Quick rundown of the methodology:
- I find the league average rate of caught stealings, wild pitches and passed balls allowed, throwing, catching, and fielding errors for a catcher.
- Compare each individual catcher to the league rate.
- Apply a run value for each of the categories
This gives us a runs above or below average number for each catcher.
However, this method doesn't adjust for a catcher's game calling abilities -- we're just not able to do that effectively. Also, this isn't even the best possible method available and this should be accompanied by a scouting report of some sort. Absent of a scouting report, the Fans Scouting Report is a very good start (here's the 2009 totals).
On to the list!
We'll hit this up, bullet point style. Starting with the Tigers backstops:
- I don't think you BYBer's needed more ammunition to heap praise on Alex Avila, but we can say that in April, he was a top-15 defensive catcher in baseball. Let's satiate the excitement a bit, Avila's gunning down 63% of the would-be base stealers (5-for-8). He looks like an above-average arm behind the plate to my untrained eyes, but 63% is unsustainable. For reference, the highest caught stealing rate I have since 2002 while being behind the dish for at least 2500 plate appearances is Yadier Molina's 55% during 3975 PA's in 2005 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
- To satiate the Gerald Laird defenders out there (are there any besides me?), Laird's dragged down by his wild pitch/passed ball defense. He's been behind the plate for 9 wild pitches and 1 passed ball thus far. I would expect that to start to slow down as he's never been this bad before in this aspect of catching. Also: expect his caught stealing rate to rise. He sits at 22% (4-for-18) and the league caught stealing percentage is 20%.
The rest of the Majors, bullet point style:
- Again, the Molina Parents should be proud. Jose Molina leads the way behind a great 78% caught stealing rate (7-for-9). He's gotten about one-third of the playing time in Toronto behind former Royal, John Buck. Buck's offense is -0.7 Weighted Runs Above Average this year and Molina is at -2.0 wRAA. Buck also is projecting to be the better bat the rest of the year, so the Jays aren't misusing Molina, but he's been very good thus far when called upon.
- Joe Mauer. He's good. The end.
- Miguel Olivo's been worth -16.5 runs the last three seasons, but he pops up in the top five because of a great 60% caught stealing rate (6-for-10). He's also been a surprise with the stick, as well, so Colorado's youngster Chris Iannetta's been continually getting pushed out of the starting role as the Rockies try to ride Olivo's hot offense and defense.
- Rejoice Royals fans! Jason Kendall gives Kansas City a representative in the positive part of a list!
- Can someone, anyone explain to me why Ryan Hanigan is not starting in Cincinatti? Better offensively, better defensively, and younger than Ramon Hernandez... what's that? Oh. Dusty Baker is still the manager? Got it.
- Brian Schneider's had very limited playing time but he continues to be a positive defender whenever he gets on the field. I'm a Laird defender (apologist), but can we some how get Schneider instead?
- Poor Victor Martinez. He had that terrible night against the Texas Rangers with Tim Wakefield on the mound, giving up 9 stolen bases, but that wasn't an isolated event. He's 2-for-27 throwing runners out this year. He's also getting run on the most of any catcher with substantial time behind the plate: 13.3% of every runner on base with an opportunity to steal have attempted to swipe the bag.
- Seattle Mariners got a lot of love for their shrewd picking of the good, undervalued defenders the last couple of years. Unfortunately that hasn't reached their catcher position. Kenji Johjima is gone (a great defensive catcher) and Adam Moore has been the second worst catcher in April (-2.6 runs) and Rob Johnson's been the 14th worst (-0.9 runs).
Now, something I like to do (and mentioned in passing above) is look at the catchers that are getting run on the most. I take the number of stolen bases attempted divided by the number of stolen base opportunities (which is the number of times a runner is on 1st or 2nd base with the next base open). This helps to highlight catchers that might not have had as many PA's behind the dish, but are still being run on a lot, relative to their playing time. The top 15 are:
- Max Ramirez has always been loved in the minor leagues for his ability to hit for a catcher, but been criticized for not being a good defensive catcher. Add that with the fact that major league teams run on catchers until they prove they can stop them, and he's been run on a lot in his short time in Arlington.
- Again, poor Victor Martinez. If you're a Red Sox fan, here's to hoping they can move Kevin Youkilis over to 3rd base, Martinez to DH or 1st base and then fill in the catcher position in 2011.
- Remember when Texas had eleventy billion catchers under the age of 25? Apparently two thirds can't catch and none of them have locked down the starting job yet. Yikes.
- Gerald Laird, for some reason has always been run on a lot. In 2009, teams attempted a league high 99 stolen bases against him. When he was gunning down 40% of those runners, he was valuable behind the plate. If he's league average, he loses a lot of value. This caught stealing will have to rise to even begin to justify holding Avila out of the starting job, and I suspect it will.
My discussion question is this: why have teams continued to run on Laird more than the average catcher? Is it because of our pitching staff? If so, who is obscenely slow to the plate? Jeremy Bonderman jumps to mind, but he missed 2009 and Laird was still run on a lot. Justin Verlander is quick to the plate with as good of a move to 1st as a right-handed pitcher can have. This might be something worth further investigation.
If you'd like the list, you can view it here. If you'd like to download it, got to File > Download As > whatever format you would like. The 2002-2009 data is here. There are two sheets: one with all the seasons individually and one with them all combined to give 'career' totals for the time period I've collected the data for.