Each week leading up to the regular season, I will compare two players that are ranked so closely together that people will debate which of them to pick in drafts. I will take suggestions on player comparisons if you tweet me @adamronis.
This week I’ll examine two catchers in Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy. Molina has an Average Draft Position (ADP) of 73.10 in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) and Lucroy has an ADP of 82.96
The case for Molina: It used to be that Molina was primarily known for his staunch defense, but he has emerged as one of the better offensive Fantasy catchers the last several seasons. The biggest attraction with Molina is the high batting average over a large amount of at-bats. The last three seasons, Molina added more power and sprinkled in some stolen bases. From 2005-2010, Molina didn’t hit more than eight home runs. As we often see with catchers, they tend to become better hitters as they age and that has happened with Molina.
In 2011, Molina batted .305 with 55 runs, 14 home runs, 65 RBI and four stolen bases in 475 at-bats. He followed it up with a .315 average 65 runs, 22 home runs, 76 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 505 at-bats in 2012. Last season, Molina wasn’t as good, but still very productive. He batted .319 with 68 runs, 12 home runs, 80 RBI and three stolen bases in 505 at-bats. The power and stolen bases were down, although Molina had a career-high 44 doubles.
Molina had a career-high 13.8 percent home run/fly ball rate in 2012 leading to the 22 home runs. Last year, he regressed closer to his career average of 7.1 percent (7.8 percent in 2013) explaining the dip in power. Molina has a line drive percentage of at least 24 percent in two consecutive seasons resulting in a good average. Molina was bothered by a knee injury last season and turns 32 in July.
The case for Lucroy: Lucroy played 75 games for the Brewers in 2010 and was solid. Lucroy batted .265 with 45 runs, 12 home runs, and 59 RBI in 430 at-bats in 2011. He was limited to 316 at-bats in 2012 due to a hand fracture, but was excellent when he played. He batted .320 with 46 runs, 12 home runs, 58 RBI and four stolen bases. Lucroy made excellent contact and while the average was going to regress because of a .338 BABIP, which was above his .306 career average, he was a target of mine last season.
Lucroy was an undervalued catcher who hits for average, has solid power and appeared to be in a solid lineup that eventually was hurt by injuries. He even adds in a few stolen bases, and Lucroy lived up to expectations and surprised many that didn’t have him on the radar.
Lucroy batted .280 with 59 runs, 18 home runs, 82 RBI and nine stolen bases last season. Lucroy has the ability to hit between .280-.300. He has already done it and makes excellent contact with a strikeout percentage of just 11.9 percent in 2013, and he increased his walk percentage to 7.9 percent. A line drive percentage of 22.8 percent indicates the average will be good. The power is also good, and he drove in 82 runs in a lineup without Ryan Braun for most of the season and Aramis Ramirez, who missed 70 games.
The verdict: These two are closer than most think but I expect Lucroy to increase the power. He’s on the rise, while Molina will not reach 20 home runs again. Lucroy doesn’t have the reputation yet because of a limited sample size, while Molina has been productive for several seasons. I like Lucroy better than Molina regardless of price and Molina will likely cost more in most drafts. Wait and take Lucroy.
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