Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Monday, February 25, 2019

How One of the Worst Hitters in Baseball History Became a Hot Commodity - WSJ

Jeff Mathis, a catcher who will celebrate his 36th birthday next month, owns a batting average of .198 since debuting with the Los Angeles Angels in 2005. Among all players with at least 2,500 career plate appearances dating back to 1876, only one has fared worse: Bill Bergen, a backstop who hit .170 from 1901 through 1911.

But Bergen survived only 11 seasons before his ineptitude with the bat prompted the Brooklyn Dodgers to release him at age 33. With a freshly inked two-year, $6.25 million contract with the Texas Rangers, Mathis is set to last at least 16 seasons, with no plans to stop then.

“I’d like to have better numbers on the back of my card and do a little more at the plate, there’s no doubt. Obviously, that #### bothers me,” Mathis said. “But just being to still be here in this game is a tribute to the hard work I’ve put in elsewhere.”

Jim Furtado Posted: February 25, 2019 at 10:48 AM | 60 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: jeff mathis, rangers

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:05 AM (#5817856)
Story is paywalled for me, but I would guess it's because he fits the Rangers primary criteria of being cheap and boring.
   2. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:10 AM (#5817858)
I thought this article was about me.
   3. DCA Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:19 AM (#5817862)
Replacement level overall but elite defensive catcher in high demand for backup position. He's probably a good teammate too. Doesn't complain about playing only twice a week.

If he could hit a little, he would be Yadier Molina. But he can't, so he isn't.
   4. jingoist Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:22 AM (#5817863)
He must “frame pitches well and call a good game”.
So Bob Uecker’s career .200 ba, right at the Mendoza line, has him safely out of last place for a catchers career ba.
Nice to know.
I wish Mr Mathis well.
Anyone who can play for 16 years ( end of his new contract) and contribute 1 WAR for his career must really frame pitches well and call a good game.
   5. Jose Needs an Absurd Ukulele Concert Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:25 AM (#5817866)
Backup catchers are generally pretty crummy. If he can play some defense, is willing to keep quiet and do his job and works well with pitchers and younger players...well you can do a lot worse than that. The Rangers ain't contending this year or next so a guy who can be a mentor and a leader probably has some value for their kids.
   6. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:26 AM (#5817867)
His defensive metrics really are terrific and, of his framing, it's been said that he's good at it all over the zone (whereas some are good at just the top, or sides, or whatever - which makes sense) - which is nice with a wilder or stylistically diverse staff.
Terrible, terrible hitter though. Given the choice, I'd prefer a Martin Maldonado type who is only terrible at the plate (and, thus, a decent player overall).
   7. DCA Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:27 AM (#5817868)
Would be kind of nice for him to get the career BA >200. I wouldn't begrudge him retiring mid-season if/when it gets there.
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:30 AM (#5817873)
The only real problem with Mathis was Scioscia playing him over Napoli. Restrict him to a backup role, maybe let him work with a young starter or someone who needs all the strike zone he can get, it seems like he'd be a perfectly serviceable fellow.

   9. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: February 25, 2019 at 11:45 AM (#5817879)
Seems to me that there are two kinds of backup catchers:

1) Guys who can squat and poke a few bombs and take the occasional walk. Scott Hatteberg was this kind of player, at least until the A's took the Tools of Ignorance away from him. Gregg Zaun, later in his career. If they could field, they would be regulars. If they hit a lot, they end up spending a lot of time at 1B, like Hatteberg and Napoli.

2) Vacuum-cleaner types who hit just better than pitchers -- Mathis being the sort of homo magnus of the genre. If they could hit at all, they'd start; if they hit any worse, or couldn't field, they'd be mired in AAA forever.

Which kind you'd rather have strikes me as largely a matter of taste, and maybe the experience of your pitching staff.
   10. Rally Posted: February 25, 2019 at 12:09 PM (#5817891)
The only real problem with Mathis was Scioscia playing him over Napoli. Restrict him to a backup role, maybe let him work with a young starter or someone who needs all the strike zone he can get, it seems like he'd be a perfectly serviceable fellow.


He would have been fine in that role. He wasn't playing more than Napoli, but at times they were getting equal playing time. From 2007-09, they played 15 playoff games. Napoli started 9, Mathis 6.


   11. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 12:43 PM (#5817907)
I think WAR is drastically underrating catcher defense. A catcher handles the ball 100-150 times a game, the left fielder maybe twice but WAR would have us believe the spread in run value between the best and worst left fielder defense is greater than the spread among catchers. The scale is just not consistent with the number of opportunities to screw up.

I have no trouble believing that Mathis makes 10 or even 20 defensive plays a game that the worst catcher does not make (frame, block, throw, etc). What is the run value of those 10 events? Mathis has a cumulative RField at Baseball Reference of 55 runs over 835 games so WAR would argue that each of those events is worth 0.0066 runs per event. The linear weights run value of a walk is 0.55 or two orders of magnitude higher than the run value WAR is assigning to a catcher "non-discretionary play".

There are two players directly comparable defensively on last year's Diamondbacks. Jarrod Dyson played in 67 games, 504 innings with an RField of 9. Mathis played in 69 games, 523-2/3 innings with an RField of 8. Dyson was involved in roughly 135 outs, Mathis in 1,571. For each out Mathis handles the ball 4 times on average but Dyson only does once per out. That's a 10x-40x order of magnitude difference in opportunities but WAR has them with the same defensive value. Both positions have discretionary plays that are "easy" and made by just about everyone who plays the position but the catcher still has one to two orders of magnitude more opportunities to screw up.

It doesn't make sense to me that the variance in catcher defense would be that tightly controlled, especially if we aren't measuring it very well. Poorly measured things are rarely well controlled. Is the value of catcher defense for each non-discretionary defensive play so small (1/100 of a walk) that the 10x-40x difference in opportunities doesn't make a difference?

WAR is good at determining the value contributed by a batter but I think it still needs improvement dividing up the share of outs to the defense.
   12. bbmck Posted: February 25, 2019 at 12:45 PM (#5817909)
Min 2500 PA, 3 or more K per 2 Hits:

Jack Cust 120 OPS+, 819 K, 510 H
Russell Branyan 113 OPS+, 1118 K, 682 H
Chris Davis 111 OPS+, 1696 K, 1099 H
Rob Deer 109 OPS+, 1409 K, 853 H
Chris Carter 108 OPS+, 951 K, 536 H
Jeff Mathis 52 OPS+, 756 K, 480 H

Worst career OPS+, min 2500 PA among active players:

2018: Jeff Mathis 52 OPS+
2017: Darwin Barney 73 OPS+
2015-16: Brendan Ryan 69 OPS+
2014: John McDonald 59 OPS+
2013: John McDonald 60 OPS+

2012: Cesar Izturis 64 OPS+
2010-11: Juan Castro 55 OPS+
2009: Juan Castro 57 OPS+
2008: Juan Castro 56 OPS+
2006-07: Abraham Nunez 63 OPS+

2005: Mike Matheny 65 OPS+
2004: Rey Ordonez 59 OPS+
2003: Rey Ordonez 60 OPS+
2002: Rey Ordonez 58 OPS+
2001: Rey Ordonez 56 OPS+

2000: Gary Disarcina 66 OPS+
1999: Gary Disarcina 65 OPS+
1997-98: Rafael Belliard 46 OPS+
1996: Gary Disarcina & Felix Fermin 67 OPS+
1995: Felix Fermin 67 OPS+

1994: Billy Ripken 69 OPS+
1993: Curt Wilkerson 63 OPS+
1992: Curt Wilkerson 64 OPS+
1991: Alfredo Griffin 68 OPS+
1990: Wayne Tolleson 66 OPS+

1989: Wayne Tolleson & Ozzie Guillen 68 OPS+
1988: Alfredo Griffin 70 OPS+
1987: Johnnie LeMaster 60 OPS+
1986: Johnnie LeMaster 61 OPS+
1982-85: Doug Flynn 58 OPS+
1981: Doug Flynn 61 OPS+
   13. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: February 25, 2019 at 12:54 PM (#5817912)
What we think about catcher defense is (largely) what we think about pitch framing (and, to a lesser extent, calling*) right? If you're BPro (which is into framing), your WARP estimates are wildly different from what we see for WAR in B-Ref.


* I'm not convinced that we've licked this yet.
   14. . Posted: February 25, 2019 at 01:14 PM (#5817918)
Pitch framing shouldn't even be a thing, and it's a continued blight on the game that it is.
   15. jmurph Posted: February 25, 2019 at 01:40 PM (#5817944)
DL from MN: Possibly a dumb response, but meant in good faith: can't we think of this in some ways like the SS and 1B relationship? The 1Bman is receiving the throw on every groundout from 3b, SS, and 2b, but it's not at all hard to believe that those other three positions have greater defensive value.
   16. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 01:42 PM (#5817947)
What we think about catcher defense is (largely) what we think about pitch framing (and, to a lesser extent, calling*) right?
.

Catcher defense also is controlling the running game, putouts of baserunners at home plate, fielding bunts and pop fouls, catching foul tip strike three, blocking pitches in the dirt, and calming down the pitcher.
   17. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 01:48 PM (#5817952)
The 1Bman is receiving the throw on every groundout from 3b, SS, and 2b, but it's not at all hard to believe that those other three positions have greater defensive value.


Since they created the first baseman's mitt, sure. The degree of difficulty went down. Still, 1B defense is partly receiving throws and there are some that are better than others. First basemen generally make a putout an inning. How many non-discretionary putouts are there a game? 2? That's about the same as the number of fielding plays for an outfielder. The first baseman probably should be stealing fielding credit from the fielders for the 2-3 plays where he had to work to make the play.

   18. SoSH U at work Posted: February 25, 2019 at 01:54 PM (#5817955)
Catcher defense is a weird beast, and I'm not sure how it's properly accounted for. There may well be a smaller band of performance between the best and the worst, but that's only because no one else ever plays catcher but catchers. If you stuck a third baseman in center for the first time, he'd undoubtedly be pretty bad, but I doubt he'd cough up as many runs there as if you stuck him behind the plate. There's just a much higher barrier for entry for the position than any of the other seven field positions.
   19. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:02 PM (#5817960)
Catcher defense also is controlling the running game, putouts of baserunners at home plate, fielding bunts and pop fouls, catching foul tip strike three, blocking pitches in the dirt

I intentionally left that stuff out - everybody is controlling for much of that. Calming down the pitcher is part and parcel of pitch calling, as far as I'm concerned.

EDIT: I had originally meant - what you think goes into catcher defense largely means what do you think about the importance of framing and calling. We don't see huge differences in how other factors, like the impact of passed balls, are treated.

There may well be a smaller band of performance between the best and the worst, but that's only because no one else ever plays catcher but catchers.

Sure - and I used to suspect that this was this case. (Best arms don't get run on much, worst arms don't stay back there - etc) Pitch framing kind of blew this up, but there are a host of measurement and effect size questions here.
   20. jmurph Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:05 PM (#5817961)
There's just a much higher barrier for entry for the position than any of the other seven field positions.

Isn't it just a different path? Is there any reason to think a (non-giant) elite third baseman couldn't have also been a great catcher had he been put there at age 16? Or am I misunderstanding your barrier to entry comment.

My contrarian hunch is the opposite of DL's take: I think it mostly doesn't matter and I think we're going to radically claw back things like pitch-framing in a few years with more research.
   21. SoSH U at work Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:09 PM (#5817966)
Isn't it just a different path? Is there any reason to think a (non-giant) elite third baseman couldn't have also been a great catcher had he been put there at age 16? Or am I misunderstanding your barrier to entry comment.


You are.

I'm not saying that only a certain type of individual can succeed at catcher. I'm saying the skillset is so defined and unique that you can't just shift from one position to catcher at the big league level. You have to have spent a long time at catcher before the big leagues to be a catcher in the big leagues.

Mike Moustakas is moving from third to second. Infielders have moved to the outfield and vice versa. Catchers some time get shifted out from behind the plate.

Almost no field position player ever gets tried at catcher for the first time.

Given that, I think it's believable that there's not as much room for differentiation between how many runs the best catcher can save vs. the worst (in practice), while still understanding the position is the most difficult and challenging and important of the eight.

   22. jmurph Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:10 PM (#5817967)
Ahh okay, got it. Makes sense.
   23. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:11 PM (#5817969)
In the unlikely event someone is reading that is looking for article ideas, an up-to-date detailed essay on the state of publicly available research wrt pitcher framing would be a good one.
   24. The Duke Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:29 PM (#5817989)
I, too, think the math is all wrong. Jason heyward can’t possibly be worth so much because of RF defense while catchers don’t seem to have any variation in a job where it’s obvious to all that some catchers are so much better than others. Further, there are so few players who can catch well - most teams don’t have a posey or Molina.

   25. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:33 PM (#5817992)
believable that there's not as much room for differentiation between how many runs the best catcher can save vs. the worst (in practice)


So which is it, that there are only 1-2 discretionary plays a game out of 150+ touches instead of 10-20 or that these discretionary plays are worth very little (1/100 of a walk)? I have watched Ryan Doumit and Yadier Molina catch so I just don't believe the former. If the latter, why are these plays worth so little? Isn't the difference between a ball and a strike significant when there are an average of four pitches per plate appearance? How about all the discretionary outs made by the infielders? Right now the pitcher gets all the credit for those (or conversely, none if you use purely FIP based accounting). How much credit should the catcher get for a routine grounder to short?

It's hand waving to say "We don't actually measure this but the effects are probably small and everyone is pretty much the same" especially when it is visibly obvious that there are notably good and bad catchers every season. I still wonder if the Dodgers were a good defensive catcher away from a World Series trophy last October.

If our assessment of catcher defense is correct according to WAR and catcher has less impact on defense than shortstop or centerfield then teams should be loading up on guys like Ryan Doumit and Matt LeCroy behind the plate. They aren't. They know more than what we get from the BBREF WAR calculator.
   26. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:42 PM (#5817994)
Almost no field position player ever gets tried at catcher for the first time.


This should happen more often. Is it easier to think you can coach a 3B who hits .250 in the minors to hit 15 HR than it is to coach them to become a catcher? Are good hitters who are iffy catchers (Kyle Schwarber) moved off the position because defense actually matters or because it is more important to have a good bat in the lineup every day? A bit of both? Why are the Red Sox playing Sandy Leon instead of Blake Swihart if the only thing that matters for a catcher is his bat?
   27. BrianBrianson Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:42 PM (#5817995)
There's an argument about bad defence tolerance. I could probably put up -150 runs/game as an MLB catcher vs. replacement, but they wouldn't let me do it.
   28. Howie Menckel Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:48 PM (#5817999)
the thing about OFs is that while a player may have tremendous defensive aptitude, he can go an entire game or a bunch of games in a row without getting to utilize any of it.

in those games, Heyward for example is naked except for his offense.
   29. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:52 PM (#5818002)
There may well be a smaller band of performance between the best and the worst, but that's only because no one else ever plays catcher but catchers. If you stuck a third baseman in center for the first time, he'd undoubtedly be pretty bad, but I doubt he'd cough up as many runs there as if you stuck him behind the plate. There's just a much higher barrier for entry for the position than any of the other seven field positions.

Video of 3B/1B Mike Lamb's 7 horrific innings behind the plate in 2002 should pretty well set the standard for "What's the worst that could happen?"

7 innings, baserunners 3-for-3 in base stealing attempts, 3 "wild pitches" and 1 "passed ball", and if anything, the numbers aren't as bad as he actually looked behind the plate.

It couldn't have helped that the Rangers gave him token 1-inning appearances at the end of their 4/14 and 4/15 games, then waited 10 more days to actually start him at catcher on 4/25. Five innings was all it took to end the Mike Lamb: Utility Catcher Experience for good.
   30. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 02:54 PM (#5818005)
The other factor arguing against reduced variance for catcher defense is the fact that nobody can catch every day. The bulk of SS putouts are from the top 30 fielders in the world but every major league team splits defense at catcher among 2 or more players. You can't measure the top 60 people at the right end of a bell curve and end up with less variation than when you measure just the top 30.
   31. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 03:14 PM (#5818014)
7 innings, baserunners 3-for-3 in base stealing attempts, 3 "wild pitches" and 1 "passed ball", and if anything, the numbers aren't as bad as he actually looked behind the plate.


He graded out at -2 runs. His team gave up 8 runs during the seven innings he was behind the plate. -2 runs / 7 innings * 1000 innings would be -285 runs on the year if he was the starter.
   32. vortex of dissipation Posted: February 25, 2019 at 03:27 PM (#5818018)
Reposted from a Primer Dugout post I made last month. Mathis as a hitter has nothing on this guy.

------------------------------

I’ve mentioned a couple of examples before, but I have a fascination with the Japanese phenomenon of bad backup catchers who have long careers. There are quite a few examples of NPB backup catchers who hung around for years, shuttling back and forth between their NPB squad and the minors, putting up horrible stats in limited playing time. I think I may have found the ultimate one. Akihiro Maeda was the Chunichi Dragons’ first round draft choice in 2001. He made his NPB debut with the Dragons in 2003, and played for them in ten of the next 11 seasons, missing out only in 2007. In those ten seasons, he played a total of 54 games, with 45 plate appearances, putting up a career batting line of .070/.111/.093. His seasonal career high in games was 11. His career high in PA was 10. His career high in everything else except strikeouts was one. His career stats for those ten seasons:

G – 54
AB – 43
H – 3
R - 0
2B – 1
3B - 0
HR – 0
RBI – 1
SB - 0
BB - 2
SO - 15
SAC - 0
BA - .070
OBP - .111
SLG - .093

Two things stand out for me. The first is that he never scored a run in his career. The second is that in Japan, where sacrifice bunts are much more common than in MLB, he never had a sacrifice even though he hit .070. His first career hit came in 2009, six years after his debut. His uniform number was 00, which may or may not have been an inside joke on his hitting ability.

I have no idea of his defensive reputation, but I’m assuming he must have been above average. It’s hard to see him sticking around for a decade otherwise. For what it's worth, his stats show him as never making an error. After his playing career ended, he became a coach, and then Chunichi’s bullpen catcher. I'd love to see his stats in the Japanese minors, but I haven't found a source for them. He was signed out of high school, and the one reference I have about that is that he hit 31 home runs in his high school career, so it looks like he had some power as a schoolboy. But unfortunately my lack of being able to read Japanese limits my ability to get more info. I'm pretty much stuck with the statistical record and a few scraps of information.
   33. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: February 25, 2019 at 03:56 PM (#5818027)
vortex, I never said so at the time but please keep trying to find out about Maeda.
   34. SoSH U at work Posted: February 25, 2019 at 04:02 PM (#5818031)
I take it NPB teams always carry three catchers.

   35. flournoy Posted: February 25, 2019 at 04:15 PM (#5818038)
Almost no field position player ever gets tried at catcher for the first time.


Phil Nevin is the most recent example who comes to my mind. He didn't last long at catcher.

EDIT: Maybe it lasted longer than I remember - he made some cameo appearances at catcher in each of the last three years of his career.
   36. Zach Posted: February 25, 2019 at 05:18 PM (#5818069)
I think WAR is drastically underrating catcher defense. A catcher handles the ball 100-150 times a game, the left fielder maybe twice but WAR would have us believe the spread in run value between the best and worst left fielder defense is greater than the spread among catchers. The scale is just not consistent with the number of opportunities to screw up.

In addition to your observations above, I'll add that good hitting prospects who would be absolute superstars if they could stick at the position are routinely moved away from catcher in the high minors.
   37. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: February 25, 2019 at 05:30 PM (#5818073)
Thank you for the post about Akihiro Maeda. Fantastic.
   38. DL from MN Posted: February 25, 2019 at 06:07 PM (#5818093)
In addition to your observations above, I'll add that good hitting prospects who would be absolute superstars if they could stick at the position are routinely moved away from catcher in the high minors.


That doesn't contradict the WAR calculator. The WAR calculator would say to move the player to left field where their bat gets in the lineup every day and they can have a real impact on defense.
   39. Cleveland (need new name) fan Posted: February 25, 2019 at 07:15 PM (#5818105)
In addition to your observations above, I'll add that good hitting prospects who would be absolute superstars if they could stick at the position are routinely moved away from catcher in the high minors.


I suspect that the high injury risk and limited number of games that they can play (at least in the NL) is at least a factor in the decision.
   40. Walt Davis Posted: February 25, 2019 at 07:28 PM (#5818109)
Too much to get into .... quickly

1. C defense is probably a lot like pitcher-controlled BABIP -- you don't make it to the majors as a C if you can't handle the position defensively. This is captured somewhat in SoSH's point about how long it usually takes Cs to develop the necessary skills and that nobody switches to C (except minor-leaguers who have washed out everywhere else). Both of those also explain why good hitters are often moved off of C -- they usually aren't good defensively and their bat is ready now but they'd need to spend at least another 1-1.5 seasons in the minors to develop their defense at C with no guarantee they'll make it. (See Schwarber for a recent example.) Even by "variance logic", if the best Cs are worth (say) +40 Rfield, what team in their right mind would play a C who was giving away 4 wins a season on defense? The within-position variation is basically self-limiting. At best what you need to argue for is a change in Rpos.

1a. This is the challenge of measuring things relatively. So sure, WAR isn't going to capture that the C needed another 2 years in the minors and that in some absolute sense he might be superior to the SS because it only ever sees the ones who have ML-quality defense.

2. Even if it's real and sustainable, good pitch-framers don't turn balls into strikes, they turn 40% strikes into 60% strikes. Tango certainly did stuff on the value of a strike vs. a ball back in the day -- it's reasonably substantial but once you start to account for the fact the C isn't pulling off miracles back there, the best framers were adding about 2 strikes a game and the worst were losing about two strikes a game. Multiplied by that factor, it produced a spread of about +/- 2 wins. But good framers aren't necessarily good at other defensive aspects of the position.

3. The MLB range in WP last year was 69. (Bizarre fact of the day, the 8 teams with the fewest WP last year were all from the NL.) The spread in passed balls was 19 (6 of the best 8 in the NL). Even if you assume that's all due to the catchers (it's obviously not), that's not a lot bases (at least 88, then more with multiple runners on) ... an extra base is worth about 1/3 of a run. If you take a look at SS assists (and pretend that's entirely due to the SS, it's obviously not), that's a spread of 140 OUTS with a value of about 112 runs. The spread in SS errors (18) is the same as the spread in team PB. (The .55 value of a walk is the value of a walk vs an out ... a stolen strike doesn't often turn a walk into an out.)

3a. There were over 721,000 pitches thrown last year. Of those, 1,847 were WPs and 370 were PBs ... and who knows how many went to the backstop without a runner on, feel free to double or triple that number if you want. So only 0.3% of pitches resulted in a WP/PB or, if you triple that, 0.9% of pitches weren't caught/blocked. Those are the same rates as pop-ups and cans of corn. Obviously it's not THAT hard to fulfill the basic duty of catching pitches and there is very little variation in the performance of this basic duty. This, along with usually decent arms, may be why failed minor-league IFs sometimes convert to C.

4. The spread in team Ks was about 550; the spread in BB about 250. How much of that do you attribute to Cs? Those are big numbers.

5. But it all comes back to the final value. There's really no evidence that Cs are producing more WAR than other positions ... and if they are, those wins have to come from somebody else. If they're adding/losing wins through pitch-framing, that's taking wins from pitchers.

5a. Teams don't pay Cs the really big bucks. (They do pay pitchers big bucks.) Using b-r's (kinda dicey) numbers, Posey was the 24th highest-paid player last year. Cs had (if I counted right) about 5 of the top 90 (Devin Mesoraco?) but that includes Ps so probably not far off for position players. Given the restricted playing time, that's pretty good. And of course not that many Cs make it to FA in one piece. But teams aren't breaking the bank or trading Gleyber Torres for 2 months of a top C.

5b. That said, given their penchant for carrying crappy-hitting Cs at least as back-ups, teams obviously do agree that C defense is important and probably more important than bWAR values it. But, due to the physical demands of the position, back-up C is a role teams have to fill and it's not like ML-average hitters are fungible quantities. Given a choice between, say, a 85 OPS+ with crappy defense and a 70 OPS+ with good defense, teams might well prefer the latter. But that's kinda true for backup SS and CF too although the lower-bound might be closer to 80 OPS+.

6. So C vs SS. Adeiny Hechavarria has 7 seasons, 4 with 499+ PA, 3000 career PA, and just a 75 OPS+ despite just a +19 Rfield. That's a slightly better hitter than the much better defender Adam Everett (66 OPS+) who also made it to 3000 PA. And of course both pale in comparison to Belanger's 6600 PA (68 OPS+). Now those guys look like Jay Bruce compared to Mathis's 52 OPS+ ... but Jeff hasn't quite cracked even 2700 PA yet although he does have slightly more defensive innings than Hechavarria and Everett. Now the aged backup SS has gone the way of the 1/$4 M contract for an aged backup SS so we may never see that type again to compare with Mathis.

7. This was ages ago when these numbers first came out. An early study didn't control for the pitcher. I pointed this out to Tango who quickly ran some numbers ... and obviously it made a big difference. And it seemed that the aged, well past-his-prime Derek Lowe was stealing about 6 strikes a game. Imagine how many strikes Glavine and Maddux stole.
   41. SoSH U at work Posted: February 25, 2019 at 07:33 PM (#5818110)
The MLB range in WP last year was 69. (Bizarre fact of the day, the 8 teams with the fewest WP last year were all from the NL.) The spread in passed balls was 19 (6 of the best 8 in the NL). Even if you assume that's all due to the catchers (it's obviously not),


I assume the fewer number of hard sliders and other stuffy offerings thrown to pitchers would account for some, if not most, of the difference. Do NL teams usually finish ahead of their Junior Circuit counterparts on the WP/PB season scorecard?
   42. Moeball Posted: February 25, 2019 at 08:13 PM (#5818113)
I think it's interesting how some seemingly contradictory viewpoints came about. We started to think that maybe there wasn't as much divergence in catcher's defense as previously thought and therefore you could justify having Piazza behind the plate because maybe he wasn't costing the team very many runs defensively after all. If that's the case, you keep him at the position if he can hit like that. Then we started hearing about how some catchers were great at pitch framing and this was used to justify keeping catchers in the lineup even though they couldn't hit! Supposedly because of all the runs they prevented on defense. So, is there a wide variance in run scoring due to catcher defense or not? Seems to me people are trying to have it both ways.

Speaking of backup catchers, I seem to remember the Padres having one called Gwosdz? back in the 80s and I think there was some evidence pitchers were yielding at least a run a game less with him behind the plate than with other catchers. Anyone else remember hearing such a thing? Did Bill James mention this in any of the old Abstracts?
   43. Moeball Posted: February 25, 2019 at 08:13 PM (#5818114)
Now that I look at Ted Simmons' defensive numbers, I don't see how he had such a reputation as a terrible defensive catcher. This just doesn't seem warranted, and isn't this the main reason he didn't get much HOF support?
   44. SoSH U at work Posted: February 25, 2019 at 08:41 PM (#5818124)

Now that I look at Ted Simmons' defensive numbers, I don't see how he had such a reputation as a terrible defensive catcher. This just doesn't seem warranted, and isn't this the main reason he didn't get much HOF support?


He didn't throw very well, particularly compared with Bench. THat's pretty much what earned his reputation.

What's interesting is that he threw well enough so that he was saving runs with his arm, and it's possible he saved more runs throwing than Bench did (since very few people tried to run against Johnny).



   45. Walt Davis Posted: February 26, 2019 at 02:40 AM (#5818185)
It's hard to know what kept Simmons out of the HoF. He did not have a good defensive rep, he had the rather big decline at the end (but I'm not sure that worked against him as much as it might have), he never won any hardware but made a lot of AS teams. Munson had an excellent defensive rep and an MVP ... and never really came close. Freehan had a sterling defensive rep (and GGs) and a couple of big MVP finishes and got even fewer votes than Simmons. Voters always tough on catchers, over-shadowed by Bench and (eventually) Fisk and Carter I suppose.

Moe, you skipped over the interim when folks looked at Piazza's "catcher ERA" and his WP/PB numbers and argued he was probably pretty good at handling (later framing) and pitch blocking ... i.e. at least average or good in all aspects but his arm. Also Rfield likes his defense well enough until he turned 32.

Back to my #40 ... Based on the contract he just signed (2/$6.5), we'd say that teams value Mathis about the same as they value(d) Dyson (2/$7.5), more than they value Josh Harrison (1/$2) or Jose Iglesias (minor-league deal apparently) but nowhere near as much as they value Marwin Gonzalez.

Other Cs: Chirinos 1/$5.75, Grandal 1/$18, Caleb Joseph 1/$1.1 (huh?), Lucroy 1/$3.35, J McCann 1/$2.5, B McCann 1/$2, Ramos 2/$19, Suzuki 2/$10, ... a bunch of guys on minors contracts (Mesoraco probably best known) and Wieters and Maldonado don't even have that yet. So he did very well for a back-up C -- the guys who clearly did better there being starters or close enough.

Others: Matt Adams 1/$4, Bour 1/$2.5, Asdrubal 1/$3.5, Chisenhall 1/$2.75, Descalso 2/$5, Dozier 1/$9, Eduardo Escobar 3/$21 (the DBacks might have wanted to wait out the market on that one), Flores 1/$4.25, Galvis 1/$5, Avisail Garcia 1/$3.5, Billy Hamilton 1/$5.25, OK I'm bored now.

Kinda weird the 35-year-old C can get a 2-year deal but almost none of those guys could.

   46. DL from MN Posted: February 26, 2019 at 08:50 AM (#5818206)
Great response by Walt Davis. I will respond to a few points

what team in their right mind would play a C who was giving away 4 wins a season on defense?


The same that would play Jeter at shortstop. We already see spreads like that between the best and worst SS and the best and worst CF. The Yankees punted all the up-the-middle defense with Jeter, Bernie and Posada.

Even if it's real and sustainable, good pitch-framers don't turn balls into strikes, they turn 40% strikes into 60% strikes.


Correct. I wish I had bookmarked the study on minor league called 3rd strike rates as a predictor of framing but I believe it said about 10% of the credit on called third strikes should go to the catcher. I think we are neglecting a bunch of small things. The big things are probably already in WAR. I don't think catchers should have double the variance of other positions but it shouldn't be less.

I also agree that we are probably not capturing the positional adjustment correctly. The positional adjustment comes from positional "switchers" but that's almost entirely catchers playing somewhere easier on the field. We actually see more position players pitching in garbage time than we see them catching in garbage time. To me that says that catching is probably MORE difficult than pitching or at least more difficult than pitching one inning. You can take most anyone who throws hard, put them on the mound and take advantage of balls in play being turned into outs.

Freehan had a sterling defensive rep (and GGs) and a couple of big MVP finishes and got even fewer votes than Simmons.


Freehan is exactly the kind of guy rated less kindly by WAR than by his contemporary reputation (11 all-star games). He should have been elected years ago and now he is suffering from dementia.
   47. BrianBrianson Posted: February 26, 2019 at 10:37 AM (#5818249)
If it's a lot of small things, it'll be harder to have really big outliers. Then it's more like you're random-walking in WAR space.
   48. jmurph Posted: February 26, 2019 at 10:45 AM (#5818256)
To me that says that catching is probably MORE difficult than pitching or at least more difficult than pitching one inning. You can take most anyone who throws hard, put them on the mound and take advantage of balls in play being turned into outs.

This seems to me to conflate physical difficulty with the skills required to handle the position, and I don't see any reason to do that.

EDIT: And the danger/injury-risk.
   49. Fernigal McGunnigle Posted: February 26, 2019 at 11:14 AM (#5818277)
Speaking of backup catchers, I seem to remember the Padres having one called Gwosdz? back in the 80s and I think there was some evidence pitchers were yielding at least a run a game less with him behind the plate than with other catchers. Anyone else remember hearing such a thing? Did Bill James mention this in any of the old Abstracts?
I was curious... Runs/game in games started by Doug Gwosdz, and the team's overall runs/game:

year  starts   R/G   team R/G
1981     6    2.77     4.09
1982     4    1.25     4.01
1983    13    2.84     4.00
1984     1    7.71     3.91 


If he could actually reduce the opposition's runs allowed by ~1.25 a game then he's the MVP, even with a 144/242/202 batting line.

BBRef claims that he's the original Dougie Eyechart.
   50. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: February 26, 2019 at 11:16 AM (#5818281)
There were over 721,000 pitches thrown last year. Of those, 1,847 were WPs and 370 were PBs ... and who knows how many went to the backstop without a runner on, feel free to double or triple that number if you want. So only 0.3% of pitches resulted in a WP/PB or, if you triple that, 0.9% of pitches weren't caught/blocked.


But those are meaningless. Catchers don't exert themselves blocking pitches in the dirt with no one on. They save their energy for when it means something. You can't count them for anything.
   51. jmurph Posted: February 26, 2019 at 11:19 AM (#5818284)
But those are meaningless. Catchers don't exert themselves blocking pitches in the dirt with no one on. They save their energy for when it means something. You can't count them for anything.

I think he was just being charitable, pointing out how rare even those were to strengthen the point, which was:
Obviously it's not THAT hard to fulfill the basic duty of catching pitches and there is very little variation in the performance of this basic duty.
   52. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 26, 2019 at 11:22 AM (#5818287)
what team in their right mind would play a C who was giving away 4 wins a season on defense?


The same that would play Jeter at shortstop. We already see spreads like that between the best and worst SS and the best and worst CF. The Yankees punted all the up-the-middle defense with Jeter, Bernie and Posada.

That's a big misstatement. Sure, Jeter was 40 runs worse than the best defensive SS, but the Yankees didn't have access to a +20 SS who could hit MLB pitching. There are maybe one or two of those in the league at any one time.

The easily obtainable replacement would be an avg to +5 defensive SS with a 70 OPS+. That guy's not better than Jeter.

The Yankees mistake was not moving Jeter for ARod. Before then, playing him at SS was reasonable.
   53. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: February 26, 2019 at 11:51 AM (#5818299)
Gwosdz: Yes James did and yes he was (the original, afaik, Dougie Eyechart).
   54. DL from MN Posted: February 26, 2019 at 11:54 AM (#5818300)
If it's a lot of small things, it'll be harder to have really big outliers. Then it's more like you're random-walking in WAR space.


Yes, it is unlikely that a catcher will be at the right end of the bell curve on several different aspects of catcher defense. Perhaps this is what is constraining the variance - averaging averages and the central limit theorem. Still, there could be a guy like Mathis who is a standard deviation ahead on all those aspects.

The Yankees didn't have access to a +20 SS who could hit MLB pitching.


The Yankees had access to whatever they wanted. Am I supposed to cry for the poor, resource constrained New York Yankees?
   55. Der-K's emotional investment is way up Posted: February 26, 2019 at 12:01 PM (#5818304)
I think we should be careful in assuming that the upper/lower bounds of defensive value for catchers is all that related to what we see for other positions - it largely sits outside that spectrum (whereby a good defender at third might just play short instead; etc).
Also, while teams have more info than we do about the value of backstop defense, they're still figuring things out as well. So, a revealed preference approach (see Walt's post) is useful for figuring out what they think is true (though it then mixes in other things - like limitations on how often a catcher can play, different risk of injury, different replacement level, etc.) but not as to what is true.
   56. DL from MN Posted: February 26, 2019 at 12:12 PM (#5818312)
C defense is probably a lot like pitcher-controlled BABIP -- you don't make it to the majors as a C if you can't handle the position defensively


an extra base is worth about 1/3 of a run


I wonder if the answer is that they sort for pop time the same way big league pitchers are sorted by fastball >= 90 MPH. If you can't keep an average baserunner from stealing second and third base (and gaining 2/3 of a run) you're done as a catcher. Nobody will tolerate a catcher who turns walks into triples. It would make sense that catchers are sorted by the skill (arm, but specifically release time) that makes the most impact on run prevention. Lots of people can catch a fastball, as seen by the low percentage of passed balls in the data that Walt provided.

The spread in team Ks was about 550; the spread in BB about 250. How much of that do you attribute to Cs? Those are big numbers.


If the 10% factor for called balls and strikes is true, then we might be talking some serious value.
   57. Misirlou cut his hair and moved to Rome Posted: February 26, 2019 at 12:23 PM (#5818319)
The Yankees mistake was not moving Jeter for ARod.


I think that was the point.

The Yankees had access to whatever they wanted.


Including the afore mentioned Alex Rodriguez, who became a free agent in 2001. By that time, Jeter's awfulness at SS should have been apparent. AROD's D in 2000 was +16, Jeter's -23. There's your 4 wins.
   58. Greg Pope Posted: February 26, 2019 at 01:22 PM (#5818362)
Walt brought up Catcher ERA. It's my superficial understanding was that CERA was developed, used for a while, then discarded as not provable (or consistent, or valuable, or something). Now we've got pitch framing stats that a lot of people are saying makes a large difference.

If pitch framing is so impactful, then why didn't it show up in CERA? I don't really understand how having a catcher who adds full wins by pitch framing wouldn't have a large impact on his pitchers' ERA's. Is there a difference in how they are measured?
   59. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: February 26, 2019 at 01:29 PM (#5818367)
I once bid up (overbid) on a signed photo/signed ball of Henry Blanco (Brewers) at a Do-Gooders charity auction. I was in part doing out of spite towards the wild bidding on various Green Bay packers #### and in part thinking, this guy deserves a little more respect.
   60. donlock Posted: February 27, 2019 at 01:52 AM (#5818566)
Don Zimmer played about 30 games at the end of his career at catcher for the Senators. He really wanted to stay in the major leagues and extended his career. His whole National League time was as a middle infielder. He was a serviceable reserve catcher on some bad teams.Can't imagine how hard that must have been on his knees and hands donning the tools of ignorance for one season at age 35.

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

News

All News | Prime News

Old-School Newsstand


BBTF Partner

Dynasty League Baseball

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
Kiko Sakata
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogFormer Red Sox executive Dave Dombrowski joins Nashville MLB initiative
(26 - 10:43am, Jul 09)
Last: Crispix Attacksel Rios

NewsblogMLB.TV costs $59.99 for the 60-game season
(1 - 10:39am, Jul 09)
Last: pthomas

NewsblogEmpty Stadium Sports Will Be Really Weird
(6680 - 10:25am, Jul 09)
Last: puck

NewsblogPrimer Dugout (and link of the day) 7-9-2020
(1 - 10:21am, Jul 09)
Last: Jefferson Manship (Dan Lee)

NewsblogMLB umpire Joe West says U.S. coronavirus deaths aren't actually from coronavirus
(42 - 9:59am, Jul 09)
Last: Zonk took his own SATs

NewsblogOT – NBA Revival Thread 2020
(496 - 9:26am, Jul 09)
Last: JJ1986

NewsblogTrump wants tax breaks to lure baseball fans back, but the incentive could misfire with attendance still barred
(11 - 8:58am, Jul 09)
Last: Rally

NewsblogBraves could ditch ‘Tomahawk Chop,’ but won’t change name
(28 - 4:53am, Jul 09)
Last: BrianBrianson

NewsblogMarcus Hayes: Zack Wheeler, Mike Trout consider opting out, abandoning their teams and the game
(21 - 4:47am, Jul 09)
Last: Walt Davis

NewsblogTrevor Bauer wants to start every fourth day in 60-game season, and the Reds might let him
(14 - 11:32pm, Jul 08)
Last: What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face?

NewsblogIndians keep Franmil Reyes away from summer camp for not wearing mask at party
(6 - 9:47pm, Jul 08)
Last: Jay Z

NewsblogPhillies’ Andrew McCutchen disses Yankees’ hair policy
(13 - 6:55pm, Jul 08)
Last: Buck Coats

NewsblogPrimer Dugout (and link of the day) 7-8-2020
(11 - 5:58pm, Jul 08)
Last: vortex of dissipation

Newsblog2020 MLB schedule: The 10 matchups, games and series we want to watch most
(4 - 3:49pm, Jul 08)
Last: JRVJ

NewsblogFive things MLB can do right now to confront systemic racism
(13 - 3:29pm, Jul 08)
Last: never forget: the pee tape is 57i66135

-->

Page rendered in 0.6255 seconds
46 querie(s) executed