Monday, November 08, 2010

2010 A.L. Catchers

Welcome to the fourth annual installment of Roto Think Tank's position-by-position recap and rundown. This comprehensive series is mostly a look back at last season, but you can also expect some insights about what to expect going forward as well. It is inspired by the in-depth analysis and valuation from Alex Patton's mid-1990s books, and does its best to recreate the wonderful insights Alex wove every winter.

Rather than run through all of the guidelines again, I'll refer my new readers back to the introduction of last year's piece on A.L. catchers. If you're not inclined to click the link, the short summary is 5x5 values, A.L. and N.L.-only player pools, my variation of Patton & Company prices, player positions based on eligibility entering 2010.

When it comes to catchers, the big question is generally the same. Should we spend big bucks on an elite option, grab a reliable every day player and avoid the risk, or simply go with two $1 catchers and hope to get lucky?

Ten Most Expensive A.L. Catchers 2010

1Joe Mauer$23$35-12$30$28$32
2Victor Martinez$21$25-4$25$18$23
3Matt Wieters$8$19-10$16$17$9
4Kurt Suzuki
5Mike Napoli
6Jorge Posada$12$14-2$12$8$16
7A.J. Pierzynski$11$12-1$12$14$14
8Kelly Shoppach$1$8
$3 $4
9Jarrod Saltalamacchia
10Alex Avila$4$40$4$6$3


These are the 10 most expensive American League catchers in 2010 based on a combination of prices from three expert league auctions: the CBS Analysts league, the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR), and Tout Wars. The $ column is my 5x5 A.L.-only formula based on Alex Patton's pricing system, 2009 is what these guys earned last year and PK is Peter Kreuzter's (aka Rotoman) 5x5 bid. The only change from last year is that I've taken Baseball Think Factory's ZIPS projections - frequently featured at Fangraphs and replaced Sports Weekly's projected bids. The dollar values are not theirs but rather how their projected statistics shake out using the Patton $ formula.

The market pushes the Mauer and Martinez way up, is aggressive to varying degrees on everyone from Wieters down to Saltalamacchia, and is downright timid on Avila. Sixteen dollars per catcher is the most paid on average since I've been tracking this. However, a rising tide doesn't lift all boats, and the guys on the bottom get cheated compared to years prior. The tenth most expensive catcher in 2009 cost $9 and in 2008 cost $8.

The odd thing is that - with the exception of Mauer's absurd salary - it seems that the market was correct to push a little harder on the top seven catchers. You don't want to take a loss on any of your hitters, but you do want production at every position on the field and losing a dollar or two on Napoli, Posada and/or Pierzynski might actually have been a good play. It certainly was a better play than getting cute and hoping that Shoppach or Salty was going to pay off with a moderately priced gamble. 

Rotoman and ZIPS didn't agree, pricing these catchers an average of $3 below the market price. Rotoman's bids are wrapped in sensible advice (don't pay more at a risky position for what players earned last year, but the result in this market would have been crossing your fingers with a second tier option (if the market pushed another dollar on Martinez). ZIPS' bids would have bought Salty, Avila and a piece of Suzuki in a hypothetical three-way auction with the market, Rotoman and ZIPS, which doesn't seem like the kind of help you want. ZIPS seems to be saying that guys like Salty and Avila are bound to earn something if they're starting; the problem as we all know is that they might not be starting come July.

If you're timid on most expensive hitters at a position, you had better hope that you get lucky and buy someone who isn't paid like a Top 10 player but who performs like one.

Top 10 A.L. Catchers 2010

1Joe Mauer$23$35-12$30$28$32
2Victor Martinez$21$25-4$25$18$23
3John Buck $16$4+12$2$7$5
4Mike Napoli
5Jorge Posada
6A.J. Pierzynski$11$12-1$12$14$14
7Kurt Suzuki
8John Jaso$10

9Jason Kendall
10Matt Wieters$8$19-10$16$17$9


This chart is bad news for bottom feeders. Buck, Jaso, and Kendall stand in for Avila, Salty, and Shoppach, but Buck is the only one of these three catchers who really stands out as a big time producer at a small time cost.

Jaso is a freebie: CBS, LABR and Tout all took a pass. In fact, not one owner even bothered putting Jaso on his reserve list. As a result, Jaso's non-salary doesn't get factored into the average salary. This would be like giving the market credit for passing on him.

Adding Buck and Kendall to the mix seems to help out ZIPS. I'm sure the folks who put ZIPS together wouldn't recommend a bid limit of $7 for Buck or Kendall, but their valuation seems to be exercising an extreme version of Stage Three caution. Be wary of V-Mart, but make sure you get a starter behind the dish.

Rotoman is still getting shut out. Do his prices get more aggressive as we head toward the bottom of the heap?

Ten Least Expensive A.L. Catchers 2010
(on A.L. MLB roster Opening Day)

14Dioner Navarro-$1$4-4$2$8$3
15Gerald Laird$2$3-1$2$6$3
17Brayan Pena$3$20$3$9$4
18Jason Kendall
19Taylor Teagarden
22Francisco Cervelli$6$1+5$1$4$3
23Jason Varitek$4$1+3
26Rob Johnson$0$1
$1 $11
27Ramon Castro
28Jeff Mathis $1$00$1$5$2

Average $3$2+1$2$6$3

Sort of. In a two-way battle with the market, Rotoman gets Pena, Teagarden, Castro and Mathis outright. And he ties the market on Cervelli and Johnson.

Here in a nutshell is your problem with using ZIPS in this type of evaluation. Since every hitter gets a fairly generous baseline, there isn't going to be a hitter with a $0-3 projected stat line. ZIPS would technically "buy" all of these hitters, but since ZIPS would be stuck with a $260 salary cap just like the rest of us, these dollar values are pretty worthless as bids.

It does appear that Rotoman's general recommendation is to avoid paying too much for catchers and take what you can get in the endgame if it comes down to that. Without looking at all of the other positions, I can't say that this is the wrong approach.

Yes, you want production at every position. However, taking a $5 loss per player on the top catchers is too much. If you find yourself in this position in 2011 you very well might want to take Rotoman's approach and try to grab your offense elsewhere.


Rotoman said...

This is interesting stuff, Mike, as always, but I disagree with your conclusion just a bit.

My bid prices show me losing bids on the top catchers except two, which I tied: Victor Martinez and AJ Pierzynski. Since these are the two catchers I owned in American Dream League last year (Vmart was a keeper), I think the chart shows my points of engagement. The leagues might have gone another dollar for these guys, but so might have I. And since these guys were the smallest losers, I think I did okay.

At the bottom of the pack, I did mostly price the winners fairly enough to be profitable and the losers low enough so that I wouldn't buy them.

I think it's generally easier to get catcher value buying mid-tier players, those in the $8-$12 range (like Pierzynski), where people aren't paying for position scarcity as much, but I usually also have a read on a breakout guy I want if the market doesn't push too hard (Wieters last year, but the market did--and he didn't), and a sleeper (Brayan Pena) if I get stuck.

One more thing: The problem with pricing ZIPS using Alex's formula is that the number of AB and IP are wrong in the projections. They don't add up. I've written about this elsewhere, but projections aren't much good at creating price lists. One thing you can do is scale the prices so the draftable guys equal the proverbial 3120, though this will attenuate the prices at the high end.

NSH said...

2011 will find me with $10 Wieters in final year of K and me probably not buying VMart at 26 or so. Am going to hope that there is at least one AJP type out there - either that or my cheap keeper Salty is going to have to have one heck of a spring. I could do worse that Wieters and Salty I suppose but if MW keeps under meeting expectations (will his continue to drop?) if I don't buy an AJP type, it might be a black hole at C. For a position scarcity guy, that would make me nuts.