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Rankings Debate: J.T. Realmuto vs. Salvador Perez vs. Francisco Mejia

Every year at The Dynasty Guru, we meticulously rank over 600 players for our loyal readers. While we take plenty of steps to reshape and refine each list, perhaps the most important stage is our infamous, staff-wide debates. Few professionals are as passionate about their work as fantasy analysts (don’t quote me on that), so our discussions quickly devolve into a bloodbath. Ranking and discussion the catcher position was no exception. In advance of our catcher rankings coming out this week, we thought it would be interesting to distill some of that debate for you to enjoy.

The most spirited of debates revolve around just a couple players, whose positions in the ranks have implications extending throughout the entire list. This is especially true with catchers, where the talent drop off occurs relatively quickly. It can be challenging to balance the risk of unproven prospects against the ceiling of the mid-tier MLB backstops, and that’s clear from the discussion that went on here.

For the catching position, harmony reigned for all of three players. After that, the tier of JT Realmuto, Salvador Perez and Francisco Mejia caused quite the stir. The Indians’ wunderkind is the first prospect to appear on the list, and it’s no wonder- Mejia has an advanced hit tool that should make an impact in the big leagues as soon as this season.

Our discussions of Mejia and his placement saw writers taking immediate sides and debating with one another throughout the entire day. A consensus was impossible to achieve, so the Mejia predicament remains open. Two brave writers— EJ Fagan, and Kyler Jesanis—have volunteered to rehash the debate for you today. We also have Tom Trudeau and Nick Doran providing general ranking philosophy and their view on Mejia. Jump into the comment section below to continue the dialogue and declare who you think wins this discussion.

-Ben Diamond


The Opening Statements

Tom Trudeau: Starting with the philosophical before the specific: I believe that experienced dynasty owners adhere to the group-think ideas that all prospects are for suckers, and that anyone proven is necessarily safer, and hence more valuable, than a prospect. In my opinion, *most* prospects are for trading. I’ll trade elite pitching prospects 10/10 times, but there are special bats that should not be traded without a very significant premium. Further, I believe experienced dynasty owners disregard the reality that established veterans have risk, too.

Now, moving from the philosophic to the specific: Mejia is a special prospect with a 70 bat, at a position where differentiated production is scarce. Realmuto and Perez are not without risk despite looking like mid-20’s, bankable bats.  Mid-20’s, bankable bats at the catcher position are numerous- the 2015 TDG consensus catcher ranks listed Jonathan Lucroy second, Yan Gomes was third and Devin Mesoraco fourth. All three of them were mid 20’s bats three years ago, but have zero-to-marginal dynasty value today.

Nick Doran: Catching prospects suck- there, I said it. Here is a list of “elite” catcher prospects from the last 10 years who failed to pan out: Daric Barton, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jeff Clement, Jesus Montero, Devin Mesoraco, Travis d’Arnaud, Mike Zunino, Blake Swihart and Matt Wieters. Some of these guys had brief periods when they were decent, but they never returned the investment needed to acquire them as prospects. 

Catching prospects rarely live up to their rankings, and even if they do succeed they generally aren’t good fantasy players. Catchers take longer to develop (and will sit on your bench for years while you wait), play fewer games than other players, and get hurt more often too. Invest in a catcher that can help you NOW, and save your minor league slots for more reliable prospects who can help you sooner. Catchers generally come and go, and most top-five fantasy catchers were never top prospects. Wilson Contreras, J.T. Realmuto, Salvador Perez, Evan Gattis, Yadier Molina, Jonathan Lucroy, are some great examples. Even the current Next Big Thing, Gary Sanchez, topped out at #35 on prospect lists.

Give me a fairly young catcher that has proven himself capable and I will take him every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I like Mejia fine – good hit tool that should translate to a good average, plus he should draw a few walks. But I just don’t see the power or speed he will need to become a top 10 fantasy catcher for a long time (He’s hit a total of 40 home runs in his five-year minor league career). I won’t own him anywhere because his price is too high. Too many people are already valuing him as if he is a proven asset; he isn’t and he likely never will be.

Wait until he proves himself to be a good fantasy catcher before investing, because his price won’t be any higher then. Until then, let someone else have him.

EJ Fagan: Prospects are higher variance assets than established major league players by nature. But Major league players carry risk as well. If you bought Established Major Leaguer Jonathan Lucroy last year, you got killed. I’m sure we could come up with a dozen other examples as well.

I think the appropriate question is: what is the expected value of holding each of the three players over a reasonable fantasy time horizon, and what shape is the yield curve? If your team needs value next year, Mejia may not be up in time to help you. If you are planning for 2-4 years from now, he could very well return more value than the other two.

The Debate Begins

EJ: There is a chance that Mejia is a significantly better player than JT Realmuto or Salvador Perez. He has the hit tool to do what Wilson Contreras is doing right now, and the Indians are experimenting with him at 3rd base to find him more playing time. But even if he doesn’t reach those heights, and had the career of Saltalamacchia, Zunino, Wieters, (or even Devin Mesoraco or d’Arnaud), he would be a valuable fantasy asset in most leagues.

Sal Perez, in particular, has a couple of huge red flags: he’s entering his late-20s, his workload has been especially heavy, and he has terrible plate discipline. It’s not hard to imagine him falling off a cliff. Speaking of cliff-diving…

I think Realmuto also has some serious regression coming. Absent a trade he’ll be playing 2018 in a lineup without Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon, and may lose Christian Yelich as well. He’ll have fewer opportunities, and the lineup will turn over less.

But it’s not just roster construction that has me worried. Realmuto is the 4th luckiest catcher by xwOBA – wOBA. He had a .316 xwOBA over the last two years, but posted a .340 wOBA. He’s not nearly fast enough to reclaim his value if his batted ball luck regresses back to its expected value. He’d only barely hang on to this tier if he stole double digit bags, and it’s likely that the few stolen bases he contributes will dwindle as he ages.

 

Kyler: Francisco Mejia has incredible upside, but he will not be a better fantasy asset than either Salvador Perez or J.T. Realmuto any time soon.

The most common comp. for Mejia’s ceiling is Buster Posey. If Mejia reaches his ceiling he will make elite contributions to a fantasy roster with Avg, Runs and RBIs, just like Posey.  But those categories are heavily dependent on playing time, something that only Posey has mastered from behind the dish. Posey is the only backstop to average over 600 PAs from 2012-2017. In fact, only a handful of catchers have reached over 600 PAs in a single season in that span (Lucroy and Perez in ’14, Carlos Santana in ’13, and Santana and Joe Mauer in ’12). Posey is Posey because he has elite health to go along with his elite bat.

Also, catcher batting average is less important to a team because catchers play less. Here’s an example using ESPN’s Player Rater as the metric-

  • Andrelton Simmons -.278 avg over 589 ABs- 1.07 points
  • Gary Sanchez           -.278 avg over 471 ABs- .87 points

The decreased playing time means Mejia’s carrying tool isn’t as useful as it would be at another position. Mejia needs a ton to go right to get to his fantasy ceiling, and if he falls short of that he will be only slightly better than what Salvador Perez and JT Realmuto have been (and likely will be).

Salvador Perez has ranged between 500 and 600 plate appearances since he took over as a full-time catcher in 2013. Over that time frame, he’s averaged roughly 18 homers, 54 runs, 74 RBI, and .265 avg. He is coming off a career year of 27 HRs, 80 RBI and a .268 avg. Pencil him in for .260+, around 20 homers and decent counting stats. That level of predictability has value, and even regression to .250 with 15-18 home runs would be valuable (assuming he stays durable).

J.T. Realmuto has been an unspectacular-yet-solid player. I think he’s likely to be stable and continue with his low teens power, good average, and handful of steals. Yes, the lineup around him is worse, but that could result in getting bumped up in the order (boosting at-bats and counting stats), and he’s still is going to have more playing time than most catchers.

By the way, don’t discount the possibility that Perez or Realmuto continue to get better as they keep playing. Yadier Molina had arguably his second-best fantasy season in 2017 as a 35-year-old. Molina stole 9 bases as a 35-year-old- Realmuto’s speed could absolutely stay with him for the next 5-10 years. In fact, coming into his age-27 season, he could also improve to high teens homers and double-digit steals.

Give me the guys who are likely to be low-end top 10 catchers for the foreseeable future. Perez and Realmuto are really good now, and I’ll take them over someone who might be just as good or a little better in a couple years.

EJ: League size is important here. The downside risk of Mejia in a league where, say, Austin Romine is your replacement player, is huge. But in leagues where Jason Castro is your replacement player, it pays to take the chance on ceiling. If you are in a league where it is difficult to pick up a starting catcher (20+ one-catcher leagues, or any 2-catcher league), I’d bump up someone like Realmuto. While I think Realmuto has a big regression coming, he is a pretty safe bet to be an above-average fantasy catcher for a long time .

Kyler: I believe we’re assuming a 14-16 team league for the rankings. @EJ does that make a difference in your opinion?

I think the difference between Perez/Realmuto and a Castro-type is a lot larger than the difference between Perez/Realmuto and Mejia’s ceiling. But you’re right- the replacement value waiting on Mejia is a large factor

EJ: I’d definitely bump Mejia up in a 14-16 team league. My shallowest league for catchers is 18-team, 1 catcher. In that league, offseason waivers tend to have better players than in-season waivers as injured players are replaced, so my current waivers are roughly equivalent to a 14-16 team in-season scenario. Available right now: Chris Iannetta, Raul Perez, Kurt Suzuki, Christian Vazquez, Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart.

It’s not *that* big a drop from Realmuto to your favorite of that group. And if you accept the premise that Mejia has both significantly higher ceiling than Realmuto and a relatively high floor (for a Double-A prospect), most of your downside risk is covered.

Now, I’m also in a two-catcher, 24-team league. Available on waivers: Curt Casali, Jesus Sucre, A.J. Jimenez, Jeff Bandy, etc. The step down here is much larger. I’d probably favor Realmuto in this league.

Kyler: Let’s use the Player Rater again to explore these guys. In standard leagues, I’m skeptical that you can find a catcher worth a positive Player Rater contribution off the wire consistently. Nevertheless, Vazquez finished the highest of those waivers guys (with a 1.01). Realmuto had a 4.03 and Salvador Perez had a 3.5. For Mejia to be as much an improvement over Perez as Perez is an improvement over Vasquez, Mejia would have to have a 6.  Last year Manny Machado was a 6 PR player.

I don’t think Mejia ever reaches that level. I think his ceiling is more what Yuli Gurriel did last year (.299 avg, 18 homers, 145 rs and RBIs, with 3 steals in 529 plate appearances). Gurriel had a 4.78 PR value, which is only 1.28 above Perez. At best, the downgrade from Mejia to Perez/Realmulto is worse than the downgrade from Perez/Realmulto and the waiver wire.

EJ: For next year, I agree that both are more valuable than Mejia + replacement, in any league. But I don’t accept the premise that either Realmuto or Perez are good bets to repeat their 2017 performance in 2018, let alone long term. If Realmuto becomes a 3.0 PR player, and Perez is a 2.5, a Mejia 4.78 ceiling is a pretty big upgrade, especially if replacement level is at 1.0.

Kyler: I don’t think replacement value is 1.0. It’s very rare the 11th best catcher will be on the wire like Vazquez. The 17th-20th best catchers were worth between .1 and .4 in 2017 and between .2 and .5 in 2016. Even if you are able to pluck the right catcher off the wire, the value you’ll get from them is minimal.

It’s definitely is possible that Perez and Realmuto regress, but which is more likely: that they regress to unusable levels or Mejia reaches his 4-6 range upside? Like, Brian McCann and Russell Martin were worth 1.5 last year. If the aging curve of Perez/Realmuto moves them from their current value to 1.5 over the next 3-5 years, I’ll take that.

EJ: Sure, but Mejia could reach 50% of the ceiling you gave him and still be a 2.4 catcher, which would have been 7th best. By the way, I think Realmuto is much safer than Perez and Martin seems like a reasonable downside. But to me Perez is as good a bet to go full Yan Gomes than follow McCann’s career path.

Kyler: Yan Gomes only had one season of being a usable player, whereas Perez has been a usable fantasy player for 4-5 years now. The track record on him is much longer.

Mejia will eventually be really good, but I think Perez and Realmuto are really good right now. Moreover, I think they’re likely to remain at least solid for the next few years. Having that predictability of production is valuable.

EJ: I don’t actually think there is a huge difference between Realmuto and Mejia in a vacuum, so let’s talk about Perez for a second.

Kyler: Okay, what concerns you about Sal? The workload? Plate discipline? Other?

EJ: All of the above, but the biggest is the 2018 Royals lineup. Perez batted 5th in 2017, behind Eric Hosmer, Whit Merrifield, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, etc. Cain and Hosmer are likely gone. Perez’s RBIs and runs are going to tick down. His 2016 season (Player Rater score of 1.77) seems much more likely, based solely on the counting stats regression.

The workload/plate discipline concern me long-term, and I think that Perez is a pretty good bet to have a steep aging curve. I don’t know when that starts, but he’s risky in the medium term. I don’t think he’s likely to collapse in 2018, but I do think he’s going to be worse than he was in 2017. If I’m the Perez owner and my team isn’t contending in 2018, I’m selling hard.  I might start by offering him to the Mejia owner straight up.

 

The Closing Arguments

Kyler: Mejia has tantalizing upside. He’s got the skills to hit like Buster Posey- an elite real life hitter who hits .300+ with average or better power. Those numbers from the catcher position are fantastic, and it’s why Posey is his own tier. But his fantasy value is tied to getting significant playing time at the position. Playing time in the 500-600 PA range is what allows the average to contribute and allows those counting stats to keep being counted. Mejia would have to 1) play well enough to earn that playing time, and then 2) stay healthy enough to capitalize. That’s asking a lot, and he doesn’t have a clear path to another position.

Salvador Perez has been a good fantasy catcher for 4 years in a row. Hes been especially durable, and is coming off a career year with his highest WRC+, his best fly ball%, his best hard%, and his best pull%. Hes been a consistent .260 avg, 20 homer catcher for a while now, and his profile changes portend to him keeping his power around 25 or more. The durability, track record, and upward trend in offensive improvement is a great investment for you to make. His ceiling isn’t much lower than Mejia’s, and his floor is significantly higher.

Realmuto is the rare 5-category catcher who just posted his highest .ISO (with his highest hard% and lowest soft% of his career) and the most efficient base stealing year of his career. His floor is valuable, and his ceiling of .285, 15-20 homers, and 12-15 steal player is even moreso. Like Perez, his ceiling isn’t much lower than Mejia’s, and his floor is significantly higher.

Mejia has the highest ceiling of the trio, but he’s got a long way to go until he reaches it. Perez and Realmuto are both valuable players now, coming off their best offensive seasons. They could regress, but at only 28 and 27 it’s also possible they continue to improve. Take the predictable production. And between Perez and Realmuto, Perez’s 27 home runs were supported by sabermetrics. He’s a good bet for .260 25 and has more counting stat upside than Realmuto, so my guy is Sal Perez. 

 

EJ: We generally regard prospects as risky and veterans as near-certain. However, veterans can also be quite risky (I think Perez in particular is riskier than his recent history suggests), and prospects can end up being very productive fantasy assets even if they don’t reach their ceilings. I think Mejia will be as good as Perez or Realmuto for longer, and he has a chance to be much better. But league construction is also an important consideration. I’ll take Francisco Mejia and his range of outcomes in a shallower league, but could be persuaded to take JT Realmuto in a particularly deep league, where replacement levels are much lower.

The Author

Ben Diamond

Ben Diamond

Ben is an annoyingly enthusiastic fantasy baseball player and Yankees fan, and he writes about those passions at Baseball Prospectus and The Dynasty Guru. There's a 95% chance he's ranting about Michael Pineda right now.

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  1. […] J.T. Realmuto, Salvador Perez, or Francisco Mejia? TheDynastyGuru.com wonders which catcher is the best dynasty league target. […]

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