2013’s Top Batteries at Preventing the Running Game

Over the last two months, I have been working on quantifying which of the two battery mates deserves credit — or rather blame — for the running game and the passed ball and wild pitch. Note: It’s not dire that you read those articles to comprehend and enjoy this one.

The main take away from my research is that I have found a pitcher has more statistical correlation, with the caught stealing percentage, wild pitches, and passed balls of a battery, than the catcher. While none of this is revolutionary, it is important to note that neither the pitcher nor the catcher is solely to blame for any outcome in a battery, rather it is a combination of both. However, considering the strong correlations we discovered in the pitchers favor, we can now recognize that conventional wisdom underestimates the impact a pitcher can have on the outcomes of a battery — especially in regards to the running game.

What makes these findings so interesting is that catchers are traditionally selected for their ability on defense.

In other words, a GM or a scout is likely valuing a catcher’s ability on defense over the defensive ability of a pitcher. If a catcher will hit .300 and has the ability to play above average defense, sign him up. For a pitcher, I would have to imagine if a guy’s got a 95 MPH heater with a nasty 12-6 curveball, our theoretical scout and GM are not worried about the pitcher’s defensive ability. Conversely, if a catcher can hit .200 but is projected to be Benito Santiago with the glove, his defense is good enough to get him signed. Now, if they were scouting a pitcher that had a modern Jamie Moyer fastball and no breaking stuff, but played really great defense — in terms of limiting the running game — our theoretical GM and scout would probably drop the check and run away. Or so we think.

See, I am here to advocate for the idea that in addition to paying close attention to how a pitcher and catcher preform independently on defense, we should put a greater sense of importance on defense in the setting of the battery.

I have no inside scoop into the front office mindset, so who knows if they evaluate the defense of a battery, but I know for sure this is not a mainstream method. If I am a GM, I want to evaluate how many runs a guy is going to cost or save me, in every aspect of his game, before I make a move to acquire his services. More specifically, I would want to be able to quantify a pitcher or catcher’s running game defense — how many runs they would save or cost me over the course of the season.

This idea of base running prevention defense will be the basis of this article:

bBRS — base-running Battery Runs Saved

To quantify battery defense, I have taken every single battery paired in baseball this season — all 1600 of them pulled from the Fangraphs database. Then, I have placed the 2013 run values on each of our inputs; stolen base attempt runs-saved (SBArs), caught stealing runs-saved (CSrs), stolen base runs-saved (SBrs). Adding these up we are left with base-running Battery Runs Saved (bBRS).

Let me walk  you through how I quantified the “runs saved” in the bBRS calculation:

For instance, say the average battery in baseball this year had 21 innings pitched (IP) together. Now, say that our theoretical battery had 15o IP over the course of the season. To quantify “runs saved”, we would find the ratio of actual battery IP to average battery IP and use this as our proration weight. Say that the average battery allowed three stolen base attempts (SBA) in those 21 innings, and our battery allowed 2 SBA in the 150 IP. By prorating the average SBA by our weight— 150 IP divided by 21 IP — we see that an average battery would have given up 21 SBA in those 150 innings. Simply, we take the difference between the actual and the expected in those 150 IP — 21 expected SBA minus 3 actual SBA attempts — and apply a run value to the difference. In the end, our theoretical battery is worth 3.42 stolen base attempt runs-saved (SBArs) in 150 innings. We repeat this process with every input, add it up, and that gives us bBRS.

Let’s put those calculations into context.

Here are the the top 25 batteries of 2013, in terms of bBRS:

Top 25 Batteries by bBRS

Quick disclaimer: I don’t expect these numbers to match up perfectly with defensive runs saved (DRS) or ultimate zone rating (UZR). Rather this is a representation of battery defense and the pitcher and catcher’s performance defensively, together. So it’s possible a poor defensive catcher in DRS and UZR is rated highly in bBRS, likely due to the interdependence of the battery mates on one another. 

Note: The following collection of numbers are accurate as of August 23rd

Battery IP SBArs CSrs SBrs bBRS
Adam WainwrightYadier Molina 169 3.17 -0.72 1.65 4.10
Matt HarveyJohn Buck 166 2.58 -0.69 1.30 3.19
Mark BuehrleJ.P. Arencibia 159 2.18 -0.24 1.24 3.17
Chris TillmanMatt Wieters 125 1.17 0.84 1.06 3.07
Patrick CorbinMiguel Montero 125 1.70 0.06 1.07 2.82
Bronson ArroyoRyan Hanigan 111 1.90 -0.20 1.09 2.78
Miguel Gonzalez-Matt Wieters 121 1.61 0.09 1.03 2.73
James ShieldsSalvador Perez 145 2.14 -0.51 1.11 2.73
Clayton KershawA.J. Ellis 170 1.64 0.05 1.03 2.72
Hyun-Jin Ryu-A.J. Ellis 109 1.61 -0.19 0.91 2.33
Ian Kennedy-Miguel Montero 107 1.82 -0.56 0.89 2.15
Zack Greinke-A.J. Ellis 99 1.38 -0.10 0.81 2.09
Lance Lynn-Yadier Molina 121 0.83 0.48 0.71 2.02
Chad GaudinBuster Posey 69 0.73 0.56 0.68 1.96
Kyle LohseJonathan Lucroy 113 1.69 -0.61 0.79 1.86
Esmil Rogers-J.P. Arencibia 92 1.49 -0.43 0.74 1.81
Mike MinorBrian McCann 80 0.71 0.46 0.62 1.79
Wade Davis-Salvador Perez 98 0.84 0.30 0.64 1.78
Kevin CorreiaJoe Mauer 116 0.98 0.14 0.66 1.77
Travis WoodWelington Castillo 122 1.36 -0.30 0.71 1.77
Jon Niese-John Buck 72 1.31 -0.25 0.70 1.76
Bartolo ColonJohn Jaso 71 1.28 -0.24 0.69 1.74
Madison Bumgarner-Buster Posey 124 0.63 0.46 0.58 1.66
A.J. Griffin-John Jaso 67 1.21 -0.21 0.66 1.66
Jake PeavyTyler Flowers 58 0.76 0.26 0.57 1.59

It is no surprise that Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright rank at the top of our list with 4.14 bBRS. Before creating bBRS, I expected to see a Molina – Wainwright battery near the top of the list. Luckily, my expectations were fulfilled. Just look at their stolen base attempt runs saved column. To put their impressive 3.17 SBArs number in perspective, together in 169 innings they have allowed only two stolen base attemptsThat’s right, only two stolen base attempts in 169 innings! Now, that alone deserves some kind of attention at the top of our leader board.

When there is good, there is most likely bad. Same rule applies here:

Bottom 25 Batteries:

Battery IP SBArs CSrs SBrs bBRS
John LackeyJarrod Saltalamacchia 103 -4.77 1.03 -2.51 -6.25
Edinson VolquezNick Hundley 63 -2.01 -0.56 -1.47 -4.03
Anibal SanchezAlex Avila 99 -1.47 -0.88 -1.27 -3.62
Scott Feldman-Welington Castillo 59 -2.10 -0.13 -1.35 -3.57
Jamey WrightJose Lobaton 35 -2.10 0.08 -1.26 -3.28
Tommy HansonChris Iannetta 46 -2.63 0.76 -1.31 -3.18
Tommy Hanson-Hank Conger 21 -2.13 0.20 -1.23 -3.16
Henry RodriguezKurt Suzuki 11 -1.84 -0.10 -1.17 -3.11
Roberto HernandezJose Molina 127 -2.16 0.43 -1.15 -2.88
A.J. BurnettMichael McKenry 15 -1.49 -0.14 -1.21 -2.83
Charlie Morton-Michael McKenry 24 -1.56 -0.21 -1.05 -2.82
Yovani Gallardo-Jonathan Lucroy 119 -0.77 -1.06 -0.91 -2.74
Barry Zito-Buster Posey 89 -1.95 0.38 -1.04 -2.62
Joe Blanton-Hank Conger 36 -1.29 -0.32 -0.92 -2.53
Andrew Cashner-Nick Hundley 108 -2.05 0.60 -1.02 -2.47
Josh Johnson-J.P. Arencibia 71 -1.30 -0.24 -0.90 -2.45
Tim Lincecum-Buster Posey 117 -0.57 -1.04 -0.78 -2.38
Felix Doubront-Jarrod Saltalamacchia 125 -1.17 -0.33 -0.86 -2.35
Chris Sale-Tyler Flowers 118 -0.53 -1.05 -0.76 -2.35
Jeff SamardzijaDioner Navarro 41 -1.45 0.03 -0.88 -2.30
John Lackey-Ryan Lavarnway 25 -1.53 0.17 -0.87 -2.23
Jared BurtonRyan Doumit 15 -1.23 -0.13 -0.81 -2.18
Edwin Jackson-Welington Castillo 103 -0.87 -0.53 -0.75 -2.15
Justin Verlander-Alex Avila 81 -1.34 0.06 -0.80 -2.09
Jordan Walden-Brian McCann 19 -1.14 -0.17 -0.77 -2.08

Ouch, Lackey and Saltalamacchia have been really awful together this year. In 103 innings together they have allowed 27 stolen base attempts, with 22 of those attempts being successful. To put that into perspective, Yadier Molina all season has allowed 35 stolen base attempts in nearly 900 innings. Historically, Saltalamacchia has been weak behind the dish, but Lackey is no champion either— -2.77 bBRS in 36 innings without Salatalamacchia. In short, they are both hurting each other’s cause. Volquez and Hundley have not been much better — 13 SBA and 0 CS in 63 IP — ranking them as the second worst battery in the league. Hundley seems to be a popular guy to run on, but we will get to that later.

Let’s take a look into the best and worst pitchers and catchers, individually, by bBRS. Which individual battery mates have been “worth” the most runs in their battery? We will do this by accumulating a pitcher or catchers total bBRS with all his batteries. Obviously their will be a definite bias for those who had better battery mates, however these numbers are supposed to supplement the data from above: 

Top 25 Catchers by bBRS:

Catcher IP SBArs CSrs SBrs bBRS
Yadier Molina 860 10.22 -2.18 5.39 13.42
Miguel Montero 796 8.82 -2.79 4.29 10.32
Matt Wieters 929 6.26 -0.06 3.82 10.01
A.J. Ellis 766 3.74 2.55 3.35 9.64
Joe Mauer 659 4.00 0.78 2.78 7.55
Russell Martin 843 0.75 4.20 2.19 7.14
Salvador Perez 847 4.48 -0.12 2.71 7.06
Ryan Hanigan 430 3.93 0.47 2.61 7.01
Yan Gomes 473 3.32 0.87 2.40 6.58
John Buck 860 5.02 -1.40 2.51 6.12
Henry Blanco 285 2.86 -0.59 1.52 3.79
Chris Stewart 670 2.69 -0.89 1.29 3.09
Mike Zunino 242 2.69 -0.98 1.25 2.96
Wil Nieves 322 2.88 -1.31 1.24 2.82
Tim Federowicz 276 1.09 0.67 0.95 2.70
Francisco Cervelli 138 1.98 -0.45 1.03 2.56
A.J. Pierzynski 770 2.28 -1.00 0.99 2.27
Chris Herrmann 115 1.73 -0.63 0.81 1.91
Josh Phegley 287 1.33 -0.21 0.73 1.85
Evan Gattis 314 1.14 -0.06 0.68 1.75
Tony Cruz 217 1.36 -0.37 0.69 1.68
Derek Norris 587 1.39 -0.54 0.63 1.48
Jeff Mathis 456 -0.69 1.80 0.31 1.41
Devin Mesoraco 636 1.67 -0.97 0.63 1.33
J.P. Arencibia 853 2.27 -1.74 0.69 1.22

Once again, I am not surprised to see Molina atop our list again with nearly 14 bBRS. I am sort of surprised to see John Buck even near the top, but this is probably a function of him being with Harvey for a bulk of his time. Russell Martin by far leads the circuit with 4.20 caught stealing runs saved (CSrs), with AJ Ellis being a far second at 2.55 CSrs. Funny enough, Russell Martin has a mere 0.75 SBArs despite leading the league in CSrs. You would expect runners would learn their lesson to not run on him, but it looks like the league has tried to test Martin’s arm and has failed miserably.

Let’s take a look at the catchers who have been liabilities behind the plate, no matter who they are catching:

Bottom 25 Catchers:

Catcher IP SBArs CSrs SBrs bBRS
Chris Iannetta 752 -5.93 -1.22 -4.15 -11.31
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 831 -5.75 -0.37 -3.69 -9.81
Michael McKenry 253 -5.12 0.09 -3.36 -8.40
Nick Hundley 695 -6.92 2.02 -3.43 -8.34
Alex Avila 638 -3.21 -1.38 -2.54 -7.14
Kurt Suzuki 659 -0.94 -3.52 -2.02 -6.48
Jonathan Lucroy 844 -3.39 0.30 -1.96 -5.06
Jose Lobaton 533 -1.36 -1.62 -1.50 -4.47
Jesus Montero 225 -1.32 -1.61 -1.47 -4.40
George Kottaras 223 -3.71 1.14 -1.81 -4.38
Carlos Santana 646 0.34 -3.40 -1.19 -4.25
Ryan Lavarnway 131 -3.64 1.18 -1.76 -4.22
Dioner Navarro 330 -3.45 0.97 -1.73 -4.21
Brayan Pena 442 -3.08 0.75 -1.59 -3.92
Jose Molina 585 -3.59 1.43 -1.62 -3.78
Hank Conger 385 -3.55 1.65 -1.51 -3.40
Hector Sanchez 90 -1.67 -0.41 -1.20 -3.27
Bryan Holaday 75 -1.74 -0.28 -1.19 -3.20
Jason Castro 764 -1.76 -0.16 -1.15 -3.07
John Jaso 364 -0.36 -1.68 -0.91 -2.95
Tyler Flowers 673 -1.68 -0.13 -1.09 -2.89
Yorvit Torrealba 343 -3.17 2.02 -1.12 -2.27
Josh Thole 194 -2.25 1.00 -0.98 -2.23
Buster Posey 853 -1.13 0.22 -0.60 -1.51
Miguel Olivo 141 -1.85 1.08 -0.70 -1.46

Chris Iannetta leads the pack of the worst battery mates in 2013 so far. The league really loves to run on Nick Hundley, who had a league worst -6.92 SBArs. Kurt Suzuki can’t seem to throw out anyone this year, with a 11% CS, in 62 attempted stolen bases — that translates to a -3.52 CSrs. Old friend Saltalamacchia pops up again, this time with a total -10 bBRS, worth -3.16 bBRS in 728  innings without Lackey.

Now that we have covered catchers, lets dive into the field of a pitcher’s individual bBRS.

Top 25 Pitchers:

Pitcher IP SBArs CSrs SBrs bBRS
Patrick Corbin 172 2.73 -0.36 1.53 3.89
Adam Wainwright 190 2.85 -0.52 1.54 3.87
Chris Tillman 152 1.50 0.99 1.33 3.82
Hyun-Jin Ryu 156 2.62 -0.60 1.37 3.38
Clayton Kershaw 198 2.25 -0.20 1.30 3.36
Matt Harvey 172 2.71 -0.75 1.36 3.33
Mark Buehrle 164 2.28 -0.29 1.29 3.28
Mike Minor 159 0.87 1.32 1.08 3.26
Ian Kennedy 149 2.48 -0.55 1.30 3.24
Bartolo Colon 154 2.33 -0.59 1.19 2.93
Lance Lynn 161 1.70 0.13 1.10 2.93
CC Sabathia 171 2.44 -0.74 1.20 2.90
Travis Wood 165 2.05 -0.30 1.14 2.89
James Shields 182 2.15 -0.45 1.14 2.85
Wade Miley 157 1.60 0.17 1.06 2.83
John Danks 111 1.91 -0.21 1.09 2.79
Cliff Lee 171 2.69 -1.13 1.19 2.76
Eric Stults 163 2.26 -0.67 1.12 2.71
Bronson Arroyo 162 2.23 -0.66 1.11 2.68
Miguel Gonzalez 135 1.64 -0.03 1.00 2.62
Jake Peavy 104 0.71 1.03 0.86 2.59
Zack Greinke 133 1.61 -0.01 0.98 2.58
Hisashi Iwakuma 178 2.59 -1.19 1.11 2.50
Jon Niese 96 1.84 -0.46 0.94 2.32
A.J. Griffin 164 2.02 -0.68 0.97 2.31

Breakout pitcher Patrick Corbin leads the pack, having only allowed one stolen base in five attempts all season. Chris Tillman has been great in 2013, catching seven of eight potential base stealers in 152 innings. Adam Wainwright appears again, definitely a beneficiary of having Yadier Molina on his team —worth -0.21 bBRS in 21 innings without Molina. Jorge De La Rosa leads the league in caught stealing runs saved but failed to make the top 25 in total bBRS.

Finally, here are some pitchers who could use a nice pickoff move:

Bottom 25 Pitchers:

Pitcher IP SBArs CSrs SBrs bBRS
John Lackey 140 -6.57 1.10 -3.59 -9.06
Scott Feldman 139 -3.98 -0.07 -2.47 -6.52
Tommy Hanson 68 -4.76 0.96 -2.54 -6.34
Anibal Sanchez 140 -2.15 -0.85 -1.67 -4.67
Edinson Volquez 142 -2.36 -0.48 -1.65 -4.50
A.J. Burnett 146 -2.02 -0.52 -1.70 -4.23
Joe Blanton 129 -1.59 -1.15 -1.45 -4.20
Tim Lincecum 153 -1.34 -1.36 -1.38 -4.08
Ryan Cook 56 -2.42 -0.11 -1.53 -4.06
Ryan Webb 61 -2.57 0.24 -1.48 -3.81
Jamey Wright 53 -2.47 0.31 -1.40 -3.57
Roberto Hernandez 137 -2.47 0.35 -1.38 -3.51
Edwin Jackson 138 -1.40 -0.84 -1.21 -3.45
Henry Rodriguez 22 -1.86 -0.20 -1.22 -3.28
Andrew Cashner 137 -2.20 0.34 -1.21 -3.07
Ryan Dempster 145 -0.98 -0.90 -0.98 -2.86
Jacob Turner 92 -2.40 0.74 -1.18 -2.84
Jared Burton 56 -1.90 0.28 -1.05 -2.67
Josh Johnson 81 -1.34 -0.33 -0.96 -2.64
Joaquin Benoit 52 -1.21 -0.46 -0.93 -2.60
Justin Verlander 174 -0.89 -0.76 -0.86 -2.51
Addison Reed 60 -1.02 -0.54 -0.85 -2.41
Yovani Gallardo 135 -0.44 -1.20 -0.76 -2.39
Yu Darvish 161 -0.90 -0.65 -0.82 -2.37
Donovan Hand 58 -2.38 1.05 -1.04 -2.37

John Lackey appears again, as the worst pitcher of 2013 in terms of individual bBRS. Lackey has been a hard luck loser this year in terms of the way he has pitched and his win-loss record. One has to think that maybe his inability to limit the running game has something to do with his losing record. Lackey also has a positive CSrs, which brings up a good point. The correlation between CSrs and bBRS is nearly zero at 0.0002. Essentially, the more steals you give up, the more likely you will catch a good amount of base runners, just at a rate below league average. In the end, the CSrs of a pitcher has little effect on what his bBRS looks like.

Conclusion and Future Direction 

These numbers, as previously mentioned, are a measure of battery defense — how well the catcher and the pitcher worked together to limit base-running, which invariably lead to more runs scored. An otherwise poor defensive catcher may rank highly in bBRS if he was privileged with a gifted battery mate, and vice versa. However, the leader boards seem to pass the eye test and give us a good starting point to look at who has been saving runs in the scope of the battery. Now, in the future, it would be useful to do WOWY method — “with or without you” courtesy of Tom Tango. Using a WOWY type method, we can figure out which of the battery mates were most valuable to their battery in terms of bBRS.

I would consider adding wild pitches and passed balls, the only barrier being that for most of the sample the runs saved is nearly infinitesimal, and except for a few extreme cases, it does not make a difference in the bBRS total.

Interesting tidbit, when I ran a regression of a pitcher and catcher’s individual bBRS against the total battery, I found that a pitcher’s bBRS correlates 70% with the battery. Meanwhile, the catcher’s bBRS correlation sits at 30%. This finding does reaffirm our previous studies, where we concluded that a pitcher generally has more correlation in the scope of the battery over the catcher when it comes to the running game. However, further exploration of who deserves credit for bBRS could serve as a basis for a future article.

In the meantime, if you want to play around with the whole spreadsheets or do some WOWY calculations, have at it!

bBRS Spreadsheet as of August 23rd. 



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Max Weinstein is a baseball analyst. He has written for Fangraphs, The Hardball Times, and Beyond the Box Score. Connect with him on Twitter @MaxWeinstein21 or email him here.


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tz
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tz

Thanks Max, this is awesome! I’d love to see the WOWY calculations (I’d do myself if I had the time).

I do wonder how much of any organization’s emphasis on catcher defense is negated by inattention to the pitcher’s role in stopping the running game. Here are the four general scenarios on preventing the running game:

Pitchers good, catchers good: running game thwarted

Pitchers good, catchers bad: running game slowed somewhat, but catchers’ skills may be overrated

Pitchers bad, catchers bad: running game becomes serious issue, team will either (a) seek to “upgrade” catcher [not necessarily right choice] or (b) work with pitchers on holding runners better [better choice]

Pitchers bad, catchers good: skills of catcher wasted, maybe leading to replacement of perfectly capable catcher.

Overall, though there’s not an “inefficiency” to exploit here, there are plenty of opportunities to avoid mistakes in correcting for an inability to stop the running game.

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