I can’t pinpoint the exact year when it happened, but sometime around the late aughts (2000s), Fantasy Baseball started transitioning to two catcher leagues. That move was a mistake, and it’s time that we change it back.
The reason behind the change was to glean more value from the catcher position. In your typical 10-team league, requiring just one starting position for catcher left value on the wire, but not as much as you would think – more on that later. It also led to owners waiting and drafting catchers in the later rounds, as you could still get a player providing you with a solid average and 15-20 home runs. However, it’s not that simple.
With catchers, we have few options who play 130 games, let alone near the 140-150 mark. In 2014, we had five catchers with 130-plus games, two over 140 and two with 150 or more (Jonathan Lucroy and Salvador Perez). Only 14 catchers topped 115 games, which means you’re left looking for a replacement for 47 games. In addition, your Top 24 catchers consist of options lucky to get 350 ABs. Second base and shortstop are often the thinnest positions, and yet, when you get your second option for both (MI spot), you have to reach the mid-50s overall before finding players only getting 350 ABs.
If we were still living in the day of a 10-team league being your norm, I could maybe understand the two catcher format more. However, 12-team leagues are the preferred size these days, and in your high-level leagues, 15-teams is often the norm. By forcing each team to start two catchers, teams drop into the deep end for options.
Drafting just two starting catchers per team in a 12-team mixed league has you using players who are devoid of value for 1/3 of the year, as they only play 2/3 of the games. In comparison, drafting 12 second basemen, 12 shortstops and 12 middle infielders still has you picking from hitters putting up nearly 500 ABs. Throw in another 12 backups, and we’re still in the 400-plus AB range for middle infielders. If any teams draft a third catcher to compensate for all that missed time, we’re now talking about players who are lucky to reach 300 ABs. That’s just for the 12-team format; don’t forget about 15-team leagues. In those 15-teamers, several teams’ starting options will include 300-AB catchers. I don’t want anything to do with those. Stop forcing value on me!
There is nothing fun about rostering a hitter who will finish with a .250 AVG, 7 HR, 41 R, 43 RBIs and that player having to be a mainstay of my lineup… Chris Iannetta anyone?
Let’s even look at it from the dollar return value standpoint. In 10-team two catcher leagues, Travis d’Arnaud was the 20th ranked catcher at season’s end with -$1.3 return. It only goes downhill from there with Wilson Ramos, John Jaso, Alex Avila, Welington Castillo, Iannetta and Jarrod Saltalamacchia all falling from -$1.9 to -$3.7. In 12-team leagues, Yadier Molina (gets a pass because injured) and Castillo tied for 24th with -$1.7 returned. In 15-team leagues, Carlos Ruiz was 30th at -$1.0 with Michael McKenry and A.J. Pierzynski behind at -$3.1 and -$3.4. And again, that’s assuming only two catchers per team and not accounting for injuries requiring waiver replacements and/or any single team taking a third catcher.
As I did earlier, let’s compare these numbers with 2B/SS/MI. In 10-team leagues, your 30th combined middle infielder finished with a $3.1 value. For 12-team leagues, 36th was $2.4 and in 15-team, 45th was $1.6. We have to get down to the 39th, 42nd and 53rd options in 10/12/15-team mixed leagues to hit negative value at the MI spot, or… backups. Even in the outfield where you’re now starting five players and most all teams have 1-2 more options in the UTIL spot or on the bench, negative returns don’t happen until outfielder 66/73/91. Again, backup players. Which, coincidentally, that is exactly what second catchers should be: backup players. Heck, in a 12-team league, there are only 168 starting players using a two catcher format (14 hitters), and good ol’ Welington Castillo barely cracked the Top 210 group, nearly tied with Michael Cuddyer, who played 49 games.
One more argument for two catcher leagues is that it lessens the strategy/knowledge/skill to only have one catcher starting. I think that’s a poor argument. First, you still have to make the call when the elite catching options are at their peak draft value. It’s similar to tight ends in Fantasy Football. We know Rob Gronkowski is the best option because how much of an advantage he provides over the rest. Buster Posey is the same for Fantasy Baseball, returning Top 30 hitting value last year. Second, the strategy/skill portion is overrated later in the game. Once the Top 12 or so catchers are gone, you’re left with a pool of “what is the one category I want a smidge of help with” options. After the Top 14 catchers last year, not one had a R+RBI total over 100, and only Mike Zunino hit more than 15 HRs. But as you know, that Zunino power came at the steep cost of your AVG, as Zunino hit .199. In fact, for catchers with 300-plus ABs but under 130 games played (not as a result of injury), only John Jaso hit over .253 with nine coming in under .243, five being at .222 or less. Stop forcing “value” on me. I used quotes that time because this are not examples of Fantasy value.
Enough is enough. Just because owners may not like seeing other teams end up with a Brian McCann or Russell Martin late, since they went the Posey or Jonathan Lucroy route early, we can’t use that as justification to making owners start a negative value player. It’s time we went back to the one-catcher setup, after all, you can put a catcher in the UTIL spot if you really want a second one – or better yet, leave rosters at 14 hitters and make two UTIL spots and just one catcher. See? I’m solutions oriented. That’s a much better level of strategy that forcing me to roster another Robinson Chirinos this year… unless you think we should move to two-tight end Fantasy Football leagues too.