Saturday, July 18, 2015

Evaluating James McCann's Defense

James McCann has excelled at stopping the running game and pitch blocking in 2015
(Photo credit: MLive.com)

One of the hardest parts of the game to quantify is catcher defense.  It is believed by some 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, Dan Brooks, Jonathan Judge and Harry Pavlidis, a relatively new component - pitch framing or receiving - can also be added to the formula

I'll use Detroit Tigers backstop James McCann as an example.  Based on innings caught, stolen bases attempted, runners caught stealing and league caught stealing rate (all found at Baseball-Reference.com), it is estimated that McCann has saved the Tigers about three runs (2.9) compared to an average catcher so far this year.  This is third best in the majors.  

Similarly, passed ball and wild pitch rates suggest that McCann has saved the Tigers an estimated two runs (1.9) with pitch blocking which is good for fifth in the majors.  McCann has saved the Tigers an additional run by avoiding errors - fielding (0.6) and throwing (0.3). 

Data for another catching skill - pitch framing - can be found at Baseball Prospectus.  The algorithm was developed by researchers Jonathan Judge, Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks.  They do a good job of introducing this very complex topic hereAccording to Pitch f/x data, there should have been 1,291 strikes called with McCann behind the plate.  There were actually 1,262 strikes, so he cost the Tigers 29 strikes with translates into an estimated two runs (-4.3).  

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. McCann's numbers summed to just over one run (1.4) indicating that he has saved the Tigers an estimated one to two runs overall with his catching. 

If we omit pitch framing from the equation, McCann saved the Tigers 5.7 runs which is second to Yadier Molina of the Cardinals.  So, McCann has been good at stopping the running game, pitch blocking and avoiding errors, but not so good at pitch receiving.  

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 still new. 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 Giants receiver Buster Posey is the MLB leader with 14.2 runs saved in 2015.  He has been especially good at pitch receiving (8.7 runs).  Jason Castro of the Astros is next with  next with 12.4 total runs saved.

Table 1: Catcher Runs Saved Leaders as of July 16, 2015
Player
Team
Inn
Running Game
Pitch Blocking
Throwing Errors
Fielding Errors
Pitch Receiving
Total
Buster Posey
SFG
496
2.2
2.4
0.7
0.3
8.7
14.2
Jason Castro
HOU
563
2.4
0.5
0.5
0.3
8.7
12.4
Yadier Molina
STL
713
3.0
2.7
0.1
-0.1
4.3
10.0
Yasmani Grandal
LAD
546
-0.9
-1.4
0.5
0.3
10.0
8.5
Mike Zunino
SEA
673
2.7
-0.9
0.1
-0.1
5.8
7.6
Francisco Cervelli
PIT
587
-0.7
0.2
0.5
0.4
6.8
7.2
Caleb Joseph
BAL
511
-0.5
1.7
0.4
0.3
3.7
5.6
Wilson Ramos
WSN
597
1.3
4.0
-0.0
-0.1
0.4
5.5
Kevin Plawecki
NYM
419
-1.2
1.4
0.3
0.3
4.4
5.1
Derek Norris
SDP
665
2.7
0.7
0.1
-0.1
1.7
5.0
Miguel Montero
CHC
504
-1.9
-0.0
-0.7
-0.2
7.7
4.8
Tuffy Gosewisch
ARI
311
1.2
1.6
0.1
0.2
0.9
4.0
Tyler Flowers
CHW
487
-1.2
-2.5
0.7
0.3
6.8
4.0
Chris Iannetta
LAA
457
-0.9
-0.7
0.3
-0.2
5.2
3.7
Martin Maldonado
MIL
365
1.3
-0.5
-0.6
-0.8
3.8
3.2
Russell Martin
TOR
613
3.1
-5.9
0.3
0.4
5.2
3.1
Yan Gomes
CLE
329
2.2
-0.1
-0.1
0.2
-0.2
2.0
James McCann
DET
480
2.9
1.9
0.6
0.3
-4.3
1.4
Jonathan Lucroy
MIL
399
2.0
-0.6
-1.1
0.2
0.6
1.1
Roberto Perez
CLE
371
0.4
-0.1
-0.3
0.2
0.6
0.8
Salvador Perez
KCR
668
2.1
-0.7
0.6
0.4
-1.9
0.5
Rene Rivera
TBR
573
2.6
-3.6
-0.4
-1.2
3.1
0.5
Cameron Rupp
PHI
317
1.5
-0.3
-0.1
0.2
-1.9
-0.6
J.T. Realmuto
MIA
566
-1.5
1.1
0.2
0.3
-1.0
-0.9
Welington Castillo
ARI/SEA
332
-1.9
1.9
-0.4
-0.3
-0.2
-0.9
Brayan Pena
CIN
481
-4.1
2.5
0.6
-0.2
0.0
-1.2
Alex Avila
DET
219
-0.1
0.4
0.3
0.1
-1.9
-1.2
Stephen Vogt
OAK
522
0.8
-0.9
0.4
0.3
-2.4
-1.8
Kurt Suzuki
MIN
615
-3.8
1.4
0.5
0.4
-1.2
-2.6
Brian McCann
NYY
586
2.1
-2.0
-0.1
-0.1
-2.6
-2.7
Nick Hundley
COL
561
0.4
0.4
0.2
0.3
-4.9
-3.5
Blake Swihart
BOS
323
-0.4
-3.3
0.4
0.2
-0.6
-3.7
Robinson Chirinos
TEX
517
-1.3
1.3
0.1
-0.2
-4.1
-4.2
A.J. Pierzynski
ATL
509
-3.1
-0.3
0.1
0.3
-2.0
-5.0
Carlos Ruiz
PHI
489
-2.8
0.0
0.1
-1.2
-6.4
-10.3
Data source: Baseball Prospectus and Baseball-Reference

3 comments:

  1. Wasn't Ausmus supposed to be a brilliant pitch framer in his playing days? Shouldn't he be guiding McCann in this art? Shouldn't he be doing SOMETHING?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's only been one year and it may not be an easy thing to learn quickly. It will be interesting to see how he does next year. I remember reading last year how Ausmus worked with his pitchers on holding runners and delivering the ball quicker to the plate. They did indeed deliver the ball quicker to the plate. I haven't heard anything about that stat this year, but McCann's high caught stealing rate may be telling.

      Delete
    2. It's only been one year and it may not be an easy thing to learn quickly. It will be interesting to see how he does next year. I remember reading last year how Ausmus worked with his pitchers on holding runners and delivering the ball quicker to the plate. They did indeed deliver the ball quicker to the plate. I haven't heard anything about that stat this year, but McCann's high caught stealing rate may be telling.

      Delete

Sabermetrics Book

Sabermetrics Book
One of Baseball America's top ten books of 2010

Blog Archive

Subscribe

501 Baseball Books

501 Baseball Books
Recommended by Tiger Tales

Stat Counter

Site Meter