The Myth of the Catcher

By Geoff Ratliff

Jeremy Sickel, Editor

Me and Jeremy participate in a 12-team, auction, keeper league featuring both draft day and in-season salary caps (in case you’re wondering, the in-season cap is roughly 15% higher than the draft day cap, and this is done to help facilitate trades involving players of equal talent but uneven salaries), and no player can be signed for more than three consecutive seasons. The format allows you to keep as many players as you would like from year to year, so long as their total salaries do not exceed the draft day cap the following year. As you can imagine, the challenge involved with this format is that, similar to being a GM for a real MLB team, owners have to balance the desire to be competitive during the current season, while also building a solid foundation for future years.

My team got off to an extremely hot start this year, due in large part to resurgent seasons from Matt Kemp and Justin Upton. Through 11 weeks, my team ranked first or second in all five offensive categories based on cumulative stats. Feeling that I had a margin for error, I made a trade to acquire Bryce Harper  on May 25th, and parked him on my bench for a few weeks with two thoughts in mind: 1) I can get this guy cheap now and lock him up for 2012 and 2013, and 2) My team is strong enough that I can afford to sacrifice the dead roster spot.

Starting in Week 14, after trading a few emails with Jeremy, I decided to embark on a four week experiment which I have since called “The Myth of the Catcher.” I wanted to test my theory that I could field a formidable offensive team with Harper in my Catcher spot, thus freeing up a roster spot to acquire a pitcher from the free agent pool. Because I traded away Daniel Hudson and Gio Gonzalez as part of the deal to acquire Harper, starting pitching was now an immediate need for me.

Needless to say I caught a lot of flak for this on our league message board, which prompted me to actually run the numbers on how this experiment turned out. During the four weeks, my team went a combined 5-15 in the hitting categories, which on the surface seems like the experiment was a complete disaster. However, the more accurate way to judge the outcome was to look at the margins of defeat in each of the five categories to see if the best available option at catcher in the free agent pool would have allowed me to win any of those categories

Here are the numbers at a glance:

Week 11:

Runs (-8) HR (-1) RBI (-3)

Week 12: 

Runs (-9) HRs (-6) RBIs (-24) Avg. (-.001)

Week 13:

Runs (-1), HRs (-4), RBIs (-8), SBs (-1), and Avg. (-.34 points)

Week 14:

Runs (-14), HRs (-9), and RBIs (-5)

Given that even the highest rated catcher available would have been a drag on my Avg., would likely not have contributed a SB, and averaged less than two runs and less than two and a half RBIs per week through fourteen weeks, in the best-case scenario, I MIGHT have won one extra category over the four weeks, with possible ties in two more. This doesn’t account for the impact that adding an extra starting pitcher had over that same four week period, guaranteeing me a boost in strikeouts and wins, and depending on the week in question, helping to lower my teams era and WHIP. Bottom line? A bad catcher was useless to me.

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and drop their catchers because there are obviously some good ones out there. The late season emergence of some previous poor performers even prompted me to go out and get a catcher myself. The point of this Quick Pitch is that if you want to succeed in fantasy baseball, you can’t be afraid to test extreme theories. At the end of the day, the numbers will tell you whether you were right or wrong, and you just might develop a new trick or strategy for the future.

Oh, and what about Bryce Harper? Well I’m still holding him on my roster to maintain his rights for next year, and I also pulled off another trade to acquire Buster Posey’s rights for 2012 and 2013, so I’m not totally against catchers. My team is still likely to make the playoffs, and this year’s empty roster spot will be a small price to pay if Harper starts mashing in 2012!

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