I am referring, of course, to our final look at the Getting Blanked Catcher Defense Ratings for 2012. Was there something else that happened?
When we last examined the rankings, a new leader had emerged. Will his work over the last month of the season hold the tide against the waves of challengers trying to unseat him and claim the title of Getting Blanked’s best defensive catcher? An answer to this, some other random comments, and, crude ratings of the defensive value of every catcher who saw time behind the plate in 2012, all after the jump …
Let’s start with some general housecleaning: as usual, the methodological stuff is at the end, where you can find all the details and qualifications about the ratings. I started putting this ranking together after the 2009 season on a different site and then continued at Beyond the Box Score in 2010 and 2011. This year is probably the most I’ve ever updated the listing, and it’s been fun.
With that being said, I am not sure if I will continue next year. When I first started, there was no regularly-updated catcher defense publicly available. There was stuff like WOWY as done by Tom Tango, Brian Cartwright, and others, and that (as I discuss at the end) is probably one of the best ways to do it. However, that wasn’t really readily available, certainly not in-season. I just wanted something to get a crude “snapshot” of basic stuff in-season, and I shared it with others.
Since then, the situation has improved. On one hand, there has been new work done by Mike Fast and others on pitch framing. FanGraphs is not only keeping track of baserunning (via BIS metrics), but this year they have adopted Bojan Koprivica’s awesome pitch-blocking algorithm, which goes far beyond pretty much anything else out there.
So, I ‘m not sure what I’m adding other than an ego-boost for myself. However, it is fun, so we will see. If I do not do these again next year, I just want to thank people who have used these to make points, even if only to mock me for my pretentiousness in thinking they matter at all.
With that out of the way, here are some very brief and assorted comments prior to the actual ratings/rankings:
Pitch Blocking (Passed Balls and Wild Pitches):
Matt Wieters’ bat may have calmed down, but he led the way in pitch-blocking again. I had Wieters as the best-fielding catcher in baseball last year, and he’s established himself as perhaps the best in the American League, although Salvador Perez might claim that by next year. Ryan Hanigan of the Reds also did well here, despite not being heralded for his defensive abilities.
Other surprises: John Buck tied Hanigan for second-best in baseball in pitch-blocking runs according to these ratings. It should also be noted that something weird is going on with Yorvit Torrealbea because of his multiple teams. It didn’t mess up other people’s rankings. I checked. It did mess up his, though.
At the bottom, we have some interesting folks. Fourth from last (excluding Torrealbea), is A.J. Pierzynski, who somehow managed a career-high 27 home runs at the age of 35. I suppose that the Chicago White Sox will live with the passed balls given that type of offensive production. Carlos Santana was third-worst, but I wouldn’t want to touch something out of the hands of the Cleveland pitching staff, either, so it’s hard to blame him. Poor ol’ Jason Castro is second-worst, but at least he actually hit pretty well (100 wRC+) for a catcher this year. And the absolute worst at pitch blocking was Wilin Rosario of the Colorado Rockies … more on him below.
No real surprises here. Yadier Molina takes it (can’t believe how often teams try to run on him), followed by Hanigan, Matt Wieters, and the underrated Miguel Montero. Special mention to David Ross, who saved the Atlanta Bravse just over four runs in this category despite starting less than fifty games. Dude is good defensively, and has been an above-average hitter the last four years. I don’t get why other teams don’t try to sign him as a starter.
At the bottom we have an interesting mix. Fourth-worst is Lou Marson, who is usually solid defensively. Didn’t anything go right for Cleveland? John Baker is third-worst. I refuse to do the work it would take to come up with something interesting to say about John Baker. Second-worst is Joe Mauer, who can still hit, but not only does not play catcher that much any more (less than half of his games), his skills there seem to be eroding, which is why he doesn’t have as much trade value as his bat would lead you to believe (although that is not necessarily a killer for the Twins). By far the worst according to these rankings is Rod Barajas at 10 runs below average. What a wonderful year in Pittsburgh.
Overall Winners And Losers:
How about starting with the trailers this time? There are not too many big surprises here. Jason Castro has already been mentioned, he was fourth-worst, but his bat probably makes it okay. Then there is John Baker. Still not bothering to do any work to comment on him. After the Torrealbea exception, we have Rod Barajas. Honestly, Barajas has been around for a while, and he was at least somewhat acceptable as a part-time catcher. Unfortunately, everything fell apart for him on both sides of the ball this year. Regression or not, it might be time for Rod to hang it up.
Finally, we have 2012′s worst defensive catcher: Alleged National League Rookie of the Year Candidate Wilin Rosario, at about 11 runs below average. Superficially, Rosario’s numbers are nice: yeah, he doesn’t walk or get on-base much, but he has nice power and a decent overall line (.270/.312/.530, .351 wOBA), but it isn’t quite as good as it looks because of his home park (108 wRC+).
Yes, that’s still good for a catcher… except he probably gives back most of his positional adjustment and more due to his fielding. Honestly, if the Rockies could not live with Chris Iannetta’s glove, I don’t see how they can deal with Rosario’s unless it improves significantly. I am not ruling it out, and power is a good “one tool” to have, but his defense is a bit of a red flag.
As for the leaders, Carlos Ruiz lea the league for much of the year, but got passed in the middle of the season. He ended up sixth. Where would the Phillies have been without his bat and glove this year? Of the remaining top five, four are on playoff teams? Coincidence? Well, uh, probably, but I think it’s at least somewhat telling. And two of them (three if you count Ruiz, who should at least be in the top ten) should be in MVP discussions.
In fifth we have Buster Posey, who had an all-around nice year in the field. Not sure what he did with the glove. Remember when the Giants said he needed more glove work in the minors and brought back Bengie Molina? And the Posey’s glove magically matured on Super 2 Day?
In fourth, we have Miguel Montero. I’m becoming a pretty big Montero fan. Maybe he didn’t hit as well as the other guys this year, but he still had very good numbers for a catcher, even in Arizona, he plays good defense, is a good pitch-framer, and has been a horse lately (140 games for the second year in a row).
In third, we have Matt Wieters. Because I have been wrong about a thing or two before, I will be nice and not name the famous internet writer who both a) publicly defended insane projections of Berkman (the good years)-level production out of Wieters before Wieters ever saw a major-league pitch, and then b) called Wieters one of the biggest busts in history a couple year later. No, his bat has not lived up to its initial billing. Yes, he is still very valuable, as probably one of the best five catchers in baseball.
In second, we have Ryan Hanigan. Okay, he can’t hit like these other guys. But he isn’t a total offensive sinkhole, and at 14 runs above average as a defensive catcher, with his bat he is probably still be an above-average overall player. On the underrated Cincinnati Reds, he’s just another under-reported story.
If first, we have a guy who plays on (at least in the past) my least favorite team. A guy everyone knows is a badass behind the plate. A guy who probably got angry about Wieters beating him out last year. A guy who is a dark-horse MVP candidate in my mind (if we count uncertainty and all that), especially given margin and error and us not having pitch-framing numbers.
Frankly, this dude, who looks like he can’t run around the bases in the time it took me to write this post, should get bonus points for managing to go 12-for-15 in steals this year. At 16 runs above average, we have Yadier Molina. This is what things have come to: I’m making a (half-hearted) MVP case for a St. Louis Cardinal.
Thanks for reading everyone, and here are the full 2012 ratings:
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.