Player Rater Watch: Catchers, 2014 Season

If you’re familiar with the ESPN player rater (or any website’s player rater, for that matter), you have probably seen the last-7 and last-15 functions, aka the king and queen of small sample sizes. Looking at small sample sizes in fantasy baseball is especially interesting because virtually every player has the opportunity to be the best player in a given week — such is the nature of baseball. Better, seeing unfamiliar or long-irrelevant names making a splash is a good enough reason to figure out what this guy is all about, and whether his performance looks like sustainable or if it’s a flash in the pan.

I’ll start this feature with catchers, currently led by the red-hot Devin Mesoraco. I won’t highlight every catcher, but the ones who are doing especially good or bad will earn my attention.

Devin Mesoraco, CIN | #1 C
Has anything really changed with this 15-homer, low-average catcher? In short: no, not really. His strikeout and walk rates are about normal, although he is hitting a few more fly balls and more of those are leaving the park. Somehow, it always comes down to batting average on balls in play (BABIP) — and that’s exactly what’s happening here, as Mesoraco’s .477 batting average is being buoyed by a BABIP above .500. This is a sinking ship you will have to abandon eventually. However, no reason to drop the player as long as he’s hot.

This brings me to an interesting point about fantasy baseball, though. Owners are inclined to pick up someone amid an uncharacteristic and pronounced hot streak. I haven’t done the research, but the odds are, by the time you’ve noticed the hot streak, it’s already ending. (Ones that last so long, such as Charlie Blackmon‘s of Colorado, are the exception rather than the norm.) If you pick him up, you’re likely to experience more negative effects as the player in question regresses back to a normalized stat line. The problem is the bad performance is blinded by his inflated stats, and when he falls back down to .300, it doesn’t feel so bad.

But what happens is if Mesoraco is batting .477 through 44 at-bats, which he is, and then falls to .307 after 88 at-bats, that means he batted a lowly .159 over those next 44 at-bats. And that’s horrible, frankly.

What’s worse is Mesoraco, a career .246 batter, should expect even more regression than what I just stated. If he’s batting a normal .250 after, say, 160 at-bats, he will have batted .164 during the 116 at-bats that followed his hot streak.

Anyway. That ends a mini-rant. Sell-high on Mesoraco. Don’t be afraid to drop him at his peak. When you’ve reached the top of the mountain, there’s nowhere to go but down.

Matt Wieters, BAL | #2 C
I’ll pose another question just so I can immediately answer it: Is Wieters back? Not really, no. It depends on how you value him; if you’re willing to take a hit in batting average, he’s worth your attention. Again, he’s benefiting from a high BABIP, but mostly, he’s hitting an extreme number of fly balls right now — about 17 percent more often than his career rate.  So the home runs are going to slow down as well. Wieters suffered from a pretty bad BABIP last year, and I think Wieters circa 2011 and 2012 (.255 BA, 70 R, 23 HR, 75 RBI) is a reasonable expectation at this point. (For the record, I projected him for .256 BA, 60 R, 23 HR, 73 RBI.)

Evan Gattis, ATL | #4 C
Didn’t Gattis start last year equally hot? He was the talk of the town. His peripherals all look pretty identical to last year. His batting average will come down a bit, although the people who think he’s a .240-.250 hitter could be sorely mistaken. I took the under on his batting average when I projected .264, but he could hit as high as .285 or so if he maintains a league-average .300 BABIP. Otherwise, the strikeout, walk and fly-ball rates all trend similarly to last year, except for the ratio of home runs to fly balls (HR/FB), which is a tad inflated. Dude’s legit, but be wary of the inevitable slump. Career OPS by month:

April: .901 (.936 in 2014)
May: 1.045
June: .567
July: .609
August: .438
September: .780

Carlos Santana, CLE | #49 C
You read correctly: the No. 49 catcher, slotting comfortably between — you guessed it — Wil Nieves and Jeff Mathis. Wow. The strikeouts are up a tick, but so are the walks. The RBI are nonexistent, but that’s also not his fault, beyond the fact that his batting average is well below the Mendoza line. But his BABIP is equally miserable, sitting at .160, and as aforementioned, the lack of RBI aren’t his fault, as they number of runners on base are out of Santana’s control. I think this is a prime example of a player on whom to buy low. His one RBI per 23 at-bats is unsustainable — the worst single-season RBI rate is one per 7.3 at-bats, in 2013. This guy has a lot of positive regression coming his way, contributing not only a wealth of batting average but also RBI.

It’s worth noting he is hitting 10-percent fewer fly balls than usual; it’s the first time in a season he is hitting more ground balls than fly balls. But, again, this is a small sample size. I would buy Santana for pennies on the dollar or, if you’re fortunate enough, add him from free agency.

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