Sunday, June 29, 2014

How is Alex Avila's Defense in 2014?


Alex Avila has excelled at stopping the running game and pitch blocking in 2014
(Photo credit: TheMajors.net)

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 FastMax Marchi and Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks, I can now add a new component to my formula - pitch framing or receiving.

I'll use Detroit Tigers 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 has saved the Tigers about five runs (4.5) compared to an average catcher.  This is tied for best in the majors with Yadier Molina of the Cardinals.

Similarly, passed ball and wild pitch rates suggest that Avila has saved the Tigers an estimated three runs (3.2) with pitch blocking.  This is second only to Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers who has 4 runs saved. better   Avila has not cost the Tigers any runs on throwing errors (0.2) or fielding errors (-0.2). 

Finally, I take the pitch framing data from Baseball Prospectus pitch receiving data from.  According to Pitch f/x data, there should have been 1,568 strikes called with Avila behind the plate.  There have actually been 1,543 strikes, so he has cost the Tigers 25 strikes with translates into an estimated four runs (-3.7).  

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 about four runs (4.1) indicating that he has saved the Tigers an estimated four runs overall with his catching. 

So, Avila has been good at at stopping the running game and pitch blocking, but not so good at pitch receiving.  It's interesting to note that the opposite was true last year when he was -6 stopping the running game, -2 blocking pitches and +9 receiving pitchers. 

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 tend to stay relatively consistent from year to year though indicating that they probably describe real skills to some extent.

Table 1 below shows that Yankees receiver Brian McCann is the major league leader with 17.7 runs saved in 2014.  He has been especially good at stopping the running game (3.2) and pitch receiving (13.2 runs). Lucroy is next with 16.2 total runs saved thanks to his pitch blocking (4.0) and receiving (11.4).

Table 1: Catcher Runs Saved Leaders, 2014 (as of June 28, 2014)
Player
Team
Inn
Running Game
Pitch
Blocking
Throwing Errors
Fielding Errors
Pitch Receiving
Total
Brian McCann
NYY
504
3.2
0.4
0.5
0.3
13.2
17.7
Jonathan Lucroy
MIL
623
0.2
4.0
0.7
-0.1
11.4
16.2
Buster Posey
SFG
473
0.8
2.8
-0.1
0.3
10.1
14.0
Miguel Montero
ARI
647
-0.5
1.5
-0.7
-0.6
14.0
13.8
Rene Rivera
SDP
311
2.4
-1.2
-0.3
-0.3
12.0
12.6
Russell Martin
PIT
375
1.7
-0.1
0.3
0.3
10.4
12.5
Hank Conger
LAA
330
0.9
-0.7
-0.0
0.2
11.5
11.9
Mike Zunino
SEA
572
1.5
-1.5
0.1
0.4
10.7
11.2
Ryan Hanigan
TBR
378
0.8
0.8
0.6
0.3
8.5
11.0
Jose Molina
TBR
341
-1.4
-0.6
-0.0
0.2
12.7
10.9
Jason Castro
HOU
513
-0.2
2.2
0.5
-0.6
8.9
10.8
Yadier Molina
STL
623
4.5
2.8
0.4
0.4
2.5
10.7
Alex Avila
DET
503
4.5
3.2
0.2
-0.2
-3.7
4.1
Travis d'Arnaud
NYM
358
-0.8
-1.7
-0.3
0.2
6.6
4.1
Robinson Chirinos
TEX
401
5.5
1.6
0.1
0.3
-4.3
3.1
Tyler Flowers
CHW
566
1.4
-3.5
0.1
-0.1
5.1
3.0
Yan Gomes
CLE
584
2.3
-2.1
-1.6
-0.1
4.2
2.7
Jose Lobaton
WSN
351
1.0
2.1
0.3
0.2
-0.9
2.7
Yasmani Grandal
SDP
323
-3.2
-3.1
-0.0
-0.3
8.1
1.5
Carlos Ruiz
PHI
580
-0.7
2.8
0.1
0.4
-1.4
1.2
Wilin Rosario
COL
434
0.3
-2.2
-0.1
-0.2
2.8
0.6
Devin Mesoraco
CIN
398
0.5
1.9
0.1
-0.2
-2.2
0.0
Salvador Perez
KCR
614
1.4
-0.6
0.1
0.4
-2.8
-1.4
Evan Gattis
ATL
483
-1.1
-3.8
-0.4
-0.2
2.9
-2.5
A.J. Pierzynski
BOS
495
-1.6
-0.2
0.2
0.3
-4.1
-5.4
Dioner Navarro
TOR
404
-1.3
0.8
0.1
0.3
-6.9
-7.0
Derek Norris
OAK
414
-3.0
0.7
0.1
-0.2
-5.2
-7.7
Welington Castillo
CHC
406
-2.8
0.3
0.4
-0.2
-6.2
-8.6
Chris Iannetta
LAA
388
0.5
-3.3
0.6
0.3
-7.5
-9.4
Kurt Suzuki
MIN
511
-1.1
2.8
-0.0
0.4
-11.6
-9.6
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
MIA
461
-2.8
-0.7
-1.5
-0.2
-6.2
-11.4


3 comments:

  1. "there should have been 1,568 strikes called with Avila behind the plate. There have actually been 1,543 strikes, so he has cost the Tigers 25 strikes with translates into an estimated four runs (-3.7). " Hmmm...Is the catcher's pitch framing skills the only variable here? Is it possible that Avila is being unfairly blamed because a few umpires happened to squeeze Tigers pitchers? Maybe they would have called the pitch a ball no matter how skillfully Avila framed it--and maybe an overly generous strike zone on the part of the umpires resulted in unmerited credit to Avila last season. Has anybody analyzed the different strike zones of different umpires? Are the consistent game to game and season to season? Maybe this year we are just getting the wrong guys standing behind Avila, or getting some umpires on the wrong days.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, there are lots of variables and it's only a half year sample size. Holaday had a bad ratio too, worse than Avila. Studies have been done on different umpires and they definitely have different zones. This should even out over time, but maybe a half year is not enough. It'll be interesting to see Avila looks better at the end of the season.

    ReplyDelete
  3. AnonymousJune 30, 2014

    Getting a grip on catcher defense seems to be on par with Einstein's attempts at a unified theory of everything.

    ReplyDelete

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