More on Catcher’s Fielding…WP&PB

Other than stolen bases, which I addressed a few weeks ago, very little has been published on catcher’s fielding numbers. Tom Tango first conceived his WOWY technique in studying catchers. Now I’ve extended my stolen base study back to the beginning of the current RetroSheet in 1953, and added the rates of wild pitches and passed balls allowed back to the same date. It should put a smile on Tango’s face that Gary Carter of his beloved Montreal Expos rates third in career SB_RAA behind Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg, and fourth in career WP_RAA behind Bill Freehan, Bruce Benedict and Brad Ausmus, and second overall behind only Pudge, along with the best single season of +28.2 in 1983…the worst, Dick Dietz, -18.6 in 1970.

I had earlier included groundballs to catchers when I ran my infield defense. There just aren’t that many grounders fielded by catchers – the most in any one season over the past sxi years was 74 by Jason Kendall in 2006. Single season RAA on grounders ranges from Jason Phillips’ +1.1 in 2004 to Mike Lieberthal‘s -2.4 in 2003. Totals for the last six years range from Carlos Ruiz‘s +2.4 to Lieberthal’s -3.4. (I don’t yet have a groundball table built for seasons before 2003).

The process is the same as I descrobed in the previous article on stolen bases. I queried RetroSheet’s events table, creating a new table of every combination of catcher and pitcher in each year, how many batters were faced with runners on base, and how many wild pitches and passed balls occured. A total was made of each catcher’s stats in each year (the “with” part) and also the stats of each pitcher he caught, while working with any other catcher (the “without”). These were weighted to the smaller of the sample sizes, and then summed into season and career totals.

The single best season for preventing wild pitches and passed balls, since 1953, was Bill Freehan of the Tigers in 1971. The pitchers he caught that year would have been expected to throw 62 wild pitches and 20 passed balls in Freehan’s playing time, but he only allowed 31 wild pitches and 7 passed balls to get by hum, saving an estimated 12.6 runs that season. His total allowed of 38 was 46% of the expected 82. Freehan had the highest career RAA of +52.0, while Jorge Posada had the lowest at -38.2.

On the other end is one of America’s favorites, who not only couldn’t hit, but apparently couldn’t catch either, Bob Uecker. In 1967, appropriately his last in the majors, in which Uecker split time between the Phillies and Braves, in only 80 games played he allowed 40 wild pitches and 25 passed balls, 222% above his expected totals of 18 and 12.

The major league average is .016 wild pitches and .004 passed balls per plate appearance with a runner on base. The best career normalized wild pitch rates go to Bruce Benedict, Yogi Berra and Mike Redmond at .010; Brian Downing, Del Crandall and Jason Varitek at .011; and Rod Barajas, Manny Sanguillen, Bill Freehan, Kirt Manwaring, Sherm Lollar and Steve Yeager at .012. The worst wild pitch rates are Earl Battey at .021; Junior Ortiz and Mike Macfarlane at .021; and Miguel Olivo, Johnny Roseboro, Tim Laudner, Jorge Posada, Pat Borders, Thurman Munson, Hal Smith, Darrell Porter and George Mitterwald at .020.

The lowest normalized passed ball rates were Brian Downing, Charlie O’Brien, Bruce Benedict, Dan Wilson, Yogi Berra, Brad Ausmus, Del Crandall, Sherm Lollar and Ron Karkovice at .002, with the worst being Miguel Olivo and Bob Brenly at .008; and Joe Azcue, Jorge Posada, Earl Battey and Lance Parrish at .007.

The top 5 ratios of reducing both are Bruce Benedict 56%, Yogi Berra 59, Brian Downing 60 and Mike Redmond and Del Crandall 64% each. The worst were Bob Brenly 142%, Earl Battey 140, Miguel Olivo 140, Jorge Posada 132, and Junior Ortiz and Mike Macfarlane 129% each.

In 2008, the best at runs saved blocking the plate were Kurt Suzuki +6.9, Kenji Johjima +5.8, Brian McCann +5.2, Ramon Hernandez +5.1 and Jason Varitek +4.1, while the worst were Miguel Montero -3.0, Miguel Olivo -2.8, Kevin Cash -2.7, Greg Zaun -2.7 and Jesus Flores -2.6. In case you were thinking that one year might be a small sample size for some of these backup catchers, Montero, Olivo and Flores are also among the five worst career rates for active catchers, along with Mike Rivera and Jorge Posada.

Career WP&PB Records
Yearly WP&PB Records

2009 Projections

Molina, Yadier 26 10.8 10.2 1.3 -0.6
Martin, Russell 25 7.7 7.3 0.8 -0.4
Johjima, Kenji 32 7.5 4.0 4.4 -0.9
Suzuki, Kurt 24 7.0 3.2 3.7 0.1
Laird, Gerald 28 6.6 5.0 1.4 0.3
Barajas, Rod 32 6.5 4.4 2.3 -0.2
Rodriguez, Ivan 36 6.4 5.4 0.4 0.6
Snyder, Chris 27 6.3 5.0 1.1 0.2
Quintero, Humberto 28 6.1 4.9 1.0 0.2
Schneider, Brian 31 5.5 4.9 0.7 -0.1
Molina, Jose 33 5.1 5.4 -0.5 0.1
Mauer, Joe 25 4.5 5.0 -0.7 0.2
Navarro, Dioner 24 4.2 2.4 2.0 -0.2
Hundley, Nick 24 3.6 4.4 -0.9 0.1
Hernandez, Ramon 32 3.3 -0.1 2.8 0.5
Ross, Dave 31 3.1 3.4 -0.5 0.2
Blanco, Henry 36 3.1 2.8 0.2 0.1
Olivo, Miguel 30 2.9 6.3 -3.1 -0.3
Cash, Kevin 30 2.8 3.8 -1.0 0.0
Ruiz, Carlos 29 2.8 0.5 1.4 0.9
McCann, Brian 24 2.8 -1.8 4.1 0.5
Towles, J.R. 24 2.6 1.2 1.1 0.3
LaRue, Jason 34 2.4 1.4 0.8 0.2
Molina, Bengie 34 2.3 4.2 -1.8 -0.1
Chavez, Raul 35 2.2 2.3 -0.4 0.3
Iannetta, Chris 25 2.1 1.8 0.2 0.1
Ausmus, Brad 39 2.0 -1.9 4.1 -0.1
Paulino, Ronny 27 1.9 1.2 0.7 0.1
Torrealba, Yorvit 30 1.9 -0.4 1.9 0.4
Pierzynski, A.J. 31 1.7 -0.1 1.3 0.5
Martinez, Victor 29 1.7 -1.2 2.9 -0.1
Varitek, Jason 36 1.5 -2.9 4.3 0.1
Coste, Chris 35 1.3 0.3 1.7 -0.7
Inge, Brandon 31 0.8 2.3 -1.2 -0.3
Treanor, Matt 32 0.8 -1.0 2.2 -0.4
Kendall, Jason 34 0.3 -0.4 0.5 0.2
Shoppach, Kelly 28 0.2 1.1 -1.0 0.1
Bako, Paul 36 -0.5 0.8 -0.9 -0.4
Soto, Geovany 25 -0.8 -1.2 0.4 0.0
Flores, Jesus 23 -1.4 0.0 -1.8 0.4
Quiroz, Guillermo 26 -1.4 -0.4 -0.9 -0.1
Nieves, Wil 30 -1.8 -1.6 0.1 -0.2
Napoli, Mike 26 -2.5 -2.3 -0.1 -0.1
Mathis, Jeff 25 -2.6 -4.5 1.5 0.5
Zaun, Gregg 37 -2.6 -2.7 0.1 0.0
Baker, John 27 -2.9 -4.6 1.8 -0.1
Buck, John 28 -3.4 -2.5 -0.6 -0.3
Doumit, Ryan 27 -3.7 -2.5 -1.1 0.0
Bard, Josh 30 -4.0 -4.2 0.3 0.0
Clement, Jeff 24 -5.9 -3.2 -2.5 -0.2
Montero, Miguel 25 -6.0 -3.8 -2.0 -0.2
Posada, Jorge 36 -6.1 -3.2 -2.7 -0.2
Riggans, Shawn 28 -6.3 -6.2 0.0 -0.1
Barrett, Michael 31 -7.1 -5.7 -1.4 0.1
Saltalamacchia, Jarrod 23 -7.4 -5.6 -1.6 -0.2

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Brian got his start in amateur baseball, as the statistician for his local college summer league in Johnstown, Pa, which also hosts the annual All-American Amateur Baseball Association. A longtime APBA and Strat-o-Matic player, he still tends to look at everything as a simulation. He has also written for StatSpeak and SeamHeads You can contact him at

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7 years 6 months ago

You should probably try to remove any data that involves a knuckle ball (i.e Kevin Cash / Tim Wakefield).

7 years 6 months ago

I love looking at how historic players rank against current players. I find it very interesting to see someone like Yogi Berra pop up ahead of current stars even thought the dynamics of athletics has changed so greatly.

– Jeff

Brian Cartwright
Brian Cartwright
7 years 6 months ago

This is one area that probably hasn’t changed that much, the pitcher and catcher playing catch…which pitchers are hard to catch and which catchers excel and and which struggle.

But also, with the list of active players, to get an idea of what the range of ability there is on defense for catchers, and to think that Gary Carter once had a +28 season.

7 years 6 months ago

I just don’t see how Ramon Hernandez can have anything positive related to his defensive skills. Care to elaborate; because he was slow, lazy and notoriously bad at blocking balls in the dirt last year.

Brian Cartwright
Brian Cartwright
7 years 6 months ago

In 8 of Hernandez’s 10 seasons in MLB, his ratio of observed WP+PB to expected has been between .72 and .77, in 2000 was .97 and 2006 1.22. The MLB avg for WP% is .016. In every year thru 2006 his expected was .015 or .016, almost exactly average. In 2007 his expected was .021, in 2008 .025, as there were pitchers on the Orioles those years with a history of throwing an above average amount of wild pitches with catchers other than Hernandez. His observed pct increased to .014 and .019, but stayed in the exact same ratio to expected that he had in 6 of his first 8 seasons.

Last year there were 46 WP and 10 PB with Hernandez catching. That number of WP was 2nd highest in 2008 behind Bengie Molina’s 54, but my formula expected him to allow 63 WP and 11 PB, the 63 expected WP the highest in MLB in 2008. Of the Orioles top 7 in IP in 2008, only Garret Olson was avg at .016, then Burres .018, Guthrie .020, Cormier .021, Cabrera .031, Liz .033, Sarfate .033

7 years 6 months ago

Considering that Joe Mauer’s backup is apperently one of the best of all time, and that most of the Twins starting staff has only had those two catch them, is it possible he is being undervalued in this regard?

7 years 6 months ago

Just curious, how do you calculate the expected passed balls? Do you just use the career averages of the pitcher’s they’ve caught?

Brian Cartwright
Brian Cartwright
7 years 6 months ago

Yes, I used the career averages of the pitchers, minus what those pitchers did with that catcher. I also ran the pitcher numbers on a yearly basis, and compared it to the results using career numbers. In the vast majority of cases there was no meaningful difference in the numbers between using the pitchers yearly or career. I decided to go with the pitcher’s career to avoid as much as possible the Mauer/Redmond situation you cite, where a player would be mostly compared to his backup.

On the other hand, by using career you run a risk of overvaluing a guy like Ramon Hernandez, if his staff does better than their career numbers – but that seems unlikely that a dozen or more players would have a random variation biased towards one direction, other than just about the mean. I think that’s vindicated by Hernandez’s 2007 & 2008 ratings, despite a high expected value, fell right in line with his previous years and career totals.

6 years 8 months ago

“The pitchers he caught that year would have been expected to throw 62 wild pitches and 20 passed balls in Freehan’s playing time,”

Where do you get the data on how many pitches Freehan caught from each pitcher with a batter on base? It seems to me there are a lot of assumptions here about things evening out that are not only unproven, but unlikely.

Is it just a coincidence the Uecker caught knuckleballer Phil Niekro in 1967? In fact, wasn’t Atlanta looking for a guy who could catch a knuckleballer when the traded for him?

“that seems unlikely that a dozen or more players would have a random variation biased towards one direction,”

I don’t see why that is unlikely. In fact, it seems to me in the sample of all major league catchers you would expect to find several examples of where that happened.

But there is another question here. HOW did the catcher avoid passed balls and wild pitches. Was it because pitchers didn’t throw in the dirt or because the catcher didn’t call for a knuckleball.

Brian Cartwright
Brian Cartwright
6 years 8 months ago

I do not know each pitch, but I do know each batter.

Using Retrosheet, I created a database table that showed for every combination of catcher and pitcher, how many plate appearances there were with runners on base, and how many times was there a wild pitch or a passed ball. Then repeat by catchers only, and by pitchers only.

So for Uecker, I know how many PAs with runners on base, how many WP and how many PB when he was catching Niekro, and when he was catching any other pitcher. If I take Niekro’s pitcher’s totals, and subtract off what he and Uecker did together, then I know how Niekro did with every other catcher. Therefor, I can compare Uecker catching Niekro to everyone else who caught Niekro. Repeat for each catcher and each pitcher, and sum the results.

I don’t know how the catcher avoided more wild pitches, but I can measure how many.

Dave Allen recently wrote an article at Baseball Analysts that examined catcher’s ability to block pitches based on the location of the pitch.

4 years 9 months ago

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