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Innovations long needed in fantasy baseball; ranking top catchers


Wednesday would have been Bill Veeck's 97th birthday. Veeck, of course, is remembered as one of Major League Baseball's most innovative owners. The ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field. Larry Doby. Eddie Gaedel. The exploding scoreboard. Disco Demolition Night. All ideas hatched by Veeck.

He wasn't just a showman, though. He went against the rest of his fellow owners in supporting Curt Flood's case against the reserve clause, following the strength of his convictions. But perhaps the most telling fact about the man who grew up as the son of the Chicago Cubs owner and went on to own the Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox is this: I was born in 1984. Veeck was out of baseball in 1981 and died five years later, yet I knew all those facts about him off the top of my head. Veeck was a man ahead of his time, and I like to think if he were around today, he would have embraced fantasy baseball long before the rest of the owners and league officials finally did.

In honor of Veeck, here are a few innovations for the fantasy game that are long overdue.

Make OBP the standard offensive rate: It's 2011. Unless Joe Morgan is a reader of mine, I'm going to assume we're all in agreement that OBP is a better measure of offensive success than batting average. Yet batting average remains the standard offensive rate category used in fantasy leagues. I grant that some leagues use OBP, others use slugging or OPS, and still others use more than one rate. But more leagues than not are living in a bygone era when the number .300 meant everything, held down by an incomplete, arcane statistic. For the sake of all sane baseball minds out there, let's agree to make OBP the rule, not the exception. If your league insists on using batting average, use it in addition to OBP or OPS, not in lieu of either of those superior stats.

Shrink the playoffs: Part of the reason baseball is so great is because so few teams make the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks wouldn't sniff the postseason in baseball. More than any other sport, the regular season means something in baseball. When you run out there 162 times across six months, it should.

So why don't we do the same thing in fantasy baseball? Six out of 12 teams make the playoffs? The degree of luck in fantasy baseball is pretty slim. If you've finished outside the top four, odds are you're not worthy of being in the playoffs. But anyone can get hot for a week, and before you know it, a six seed is in the championship.

Let's cut the playoffs to the top four teams, and make both the semifinals and the championship two weeks long.

Mimic MLB's 40-man roster: Streaming pitchers is a favorite strategy of many fantasy owners. We've all played against a guy who streams, and we've all streamed at one point or another. It can be annoying, but you figure the guy will pay for it in his rate categories. But you shouldn't lose a playoff matchup because Ryan Rowland-Smith somehow pulled a seven-inning, no-runs, eight-strikeout performance out of his hat. In the majors, for a player to appear in a playoff game, he has to be on the team's 25-man roster, disabled list, bereavement list or suspended as of Aug. 31. Let's take that rule and adapt it to fantasy. No streaming in the playoffs. You can only add a player in case of injury. I realize some leagues may use a rule like this already, but let's make it the industry standard.

To me, the top of the catcher draft board comes down to Joe Mauer and Buster Posey. I realize I'm heaping a lot of expectations on a guy who will be spending his first April in the majors this season, but I think Posey is the way to go.

Posey tore through the minors until the Giants could no longer ignore him, posting a .325/.416/.531 slash with 18 homers in 422 at-bats between High-A and Triple-A in 2009. He was hitting .349/.442/.552 with six homers in 172 at-bats in '10 before the Giants finally showed the Pacific Coast League pitchers some mercy and called him up to the majors.

Remarkably, Posey got better when he made it to the show. His .305/.357/.505 line with 18 homers, 23 doubles and 67 RBI is comically good for a rookie catcher. And he did it all in just 406 at-bats. His .315 BABIP likely is sustainable as long as he keeps his strikeout rate down near the 13.5 percent level it was at last year. His walk rate was just 6.8 percent, but in four minor league stops he never had a walk rate lower than 11.3 percent, so that's likely to raise with time.

Take his sustainable BABIP, throw in a low strikeout rate, a walk rate that will likely improve, the pedigree of a top prospect and confidence bred by individual and team success in his rookie year, and I think last year's stats are the floor for Posey in '11. It wouldn't be unquestionable to see him go for 25 homers and 85 RBI this season.

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On the other side, Mauer fell off the power grid last season, due in large part to Target Field, which sapped the entire Twins offense of its power last season. The good news is that his .327/.402/.469 slash line was considered a disappointment. Also, with a healthy Justin Morneau hitting behind him, teams will have to come after Mauer more this season.

The reason I prefer Posey is because I believe in his '10 power production a lot more than I do in Mauer's '09 numbers. That 28-homer year came from out of nowhere. In his five other full major-league seasons, Mauer has 47 homers combined. Last year may have been a plateau, but don't expect the heights of '09. I'm projecting 16 homers for Mauer this season. By the way, that would be the second highest single-season total of his career.

Here are the rest of my catcher rankings:

Tier One

Buster PoseyJoe MauerVictor Martinez

Tier Two

Brian McCannCarlos SantanaGeovany Soto

Tier Three

Mike NapoliMiguel MonteroMatt WietersKurt Suzuki

Tier Four

Chris IannettaJohn BuckJorge PosadaRyan DoumitJesus Montero

Tier Five

A.J. PierzynskiJohn JasoCarlos Ruiz

Continue the conversation on Twitter. Send me your 140-character long thoughts @MBeller.