Has it been month already? Indeed it has. Time flies when the world is full of Nick Blackburn starts and Omar Vizquel’s magic (as celebrated by Buck Martinez). That’s right: it’s time for updated ratings.
I made my usual qualifications about sample sizes and methodogical crudeness in last month’s post (and I have again included the same details of my simple and unoriginal method at the end of this post as well for the curious), so I will not do it again here. Forget that boring stuff, let’s get right to the commentary. As you might expect, things are starting to shake out a bit more predictably.
Let’s get to it.
Pitch Blocking (Passed Balls and Wild Pitches) Leaders and Trailers:
Miguel Montero got a big extension a few weeks ago, but is currently struggling a bit with the bat. I expect his power to rebound. However, he’s had no problems behind the plate, currently sitting atop the list in pitch blocking according to my evaluation. Bunched up right behind him are Cincinnati’s Ryan Hanigan, Phillies’ stalwart Carlos Ruiz (more on him later), and 2011‘s best-fielding catcher, Matt Wieters.
At the bottom of the pitch blocking rankings so far, we have Colorado’s Wilin Rosario — a .343 wOBA is good for a catcher, even in Colorado, but he isn’t exactly blowing away memories of the banished Chris Iannetta. Second-worst thus far is Russell Martin — Martin has a pretty good reputation (and is an excellent framer), but he is not the greatest asset when it comes to pitch-blocking. Cleveland’s Carlos Santana is the third-worst. He isn’t as horrible of a defender as some expected, but the power outage thus far this season is a bit troubling.
Caught Stealing Leaders and Trailers:
A.J. Ellis has been a surprising hero for the Dodgers for this season with his bat. He always had good on-base skills, but no one saw a slash line of .307/.425/.487 coming. Yes, it is small sample, but it is still fun considering Ellis is 31 and has never had a full-time job in the majors before. Oh, right, he’s also currently leading all catchers in caught stealing runs. I suspect this is due at least in part to teams testing his previously unseen arm, but he’s currently passing these tests quite well. Right behind him is Miguel Montero, then another guy I suspect is being tested — Tyler Flowers (who is not setting the world on fire with his bat). Carlos Ruiz is fourth.
On the other end of things, we have Rod Barajas bringing up the rear, to which I can only respond: Rod Barajas is still playing? Oh, Pirates… Joe “Hometown Discount” Mauer is second-worst. Remember when he stayed in Minnesota and saved baseball? At least he’s providing good value by playing catcher every day. Oh, wait. Geovany Soto is third-worst.
Overall Leaders and Trailers:
If the struggling Phillies have a hero, it has to be Carlos Ruiz. Not only does he have a .422 wOBA this season, but according to these defensive ratings, thus far in 2012 he has been the most valuable defensive catcher in baseball. Obviously the offense will regress, but Ruiz has quietly been an incredibly valuable part of the Phillies since 2007, providing good offense for a catcher (even if it has never been on the level of, say, McCann or Mauer in the past) while providing great defense.
Right behind Ruiz this year is Miguel Montero. Even if his bat has been his calling card, there’s no mistaking the value he provides defesnively. The deal he signed last week looks promising for Arizona as long as he can stay healthy. Ryan Hanigan is also having himself a nice season on both sides of the ball, and he’s currently sitting third in the defense rankings.
At the bottom of the current rankings, we have Jason Castro, who was theworst last month, too. He’s actually hitting a bit better so far this year, but it’s hard to make up for his defensive inefficiencies. Second-worst so far is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Salty” has never had much of a defensive reputation, but he has been hitting for a ton of power so far this year. Even with the expected regression, Boston can probably live with sub-par glove if he remains an above-average hitter. Third-worst is the previously discussed Wilin Rosario. Fourth-worst to this point is Pirates’ Veteran Leader Barajas.
The full rating and rankings follow. Enjoy!
Concluding Methodological Postscript
I should make clear that for the purposes that I am not including such debated areas a pitch framing or the more amorphous “game calling.” I am not taking a position one way or the other on either of those, simply making clear the bounds of these rankings. When I discuss “catcher defense,” like most others, I will be discussing preventing stolen bases, blocking pitches, etc.
One of the difficulties with evaluating catcher defense with regard to even these issues is that, much more than with other fielding positions, the catcher’s performance is dependent on another player — namely, the pitcher. No matter now strong or weak the catcher’s arm is, he can’t escape the reality that he depends on the pitcher’s skill with regard to holding runners, quickness to the plate, etc. While the catcher’s skill with regard to blocking pitches that are off the mark is clearly important, catching Tim Wakefield poses a unique challenge — just ask Josh Bard. And so on.
For these reasons, probably the best way of measuring catcher defense is Tom Tango’s WOWY (With or Without You) method of defensive evaluation as detailed the 2008 Hardball Times Annual. You can read about the details in the links provided. Versions of WOWY for catchers have also been done by Brian Cartwright and Dan Turkenkopf. I would do it that way if I could. The main issue is that 1) it’s pretty complicated, and beyond my present capabilities, and 2) it requires something like Retrosheet, which isn’t available until after the World Series is over, so even if I could do it, I couldn’t get the numbers during the season of even now…
While the method used here is neither terribly subtle nor original, I think when compared to things like the Fans’ Scouting Report and WOWY methods, it compares fairly well. Just keep in mind the acknowledged limits (e.g., not taking into account the pitchers’ contributions like WOWY does).
The Method Used Here
For non-WOWY catcher defense, the basic idea is to 1) choose what events you’re going to deal with, 2) determine each catchers performance with respect to league average, and 3) decide the run value of each event.
Stolen Bases/Caught Stealing (CSRuns): First, we figure out the league rate for caught stealing. One cool thing about the new Baseball Reference is that it separates out the catcher caught stealings from the pitcher pickoffs, so we can exclude the pickoffs (not under the catcher’s control) from the equation. So we total the CSctch +SB to get total stolen base attempts (SBA) and then to total CSctch/total SBA for the lgCS rate. We use the weight of .63 runs for each caught stealing, which represents the average linear weight of the caught stealing (.44 runs) plus the weight of the stolen base not achieved (.19 runs). The formula for runs above/below average for each catcher is thus (CS – (lgCSrate) * SBA) * 0.63.
Wild pitches/passed balls (WPPBRuns): The league rate is (WPlg + PBlg)/lgPA. The linear weight for each passed ball/wild pitch is 0.28 runs, which we make negative since the more WP/PBs a catcher has, the worse his defense is. The formula for each player is ((WP + PB) – (lgWPPBrate * PA)) * -0.28.
Errors (FcE and TE Runs): I deal with three different kinds of catcher error recorded by Baseball Reference: throwing errors, catching errors, and fielding errors. I’ve assimilated catching errors to fielding errors. There are separate linear weights for throwing (including catching) errors (-0.48) and fielding errors (-0.75). The method is the same as above. Get the league rate, then see how far over/under the player is. For throwing errors: (TE – (lgTErate * PA)) * -0.48. Fielding errors: (FE – (lgFErate * PA)) * -0.75.
Then you just add them all up to get the total runs above/below average. It’s not perfect, and hopefully, there will be some improved options soon, but the results do seem to reflect reality. I round to one decimal: I aware that gives an illusion of precision that isn’t there, I simply do it to expedite sorting and ranking. I thought about coming up with a “rate” version like UZR/150, but that isn’t as simple as prorating for innings caught/PA — one needs to normalize each sort of event separately, the chart is confusing enough as it is. For now, this is just a value measurement of what each player did this season.