TDG 2023 RISERS AND FALLERS: CATCHER
Every year, we at the TDG office identify Risers and Fallers from our consensus rankings. But how did we get here!? And what’s real and what’s noise? Well, the Gurus are here to help. In each “Risers and Fallers” article, the Gurus will take you on an explanatory journey as to why four players have seen a fortunate rise or an unfortunate turn toward their demise. Thanks for reading!
RISING: DANNY JANSEN, TORONTO BLUE JAYS, (AGE: 27, RANK: 21, PREVIOUS RANK: 31)
Shopping for catchers in Fantasy Baseball is probably not high on anyone’s list of favorite things to do, but the position has improved greatly over the past couple of seasons. There are more solid catching options to target than there have been in years. Danny Jansen is one of these targets; a catcher to invest in for the 2023 season and beyond.
In 2022, his age 27 season, Jansen set career highs in Batting Average (.260), Home Runs (15), RBI (44), Slugging Percentage (.516), and OPS (.855), all in just 215 at-bats. His OPS+ was 141 making him 41% better than the league average. Jansen missed time due to two separate injuries (a pulled oblique in April and a fractured finger in June), which put him on the shelf for two, one-month stints. If there is one critique of Jansen, it’s his injury history. He has surpassed one hundred games just once in his five seasons in Major League Baseball. Prior to 2021, Jansen had struggled to hit Four Seam fastballs, generating negative run values against the pitch in his first three seasons (2018-2020).
Following the 2020 season, Jansen made a significant swing change when he raised his launch angle and pull percentage. His launch angle was up over 22% in 2022 while his pull percentage was more than 50%; the results speak for themselves. Jansen’s power gains are legitimate. His Barrel Rate in 2022 was 13.1%, his Average Exit Velocity was 90.4 mph and his Hard Hit Rate was 46.6%, all career highs. Because of the injuries, Jansen didn’t qualify for the hitting leaderboards, however, for a minimum of 150 Batted Ball Events, he had the sixth highest Average Exit Velocity at the catching position. The best part about these changes is Jansen is not sacrificing his Batting Average. He lowered his Strikeout Rate to 17.7% (from 21.5%) and raised his Walk Rate to 10.1% (from 8.3%), both career highs. He also has an 83.2% Zone Contact Rate and 21% Chase Rate, both well above the league average. These improvements have helped to create a solid hitting foundation for him.
Jansen is not in danger of falling into the short side of a platoon either as he hit .272/.326/.537 against righties this season. He is also a solid defender and game caller which will keep him on the field. Toronto is deep at catcher with All-Star Alejandro Kirk splitting time with Jansen. The move of top prospect Gabriel Moreno solidifies the duo and should clear up some of the playing time concerns that were held when the offseason began. With a measure of health and the positive growth he has made as a hitter, Jansen could provide top-ten production at Catcher this season. Based on early draft results, he is being overlooked as a top catching option. Jansen is a great investment at his current price and dynasty players would be wise to do what they can to add him to their rosters this offseason. (Greg Hoogkamp)
FALLING: SALVADOR PÉREZ, KANSAS CITY ROYALS, (AGE: 32, RANK: 11, PREVIOUS RANK: 4)
Salvador Pérez has been one of the best slugging catchers we have seen in a long time. Heading into the 2023 season he has 223 career Home Runs and in 2021 he tied the Royals franchise record for most Home Runs in a season with 48 (Soler 2019). He is a career Royal playing all 11 of his seasons in Kansas City. He is a seven-time All-Star, and four-time Silver Slugger, and was the World Series MVP when KC won the title in 2015. He is a true fan favorite.
In 2022 Pérez had another solid season reaching 20 Home Runs for the sixth time in his career (23). He hit .254 for the season with a .757 OPS, suitable for a 110 OPS+. At age 32, he is still an above-average catching option for your fantasy leagues, especially for two-catcher leagues. He continues to hit the ball hard; he had an average exit velocity of 91.4 mph (1st among Catchers), a Max EV of 112.5 mph (sixth among catchers), and a Hard Hit Rate of 49.0% (second among catchers). His Batted Ball data is among the best at his position.
All this being said, there are some warning signs that we need to point out about Pérez. First, he will turn 33 early in the season, and for a catcher that’s getting a little long in the tooth. Second, Kansas City is a rebuilding team where he is the senior leader. MJ Melendez is the heir apparent to the catching position in KC and has already cut into Pérez’s time behind the plate. Sal caught just 77 games in 2022, the fewest he has caught in a non-injury or non-strike-shortened season. Third, he is among the worst framing catchers in Major League Baseball. He was fourth from the bottom in framing runs (-8) last season, while in 2021 he cost the Royals the equivalent of 18 framing runs. Despite his veteran leadership, he does more harm than help behind the plate at this point in his career.
There are a couple of other red flags in his profile that should give fantasy owners a pause as well. First, he has clearly already hit his power peak as far as his metrics are concerned. His barrel percentage (11.2% – still good, mind you) was his lowest since 2018 leading to his lowest expected slugging percentage (.473) since 2016 and his hard-hit rates and exit velocities are also decreasing year by year as well. Secondly, his batting average floor is on shaky ground based on his diminishing contact metrics. In 2022, his line drive percentage of 21.2% was his lowest (tied with 2016) since Statcast began in 2015. His contact rates both inside the zone (77.8%) and outside of it (56.0) have steadily declined for seven straight years. Part of this is a conscious effort to try and lift fly balls to the pull side, but the other part of it is that his contact skills are declining. To compensate for lost bat speed, he is starting his swing early to catch the ball out front and is much more susceptible to offspeed pitches. He had positive run values on sliders in 2020 and 2021, but that run value slipped into the negative this past season.
We should expect this trend to continue based on his other contact metrics. Typically, these power and contact trends do not reverse themselves, especially as players enter their mid-thirties. Playing at Kaufmann, notoriously a pitcher’s park, and hitting in a relatively inexperienced lineup will not add value to Pérez’s stock either. He’s had a wonderful run and we can’t take anything away from what he has accomplished, but with all of the great young catching talent coming up, it’s time to fade Pérez down your draft boards and dynasty lists. (Greg Hoogkamp)
RISING: CAL RALEIGH, SEATTLE MARINERS (AGE: 26, RANK: 12, PREVIOUS RANK: 34)
Cal Raleigh had a breakout in 2022, hitting 27 home runs in just 415 plate appearances. Only 30 MLB players topped that number last season, including zero catchers and only one player (Byron Buxton) with fewer PAs. Raleigh’s max exit velocity of 114 MPH ranked in the 94th percentile, and when you pair that kind of power with a 55.7% flyball rate, the ball goes over the fence a lot. It’s an exciting profile for a 26-year-old at a weak position, even after you factor in the .284 OBP and 29.4% K-rate, so it’s not hard to see why Raleigh climbed all the way to 12 in our rankings. That makes him a starter even in shallow leagues, and I’d be wary about that.
Catchers with huge raw power and strikeout problems are common, and it’s not the most dependable profile. Mike Zunino, Gary Sanchez, and Mitch Garver have had a season where they hit 30 HR in less than 450 PA, and all three were useless offensively the next year. Raleigh fits this mold and comes with the same upside, but also the same risks. He’s a player I’d be happy to roster, but not as my only catcher, and probably not at his current price. Pairing him with a less exciting but more dependable singles hitter like Keibert Ruiz or Gabriel Moreno would make sense. (Ben Sanders)
FALLING: JOEY BART, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS (AGE: 26, RANK: 28, PREVIOUS RANK: 15)
Joey Bart is in the falling catchers’ article for a second straight season as he continues to whiff his way down the rankings. The former number two overall draft pick was considered the heir apparent to Buster Posey, but the similarities between the two Giants end when you get to the hit tool. Posey never struck out more than 100 times in an MLB season despite playing almost every day. Bart did it in just 291 PA last year, his 112 K producing an ugly 38.5% rate. Clearly, he is not on the path to fantasy stardom.
I’m not totally out, though. Bart is 26 years old and can hit a baseball at 114 MPH, just like Cal Raleigh. His numbers were bad last year, but not as bad as Raleigh’s in his 2021 debut. The biggest difference between the two right now is their flyball rates. Bart’s was just 36.1% last season, but despite that, he still hit 11 homers. If he can elevate the ball more, he’s very capable of a 30-HR season. Raleigh is ranked rightfully higher now, but I expect them to have similar careers, bouncing around this list as they mix a few big power years with nasty slumps. I wouldn’t pay a premium for either, but with Bart, you don’t have to. (Ben Sanders)