Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How Was Alex Avila's Defense in 2014?




Alex Avila excelled at 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, a relatively new component - pitch framing or receiving - can also be added to the formula

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 saved the Tigers about four runs (4.3) compared to an average catcher.  This was seventh best in the majors in 2014. 

Similarly, passed ball and wild pitch rates suggest that Avila saved the Tigers an estimated six runs  with pitch blocking.  He was the major league leader in that department this year.  In addition, Avila did not cost the Tigers any runs on throwing errors (0.4) or fielding errors (0.1). 

Finally, I take the pitch framing data from Baseball Prospectus.  According to Pitch f/x data, there should have been 3,155 strikes called with Avila behind the plate.  There were actually 3,140 strikes, so he cost the Tigers 15 strikes with translates into an estimated two runs (-2.2).  

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 summed to about eight runs (7.5) indicating that he has saved the Tigers an estimated eight runs overall with his catching. 

So, Avila was 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 +6 receiving pitchers.  Back-up catcher Matt Holaday cost the Tigers an estimated 10 runs with his catching, thanks largely to pitch framing (-8.7). 

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 Brewers receiver Jonathan Lucroy was major league leader with 32.5 runs saved in 2014.  He was especially good at pitch blocking (4.8) and pitch receiving (27.5 runs). Martin was next with 29.8 total runs saved thanks to his ability to stop the running game (6.8) and framing pitches (23.0).

Table 1: Catcher Runs Saved Leaders, 2014 


Player
Team
Inn
Running Game
Pitch Blocking
Throwing Errors
Fielding Errors
Pitch Receiving
Total
Jonathan Lucroy
MIL
1,182
-1.0
4.8
0.9
0.2
27.5
32.5
Russell Martin
PIT
940
6.8
-0.6
0.0
0.6
23.0
29.8
Brian McCann
NYY
889
4.9
0.7
0.8
0.6
21.0
27.9
Rene Rivera
SDP
734
5.2
-0.2
-0.6
-0.0
22.0
26.3
Buster Posey
SFG
929
1.3
4.3
0.3
0.1
18.6
24.6
Miguel Montero
ARI
1,152
0.9
2.2
-0.8
-0.8
20.6
22.1
Mike Zunino
SEA
1,121
0.6
-4.9
0.6
0.2
24.1
20.6
Jose Molina
TBR
628
-0.1
-1.0
0.4
0.4
20.8
20.4
Caleb Joseph
BAL
672
4.7
1.0
0.4
-0.1
14.0
20.0
Hank Conger
LAA
637
-1.5
-0.3
-0.7
-0.1
22.6
19.9
Yadier Molina
STL
931
5.7
5.2
0.8
0.6
7.0
19.3
Jason Castro
HOU
971
-3.4
0.4
0.9
-0.4
18.2
15.7
Tyler Flowers
CHW
1,052
1.3
-3.0
-0.1
0.2
16.3
14.6
Ryan Hanigan
TBR
603
-1.5
1.7
0.6
0.4
10.9
12.1
Alex Avila
DET
1,017
4.3
6.0
0.4
0.1
-2.2
8.7
Yan Gomes
CLE
1,082
2.9
1.6
-2.0
0.2
4.9
7.5
Wilson Ramos
WSN
775
3.1
3.4
0.3
-0.0
-0.4
6.4
Yasmani Grandal
SDP
607
-5.2
-3.3
0.1
-0.1
14.8
6.3
Travis d'Arnaud
NYM
909
-3.5
-2.4
-0.9
0.1
11.9
5.2
Devin Mesoraco
CIN
936
-0.5
2.5
0.8
0.1
1.7
4.6
Robinson Chirinos
TEX
784
5.7
2.7
0.0
0.5
-5.3
3.7
Carlos Ruiz
PHI
960
0.1
3.6
0.6
-0.4
-2.5
1.4
Evan Gattis
ATL
799
-3.1
-4.9
0.1
-0.0
3.3
-4.7
Salvador Perez
KCR
1,248
1.7
1.2
-0.4
0.3
-7.9
-5.1
Derek Norris
OAK
870
-4.8
0.2
-0.1
0.0
-2.2
-6.9
Wilin Rosario
COL
824
-3.1
-5.2
-0.2
-0.5
0.2
-8.8
Welington Castillo
CHC
916
3.1
-0.3
0.2
-0.4
-11.5
-9.0
Chris Iannetta
LAA
835
1.2
-2.5
0.7
0.5
-8.9
-9.0
A.J. Ellis
LAD
773
-0.9
0.6
0.6
-0.5
-10.0
-10.2
Kurt Suzuki
MIN
1,017
-1.4
3.5
0.4
0.6
-15.8
-12.6
A.J. Pierzynski
BOS/STL
721
-9.2
0.2
-0.0
0.4
-5.9
-14.5
Dioner Navarro
TOR
907
-3.1
2.1
0.5
0.6
-16.3
-16.2
Jarrod Saltalamacchia
MIA
922
-4.6
-0.2
-2.5
0.1
-20.5
-27.8
Data source: Baseball Prospectus and Baseball-Reference

3 comments:

  1. Interesting. Would like to see the run totals without pitch framing. BP's numbers are the best that are publicly available, but they use the same methodology to get pitch blocking numbers, and those numbers disagree with just about every pitch blocking stat out there- it makes me a little leery of the pitch framing numbers.

    Given the ridiculous run totals assigned to pitch framing in relation to every other catching skill, I feel it's best to compare catchers both with and without pitch framing in there, if only to get a better idea of where a catcher's value is coming from. In Avila's case, a 15 pitch difference in 9,366 chances is 0.16% of his framing chances, and that minuscule different equates to a full 2 runs? I don't know much about statistics, but what's the error leeway there? 15 pitches seems like a wash in receiving, though it's interesting that Avila can sway from being one of the bets pitch framers last year to basically neutral this year.

    Brooks Baseball, I noticed recently, is starting to put catcher cards together, including pitch framing data. Nothing for this year yet, but would be interested to see those numbers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Avila is 10.8 without the pitch framing. Just eyeballing it, he appears to be second best in the majors to Yadier Molina. I've got the data on another computer, but I'll to put it up later. I'm cautious about pitch framing, in general, because it's new. Harry Pavladis and Dan Brooks created the BP algorithm and they are both very sharp. I trust their work as much as anyone. I assume they would use the same algo on Brooks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting. According to Brooks, in 2013 in 5,442 framing opportunities, Avila had 73.24 extra strikes that equated to 9.02 runs saved. According to Prospectus, he had 7,297 chances, with 42.6 extra strikes. 7.8 runs by count, 6.3 by call. That's a rather large difference in just what they consider framing chances, let alone the total number of extra strikes. Not sure what method Brooks is using.

      Delete

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