Sunday, November 01, 2015

Where Did James McCann Rank Defensively in 2015?

Tigers' Rookie catcher James McCann excelled at controlling the running game and avoiding errors in 2015 (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 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 saved the Tigers about five runs (4.7) compared to an average catcher this year.  That was third best in the majors behind Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin (6.6) and Nationals receiver Wilson Ramos (5.0). 

Similarly, passed ball and wild pitch rates suggest that McCann saved the Tigers two runs with pitch blocking which is good for sixth in the majors.  Ramos was the leader with 6.3.

McCann saved the Tigers an estimated two additional runs by avoiding errors - fielding (1.3) and throwing (0.7).  No other catcher fared as well in that category this year.  

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 2,614 strikes called with McCann behind the plate.  There were actually 2,563 strikes, so he cost the Tigers 51 strikes with translates into an estimated two runs (-7.5).  Yasmani Grandall of the Dodgers was the MLB leader with 26.8 runs saved with pitch receiving.

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 (1.2) indicating that he saved the Tigers an estimated one one run overall with his catching. 

If we omit pitch framing from the equation, McCann saved the Tigers 8.7 runs which was fourth in the majors behind Ramos (11.7), Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (9.3) and Posey (9.1).  So, McCann was 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 Grandall was the MLB leader with 28.1 runs saved followed by followed by Posey (23.1) and Molina (20.5).

Table 1: Catcher Runs Saved Leaders, 2015
Player
Team
Inn
Running Game
Pitch Blocking
Throwing Errors
Fielding Errors
Pitch Receiving
Total
Yasmani Grandal
LAD
884
-0.3
0.7
0.3
0.7
26.8
28.1
Buster Posey
SFG
901
2.4
5.4
0.6
0.7
14.0
23.1
Yadier Molina
STL
1,149
4.5
4.8
0.1
-0.1
11.2
20.5
Derek Norris
SDP
1,040
3.7
-0.6
-0.0
0.3
12.6
15.9
Wilson Ramos
WSN
1,078
5.0
6.3
0.0
0.3
4.2
15.9
Jason Castro
HOU
883
2.7
-1.6
0.9
0.7
13.1
15.8
Russell Martin
TOR
994
6.6
-6.3
0.5
0.2
13.2
14.3
Chris Iannetta
LAA
718
-1.6
0.7
0.7
-0.5
14.8
14.1
Caleb Joseph
BAL
826
1.0
2.4
0.8
-0.4
10.1
14.0
Tyler Flowers
CHW
878
-2.0
-2.8
0.6
-0.8
18.1
13.1
Francisco Cervelli
PIT
1,099
-6.1
-2.3
-0.2
0.8
19.9
12.0
Mike Zunino
SEA
919
1.8
-2.8
0.1
0.2
11.7
11.0
Miguel Montero
CHC
825
-5.4
-0.7
-1.7
-0.4
16.6
8.4
Yan Gomes
CLE
800
1.1
2.9
0.2
0.6
1.6
6.4
Rene Rivera
TBR
784
2.7
-3.2
-0.9
-0.9
7.8
5.4
Brian McCann
NYY
1,042
3.0
-1.7
-0.3
0.3
1.5
2.8
Salvador Perez
KCR
1,192
0.4
1.4
0.5
0.9
-0.8
2.4
James McCann
DET
943
4.7
2.0
1.3
0.7
-7.5
1.2
Cameron Rupp
PHI
701
2.6
-0.7
0.1
0.0
-1.9
0.2
Jonathan Lucroy
MIL
745
-1.2
-1.5
-0.7
0.1
3.3
-0.0
Stephen Vogt
OAK
803
0.8
0.4
0.5
0.6
-3.5
-1.2
Brayan Pena
CIN
754
-5.1
2.8
1.0
0.1
-1.6
-2.8
A.J. Pierzynski
ATL
909
-3.3
-0.4
0.6
0.7
-2.1
-4.5
Nick Hundley
COL
866
2.1
-1.0
-0.2
0.6
-6.0
-4.5
Data sources: Baseball-Reference.com and BaseballProspectus.com
  

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