Undervalued Catchers

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Undervalued Catchers

Posted on 13 February 2012 by William Tasker

There is some wonderful work around the Web these days concerning catchers and how to value them. Until now, all we’ve had to go by when evaluating catchers were how well they hit and some generalized defensive metrics. We also had numbers on how well catchers throw out base runners trying to steal. If you watch a lot of baseball, then you know that there is much more that goes into being a catcher than our current statistics show. Included in those non-counting abilities are how well a catcher blocks pitches in the dirt, how good a game a catcher calls and how a catcher catches pitches. The exciting news is that we are getting there.

Mike Fast has been one of the best baseball analysts out there and unfortunately for us, his writing days are over since he has been hired by the Houston Astros. Thankfully, before his new job, he left us one fantastic legacy with a study he published over at Baseball Prospectus. Fast’s work shows us clearly that catchers have a huge impact on how many strikes pitchers can get from umpires based on how the catcher catches the ball. The research also shows us that the difference in this ability by catchers are worth real runs and changes how we look at a catcher’s worth.

Bojan Kopravica has also added to our knowledge by calculating a catcher’s ability to block balls in the dirt in a study he published over at The Hardball Times. Kopravica did us all a great service at the end of his article by combining his work with Mike Fast’s and coming up with new WAR values for catchers based on both of their studies. These terrific bodies of work take some of the fuzzy off of how good/bad catchers really are.

If you are a fantasy baseball enthusiast, it is hard to say how long it will be until this kind of stuff changes how you choose to play and draft catchers. For the rest of us, we might want to rethink how we select our All Star catchers when we get to vote for such things.

After downloading Kopravica’s spreadsheet data (very kind of him), and using a sort feature, a good picture emerges of some truly undervalued catchers. Here is a list of some of the most obvious benefactors of the new research:

  • Russell Martin – Martin is one of the best in baseball in framing pitches and is slightly above average at blocking pitches in the dirt. His actual fWAR in 2011 was 3.1. With the new adjustments, his 2011 season was 4.6.
  • Wilson Ramos – Ramos is also excellent in the framing department and better than Martin at blocking errant pitches. Ramos also rises from a 3.1 fWAR to an adjusted 4.6
  • Jonathan Lucroy – Lucroy was a big part of the resurgence of the Milwaukee Brewers last season. His defense is rated very poor which knocked his fWAR all the way down to 1.9. According to Fast, he was the best catcher in baseball in getting strikes for his pitchers. He is less than average at blocking balls in the dirt. His adjusted WAR then becomes 3.4.
  • Matt Wieters – Wieters is becoming the stud catcher we all envisioned him to be. Despite some whispers of complaints by his pitchers, he actually is above average in obtaining his pitchers strikes and his overall great defensive score is enhanced by one of the best scores of blocking pitches. His adjusted WAR rises from 4.3 to 5.2 making him the third most valuable catcher last season behind Alex Avila and Yadier Molina.
  • Miguel Montero – Montero is one of the best overall catchers in the game. He’s great on offense and on defense and according to the two studies mentioned above, is great at blocking pitches and above average in framing pitches. That means Montero has no weaknesses as a catcher.
  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia – Salty’s pitch blocking had to suffer from catching Tim Wakefield, so we’ll have to see how he rates if Wakefield does not pitch for the Red Sox this season. But the Red Sox catcher is very good at obtaining strikes and is strong defensively. His actual fWAR rises from 2.5 to an adjusted 3.3 despite the low blocking pitches score.

These new statistics are terrific and really give us a better picture of who the good catchers are. Of course, the flip side is that we also learn that Carlos Santana and John Buck are pretty awful catchers too. But that’s the way it goes.

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