Archive for November, 2014

What Do We Know About Catcher Defense?

We’ve seen some pretty revolutionary baseball research over the two decades, but until about three years ago our public estimations of catcher defense were pretty limited. We had some idea about which catchers were the best at catching base stealers, but blocking, framing, game calling, and the other nuances of the job were relative unknowns. We knew they were there, we could see them at work in individual situations, but we just didn’t have quality, public data to give us a clear pitcher of catcher defense. That’s starting to change, although we’re still a long way from home.

Over the last couple of seasons, pitch framing has become a popular topic of conversation in the game with teams like the Rays, Pirates, and others seemingly targeting quality framers. We have had new metrics and seen lots of articles considering the merits of those catchers who can steal extra strikes. It’s hard to say if it’s permeated the baseball world, or just the advanced metrics/blogger world, but framing is the new “it” asset. We even saw our own Dave Cameron place a high value on catcher defense on his 2014 NL MVP ballot.

Catcher defense can essentially be divided into five categories: normal fielding, pitch framing, blocking, game calling, and controlling the running game. In no area are we perfect, but there are some areas that we can evaluate better than others. Catcher defense is an evolving area of study and hot topic of conversation. Let’s briefly consider what we do and don’t know about the most indispensable position.*

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Shutdowns, Not Saves: The Logic and the Leaders from 2014

Who led the league in saves in 2014? Hopefully, you don’t know the answer off the top of your head. Saves aren’t a good measure of anything relating to player performance or talent and with so many things you could remember about the 2014 season, you probably don’t want to waste vital brain capacity on a random piece of trivia like who had the most saves.

The reason saves aren’t very useful is because the rule itself is not designed to provide much information. You can earn a save if you strikeout Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez in a one run game or you can earn a save if you allow five base runners against the bottom of the Padres’ order. You don’t earn a save if you preserve a tie, or if you preserve a lead in the 7th inning. Nearly everything about the rule is arbitrary, which leads you to find arbitrary results.

But the idea of something like a save is compelling for many people. There is a desire for a statistic that measures the number of a times a reliever comes in and pitches very well in an important spot. We can look at rate stats like ERA, FIP, or xFIP or cumulative numbers like RE24 or WAR, but it’s perfectly fine to want some sort of counting stat that tracks how many times a reliever slammed the door (or didn’t).

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