as large as one would imagine.
Posey’s home park will continue to depress his power output, so I would take Contreras as the more likely of the two players to eclipse 25 home runs. However, considering the gap in projected batting average and the floor that Posey offers, I would have the former MVP as my second catcher off the board this season.
Eric Cross (@EricCross04)
The gold standard at the catching position has lost his place atop the podium, but that doesn’t mean we should love him any less. Catchers not named Gary Sanchez need love, too. Especially ones as talented as Buster Posey.
Ever since his breakout rookie season 2010, Posey has been arguably the best offensive catcher in the entire game, especially in the batting average department, where he’s never hit below .284 and has topped .300 in five of his eight seasons. That doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, either.
Posey makes solid contact, uses the entire field, and has above-average plate discipline. Last season, Posey had an 85.3% contact rate, 85.7% Z-Contact rate, and 75.9 O-Contact rate, all of which are superb numbers. This is no knock against Willson Contreras, who is a .278 hitter in his two seasons with the Cubs, but he’s not going to touch Posey in batting average.
On the other hand, Contreras does have the power advantage. Posey’s home run totals have dropped in three straight seasons, all the way down to 12 in 2017. Like I mentioned, he makes a lot of contact, but over half of that (52.6%) has been medium contact, and he hits flyballs roughly only one-third of the time, which is actually a higher rate than Contreras. However, the Cubs young backstop makes more hard contact and more of his flyballs leave the yard. To be fair, some of that is directly related to his much more hitter-friendly home ballpark.
When you look at the rest of the stats, both backstops are pretty equal. The Cubs have a better overall lineup, which benefits Contreras, but San Francisco has vastly improved their offense by acquiring Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Posey also has the benefit of hitting third, while Contreras found himself anywhere from fourth to sixth in the order.
Overall, I’m giving the slight edge to Contreras in power, but Posey’s vast advantage in batting average, plus his durability and track record, make me lean to the Posey side in 2018. Contreras might soon overtake Posey, but that’s likely not going to happen this season.
Ryan Cook (@RyanCook13)
Normally there’s a lot of homework involved in offseason player evaluations, but Buster Posey is easy peasy. After missing some time last year with various bumps and bruises, the 31-year-old veteran is now at a crossroads in his career. From a fantasy perspective, on one hand, we have perhaps the most reliable catcher in the big leagues, while on the other we have a battered body in need of some serious rest.
Since these are the real “senior” years for the five-time All-Star, owners won’t be happy to learn that over the last 10 seasons, only five catchers aged 30 or older have produced a .300 average and 10+ homers in a single season. Therefore, the call for Posey to move to first base might be justified, and with a career .339 average and 25 homers at the position, there’s certainly a lot to like.
What isn’t to like is Brandon Belt. It’s a tricky situation to shift Posey over, but if you’re looking to trust the future Hall of Famer, just know you’ll be owning perhaps the only catcher versatile enough to hit for power at any position, and at any spot in the lineup.
Posey’s legs will need more of a rest this year, but if Bruce Bochy grants us this one wish, you can expect something close to 18 homers this season. There’s a reason Posey has been at the top of catcher rankings since 2010, so don’t underestimate him. Oh, and I guess there was a little homework…
Nathan Dokken (@NathanDokken)
Willson Contreras was already breaking out last year before a second-half injury slowed him down. He continued to rake anyway, and over 150 plate appearances over the second half, he hit 10 homers with a 22:26 K:BB ratio, leading to a .415 wOBA. He pushed his hard contact rate up to 40% — something Buster Posey has NEVER done.
Posey had just 12 homers over the entire 2017 season — 140 games! He still has strong plate discipline and a very good batting average, which is incredibly rare at the catcher position. That gives him high-end value, but it also makes him the catcher version of Joe Mauer.
Now, Posey still plays first base often enough, which gives him more plate appearances and R+RBI opportunities than most catchers. That’s what sets him apart from the bowl of yellow Starburst that is the catcher position. Nobody wants the yellow Starburst. However, between these two high-end options at the position, I’ll give up the batting average advantage with Posey for double (or more) the home run production with Contreras.
Van Lee (@ManlyVanLee)
For many years, Buster Posey has been THE guy at the catcher position. While some players came and went, Posey was always there, batting .300, walking 10%+ of the time, never striking out, hitting for power, and throwing out 600 plate appearance seasons like they were candy. Last year was no exception. Posey put up a .320/.400/.462 line with 12 homers, six steals, and 140 games played. He was a stud for Giants once again. What’s not to love?
Well, there are a few chinks in the armor beginning to rear their ugly heads. First, Posey has moved into his 30s, and he turns 31 in Spring Training this season. For a man playing the most demanding position on the diamond (and playing it a lot, he’s logged 798 games at catcher since the 2009 season), he’s likely not going to age too well.
All signs point to Posey remaining a solid source for batting average and OBP, but for the fourth straight year, his power numbers have dropped, culminating in his lower HR total in a season with at least 340 plate-appearances (he had 346 PAs in 2009 and hit 13 homers; he had 568 PAs in 2017 and with only 12 homers). Age is catching up, and it’s not likely to be kind to the stud catcher.
Over on the North side of Chicago, we have the second coming of, well, Buster Posey. Since his call-up in 2016, Contreras has done nothing but hit, slashing .278/.356/.494 with 33 homers and plenty of doubles to go around. Surprisingly enough, Contreras grades out quite well on defense, so he’s also not likely to move off of the position anytime soon, and he’s quickly cementing himself as one of the best options at the position.
This kid can do it all: He walks, he hits for good average, hits for power, and usually chips in a handful of stolen bases just for grins. He’s only 25 years old and has the best part of his career in front of him. He’s absolutely worth investing in, particularly in a dynasty league. Going only 10 picks ahead of Posey in ADP, in a two-catcher league, Contreras gives you such an advantage at the position that he’s more than worth the cost.
Overall Fantrax Verdict: Buster Posey 6-4
We hope you can use this article to your advantage and get a leg up on your fellow league members. Got a question that we didn’t cover here? Then follow us on Twitter (handles above) and ask us there.