Friday, October 04, 2013

The Best and Worst Catchers in Baseball

One of the hardest parts of the game to quantify is catcher defense.  It is believed by many baseball insiders that handling of pitchers is the most important defensive skill of any catcher.  By pitcher handling, I mean studying opposing batters, game calling, understanding pitcher abilities and tendencies, helping pitchers maintain focus and other duties unique to the catching position.  These things are difficult to measure because we do not know how much of good pitching is due to the pitcher versus the catcher.  Much of pitcher management is still a mystery to statistical analysts, but there are some things than can quantified.

The algorithm I have used to evaluate catchers is complex and will not be described in detail here, but the methodology can be found in an earlier article.  I do want to give credit to others such as Sean Smith, Justin Inaz, Matt Klaasen and Mike Rogers who inspired me with similar work in the past.  The system evaluates catchers based on what we can most easily measure - controlling the running game, pitch blocking and avoiding errors.  Thanks to analysts such as Mike Fast, Max Marchi and Mathew Carruth, I can now add a new component to my formula - pitch framing or receiving.

Since this is a Tigers blog, I'll use Detroit backstop Alex Avila as an illustration.  Based on innings caught, stolen bases attempted, runners caught stealing and league caught stealing rate, it is estimated that Avila cost the Tigers six runs compared to an average catcher.

Similarly, passed ball and wild pitch rates suggest that Avila cost the Tigers an estimated two runs with pitch blocking.  Using the same logic, Avila cost Detroit no runs on throwing errors and one run on fielding errors.

Finally, I take Carruth's pitch receiving data from Stat Corner. Carruth establishes the strike zone based on pitch f/x and umpire calls and tracks the rate of called balls within the zone and called strikes outside the zone for each catcher.  According to theses data, Avila got 42 more calls in the Tigers favor than would be expected from the average catcher which translates to 6 runs saved on the season.

The five elements listed above (stopping the running game, pitch blocking, avoiding throwing errors, avoiding fielding errors and pitch receiving) are combined to arrive at total runs saved.  Avila's numbers sum to -3 indicating that he cost the Tigers an estimated 3 runs overall with his catching.

Like other defensive algorithms, this system should be taken with a grain of salt.  First, it does not address important pitcher management skills.  Moreover, pitch receiving measurement is a work in progress.  There is evidence that these numbers are relatively consistent from year to year though indicating that they probably describe real skills to some extent.

Table 1 below shows that Cardinals star receiver Yadier Molina was the major league leader with 33 runs saved in 2013.  He was especially good at pitch blocking (8 runs) and receiving (20 runs).  Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers was next with 28 total runs saved thanks mostly to his pitch receiving (31 runs).

Table 1: Catcher Runs Saved Leaders, 2013

Player
Team
Running Game
Pitch Blocking
Throwing Errors
Fielding Errors
Pitch Receiving
Total Runs
Yadier Molina
STL
5
8
1
-1
20
33
Jon Lucroy
MIL
-4
2
0
-1
31
28
Russell Martin
PIT
7
-2
1
1
18
25
Chris Stewart
NYY
2
-1
1
1
23
25
Yan Gomes
CLE
4
1
0
1
15
21
Jose Molina
TBR
1
-2
0
0
19
19
Buster Posey
SFG
2
4
0
0
11
17
Ryan Hanigan
CIN
4
1
1
0
8
14
Brian McCann
ATL
-1
5
0
1
10
14
Hank Conger
LAA
-1
-3
-1
0
18
13
 Data Sources: Baseball-Reference, StatCorner 

Table 2 below tells us that Rockies backstop Wilin Rosario finished last costing his team an estimated 24 runs.  His major liabilities were pitch blocking (-4 runs) and pitch receiving (-19).  The second worst catcher was Chris Iannetta who cost the Angels 21 runs due mostly to his failure to stop the running game (-5) and pitch receiving (-15).  Finally, Table 3 lists the best and worse on each catcher skill based on total runs saved/cost.

Table 2: Catcher Runs Saved Trailers, 2013 

Player
Team
Running Game
Pitch Blocking
Throwing Errors
Fielding Errors
Pitch Receiving
Total Runs
Wilin Rosario
COL
0
-4
-1
0
-19
-24
Chris Iannetta
LAA
-5
-1
1
-1
-15
-21
W. Castillo
CHC
1
1
-1
-1
-17
-16
Carlos Santana
CLE
-4
-4
0
-1
-8
-16
Kurt Suzuki
MLB
-7
5
0
0
-9
-12
Data Sources: Baseball-Reference, StatCorner 


Table 3: Best and Worst Catching Skills, 2013

Skill
Best
Worst
Stopping the running game
Russell Martin, PIT
John Buck, NYM/ PIT
Blocking pitches
Yadier Molina, STL
Carlos Santana, CLE
Avoiding throwing errors
A.J. Pierzynski, TEX
Hank Conger, LAA
Avoiding fielding errors
Russell Martin,PIT
Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
Receiving pitches
Jonathan Lucroy, MIL
Wilin Rosario, COL
Data Sources: Baseball-Reference, StatCorner 

That's enough numbers for now.  In a future post, I'll provide the data for all catchers with a reasonable number of innings caught.  I will also probably try to plug them into a Wins Above Replacement formula to see how catchers rank overall.     

4 comments:

  1. Just wondering about those StatCorner numbers for pitch framing. Some of those numbers don't even come close to the numbers I've seen from Mike Fast or Max Marchi. Marchi runs the numbers every month, and sometimes they show up on Baseball Prospectus. http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=21855. It's only top 5 there, but even those five names show how big a difference there is between Marchi and Carruth's numbers. Avila certainly gets shortchanged pretty heavily.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think the stat corner method adjusts for fewer variables, so I'd expect some differences. I actually asked Max Marchi about the correlation between the two sites the other day and he said he would look into it. Just looking at the top and bottom five, the difference does not look too crazy as far as defensive measures go. The top five guys on BP are all above average on stat corner and the bottom five guys on BP are all below average on stat corner. The numbers are off but that always happens with defensive measures. I would guess they are a little closer if you have more years of data.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ah, thanks! The only reason I brought it up was the Grand Canyon gap between how StatCorner thought Avila did on framing and how guys like Marchi and Fast thought he did. StatCorner had Avila at 5.6 runs on the year, Marchi had him at 22 by August (I think he was at 27 by the end of the year). StatCorner had Avila at 0.2 in 2011, Fast had him at 16.... some guys are close between the two sites, but some guys are way way off. So if you use StatCorner Avila cost his team three runs on the year, but if you use Marchi, he saved his team 18 runs... just makes it hard to put any credit on the final number.

    ReplyDelete
  4. No doubt defensive metrics are tricky. That is why I like to list out all the components and not just the final number. That way people can plug in other numbers if they don't trust one of the components.

    ReplyDelete

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