Hopefully the thrill of All-Star Week — the selections, the Derby, the booing, the controversy, the boring game, and all the rest of the whatnot — has not drained all of your mental energy. Even if it has, too bad. Guys have been playing catcher since we last judged them a month ago. We can’t stop now! Things are starting to level out after a few early season anomalies, so there are fewer surprises to be found, but let’s see what we can find.
As always, the boring methodology stuff is found at the bottom.
Pitch Blocking (Passed Balls and Wild Pitches) Leaders and Trailers:
One of the big jumps from last month is that Matt Wieters leapt to the front in terms of the value above average he has provided in terms of pitch blocking. His bat has cooled off a lot since the beginning of the year, but he’s still bringing it behind the plate and having a good overall year. Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Hanigan (not a great hitter, but sort of underrated as a player) are right behind.
At the bottom of the pitch blocking rankings is Wilin Rosario. Rosario seems to be channeling Miguel Olivo: he has power, but has a bad time judging pitch locations whether he’s hitting (4.0% walk rate combined with a 26.4% strikeout rate) combined with bad pitch judgment whether he’s trying to hit the ball or catch it. Carlos Santana is second-worst, but his continuing problems with the bat are what is really troubling Cleveland. Third-worst is A.J. Pierzynski, and I’m sure the White Sox couldn’t care less, considering how he’s hitting so far this season.
Caught Stealing Leaders and Trailers:
The leader so far this season is Miguel Montero, who started the season slow at the plate but raked in June. He (and his new contract) have not been the problem for Arizona this year. Carlos Santana has had difficulties, but he’s actually been the second-best catcher (according to this method) so far this year, which is nice, given that he isn’t doing much else. Miguel Olivo has been third best, which totally makes his .237 wOBA palatable. Just kidding, he’s been horrible.
At the very bottom we (still) have the essence of Veteran Defensive Catchers: Rod Barajas. The Pirates are baffling. Gerald Laird is another member of that club, and he is right above Barajas. John Baker is third-worst, keeping Joe Mauer just out of the bottom three.
Overall Leaders and Trailers:
The top three are the same as last month. Carlos Ruiz is still the overall best, and already about seven runs above average overall. Somehow, his wOBA is still .422, as well. If it weren’t for him, the Phillies would be completely out of it and should be selling. Oh, wait. Montero has been just as good (although his team is floundering just as badly). Ryan Hanigan is this year’s Mystery Catcher thus far.
On the bottom — congratulations for Jason Castro for getting out of the bottom slot and moving into third-worst! His hitting has moved into the “not bad for a catcher” territory, so Houston has that going for them. The Yankees’ Russell Martin has had a defensive slump to match that he has been on with the bat, and he is now second-worst. At the bottom is Wilin “Olivo” Rosario.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, the Big Table…
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.