Spend a little while thinking about Tyler Colvin. Since you’re all FanGraphs readers, I’m going to assume that you’re at least somewhat familiar with who he is. That is, if you think about the things you know about Tyler Colvin, number one is that you know he’s a major-league baseball player. You probably have a good idea that he played for the Cubs, and plays for the Rockies. You’ll probably recall that he was nearly killed on a baseball field by a flying and stabby shard of a bat. But whether you know the bare minimum about Tyler Colvin, or whether he’s your favorite player ever, he did something in 2012 you likely didn’t realize. Or at least, things happened in 2012 involving Tyler Colvin you likely didn’t realize.
Colvin, this year, was one of few things about the Rockies that wasn’t a disappointment. He played in a whole lot of games and slugged .531, with a 117 wRC+. Though he didn’t walk and though he did strike out, he still managed to produce, even after you adjust for the ballpark insanity. Officially, he reached base 122 times on hits. Officially, he reached base 21 times on walks, and another two times on hit-by-pitches. Yet these were not the only times that Tyler Colvin reached base, and everyone was safe.
Let’s set a frame of reference. Last season, Carlos Triunfel batted 24 times. Jeff Clement batted 24 times, Luke Hughes batted 24 times, Kole Calhoun batted 25 times, and Charlie Culberson batted 23 times. You would say that these guys hardly played, because they hardly played, in the majors. These are very small samples of plate appearances. Okay, reference set. Last season, catcher’s interference was called 23 times. This is not an unusually low number — the season before, it was called 27 times, and the season before that, it was called 28 times. Catcher’s interference is a sufficiently rare part of the game that it’s often forgotten or neglected as a means of reaching base.
And it is a means of reaching base, in case you’re unfamiliar with the rule. And in case you are unfamiliar with the rule, you have a valid excuse — who cares about such an infrequent occurrence? A batter swinging almost never makes contact with the catcher’s glove. If he does, the batter goes to first and no official at-bat is recorded, but again, we’re talking about one or two dozen times a year. Catcher’s interference is more rare than Houston Astros wins.
Last season, Carlos Ruiz tied for the league-lead in catcher’s interferences committed, with three. He was equaled by Hector Sanchez and Chris Gimenez, who you might not have realized still played major-league baseball. Three catchers had two. Eight catchers had one. That was it for catcher’s interference calls.
And the hitters who benefited from the interferences? B.J. Upton reached base twice. Andres Torres reached base twice. David Murphy reached base twice. Eleven batters reached base once. Tyler Colvin reached base six times.
I’ll repeat that, last season, there were 23 catcher’s interference calls. Tyler Colvin was batting for more than a quarter of them. No whole team, outside of the Rockies, benefited more than twice, and 19 teams didn’t get such a call in their favor once. Colvin blew everybody else out of the water, and he wasn’t even a starter from the beginning of the season to the finish. And lest you wonder if there’s just something about Tyler Colvin, before 2012 he’d batted 637 times, and reached on interference once. Colvin’s 2012 OBP was .327. Include the interferences, and it was nine points higher than that. It’s not much, but it is an invisible way to not make an out.
Naturally, I have prepared .gifs of each of the interferences committed with Colvin in the box in 2012. Oftentimes, interference happens when a runner takes off, and the catcher reaches forward to get himself in better throwing position. Three of the interferences with Colvin happened with the bases empty. To the images:
Colvin vs. Vance Worley, Carlos Ruiz
Colvin vs. Vance Worley, Carlos Ruiz
Colvin vs. Tim Lincecum, Hector Sanchez
Let’s see what that catcher’s interference on Sanchez erased:
In the past, I’ve thought about writing about the best defensive plays that don’t actually result in outs. Why limit ourselves? Defenders can make sensational plays where everybody’s still safe in the end. I haven’t gotten to writing that because it’s basically impossible to research. But this play could fit. We see Tyler Colvin hit a sharp groundball wide of third, and we see Pablo Sandoval make a great diving stop, getting up to throw Colvin out. But Colvin wasn’t out, because Hector Sanchez reached too far forward. Great play by Sandoval. Worse play by Sanchez.
Colvin vs. Barry Zito, Hector Sanchez
Two in the same series, with the same catcher. Two in the same series, with the same catcher.
Three in eight days. Three catcher’s interference calls in Tyler Colvin’s favor in eight days. No other team in baseball benefited from more than two catcher’s interference calls over the entire regular season. Three for Tyler Colvin, in eight days. After this one, the Rockies’ broadcasters started talking about how there must be something to Tyler Colvin’s swing path. That wouldn’t explain Tyler Colvin’s pre-2012 track record, but maybe Colvin has folded this into his game now that he has more experience. Maybe he has a sixth sense for where the catcher’s glove is when he’s about to chase a pitch. Tyler Colvin probably isn’t doing this on purpose.
And it’s probably just luck. Just dumb, random chance. It hardly even matters in the big picture. Most of the time, after a catcher’s interference call, it takes the announcers a little while to catch on to the fact that there was a catcher’s interference call. There’s almost always some degree of immediate confusion. This is because people don’t care about catcher’s interference and so they don’t think about it until they have to. Tyler Colvin gave the Rockies’ announcers a reason to have to. Tyler Colvin reached on catcher’s interference calls as often as he grounded into double plays.
You know more about Tyler Colvin now than you used to. Probably a lot more, percentage-wise. “How was your Monday?” somebody might ask you later on. “Kind of unusual,” you might respond.
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