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Does Yasmani Grandal have a new skill?

In addition to his continued elite pitch framing, Yasmani Grandal is throwing out would-be base stealers like crazy this year.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal’s game is multi-dimensional, but the main components are that he gets on base, hits for power, and frames pitches with extreme proficiency. Among qualified catchers, he leads the pack this year with 2.0 fWAR and is second to only Buster Posey with a 131 wRC+. Earlier this week over at FanGraphs, Travis Sawchik detailed how Grandal has continued his framing excellence this season as well. According to Baseball Prospectus’ metrics, he currently leads all backstops in both Framing Runs (6.8) and Fielding Runs Above Average (7.2). Grandal is providing elite offense for a catcher and continuing his already sterling reputation as a receiver.

But these are things we’ve always known Grandal was capable of doing well. On top of those skills, it appears he’s added another skill to his repertoire in the early going — throwing. Grandal is second in baseball among catchers in BP’s Throwing Runs (1.0) and first in caught stealing percentage, having nabbed 56 percent of opposing runners. This is a new facet of his game, as Grandal has never been a poor thrower, but he’s never been elite either. Here’s how his caught stealing percentage has compared to league average during his time in the majors.

Data via Baseball Reference

Early on in his career, Grandal was below-average; in his two years with the Dodgers, he’s been right around league average. This year, however — hot damn, that’s some top-notch throwing!

Gif via

There’s a question that’s inherent with a significant change like this: Has Grandal legitimately improved his skills, or is it just a bit of randomness? So much of controlling the running game depends on factors outside the catcher’s control, such as a pitcher’s time to the plate, a runner’s jump, or an infielder’s tagging ability. Statcast measurements like a catcher’s throw speed and average pop time exist, but they are still to this point proprietary and unavailable for our use here.

So while acknowledging the potential fruitlessness of trying to determine for certain whether Grandal has developed his throwing into a new asset, let’s take a look at a breakdown of each of the 14 times he’s caught a runner stealing in 2017.

Grandal Caught Stealing Breakdown

Date Opp Pitcher Runner Career BS% NOTES
Date Opp Pitcher Runner Career BS% NOTES
4/5 Padres Rich Hill Wil Myers 77% Pick off, caught stealing
4/7 Rockies Hyun Jin Ryu Charlie Blackmon 73%
4/12 Cubs Brandon McCarthy Kris Bryant 68% Safe initally, overturned on replay
4/16 Diamondbacks Luis Avilan Jake Lamb 68% Safe initally, overturned on replay
4/17 Diamondbacks Brandon McCarthy AJ Pollock 83%
4/17 Diamondbacks Brandon McCarthy David Peralta 72% Beat throw, didn't stay on bag
4/24 Giants Sergio Romo Eduardo Nunez 80%
5/5 Paders Pedro Baez Jabari Blash 50% (only 2 career attempts) Out upheld on replay
5/9 Pirates Julio Urias Chris Bostick 0% (only 1 career attempt)
5/9 Pirates Luis Avilan Max Moroff 0% (only 1 career attempt) Pick off, caught stealing
5/14 Rockies Julio Urias DJ LeMahieu 67% Busted double steal
5/20 Marlins Luis Avilan J.T. Riddle 0% (only 1 career attempt) Botched squeeze
5/23 Cardinals Clayton Kershaw Yadier Molina 61%
5/26 Cubs Alex Wood Kris Bryant 68% Pick off, caught stealing
Data via Baseball Reference

Parsing individual plays like this isn’t entirely fair; I’m guessing we could do this for every catcher and find plays for each that don’t pass muster. That said, there’s a lot of ammunition in there to diminish the notion that Grandal has improved greatly as a thrower.

Of his 14 caught stealings, there are four instances of a “pick off, caught stealing,” where the pitcher catches the baserunner in a rundown. Grandal gets credit in these situations, but he doesn’t actually ever touch the baseball on the play. If we remove those plays, his caught stealing percentage drops to 48 percent — 10 runners caught, 11 stolen bases allowed. That’s still an improvement on his past numbers and still well above league average.

There are two other plays where Grandal isn’t throwing to a base in the typical way you would to register a caught stealing. First a busted double steal in Colorado, where it appears Charlie Blackmon just missed a sign.

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Next, a botched squeeze by the Marlins, where J.T. Riddle was hung out to dry when his pitcher couldn’t put bat on ball.

Gif via

Now, these are both legitimate caught stealings in the box score, but they tell us nothing about whether Grandal has improved his throwing. If we take out these two plays his caught stealing percentage drops to 42 percent, as he’s left with eight times throwing out a runner in the traditional sense and 11 successful swipes.

While we’re in the business of being hypercritical, there is one time where a runner beat Grandal’s throw but popped off the bag while the tag was held in place. Of course this counts as a caught stealing just like it would for any catcher, but again, do we give Grandal credit here? Shouldn’t we blame David Peralta for a poor slide?

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To be jerks, let’s remove that caught stealing from his overall percentage. The new clip — based on only straight up instances of a catcher throwing to nab a runner — sits at 39 percent, with 7 runners caught against 11 stolen bases allowed. That number still represents a 10 percentage point improvement over his last two seasons, which is very good, but not spectacular like his raw, unpicked apart caught stealing percentage.

So has Yasmani Grandal added a new, elite skill to his already-impressive repertoire? Maybe.

Trying to find a signal through the noise of his caught stealing percentage seems misguided since — as demonstrated — their are so many other factors at work. But even accounting for those plays that don’t demonstrate his throwing skill directly, Grandal has shown improvement overall. We can say with certainty that he’s been more successful controlling the opponent’s running game than ever before; we just can’t say for sure that it’s a permanent change.

Gif via

Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.