Bargain Bin: Finding Off-Brand Value at Catcher
A few Christmases ago, when a surge of early 1990s retro nostalgia made the recently released Nintendo Classic the Tickle Me Elmo for 30-year-old men, I awoke as one of the lucky few to have the mini gaming console under his tree. At least, on the surface it seemed that way. In reality, what I’d received was a knock-off version of the Nintendo system, the result of a less-than-truthful online listing that had used my well-meaning wife’s browser history against her through targeted ads to complete the bait and switch.
While it wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for, my bootleg NES still for the most part gets the job done. There’s no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Legend of Zelda, but there is Turtle Fighters and Elf Legend. It might not be name brand, but when I’m whipping dudes with my katana on Ninja Garden, I’m not disappointed with what I have to work with.
The general lesson to learn here—other than don’t trust third-party sellers on Amazon—is that we don’t always have to pay name-brand prices to get value. In fantasy baseball, sometimes “good enough” is just that. When we can find usable assets later in the draft, regardless of how unsexy they are, we free ourselves up in earlier rounds to target the highest-impact players knowing that the baseline we need to complete our roster will be there several dozen picks later.
Throughout the preseason, I’ll be sifting through the fantasy bargain bin to help identify those off-brand values in your draft. The goal isn’t to find players who will outperform their higher-priced counterparts, but instead it’s to spotlight unhyped bats whose stat lines can somewhat emulate those of bigger names.
Because I’m a bad planner and glutton for punishment, I’m starting this series with the wasteland that is the catcher pool, where late-round value is borderline nonexistent. For some context: Just 11 catcher-eligible players are projected to get more than 400 plate appearances, and just five of those are expected to top 500. Originally, I was only going to compare players with greater than a 100-pick difference in ADP, but given the shortage of guys expected to get significant at bats I’m going to fudge a little bit here. Still, there’s enough gap between the draft positions of the highest-tier players and those other rosterable backstops that there’s plenty of value to be had in waiting.
So in homage to my MES Entertainment Gaming System, let’s take a look at some useful imposters.
Jumping Plumber Brothers
At a glance, it’s pretty easy to tell that Player A is the higher-valued guy. Last season, he outperformed Player B substantially in run production, belted long balls at a higher clip and had a strong expected average that wasn’t inflated by luck. But still, the skill sets don’t look crazy different. Both guys demonstrate similarly decent plate discipline and make good contact that should result in a high average.
For 2019, both are on new teams that have made big splashes this offseason, and both are expected to bat in the top five of their respective lineups. To see how their standard 5×5 run categories stack up in an even number of plate appearances, let’s look at the Steamer600 projections, which assumes 450 PA at the catcher position.
Clearly, both players are mostly interchangeable when adjusting for playing time. But that’s the rub. Player A, whose ADP for February is 50, is projected for 542 plate appearances; Player B, with an ADP of 134, is only projected for 409. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Player A is J.T. Realmuto. Player B is Wilson Ramos.
We can take Realmuto’s PA projection at face value, as he’s averaged 551 over the past three seasons and the Phillies didn’t acquire him to sit every third day. Ramos’ playing time situation is a little less certain. He had more than 500 PAs in 2016, but he’s sustained injuries the past two seasons that have limited his trips to the plate. Still, there’s no reason to think he’ll have fewer than the 416 PAs he logged last year despite missing a month, especially considering the two guys behind Ramos on the Mets depth chart aren’t known for their health or production (Travis d’Arnaud and Devin Mesoraco).
If Ramos can sniff 500 PAs, he should serve as a decent facsimile of Realmuto. With seven rounds in between them, I’m more than happy to grab Ramos and spend my fifth-round pick on someone else.
Ramos isn’t exactly a sneaky pick for your fantasy squad; Dave Cherman has him ranked third at the position going into this year (Hey, it’s catcher. Cut me some slack). Let’s see if we can’t identify a real bargain.
Mike Dyson’s Slug Out
I’m cheating on this one, which I’ll explain in a moment. But for now, let’s just look at Player A. There’s a lot here that points to a player with good plate discipline and contact skills. With a great walk-to-strikeout ratio, low swinging-strike rate and high contact rate, it’s fair to assume he’ll put a lot of balls in play and get on base at a decent clip. He hit .269 last year against a .288 BABIP, which seems about right considering his high fly-ball and pull rates. With the high volume of fly balls he pulls from the right-hand side, his .195 ISO could be pretty sustainable as those hits turn into doubles, triples or home runs.
So what’s the catch? Player A is Danny Jansen, and 360 of his 455 plate appearances last season came in Triple-A. Splitting his minor league numbers from those in the majors last year, we can get a glimpse of what we might expect from him in his first full season in the bigs.
While Jansen took a small step back when he hit the majors in mid-August, he certainly doesn’t seem to have been overwhelmed by major league pitching. His batting average ceiling is limited by his extreme pull tendencies, but those pulls could play at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Blue Jays’ home stadium rates 10th in the league for boosting right-handed power, so 20 home runs isn’t too much of a stretch for a guy who hit 15 last year. His position in the Jays lineup is still a question mark, but his on-base abilities are too good for the bottom third. There’s plenty of opportunities here for solid run and RBI production for the 23-year-old. With an ADP of 197, there’s lots to like about Jansen’s price tag, especially compared to Player B: Realmuto.
Don’t get me wrong, Realmuto is clearly in the top tier of fantasy catchers, along with Gary Sanchez. But there’s some comparable skill sets to be had much later in drafts, if you’re willing to look past the brand names.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire