As we continue to break down positions it’s pretty clear that there’s a ton of variance from year to year. Timothy King is here to try and weather the storm, providing a “bounce-back” and “regression” guy for you to target or avoid in your drafts. Here are his picks for catcher!
Bounce-back candidate: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
There is no doubt that Braves catcher Brian McCann had a rough 2012 campaign, but there are things to be optimistic about coming into this season. McCann has been the model of consistency at the most volatile fantasy position over the course of his tenure with Atlanta. McCann has a track record of hitting around .280 with at least 20 homers and a healthy number of both runs and RBI. Something happened in 2012 though; McCann saw his average dip all the way down to a dismal .230 and missed a decent amount of time due to injury — this could be the possible culprit.
A career .279 hitter, McCann saw his BABIP drop all the way down to .234, nearly 60 points below his career .292 mark. We can place substantial blame on his BABIP for his average decreasing as much as it did, as all of McCann’s other numbers (batted ball statistics) were right in line with career norms. McCann still did his thing in the power department; registering 20 homers for the 6th time in the 7 seasons he has been a starter. McCann was limited to only 121 games in 2012 but has averaged 134.8 games played per season since becoming the Braves’ full-time catcher. Still just 28 years of age and in the prime of his career, McCann still has plenty to offer fantasy owners. If he can show he has overcome some of the injuries that plagued his 2012 campaign, he should be a real bargain coming into this year’s fantasy drafts.
Regression candidate: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Something smells fishy to me when it comes to the breakout we have seen from Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. Molina set career highs in nearly every major offensive category in 2012. The biggest inflators of his fantasy value are his sudden spike in home runs, steals and batting average. Molina launched 22 homers in 2012, up from his previous career high of 14 (2011). This worries me because his FB% (fly ball percentage) in 2012 is right in line with career norms while his HR/FB% (homerun to fly ball percentage) nearly doubled from his career mark of 7.0% to 13.8%. What this tells us is that Molina is hitting nearly the same amount of fly balls as he has over the course of his career but in 2012 two times as many of those balls were finding the bleachers. Until 2011, Molina had never it more than 7 homers in a season, so for this kind of spike to be occurring after his 29th birthday seems odd to me.
Molina’s uptick in thefts is also concerning, as his value in fantasy is propped up even further by the 12 he stole in 2012. In 2011, Molina stole 4 bases and was caught 5 times, a horrid 44.4 conversion rate. The 12 he stole in 2012 beat his prior career best of 9 (2009). While it’s not altogether impossible for Molina to have a bit of speed, double digits steals again for 2013 seems highly unlikely. As anyone who follows baseball knows, the Molina family has not been granted the gift of speed within their gene pool.
Lastly, the batting average is worrisome. Again, Molina set a career high with a .315 clip in 2012, up from .305 in 2011 and his career number of .279. Molina’s GB% (ground ball percentage) was down from his career number of 46.4 to 40.0 in 2012 but Molina saw his IFH% (infield hit percentage) rise from 3.6 in 2011 to 6.0 in 2012, which signifies a bit of luck. Although there is some progression in his skills as we can tell from his LD% (line drive percentage), which rose from 19.6 in 2011 to a career high in 2012 of 24.8. His BABIP was also up from a career .290 clip to .316 in 2012. The LD% and BABIP rising together is a positive sign as it shows us there are some improvements in skill, but I expect both of those numbers to come down a little and settle closer to his career norms. All of these minor upticks in batted ball statistics show us an inflated batting average should come down far enough and again, closer to career norms.
Is it possible that Molina is a late bloomer and is actually hitting the prime of his career later than other players do? Absolutely. Is it also possible that Molina’s numbers will come back closer to his career norms? Very likely. I’m not saying you should forget about Molina altogether come draft day, but he is not worth the pick you will likely have to surrender to obtain him. I would steer clear and let one of the other owners in your league take the plunge.
Timothy King is a new contributor to RotoAnalysis! Check out his work all season long on RotoAnalysis.com and follow him on Twitter @TKing978!