Beyond the Box Score 2011 Catcher Defense Ratings: July Edition

So I guess my plan to do monthly updates of the Catcher Defense Ratings is becoming something closer to bimonthly (a tribute to Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con, uh, yeah). As always, take these with a grain of salt. I do think they do reflect something objective, way of "analyzing" events into defensive contributions (not to mention true talent) has acknowledged limitations. Nonetheless, I do think they reflect actual contributions of catchers in the field adequately to be worth doing.

There's a bit of an added "bonus" in this month's post. In response to questions from some of the nerdier of past comments, I've appended a shortened version of the methodological issues from when I originally did this rankings at the end of the post after the big table. They aren't much, but they give some reasons for doing it the way I've done it. If you're curious, they're worth reading if you have questions along those lines.

First, let's take a look at some of the overall leaders and trailers.

Overall Leaders: The overall leader so far... well, he  hasn't changed from last time: it's still Matt Wieters, whom, despite not living up to the retrospectively ridiculous (but deadly accurate!) expectations placed on his shoulders prior to his major-league debut, is starting to be appreciated as one of the better catchers in baseball anyway. Take a catcher, give him above-average offense, and add in fielding that is 12 runs above average less than two-thirds of the way through the season, and you've got a very valuable player. According to this metric, Wieters does everything well behind the plate, and overall, no one else is even close this season. 

As for the other leaders, Lou Marson is doing quite well at about +7 runs so far this season -- hey, it's a no-hit catcher with a good defensive reputation who is actually good at defense! His defensive abilities make him a real asset for Cleveland, allowing them to put Carlos Santana (who  has actually been about average overall defensively this at catcher season) at first regularly without having a total black hole behind the plate. The player right behind Marson is shocking -- the Rays' Kelly Shoppach at just under 7 runs. It's too bad his bad has completely fallen apart so far this season. There aren't too many other surprises, perhaps Mike Napoli being above average in limited playing time behind the plate. 

Overall Trailers: With Napoli no longer a full-timer, Jorge Posada a full-time DH (the "H" is pretty nominal at this point), and Ryan Doumit also in catching exile, it's a new crowd at the bottom. I just scrolled down to the bottom of my list, and was saddened to see J. P. Arencibia in last at -6.5 runs. His bat is decent for a catcher, but hopefully for Jays fans this is just a small sample blip or something is slipping through the net here, as his only real skill on offense so far his hitting for power. The ageless A.J. Pierzynski's bat is about the same as always, but with the run environment down, it's pretty decent for a catcher, and now with some of the above not catching much or at all, he looks like  he'll be a regular down here, thus fulfilling his destiny. Tied with him is Jonathan Lucroy, which fits right in with the Brewers' tremendous "all bats, no gloves" strategy. Oh, yeah, Hank Conger is pretty bad, too, at about four runs below average, which totally explains why he's still sharing time with Jeff Mathis, whose glove remains awesome at -2.5 runs.

Caught Stealing Notables: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top three catchers at gunning down runners are the three who lead the overall rankings: Wieters, Marson, and Shoppach. Pierzynski "edges out" Arencibia at the bottom, but Atlanta's Brian McCann pushes his way into third from the worst, just below Josh Thole, who at least has the excuse of having to catch a knuckleballer. 

Passed Ball/Wild Pitch Notables: Wieters leads this category as well at about four runs above average, but a different crowd follows him. The Phillies' underrated Carlos Ruiz has been almost as good. They are followed by Ryan Hanigan, Drew Butera, and Miguel Montero, all at just about two runs above average. The Marlins' John Buck makes up for his problems with baserunners with nice pitch blocking. On the other hand, Miguel Olivo gives away all the value he gets from throwing out baserunners by letting pitches pass by him. What else is new? Well, I guess one thing is new is that Arencibia has been worse than Olivo in terms of pitch blocking. Josh Thole is down there for  understandable reasons, as are Pierzynski, Lucroy, and  Jarrod Saltalamacchia, another guy who has to catcher a knuckleballer from time to time. 

 

Beyond the Box Score Catcher Defense Rating, July 2011

Rank

Player

PA

Team

FcERuns

TERuns

PBWPRuns

CSRuns

Total

1

Matt Wieters

2920

BAL

0.1

1.3

3.7

6.9

12.0

2

Lou Marson

1327

CLE

0.4

-0.1

1.8

5.1

7.1

3

Kelly Shoppach

1551

TBR

0.4

0.0

2.1

3.9

6.5

4

Wilson Ramos

2325

WSN

0.7

0.0

1.7

2.8

5.2

5

Ramon Hernandez

1718

CIN

0.5

0.6

0.6

3.0

4.7

6

Carlos Ruiz

2465

PHI

0.0

1.0

3.5

0.0

4.5

7

Ryan Hanigan

1939

CIN

0.6

0.7

2.3

0.8

4.4

8

Drew Butera

1531

MIN

0.4

-0.5

2.3

1.5

3.8

9

Nick Hundley

1551

SDP

0.4

0.0

1.3

1.8

3.5

10

Buster Posey

1506

SFG

-0.3

0.4

1.4

1.5

3.1

11

Yadier Molina

2916

STL

0.8

0.3

0.6

0.7

2.5

12

Chris Gimenez

514

SEA

0.1

0.3

0.3

1.4

2.2

13

Taylor Teagarden

281

TEX

0.1

0.2

0.5

1.2

2.0

14

Henry Blanco

696

ARI

0.2

0.4

-0.3

1.6

1.9

15

Brayan Pena

1591

KCR

0.5

0.0

0.5

0.7

1.7

16

Mike Napoli

880

TEX

0.3

0.1

-0.1

1.3

1.6

17

Geovany Soto

2598

CHC

-0.8

-0.8

1.1

2.0

1.6

18

Rene Rivera

828

MIN

0.2

0.5

0.4

0.4

1.5

19

Rod Barajas

1872

LAD

0.5

0.7

1.6

-1.4

1.4

20

Michael McKenry

878

PIT

0.2

0.1

1.3

-0.2

1.4

21

Miguel Montero

2925

ARI

0.1

-2.5

2.3

1.3

1.2

22

Jason Varitek

1473

BOS

0.4

0.9

0.5

-0.8

1.0

23

Landon Powell

759

OAK

-0.5

0.0

0.7

0.8

1.0

24

Ivan Rodriguez

1209

WSN

-1.9

0.7

-0.5

2.7

1.0

25

David Ross

703

ATL

-0.6

0.4

0.0

1.0

0.9

26

Josh Bard

275

SEA

0.1

0.2

0.2

0.3

0.7

27

Mike Rivera

51

MIL

0.0

0.0

0.1

0.5

0.7

28

Brian Schneider

617

PHI

0.2

-0.1

1.2

-0.6

0.7

29

Gerald Laird

425

STL

0.1

0.3

-0.5

0.8

0.6

30

Gustavo Molina

78

NYY

0.0

0.0

0.2

0.3

0.6

31

Dane Sardinha

448

PHI

0.1

0.3

-0.1

0.3

0.6

32

John Buck

3005

FLA

0.9

-0.1

2.0

-2.2

0.6

33

Craig Tatum

426

BAL

-0.6

0.3

1.2

-0.3

0.5

34

Brett Hayes

616

FLA

0.2

0.4

-0.2

0.2

0.5

35

Carlos Santana

2188

CLE

0.6

-0.6

1.4

-1.0

0.4

36

Tony Cruz

312

STL

0.1

0.2

-0.2

0.2

0.2

37

Chris Snyder

1113

PIT

0.3

0.7

-0.8

0.0

0.2

38

Matt Pagnozzi

284

COL

0.1

0.2

-0.3

0.3

0.2

39

Wyatt Toregas

43

PIT

0.0

0.0

-0.2

0.2

0.1

40

Luis Martinez

10

SDP

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

0.0

41

Jason Jaramillo

143

PIT

0.0

0.1

-0.4

0.3

0.0

42

Eric Fryer

144

PIT

0.0

-0.4

0.4

-0.1

0.0

43

Adam Moore

67

SEA

0.0

0.0

0.2

-0.3

0.0

44

Dioner Navarro

1132

LAD

-0.4

0.2

0.4

-0.2

-0.1

45

Mike Nickeas

257

NYM

0.1

0.2

-0.1

-0.2

-0.1

46

Wil Nieves

554

MIL

-0.6

0.3

0.2

0.0

-0.1

47

Don Kelly

25

DET

0.0

0.0

-0.2

0.0

-0.2

48

Hector Sanchez

18

SFG

0.0

0.0

-0.2

0.0

-0.2

49

Hector Gimenez

45

LAD

0.0

0.0

-0.2

-0.1

-0.3

50

J.C. Boscan

4

ATL

0.0

0.0

-0.3

0.0

-0.3

51

Robinson Cancel

73

HOU

0.0

0.0

-0.1

-0.3

-0.3

52

Eliezer Alfonzo

54

COL

0.0

0.0

-0.4

0.0

-0.4

53

Kyle Phillips

653

SDP

-0.6

-0.6

0.1

0.6

-0.4

54

Omir Santos

34

DET

0.0

0.0

-0.5

0.0

-0.4

55

George Kottaras

520

MIL

0.1

0.3

-0.2

-0.7

-0.5

56

Jose Molina

1108

TOR

0.3

0.2

-2.2

1.2

-0.5

57

Steve Holm

198

MIN

0.1

0.1

0.0

-0.7

-0.5

58

Humberto Quintero

1379

HOU

-1.1

-0.1

1.6

-1.0

-0.6

59

Welington Castillo

159

CHC

-1.5

0.1

-0.1

0.8

-0.6

60

Rob Johnson

1421

SDP

-0.3

0.9

0.3

-1.6

-0.7

61

Jose Lobaton

44

TBR

-0.7

0.0

0.1

-0.1

-0.7

62

Bobby Wilson

293

LAA

0.1

0.2

-0.3

-0.7

-0.7

63

A.J. Ellis

502

LAD

0.1

0.3

-0.6

-0.7

-0.8

64

Victor Martinez

853

DET

0.2

0.0

-0.4

-0.6

-0.8

65

Ramon Castro

728

CHW

-0.5

0.4

0.6

-1.3

-0.8

66

Alex Avila

2694

DET

-0.7

1.2

-2.3

1.0

-0.8

67

Ryan Doumit

877

PIT

0.2

-0.4

-0.3

-0.5

-1.0

68

Dusty Brown

341

PIT

0.1

0.2

-1.0

-0.4

-1.1

69

Jake Fox

261

BAL

0.1

0.2

-0.7

-0.7

-1.1

70

Russell Martin

2640

NYY

0.8

-1.7

-1.0

0.8

-1.2

71

Eli Whiteside

1370

SFG

-0.4

0.4

-0.1

-1.1

-1.2

72

Jesus Flores

75

WSN

0.0

-0.4

-0.4

-0.6

-1.3

73

Joe Mauer

963

MIN

0.3

0.1

-0.4

-1.4

-1.4

74

Chris Stewart

746

SFG

0.2

-1.5

-1.3

1.1

-1.4

75

Chris Iannetta

2634

COL

0.7

1.1

-2.4

-0.9

-1.4

76

Koyie Hill

1004

CHC

-0.5

-1.8

0.9

-0.3

-1.7

77

Matt Treanor

2115

KCR

-0.1

-0.1

-1.6

0.2

-1.8

78

J.R. Towles

1379

HOU

-1.1

-0.1

2.2

-2.7

-1.8

79

Yorvit Torrealba

2450

TEX

-1.6

-0.4

-0.4

0.4

-1.9

80

Miguel Olivo

2616

SEA

-1.5

-0.3

-3.0

2.7

-2.1

81

John Jaso

1861

TBR

0.5

0.2

-0.4

-2.6

-2.3

82

Ronny Paulino

1309

NYM

-0.4

-1.1

-0.3

-0.6

-2.4

83

Jose Morales

627

COL

-1.3

-1.1

-0.8

0.7

-2.5

84

Jeff Mathis

1715

LAA

0.5

0.6

-1.4

-2.2

-2.5

85

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

2065

BOS

0.6

0.8

-2.9

-1.5

-3.1

86

Brian McCann

2908

ATL

0.1

0.3

-0.3

-3.3

-3.1

87

Kurt Suzuki

2844

OAK

0.8

-1.1

-1.3

-1.7

-3.3

88

Carlos Corporan

819

HOU

0.2

-1.4

-0.8

-1.5

-3.4

89

Francisco Cervelli

806

NYY

0.2

-1.9

0.0

-1.9

-3.5

90

Hank Conger

1652

LAA

-0.3

-0.9

-0.1

-2.9

-4.3

91

Josh Thole

2046

NYM

0.6

0.3

-2.4

-3.0

-4.5

92

Jonathan Lucroy

2528

MIL

0.0

-0.9

-2.7

-2.2

-5.8

93

A.J. Pierzynski

2892

CHW

0.8

0.8

-2.5

-4.9

-5.8

94

J.P. Arencibia

2623

TOR

0.7

0.2

-3.9

-3.6

-6.5

 

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. 

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