The catcher position is the hard knock life area for baseball. The poor backstops lumber around with heavy equipment, while kamikaze baserunners treat them like a crash test dummies. Catchers spend six months in an uncomfortable crouch, blocking pitches in the dirt and waiting for the next foul tip to ding them up. Let's offer them some tea and sympathy.
But let's not take these poor guys in the first round of any fantasy draft.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Buster Posey is the latest and greatest catcher to win the public's fantasy fancy. He was clearly the National League's best player last year, winning an MVP and batting title (and eventually, a championship ring), and fake-baseball players are paying for that haul in the early draft season. If you knew you could get Posey's 2012 stats replicated for 2013, he's be a recommended lottery pick in any format.
Ah, but there's the rub. Regression is pretty much a bitch for anyone off a dynamite season, but when it comes to the high-attrition catchers, I want no part of chasing last year's stats (even in two-catcher leagues). There's too much risk here.
The first foundation of the risk comes with the basic physical demands of the position. A fair amount of catchers are sure to get hurt every season, and it's the rare position where virtually everyone is playing hurt to one extent or another as the campaign moves along. No other spot on the diamond offers these types of occupational hazards.
And then there's the obvious regression issue. One of my standard roto rules is to never pay for a player to perform at a level he's never reached before, and I also hate coughing up a big ticket for someone who's done it just once. Posey falls into that latter category.
Let's look back at what recent catchers did in their post-MVP season:
Mauer's fall was all about the power giveback. Pudge actually had a ridiculous 2000 season going but injury cost him almost half the year. Munson's numbers were helped by a league-wide jump in offense (note the mild Offensive WAR dip), but he also ran a lot less. Bench played through injuries in both of his down years, not that his numbers were bad for the era - they just didn't match the other-worldly stats he posted in the two decorated seasons. (The Reds eventually paid for Bench's intensive workload; check out his career arc sometime. But those two championship flags fly forever.)
If you want to go back even further on the catcher-MVP spectrum, you'll note that Roy Campanella's three follow-up years were all terrible. Meanwhile, Elston Howard had a solid follow-up in the 1960s, and three-time winner Yogi Berra generally kept the Regression Police at bay.
There are other things that push me away from Posey as a 2013 first-round pick. He's unlikely to reach that .368 BABIP mark again (in the second half he had an insane .423 BABIP, albeit it was fueled by a zesty 29-percent line-drive rate). We all know line drives play anywhere and Posey hits a ton of them, but AT&T Park isn't the best place for any batter to set up shop (Posey's career OPS is 142 points higher on the road). Posey is never going to steal many bases and he scored an ordinary 78 runs even in an MVP year; if you make him your first pick, you have catch-up work to do in the other columns. Even a 24-homer count is low for a first-round player.
I know what you're thinking, Posey Apologists: what about position scarcity? On my clipboard, it's always been overrated. I'll consider it as a tie-breaker of sorts in the early rounds, but I'm not letting it steer the decisions. And the 2013 catcher board looks deeper than usual to me, with Victor Martinez coming back and Mike Napoli landing in a good spot (you have to love two fake-eligible catchers who won't be asked to lug the mail behind the plate).
Even if you want a designer catcher on your roster, I urge you to consider some of the cheaper alternatives. Mauer's ADP is 45 picks cheaper on the current NFBC grid (13.77 for Posey, 58.50 for Mauer). Carlos Santana, off a dynamite second half, looms at 65.61. Yadier Molina isn't a bad value at 71. Martinez (77.91), Wilin Rosario (80.55), Miguel Montero (98.18), Salvador Perez (106.48) - surely one of these guys makes sense to you. Heck, old reliable A.J. Pierzynski (177.27) just landed in Arlington.
You'll find plenty of intelligent scribes who don't agree with my Posey stance. Joe Sheehan selected Posey in the first round of a mock draft about six weeks ago; Todd Zola and Lawr Michaels tabbed Posey in the first pass of the FSTA Draft in January; and Clay Davenport used a first-round ticket on Posey in the LABR Mixed League Draft from Tuesday. There's lots of brainpower on the other side of the mall. I won't take any disagreements personally.
I do have the Yahooligans on my side with this debate, for what it's worth. None of the Y-5 consider Posey a Top 20 pick (you'll notice Giants fan Dalton Del Don pans Posey the most). And Andy Behrens has taken his Posey stance to another level, composing the video below. Check it out, gamers, then share your angles in the comments.