In redraft leagues, I have been advocate for spending up at the catcher position to grab one of the elite players – mostly either Gary Sanchez of Jonathan Lucroy because they have been discounted a bit compared to Buster Posey. However, every draft is different and if I found myself in a situation where all three catcher elites were gone, then I would shift my focus to Dodgers backstop Yasmani Grandal (NFBC ADP: 145.59) as my next target.
Last season, Grandal was one of the prime beneficiaries of homer surge around the league, hitting 27 home runs – 11 more than his prior career high – in 457 PA. Grandal has always hinted at having a near-elite power tool and sat among leaders in the HR and FB distance in past years. In 2016, specifically, Grandal’s flyball (39.2%), pull (42.9%) and contact authority (38.9%), all aligned to create the basis for a serious power breakout.
Although Grandal’s career-high power season was underscored by a seemingly unsustainable 25.2% HR/FB rate, his regression may not be as severe as some owners are projecting. In 2015, Grandal was an All-Star in the first half before completely collapsing in the second half with a shoulder injury. During that first half, Grandal smacked 14 homers on the strength of a 22.2% HR/FB rate and his ISO was a robust .244, which nearly matches his 2016 ISO of .249. The moral of the story – Grandal is capable of big-time power production when healthy.
Now, putting aside health for a moment, Grandal excels in a couple of other areas, which are key to him staying in the lineup. First, he’s among the best defensive catchers in the game so if Grandal can continue to play effective defense, then he is going to be in the lineup a majority of the time regardless of offensive production. The other area is that Grandal has shown expert patience at the dish with a career 14.2% BB% rate. While that walk rate might only directly aid fantasy owners in OBP, OPS or points leagues, being on-base is a good thing in any format.
The two areas of concern with Grandal are (1) his health and (2) batting average. The health problem has influenced both his production (see 2015 second half) and playing time (see career high 128 G, 457 PA). In plate appearances, last season’s career high put Grandal at 13th among catchers in plate appearances. For context, Russell Martin was sixth (78 more than Grandal) and Buster Posey was first (157 more). That sort of volume can make a huge difference. However, at catcher, where production is often on the leaner side, the volume is less of an issue since additional catcher at-bats can drag you down in certain categories – batting average, when we are not discussing the elite players at the position.
Which brings us to the next area of concern – batting average. The league average catcher typically produces a BABIP of approximately .280 and Grandal is in that neighborhood for his career (.275). Last year, Grandal may have been a tad unlucky on balls in play – .250 BABIP v. .268 xBABIP – but it was not to a level where you can expect a drastic results change. Batting average is obviously going to be a drain, but it is for most catchers outside of Lurcroy and Posey.
A format where I think Grandal is ideally suited is daily lineups, where he can be plugged in and out of your lineup, and you can make up some of his lost volume by rotating in a lesser offensive catcher in favorable situations when the Dodgers give Grandal a day off. However, I think Grandal plays in any format – he’s a 13th round pick (145.59) in ADP – and he is just an uptick in volume away from becoming a real threat for 30 homers at the catcher position.