Is It Over for Ivan?

As we approach the midpoint of spring training and cast a wanting eye towards opening day, it is probably fair to wonder about the status of currently unsigned free agents. One such free agent is future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, whose dalliances with the Mets a week or so ago proved fruitless, and thus may be pushing the legendary backstop towards retirement whether he wants to or not.

He reportedly still has the itch to play, but to be honest, Rodriguez hasn’t been particularly useful with the stick since the first administration of the second Bush. From 2005 henceforth, Rodriguez has hit .274/.301/.404 while amassing over 3000 plate appearances. Thus, despite making three All Star appearances, winning two gold gloves, and even participating in a home run derby in the interim, it’s probably fair to wonder if he’s still on anyone’s speed dial.

So with Rodriguez’ future firmly in limbo, it seems fair to consider where his place is among all-time great backstops.

One interesting tidbit that I noticed when researching for a previous piece was how the leaderboard of runners thrown out at Baseball Reference was ripe with catchers of yore. To clarify, by my eyeballing only six of the top 200 listed (by caught stealing percentage) have played in the past 40 years or so. Number 200 on that list is Ron Karkovice, the 12-year vet of feast-or-famine fame. The Officer nabbed just over 41 percent — about two in every five — of attempted base thieves against him. A cursory glance up the list shows only the following catchers having played in the past 30-40 years: Henry Blanco (43.1 percent), Johnny Bench (43.5 percent), Yadier Molina (44.0 percent), Thurman Munson (44.5 percent). On top of the list? Today’s subject, I-Rod — I won’t call him Pudge out of respect to Carlton Fisk — who checks in at 76th on the all-time list by nabbing 45.7 percent of those who tried to cross him.

To me, that hardly seems possible; 75 more guys were more prolific at throwing out baserunners than the great Rodriguez? The great Roy Campanella, who’s proven to be an inspiring tale for my paralyzed brother for what it’s worth, is the all time leader at 57.4 percent, but it still boggles my mind that A. 75 men were more prolific than Rodriguez at nabbing base thieves and B. only six catchers in the last 40 or so years — a mere three percent of the top 200 — match up against catchers of all time. I actually posed the question to our FanGraphs experts, and some suggested it was a case of bigger, faster, stronger — though I think that applies to both sides — or perhaps a case of the running game just not being as big of a part of the game’s society — maybe it really IS just society — but nonetheless, I’m still seeking a good grasp on it.

But I digress. Throwing runners out isn’t all a catcher can do to to prove his mettle, and since we can’t quantify defensive merits quite as well as we’d like, I don’t want to belabor the point much longer. By our defensive metrics, he’s 165.2 runs above average, a good 20-plus runs above next-nearest competitor Charlie Bennett, and about 50 runs better than Jim Sundberg, who checks in at third. Rodriguez revolutionized the position, for the sake of brevity. Obviously, this is why he was permitted to Pedro Feliz his way around the league with his bat over the past seven or so years.

And while we don’t have a good grasp on whether or not veteran mentorship from a catcher has intrinsic value or not — apparently GMs feel it does — let’s take a glance at some of the staffs that Rodriguez has caught since his bat went by the wayside.

Year Team ERA Young Catcher “Mentored”
2005 Tigers 4.51 (8th AL) N/A
2006 Tigers 3.84 (1st AL) N/A
2007 Tigers 4.57 (9th AL) N/A
2008 Tigers/Yankees 4.90 w/ DET (12th) – 4.28 w/ NYY (8th) Dusty Ryan/Francisco Cervelli
2009 Astros/Rangers 4.54 w/ HOU (13th) – 4.38 w/ TEX (8th) J.R. Towles/Jarrod Saltalamacchia
2010 Nationals 4.13 (11th NL) Wilson Ramos
2011 Nationals 3.58 (6th NL)* Wilson Ramos

*Rodriguez only caught 304.2 innings in 2011.

I put mentored in quotes because I don’t know if that’s an actual thing, or if I really buy into it. Similarly, we can’t be sure if he even had much of a relationship with each young catcher — newspaper quotes aside — but I think it’s still slightly interesting to note. Nonetheless as we can see, it’s really hard to pull any of the sort of ‘intangible value’ that one might try to sell themselves on if they were to sign Rodriguez at this point in his career. Obviously a catcher isn’t responsible for the execution of pitches, but to be on just a pair of teams (and he didn’t play much of a part in the latter one, hence the asterisk) in the past seven seasons that was above the middle of the pack certainly has me wondering if there was even any tangible value.

But that only really might explain why he’s sitting at home right now, and that’s not what I’m out to do today. Over the first 14 years of Rodriguez’ career — up until the 2005-on tailspin — he amassed an incredible .306/.347/.490 triple-slash. When coupled with his legendary defense, he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, at least in my view.

But the hangover from the past seven years have hurt his overall numbers significantly. His career OPS is nearly 40 points lower, and his OPS+ had nearly 10 points shaved off as well. Indeed, pretty much all players have that end-of-career decline in statistics, but it at least seems to me that Rodriguez’ is more stark than others. It almost seems as though Rodriguez is a cautionary tale for those who hang on too long.

Historically speaking, Rodriguez grades out quite favorably among his catcher peers offensively.

Statistic All-Time Rank
Games Played 1st
Hits 1st
Home Runs 7th
RBI 5th
Isolated Power* 15th
wOBA* 25th
wRC+* 30th
WAR 3rd

*Among catchers with 5000 or more PA. 

But from this table we can obviously see the effects of a couple poor terms in office for Mr. Rodriguez, as he’s tops on the counting stats lists, but has tumbled on the rate stat ranks.

So where exactly does this rate Rodriguez overall? Well, WAR would suggest that Rodriguez is the third best backstop of all-time, and that’s probably a good place to start. In essence, Rodriguez’ biggest shortcoming was that he didn’t walk. But he didn’t really have to; he was that good of a hitter and a competent, if unspectacular baserunner. Joking aside, he was the best catcher of this era by a healthy margin — sorry, Mr. Piazza — and for my money, the second best backstop of all-time. What can I say, I just love the defense.

And if he never plays again, I still do sort of wonder what it’ll do to his Hall of Fame case, and if he’s hurt his first ballot chances.




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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com


62 Responses to “Is It Over for Ivan?”

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  1. SF 55 for life says:

    i’d take bench, campanella, dickey, berra, cochrane, gibson, and carter before rodriguez easily.

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    • Campy is a good pick; his career was abbreviated and as a result no one knows how good he was. One thing’s for sure….man did he have a great right arm!

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        even as a diehard giants fan there will always be a soft spot in my heart for campanella.

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      • Eh, Campanella played through his age 35 season, and hit to the tune of an under-90 OPS+ in his last two years (3.5 WAR total). He probably didn’t have much good baseball left in him. The car accident was tragic, but it’s not like it ruined a blossoming career.

        Campanella also lost a year or two at the start of his career as baseball was not yet desegregated. Add those years in and maybe he gets to the low fifties in WAR.

        Not in I-Rod’s class, really.

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      • RSF makes a good point. I’d always known Campy only played a decade, but I hadn’t realized he was such a late bloomer.

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      • Mac says:

        “Lost a year or two”

        Please. Campy was playing in the Negro Leagues at 16. He was easily MLB ready at 22, the same time Berra was breaking into the league. Give him 4 or 5 lost years, not just a couple. Plus the lost years at the end of the career (those wouldn’t have been great, but would up the counting stats some).

        Campy was one of the greatest catchers of all time. WAR is really an awful stat for catchers. Their defensive value is not well understood and playing time varies more than any other position.

        No doubt I-Rod is among the top defensive catchers ever, but so were Cochrane, Berra, Dickey, Bench, and Campy. All these guys were considered above-average or better fielders. I-Rod’s WAR is mostly built on defense.

        I looked instead at wRC+, and Rodriguez is clearly a class below the other greats. Just about everyone else mentioned in this thread sits at 120 wRC+ or better for their career. I-Rod put up a great, but not elite 104 WRC+ line.

        For me the inner circle is Berra, Cochrane, and Bench. Gibson and Campy sit just outside that level. Clear greats who were likely top 5 guys, but neither had top 5 worthy MLB careers.

        After them you have the other greats. Dickey, Hartnett, Fisk, maybe Carter?. I-Rod belongs somewhere in this vicinity. Also Piazza, who has the opposite, but worse problem (all-time great bat, no arm).

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      • I said a “year or two” based off of his minor league numbers as well. He didn’t have his first superstar minor league year until 1948, one year before his MLB debut.

        What evidence do you have that his was major league ready at 22?

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      • Mac says:

        You can read about Campanella’s Negro League career here:

        http://www.coe.ksu.edu/nlbemuseum/history/players/campanella.html

        Some highlights:

        Made three appearances in the East-West game (the NNL version of the All-Star game), the first as a 19 year old.

        As a 19 year old, was already batting fifth for his team.

        His lifetime average for his nine year Negro League career was .353

        He won league MVP in each of his two minor league seasons prior to the MLB call-up.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      Agreed, but Rodriquez is also a HOF player.

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      • There’s no question. I just worry that some present-day writers may punish him for his last few years and make him wait.

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      • Tom says:

        Depends on how writers are handling the PED issue as well.

        While there is no definitive proof, Rodriguez is pretty strongly associated with them and has the anecdotal body transitions associated with them… including dropping 20-30 pounds to “slim down” the offseason prior to MLB implementing drug testing.

        Between that, playing in Texas (a chemistry club) and a stretch of 140+ games seasons (many in the Texas heat), it leaves me with the strong belief that Rodrgiuez was juicing for at least a good chunk of career.

        He was tremendous defensively regardless but his hitting really spiked up and dropped off quickly… while the drop off can happen with catchers, his hitting really didn’t take off until 6 or 7 years into his career which coincided with late 90’s steroid haydays.

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      • Richie says:

        What Tom says. They’re making Bagwell wait because they ‘know’ he wasn’t clean. They just as clearly ‘know’ Ivan wasn’t, either. So despite his 1st ballot qualifications, they may still make him wait a couple.

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      • bstar says:

        Brandon,
        If there’s punishing to be done by writers, it’s going to be because of PED’s, or suspicion thereof. We saw what happened to Bagwell last year, which was just ridiculous. Of course Ivan should be a first ballot Hall of Famer. If you look at the careers of most catchers in the Hall, you’ll find that most had retired by now. He should probably go ahead and do the same. He doesn’t need 3,000 hits to get in.

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    • Gibson over Rodriguez?

      Is there any legitimate way somehow can make this argument? For one guy, we have years of documented greatness. For the other, we have a little bit of documented evidence and thousands of unverified old stories.

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      • SF 55 for life says:

        i guess it depends on how much faith you put into those stories. i’m not afraid to consider him a top 5 catcher all time. if the color barrier was broken later we could have been saying the same things about robinson, doby, mays, paige, etc.

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    • SF 55 for life says:

      campanella, i believe, was good enough to make the hall of fame if his career followed a more path. given more time he’s a HOFer. kinda like smokey joe wood. thats just my opinion though

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  2. designated quitter says:

    I have neither the inclination nor the patience to do the research, but I suspect that the reason catchers’ caught stealing percentages are lower is because stat junkies have finally impressed upon management that it doesn’t pay to run unless your success percentage is very high. So only the better base stealers are trying.

    I recall as a kid (late ’60s) when offense was hard to come by, there were a lot of stolen base attempts by people not named Brock or Campaneris, with predictable results. But with league batting averages in the .240s, there was desperation.

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    • That’s sort of the conclusion I’ve drawn, too.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Yeah, we can debate the reasons behind it, but the fact is that SB success rate has steadily increased ever since they’ve kept track of caught stealings (1951). In the early 1950’s, the rate was only 55%-57%; in recent years its been around 72%-75%.

      It’s not just a matter of runners/managers becoming smarter and more careful. SB attempts actually kept increasing until the late 1980’s. It’s fallen off since then, but attempts today are still more common than they were in the late 1960’s.

      Some rule changes may also have played a part. Beginning in 1979, it’s no longer counted as a caught stealing if a runner is thrown out after a passed ball or wild pitch. And I’m not sure when defensive indifference became a stat.

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      • Shane says:

        Even though SB attempts are more common today those attempts are more concentrated amongst players who have more success stealing. The hit and run was a much more common play in the 50s, 60s and 70’s. With more busted hit and runs and broken bunt attempts players were often left out to dry and would be credited with a caught stealing. Secondly From the 1920s to the 1960’s their were no base stealers attempting 80 to 100 Steals per year. Up until 1920 before the boon in power we had players such as Billy Hamilton, Ty cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins running all the time. We never saw singular players attempting so many stolen base attempts again until Maury Wills, Lou Brock then Ron LeFlore attempting large amounts of steals in the 60s and 70s. This trend continued and peaked with such players as Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines , Vince Coleman, Otis Nixon and Kenny Lofton. From 1925ish thru the early eighties many individual players outside the elite base stealers (often ego driven stars with power and little speed) attempted 20-30 steals a year with horrible results. For instance if you look at players of the 50s and 60s you will see many players who had numerous seasons of something like 13 steals and 10 caught stealing. A player who could steal second 55-60 percent of the time was seen as a player who should utilize that skill 25 times a year. These factors gave catchers from the late 20’s to the early eighties higher caught stealing percentages then the catchers who have played since the sabermetric advancements and offensive rennaisance of the early nineties.

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  3. Bill says:

    IRod wears Matt Wieters pajamas to bed.

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    • Ha, I think that works better if the player’s name doesn’t end with an ‘s’. Because, with the s, it reads easily as a possessive: “IRod wears Matt Wieters’ pajamas to bed.”

      I didn’t realize they were so close.

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  4. Mac says:

    Why is Rodriguez so low on the caught stealing percentage charts? It’s because
    that’s a stat desperately in need of normalization.

    Take a look at league-wide CS% totals:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/field.shtml
    Yeah, couldn’t find the percentage stat on fangraphs.

    From 1898 to 1960, CS% held fairly steady at a league average of around 40%-45%. That number has since slowly and steadily dropped.

    Last time above 40%: 1967
    Last time above 35%: 1981
    Last time above 30%: 2004

    I-Rod’s 45% is a full 15% higher than the normal league average of about 30% in the late 90’s. However, that same 45% was just about league average for most of the first half of MLB’s existence.

    Would love to see a study of normalized caught stealing.

    Since the late

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    • bstar says:

      So you’re talking about a sort of “CS+ %”, adjusted for era and time. I think Rodriguez would be the runaway winner.

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      • Mac says:

        Yep, exactly. I don’t have the math chops to fully understand how to normalize stats, but that’s the idea. I-Rod would certainly be right up there, but Campanella and Hartnett put up some gaudy career numbers (they’re #1 and #2 on the leaderboard, both over 55%).

        It’s certainly be an interesting math problem. I’m not sure what the distribution of CS% would look like. Reputation is a factor, as only the best base stealers try to run on the best catchers. All very fascinating.

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  5. vivalajeter says:

    I realize it can go either way, but personally, if I’m starting a team I’d rather have Piazza. His cumulative WAR is slightly lower than IRod’s for two reasons:

    1) He toiled in the minors in 1992 despite embarrassing minor league pitchers. He lost several WAR by LA’s delay in calling him up (and he wound up putting up 7 1/2 WAR the following year).

    2) As mentioned in the article, IRod accumulated counting-stats over the last 5-6 years even though he wasn’t really contributing much on the field. Piazza decided to spend that time with his playmate wife.

    Overall I’m more of a fan of offense than defense so that’s obviously skewing the #’s, but Piazza’s peak was just insane. 9.4 WAR out of a catcher? Jeez.

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    • Mac says:

      I thought about the pair of them, and I think I might have to go I-Rod. Here’s the question you have to ask. The two are polar opposites on defense. But Pudge had a prolonged run (97 to 04) where he was a well above average hitter. So you’re still getting great offensive production out of the C spot, along with elite defense. Is Piazza’s hitting so much better that it overcomes the huge gap in defense. I’d say no.

      I agree that it’s a tough call, especially because it’s so much easier to see and understand elite offensive contribution than it is to appreciate elite defense. And no matter what, that ’97 Piazza season is one for the record books. There was a debate on this site a while back arguing the best catcher season ever, and Piazza was right in the mix:
      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/best-season-ever/

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      • vivalajeter says:

        “Is Piazza’s hitting so much better that it overcomes the huge gap in defense.”

        That’s where the rubber meets the road, and I think the answer is yes. But part of my opinion is because I went through my teens and twenties during their primes, and stolen bases didn’t seem so important back then. It’s obviously beneficial to shut down the running game, but when the majority of the league is playing station to station baseball and waiting for a dinger, catcher’s defense wasn’t as crucial. Having a catcher who can hit better than just about anyone in the league though? That seemed much more important.

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      • Mac says:

        Yeah, I’ve that argument come up before in this debate. It’s perhaps counter-intuitive, but SB/game was actually at a peak in the mid-90’s, coming off the tail end of the SB explosion in the 80’s:
        http://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/bat.shtml

        However, at the same time runs/game was also near the most it’s ever been in MLB. Maybe the extra base runners contributed to the greater SB numbers? Regardless, scrapping for that extra run was maybe not quite as important in the HR fueled station to station type of offense.

        End of the day, the two are fairly well matched. It’s going to be classic case of putting both in HOF if one thinks either one belongs.

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    • bstar says:

      FWIW, I would probably pick Piazza too.

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  6. K says:

    You cannot judge a catchers effect on a pitching staff by looking at the rankings of the pitching staff against other teams. You have to compare the catcher to other catchers on the team. So – did Nationals pitchers have low eras etc with Ramos or Rodriguez?

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    • Eric R says:

      But you’d often have sample size issues with the backups — or worse yet the ‘personal catcher’.

      Remember when Maddux would pitch to Eddie Perez almost exclusively rather than Javy Lopez? Even with their exceptional pitching staffs beyond Maddux this case would certainly make Lopez look worse than he really was.

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  7. Jon L. says:

    Folks, anyone who’s ever looked at stolen bases and caught stealings for old-timey players knows that they had a different attitude than we do today. In the dead-ball era in particular, a guy might steal 40 bases and get caught 30 times. In the 50’s, you had low numbers of attempts and thus few to no great, practiced base stealers, but I would think most of the top catchers by percentage were from even longer ago.

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  8. Cidron says:

    Yeah, Dude caught a ton of runners. BUT, More importantly. He stopped even more before they even considered running. There was a point in his career that his ‘caught-base-stealer’ numbers were low because the runners REFUSED to run on his arm. Little opportunity there to help out some numbers there.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      While that says a lot about his talent, it actually had a negative impact on his value. Attempting a steal is generally a losing proposition in the long run, so his teams would’ve been better off if more people tried to steal.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Why does more talent only decrease value for catchers? What other position does more talent lead to lesser value? Possibly outfield assists?

        This is not a problem with Ivan Rodriguez, it is a problem with how we measure his value.

        When players are rewarded simply for having more opportunities, then something is wrong.

        When catchers are punished for not having average runners try to steal on them, something is wrong with the metric and/or evaluation system.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        “Why does more talent only decrease value for catchers?”

        For the reason I stated above :) While it can be tough to reconcile in your head – it does sound weird, afterall – the point remains that his teams would have been better off if their opponents tried to steal more often (and therefore got caught more often). Outfield assists is a good analogy, if people didn’t run themselves into an out. Another analogy would be an IBB to Barry Bonds in the 9th inning. While a walk looks nice on the stat sheet, there were countless times where the Giants would’ve been better off having the pitcher actually pitch to Bonds instead of granting him first base.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I understand exactly how the value is calculated, but since it runs so far counter to commomn sense and our baseball knowledge and experience, then we should change the way we evaluate catcher defense.

        What we’re saying is that we’d rather not have Deion Sanders at CB, because no one throws the ball his way so he doesn’t produce any turnovers. Nevermind that the other team’s best receiver doesn’t get many catches.

        I would prefer that a stat project a catcher’s performance to the average number of stolen base attempts and credit the catcher with their % above the average and give them credit for their arm in that regard. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s better than rewarding catchers who have inferior defense so more players try to steal and players of lesser speed try and steal.

        It is a weird situation where a player can be so good defensively that it actually hurts his value because the opponents won’t take risks often enough. Their defensive prowess actually forces teams to play smarter.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I’ve been trying to think of an analogy, and the only one I can really come up with is if 100 batters decided that Strasburg (or Verlander, or Ryan, or Feller, Or Walter or Randy Johnson, etc) was too hard to hit and simply bunted into an out to avoid the K.

        So, in order to avoid the strikeout, Strasburg’s measurable value decreases significantly … just due to the opposition pleading no contest and throwing in the towel essentially.

        It’s not like batting where the pitcher conceding you’ll dominate and walking you still producing a lot of value for the batter, in the sense of a really dominant catcher, the team can essentially remove the catcher from the factor by simply not utilizing a high risk maneuver like the stolen base.

        Maybe this does/should change the way we view catchers, but as a former catcher, pitcher, and coach I know what it’s like to have a poor catcher … and it’s not fun.

        Does having a dominant defensive catcher cause a team to bunt more? rather than attempt to steal? I dunno.

        It’s just amazing to me that having a dominant defensive player might actually hurt your team because it causes the opponent to not take risks.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        I agree that it’s very tough to reconcile because it goes against common sense. His arm is so good that teams don’t run themselves into outs, so he’s not helping his team as much as some lesser-throwing catchers. It would be nice to have different metrics to judge their talent level, like comparing CS% against the quality of the runners. But when it comes to helping a team win, I think IRod might have been more effective if he wasn’t quite so good (as hard as that is to believe). I can’t think of an analogy in sports that works quite the same way, mainly because there aren’t many sports strategies that are a losing proposition the way stolen bases are.

        For the bunting analogy, those pitchers would likely go undefeated on the season with a 0.00 era. Their FIP might not be as good because of the lack of K’s, but they’d still have an unreal season.

        For the Deion analogy, he was able to take away the opposition’s greatest weapon. There was a huge advantage to throwing the ball to Jerry Rice. By having Sanders on your team, you can lessen the advantage. Maybe a better real-life analogy would be having Deion Sanders up against a team’s 3rd or 4th wide receiver. That might hurt you, because teams wouldn’t throw to their lesser receivers anymore – when the reality is that you want your team to be forced to throw it to those guys in crunch time.

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      • Mac says:

        Been thinking about this a lot. Then I finally figured out what’s causing the incongruity in this better to have a worse (less respected) catcher arm situation.

        The problem is that, according to sabermetrics, going for stolen bases only results in a net offensive game if there is a success rate of 75%. Yet for most of baseball’s history, SB success has hovered around 60%-70%. This number has been climbing closer to 75% since 2000.

        Essentially, teams are making a bad tactical move. So the smart strategy is to encourage teams to use the bad tactic more often, in this case by deploying only an average-armed catcher. That’s why it seems counter-intuitive.

        Also, much as a I love the stolen base, it seems sabermetrics has proven that overall it’s just not really an effective strategy. Even if an entire team ran like Michael Bourn, that would only gain the team about 2-3 wins over a season.

        So I-Rod’s arm, at absolute maximum, is only worth 3 WAR in run prevention. And that’s only if every team in the league is the 80’s St. Louis Cardinals. So really I-Rod’s arm is worth maybe 1 WAR, excellent though it may be.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        For the bunting analogy, those pitchers would likely go undefeated on the season with a 0.00 era. Their FIP might not be as good because of the lack of K’s, but they’d still have an unreal season.

        I was simply referring to 100 players that Strasburg would strike out choosing to bunt into an out instead, essentially “conceding the out” without having SS record a K in the matter.

        It’s purely theoretical since no players/team would do it to that degree.

        There’s really no analogy available for runners not running on a strong throwing catcher when the defense really wants them to.

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  9. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    Was there any truth to the rumor that Pudge would call fastballs on running counts to pad his CS numbers?

    It’s been making the rounds for years

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    • adohaj says:

      Dont all teams do this?

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    • joser says:

      How is that a bad thing? Who cares if it pads somebody’s numbers: an out is an out.

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    • jim says:

      You imply negativity where none exists

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Yes, there is truth to the rumor that catchers and managers call fastball in baserunning situations.

      As it turns out, physics has shown that faster pitches reach home plate sooner, decreasing the time the running has to cover more distance.

      So, while Rodriguez was doing it just to pad his stats, science-based managers understand that fastballs give the catcher and defense a better chance at throwing the runners out. Fastballs being easier to locate also give the defense an advantage over say non-fastballs in the same situation.

      Sabermetrically I suppose we could show the run expectancy by count or by pitch and it would be less of a disadvantage than it would be an advantage to throw the runner out.

      Regardless of the method, fastballs in base stealing counts is a common practice, for obvious reasons.

      You actually have to wonder about the catcher that DOESN’T call for fastballs in base stealing counts. What is he thinking?

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      • He’d rather give up the stolen base than an extra-base hit?

        That’s all I have though.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I suppose in certain situations where a batter hits offspeed pitches better than they hit fastballs, calling a breaking ball would be a good idea.

        Most batters hit fastballs better than breaking pitches.

        My guess is that when we calculate the difference in milliseconds between a 93mpg fastball and a 85mph curveball that there’s not significant difference and the main aspects are still [1] holding the runner, [2] pitchers time from leg raise to release, combined with the [3] catchers time it take to catch and release.

        The ball is the fastest moving thing on the field.

        Since average runners can effectively steal bases with a great jump, that aspect might be the most important.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        CC, the problem is that he would call for a fastball even when the situation didn’t warrant it. Another catcher might call for a breaking ball in a certain situation because it was the best way to get the batter out – but IRod would call for a fastball because he was more concerned about CS% than with his pitcher giving up hits.

        I’m not saying he actually did this – but I remember hearing about it in the late 90’s.

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  10. westcoast hero says:

    With a name like that, Vivalajeter obviously doesn’t care about defense ;)
    Maybe there were other differences among eras regarding the running game. Enforcement of balks? Sign stealing techniques? Anyway, an era-adjusted “CS%+” might give a fair comparison.

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  11. It’s the same with Yadi in that you also have to look at stolen base attempts and who is running.

    Both guys were also good at the pickoff after pitch move.

    This is where I’d like to see a WPA type figure for catcher CS and SB.

    Previously, and even as recently as Rickey Henderson, the emphasis has been on the number of stolen bases and not the caught stealings. Henderson stole 130 bases but was also caught 46 times that year. BP in their BTN book showed that he was essentially neutral one the bases, although many fans would rate it as one of the best base running seasons ever. Also, in response to Raines, Henderson, Coleman, etc pitchers started using the slide step to help and figures like “time to second” we’re used by everyone (remeber 1st base coaches and their stopwatches?) to gauge risk.

    CS% above average would be a good metric to use. Using unnormalized career figures in a leaderboard probably won’t tell you anything meaningful.

    Believe me, IRod and Yadi’s team wanted more guys to steal as they would be giving away outs. So, having runners not steal on them actually hurts their value. I’d suppose we’d have to have league average data for all SBA situations and compare them to individual situations to get a better gauge on the value of having runners not steal. We do something similar with OF’s and runners not taking the extra base. Otherwise we’re comparing elite catcher’s CS% to other catchers while ignoring both the number of attempts and the quality of base runner. Having something like average speed score of the runners that attempt to steal on individual catchers might be interesting as would SBA/9 for the various pitchers they caught. Some guys like Dwight Gooden kept their long, slow leg kick from the stretch essentially giving their catcher no shot at throwing runners out.

    IMO, the more we learn about catcher defensive value the more the “feared” catchers are going to stand out from the pack. As it is now, we don’t view much difference between a great defensive catcher and the average, which is counter to what most managers feel.

    It would also be interesting to see how having a great throwing catcher or not changes how pitcher’s pitch and defenses align (if at all), particularly pitch selection in SB situations.

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  12. Mick O says:

    Defensive Indifference has been around since 1920. Here’s an NYT piece on it:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/23/sports/baseball/23score.html

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  13. Bob Cutshall says:

    There is only one baseball player who is in a class by himself as the best to ever play his position. His name is Ivan Rodriguez.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      If you’re talking about just defensive, then Brooks Robinson might have him beat. If you’re talking about overall value, then it’s tough to say Rodriguez is in a class by himself.

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    • BlackOps says:

      Now this just isn’t true.

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  14. Eric R says:

    This was pretty quick and dirty — but I did a weighted average of the number of SB and CS that the opposing runners had for the whole season. I only counted SB/CS with a runner on first and second and third empty — and thus far have just 2000-2003 data.

    Anyways, I found 37 catchers with 150+ total SB+CS in those four years

    Mirabelli 19.0 SB / 6.3 CS
    Bako 17.4 SB / 6.4 CS
    Lopez 17.0 SB / 6.0 CS
    Piazza 17.0 SB / 6.3 CS
    Girardi 16.3 SB / 6.6 CS

    #24 I-Rod 13.6 / 5.0

    Hundley 12.9 / 5.1
    Ausmus 12.9 / 4.9
    LoDuca 12.9 / 4.8
    Hall 12.9 / 4.6

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  15. Eric R says:

    Maybe a more usefull way of using this data is to take the ratio of the catchers CS% to the weighted CS% of the guys that ran against him…

    I-Rod 172
    Blanco 163
    BMolina 150
    Hall 148
    LaRue 147
    Ausmus 144
    DMiller 141
    Matheny 140
    Diaz 140
    LoDuca 137

    Hundley 96
    Fletcher 94
    Fordyce 92
    Piazza 91
    Barrett 88

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    • Eric R says:

      Loaded data through 2009… so 2000-2009 total, min 250 SB attempts against [runner on first only]:

      JMolina 190
      Laird 175
      Mauer 164
      Blanco 163
      I-Rod 161
      Schneider 159
      Oliva 159
      LaRue 149
      Snyder 148

      Fordyce 95
      Barrett 91
      Piazza 80

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