Catching is the Cruelest Position

By Peter O’Neil
Fantasy Baseball Canada

What branches grow/Out of this stony rubbish?
— The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

A lot of fantasy players who made big investments in catchers are hoping that April is indeed the cruelest month, and that things will get better, because it’s certainly been a rough one for owners of studs like the disabled trio of Brian McCann, Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit.

There’s bad news all around. Owners of Russell Martin, Chris Iannetta, Geovany Soto, Ramon Hernandez, Kelly Shoppach, Kenji Johjima and Chris Snyder all expected more. Martin is sure to bounce back, though perhaps not as much as owners expect, and his zero-for-two record in stolen base attempts appears ominous for a player who derives so much of his fantasy value from steals.

Some of the others, like Iannetta, face playing time questions if their struggles continue.

Matt Wieters owners, meanwhile, will be unimpressed with his strikeout rate so far this April in AAA, a level he was supposed to dominate en route to a call-up many expected would come as early as next week.

For those of us replacing the injured, or demoted, the pickings have been slim and grim:  Brian Scheider was struggling before he got hurt, and veterans like Jason Kendall and Greg Zaun look like they might not be able to make it through the year without facing forced retirement.  Jesus Flores and Rod Barajas have had nice little runs but they’ll come back to earth.

Are there bright spots? Absolutely.  Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada are bouncing back strong from tough years, Benjie Molina remains an RBI machine with remarkable durability considering his body type, and Brandon Inge has been a spectacular reward with owners who had the foresight to be optimistic about what he could do while being settled in a single, non-catching position for a full year.

Yes, it’s early, but first impressions are often powerful, and I’m wondering if this experience will have an impact on next year’s drafts and auctions.

Those of us who have been at this for more than a few years remember when closers went for sky-high prices, sometimes in the first round in drafts.  But in recent years it has become more and more clear that relievers often lose their jobs, or break down, which in turn means that saves can be acquired fairly cheaply. I’ll never forget the year I decided to “punt” saves by waiting until the very end of a draft to take three relievers who were merely candidates to close coming out of spring training. All three, including Eric Gagne, turned out to be 30-plus save closers. I won the category running away, and I’m pretty sure my experience had a deflationary impact on closer prices the next year.

There are experts who already have been urging fantasy players to avoid making big investments on catchers because of the injury risk and the wear-and-tear that impacts players like Martin — even if they don’t end up on the DL. I predict that the once-burned, twice-shy sentiments of owners this year, who are now looking enviously at the gleeful Inge owner in their league, will have a deflationary impact on catchers’ prices  in 2010. For those of you in keeper leagues I would suggest you assemble your team with this in mind.

2 thoughts on “Catching is the Cruelest Position”

  1. There is one significant difference between closers and catchers that changes your analogy.

    The pitcher who replaces an imploding closer will get saves and thus have real fantasy value.

    The replacements for catchers who don’t cut it often have no fantasy value.

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