Why Alex Avila can't catch base stealers

Leon Halip

The cursory data shows that Avila only catches 27% of runners trying to steal against him. A deeper dive into the data shows the reason why.

As of this writing, Baseball Reference has Alex Avila's "caught stealing percentage" at 27 percent. The math is pretty straight-forward: he is faulted for 16 stolen bases against him so far this year, and credited with catching six runners. Divide his six successes by those 22 total attempts, and you get that 27 percent success rate.

But just how flawed is that "caught stealing percentage" stat? Does it take into account how quickly the pitcher is delivering to the plate? Does it take into account who is running? Does it take into account the kind of pitch thrown, whether that pitch even made it to the plate, or whether the catcher decided to challenge the runner with a throw?

The data below is enlightening, to say the least.

(Note: not all of the games were available in the MLB.TV archive, for some reason. The data below accounts for 14 of the "stolen bases" against Avila, and five of his "caught stealing" credits.)

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 2 Nathan 1.3 - 1.4 Ciriaco 70% Bounced to 2nd Safe

Notes: Nathan isn't exactly fast to the plate, but Avila probably had a chance of catching Ciriaco if he hadn't bounced the throw to second. We'll go ahead and tag Avila with a stolen base here.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 2 Alburquerque 1.3 - 1.4 Cain 70% Strike to 2nd Safe

Notes: I put Alburquerque in the 1.3 - 1.4 range here, but he was more consistently closer to 1.4 than 1.3. You can hardly fault Avila for a solid throw to second when the pitcher takes that long to get the ball over the plate. I'm striking this one from the record.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 4 Sanchez 1.4 - 1.5 Lough 100% Slightly wide of 2nd Safe

Notes: Sanchez is one of the most ridiculously slow pitchers to the plate on the entire pitching roster. Avila never had a chance here. Strike it from the record.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 11 Putkonen 1.4 E. Cabrera 54% No throw Safe

Notes: Don't let Cabrera's stolen base rate fool you. He stole 37 bases last year, and in 2012 he stole 44, so he's got plenty of speed. With Putkonen's tardy 1.4 seconds to the plate, it's little wonder Avila didn't bother challenging Cabrera. No throw, no challenge, no failure on Avila's part. This one doesn't count.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 12 Verlander 1.3 Denorfia 100% No throw Safe

Notes: Verlander is usually good at keeping an eye on runners, and he has one of the best pick-off moves on the team. But this time, he just plain fell asleep at the wheel. Denorfia got a jump before Verlander even got into his wind-up, and was three-quarters of the way to second by the time Avila had the ball. Again, no challenge, no failure on Avila's part.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 12 Verlander 1.4 - 1.5 Denorfia 100% No throw Safe

Notes: Here's the thing about Verlander: he's quick to the plate with a runner on first, but with a runner on second, his delivery slows considerably. In this case, however, it had nothing to do with the runner, the pitcher, or Avila. The pitch came in, Avila thought he caught the runner at first leaning too far, fired down to Miggy, and Denorfia took the opportunity to swipe third base. I'm not sure why that counts as a stolen base against Avila, though. Once again, there was no challenge of Denorfia, so I'm not counting this one.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 16 Sanchez 1.5 - 1.6 Chisenhall 100% No throw Safe

Notes: Chisenhall isn't exactly a speedster, but in this case Avila had two things working against him - Sanchez takes as long as a standard presidential term to deliver the ball, and this time he threw the ball in the dirt. Avila had to make a sliding stop to prevent that runner from getting two bases out of the deal, so I have no idea why he's charged with a stolen base here.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 16 Reed 1.4 Brantley 81% Bounced to 2nd Safe

Notes: Brantley can run. Reed takes too long to the plate. Avila made a lousy throw, but in this case even a great throw wouldn't have made up for the combination of Reed's slow delivery and Brantley's speed. It's stupid to fault the catcher when two of the three variables in the equation are out of his control.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 17 Verlander 1.5 Aviles 62% No throw Safe

Notes: In this particular situation, there was also a runner at third, there were two outs, and Verlander was ridiculously slow to the plate (probably because he wasn't expecting a steal). There was no sense in throwing down to second to catch the runner in this situation. Call it "defensive indifference" or whatever, but it doesn't belong on Avila's record.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 17 Alburquerque 1.5 Bourn 66% No throw Safe

Notes: Bourn can run. We're talking about a guy who stole 42 bases last year, and has been known to steal 60-plus. But that doesn't even matter here. Al-Al threw a slider in the dirt, Avila had to dig it out, and Al-Al's slow delivery on top of everything left Avila with no choice but to eat the ball. No challenge, no fault.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 17 Alburquerque 1.4 Aviles 62% No throw Safe

Notes: Same problem as in the last case. Al-Al threw it in the dirt, Avila couldn't glove it, so Aviles got the stolen base without a throw. Why Al-Al's crappy pitch in the dirt affects Avila's stats here is beyond me.

Result: 0-for-1, CS% = 0%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 17 Chamberlain 1.1 - 1.2 Bourn 66% Strike to 2nd Out

Notes: A miracle! The Tigers had a pitcher on the mound who actually has a quick delivery to the plate, he threw a pitch that wasn't in the dirt, and Avila had a decent shot at getting his runner. Even though it was Bourn running, Chamberlain gave Avila decent odds, and Avila made it happen.

Result: 1-for-2, CS% = 50%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 18 Smyly 1.5 - 1.6 Trout (stealing 3rd) 83% No throw Safe

Notes: Smyly is the only other pitcher in the starting rotation to give Sanchez a run for his money as the slowest pitcher to the plate. Trout had time to drive to Subway, place his order in person, eat it, check his hair in the bathroom mirror, and still get a good jump on Smyly. His speed plus an unbearably slow delivery absolves Avila in this case, and Avila made the right choice by not even throwing to third.

Result: 1-for-2, CS% = 50%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 18 Coke 1.2 - 1.3 Kendrick 67% No throw Out

Notes: For all of his other woes on the mound, at least Phil Coke gets the ball to the plate in a hurry. However, in this instance, he picked Kendrick off at first base, and Avila wasn't even involved, so I'm not sure why Avila gets the credit for a "caught stealing" on his stat line. Again, no throw, no challenge, no credit for what happened.

Result: 1-for-2, CS% = 50%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 20 Porcello 1.2 Kendrick 67% Strike to 2nd Out

Notes: Another reason to like Porcello: his delivery time to the plate with a runner on first is dead sexy. Avila was once again given a solid shot at getting his runner, and in this case his throw beat Kendrick by so much that he had time to send Kendrick a sympathy card before the tag was applied.

Result: 2-for-3, CS% = 67%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 21 Sanchez 1.6 De Aza 71% Strike to 2nd Safe

Notes: I'll just let Rod Allen tell the story here - "A very slow, deliberate delivery there by Anibal Sanchez, and Avila made it close, but really had no opportunity at throwing De Aza out." When even Rod realizes that Avila had no chance, we have no business sticking that one on Avila's record.

Result: 2-for-3, CS% = 67%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 23 Smyly 1.4 - 1.5 L. Garcia 75% No throw Safe

Notes: We've heard this one before, but let's hear it again - the pitch was in the dirt, and Avila never even had a chance to make a throw. Why the official stat line says this is his fault, I'll never know, but I'm not counting it against him.

Result: 2-for-3, CS% = 67%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 23 Smyly 1.3 Danks 78% No throw Out

Notes: Smyly actually picked Danks off, so, to be fair, we're going to have to take away this "caught stealing" credit from Avila's record.

Result: 2-for-3, CS% = 67%

Date Pitcher Speed to Plate Runner Runner SB% 2013 Throw Result
April 23 Smyly 1.4 - 1.5 L. Garcia (stealing 3rd) 75% Strike to 3rd Out

Notes: Smyly may be slow to the plate, but everyone knows it's easier to catch a runner trying to steal third than it is to catch him swiping second, and in this case, Avila made an excellent throw to overcome Smyly's speed-impaired delivery. He gets credit for this one.

Result: 3-for-4, CS% = 75%

Final verdict: Alex Avila "can't throw runners out" because the data is skewed and horribly faulty. He gets stolen bases tagged against his record even when he had zero chance at even making a throw, because the pitcher was too slow to the plate, or because the pitcher bounced a ball in the dirt.

Given half a chance, however, Avila has showed that he's more than capable of throwing out his share of baserunners, even if those runners are typically proven base-stealing threats.

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