Matt Klaassen


Matt Klaassen lives in the Greater Toronto Area, where he spends most of his time reading and writing obituaries. For some reason, he is allowed to write for FanGraphs several times a week. If you just can't get enough of Matt, you can also follow him on Twitter.

Recent Posts

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox - Game One

It would be easy for me to complain about this “boring” and “predictable” update of the catcher defense rankings. I mean, the top and the bottom catchers are just as we expect. On the other hand, that sort of reassures me that these catcher defense rankings are getting at something like reality, you know. If, say, Yan Gomes led all year like he did last month, I’d be pretty worried. There is always interesting stuff to be found in these semi-regularly updated catcher defense ratings, so let’s see what we have.

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The Cincinnati Reds may not be winning their division, but they have very little to complain about. They are just two and a half games behind the Cardinals juggernaut, and that is enough for the second-best record in the National League, putting them in great shape for the playoffs either way. While their offense has not been among the best in the National League, with hitters like Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo and others, they should be just fine.

Their pitching is excellent, despite Johnny Cueto‘s injury, thanks to Homer Bailey having the season long expected of him, Mike Leake contributing, Ardolis Chapman making people wonder why he is being wasted in relief, and Mat Latos doing his thing.

Given the Reds’ nice situation, it might seem churlish to wonder about Latos’ good buddy Jay Bruce. Bruce has been the Reds’ third-best hitter (122 wRC+) behind Votto and Choo this year, and leads the team in home runs with 14. But while Bruce is far from a bust, there is a sense in which the 26-year-old — who won Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Award in 2007 and was BA’s #1 overall prospect prior to 2008, when he made his major league debut at 21 — has not become all that people expected. It is one thing to look at players who are obvious busts or surprises, but what about a player who is good, but not as good as one might have thought?

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Cleveland Indians v Texas Rangers

One of the shibboleths of contemporary baseball analysis is that teams, especially “small market” teams, must grow from within. No team can completely ignore the free agent market, or the waiver wire, or trades, but the most affordable impact talent comes through the cost-controlled players brought up through the team’s own system. Especially these days, when even teams with bigger payrolls are more loathe than ever to give up prospects, the importance of drafting future stars (not to mention international free agents) seems obvious to all. Everyone acknowledges the importance of the farm system, especially in the aftermath of hey another over-hyped MLB draft (really eager to find out which of these guys is going to pan out in three years, ya’ll!).

That is not to say that having a well-regarded farm system is itself a guarantee of future major-league success. Scott McKinney’s important historical study of top prospects established that fact in the wake of a certain team’s farm system being declared the Best in the History of Whatever, and this year a certain team confirmed the implications of McKinney’s work, as even more optimistic analysts acknowledge.

I am not here to refute the notion that, generally speaking, a good farm system built through amateur talent is essential to any team on any budget — even the Yankees, whose two best position players thus far in 2013, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner, were both drafted and developed internally and are yet to reach free agency. However, there is one team that has put together a good group of position players while on a small budget without drafting almost anyone in the current group: Cleveland.

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New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers - Game 4

Despite injuries, looming/eternal scandals, and a May swoon, the New York Yankees are still in it. Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner plunged back to earth in May with alarming speed while Robinson Cano was merely human, but the Yanks are still just just a game-and-a-half behind Boston for the lead in the American League East. CC Sabathia‘s fastball velocity is down, but he still managed to pitch to the score yesterday as the Yankees got the 6-4 over Cleveland.

Yesterday’s victory in New York also featured a home run from, off all people, speedy-n-scrappy Brett Gardner – a three-run shot in the bottom of the second that put the Yankees up 6-0. It was Gardner’s sixth home run of the season. In May, Gardner was actually the Yankees’ best hitter. That is very, to put it mildly, surprising. After losing 2012 to injury, saber-favorite Gardner seems to be back doing his thing. But it is a bit different that his Old Thing. The speed and defense are still there, but is it the same Gardner?

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Kansas City Royals v St. Louis Cardinals

The 35-17 St. Louis Cardinals are currently on top of all of baseball with a .673 winning percentage. They are only one game ahead of their run differential. They lead the National League in runs scored per game. They allow the fewest runs per game. They currently project to end the year as the team with the most wins in baseball. They are tied for first in the National League in wRC+, and are first or tied for first in the NL in ERA-, FIP-, and xFIP-. Just in case this is your first time reading Getting Blanked: the 2013 Cardinals are pretty good.

It certainly isn’t because of their manager, though. Sure, the Cardinals made the playoffs last year and looks like the best team in baseball so far this year, but I’m not sure how much credit should go to Mike Matheny. Even if he wasn’t the successor to the Great Mind of Tony LaRussa, one would have questions about his decisions — particularly his batting order. At least on the surface, exoteric level, it seems, well, blasphemous and heretical.

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St. Louis Cardinals v Washington Nationals

We bloggers are spur-of-the-moment, react-just-to-react types, you know? We live for the present. And for the snark. And dogmatically defending metrics because we just can’t handle uncertainty.

Sometimes, though, we like an “evergreen” series of posts. Even we dwellers in the ephemeral like to have something we can fall back on. In my case, I have chosen to do catcher fielding rankings on (somewhat) monthly basis. It seems like a good idea for an easy, quasi-monthly post, but then I realize how clunky my spreadsheet is, and how it needs to be touched up and checked every time, and how the first post of the year, especially, is brutal since I have usually forgotten how a lot of it is set up. SIGH. Blogging: it’s hard, y’all.

I started doing the catcher defensive rankings at the end of 2009 for a now-defunct site, and even though I think there are catcher fielding metrics available now that are probably better, this is somewhat expected of me and people seem to like it, so I am going to try and stop apologizing for it. (For some of that, here are last year’s final rankings.) Anyway, it is always fun to start them early enough in the year so that someone surprising will end up on top (or bottom) and people will throw a fit about it. So forget sample size qualifications, true talent-versus-observed performance reminders, and methodological admissions (brief notes about the method can be found at the very bottom of the post — please read that before complaining), let’s get to it!

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Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox

Way back in 2002, when Jason Giambi was in his first season with the Yankees after signing (for the time) a huge free agent contract, people doubted him. Filling the Super-Big Shoes of Tino Martinez is a bid deal; a core Yankee and close personal friend of Derek Jeter, after all.

Giambi got off to a slow start in New York in that first season. Well, “slow” being a relative term. Giambi was hitting “only” .282/.378/.456 (126 wRC+) at the end of April, which spelled disaster for many scribes following the Yankees. Of course, Giambi ended the season with at .314/.435/.598 (175 wRC+)… but midway through May (and he killed it in May, anyway, with a 206 wRC+) people were grumbling.

Then came the May 17 game against the Twins in New York. In bottom of the 14th inning, late at night with the rain coming down and very few people left in the stands, the Yankees were down 12-9. The bases were loaded as Giambi (already 3-7 on the night) came to the plate. Giambi drilled the first pitch from Mike Trombley over the wall for an extra-innings, come-from-behind, walkoff grand slam. The “Giambi has finally earned his pinstripes” stuff started right away, naturally. I am not sure it took, given that Giambi would be the subject of grumbling over the next few years with injuries, PED stuff, and, of course, the Yankees failure to win a World Series with him on the team. Never mind that he hit .260/.404/.521 with 209 homers with the Yankees (Don Mattingly himself only hit 222 in his own Yankees career, and in about twice as many plate appearances). Whether or not it finally took, at the time of the grand slam, at least, it was hyped as Giambi’s Big True Yankee Moment, one which still has resonance.

Although it was not nearly as dramatic in just about any dimension: expectations, contracts, or game situation, but last night, shortstop Stephen Drew may have become a True Red Sock in somewhat similar fashion with a grand slam. Sure, it happened in the top of the third with the Sox already up 4-0, but it still generated a reaction.

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