Top NL Catchers

Unlike the guys who play between the baselines, determining the value of a catcher defensively is a much harder proposition for me.  I haven’t been able to translate defense into runs the way I have for all the other positions, but I AM able to look at the responsibilities of a catcher and determine what teams are benefiting more from good catching than others.  Here’s how I do it.

There are seven things for which a catcher would get credit as being solid defensively.  If the catchers for a team are above average in a category, they get a point.  If below average, they lose a point.  The top score is seven, the lowest score (obviously) would be -7.  Here are the categories:

W/L Percentage: Score a point for a winning record, take one away for being below .500.

Adjusted ERA: If the team’s staff has a better than league average ERA (4.21), score a point.

Mistakes Per Game: Essentially errors and passed balls are added up.  The norm is about .11 mistakes a game for AL catchers.  Score a point for doing better than that.  Otherwise, take one away.  The only time this is patently unfair is when a team has a knuckleballer – so this works against Boston right now.  But it’s just a single category and I tend to give that team the benefit of the doubt on that category.

Mobililty: Mobility is the total number of assists that aren’t tied to stolen bases and the number of putouts that aren’t strikeouts.  A good catcher blocks the plate and gets outs on throws home, or can race out of the crouch to snare bunts and make plays in the field.  In the AL, the average catcher made .38 plays requiring mobility.  Score a point for beating that number.

Fielding Percentage (not counting strikeouts):  I guess someone had to get credit for the putout when a batter strikes out.  Unfortunately, catching strike three isn’t really “fielding”.  So, I look at the fielding percentage after removing putouts for Ks.  The average catcher has a fielding percentage of about .914 on balls in play or when runners are trying to advance.  Beat it, and score a point.

Assists Per Game: These are assists NOT tied to stolen bases and is used to grade the catcher’s ability to make good throws.  The league average is .23 assists per game.

Stolen Base Percentage: Can a catcher hold the running game in check?  If so, score a point.  The league average is 73.6% – which is awfully high, don’t you think?

The best catcher (well, team of catchers) can score a seven – and it happens from time to time.  As it turns out, there was a seven in the NL in 2009 – and it was your St. Louis Cardinals led by the incredible Yadier Molina.  The Cardinals had a winning record, an adjusted ERA of 3.48, cut off the running game, made few errors, few mistakes in total, had great mobility, and had an above average number of assists not tied to stolen bases.

I’ll list the table here to show you where the catchers rank defensively and then discuss the nuts and bolts in the player comments below.

  M. ERA WPct SB% FPct-K MTK Mob. Asst Rank
NL AVG 4.21 0.500 71.2% 0.917 0.11 0.44 0.33 ***
ARI 4.03 0.432 76.1% 0.948 0.08 0.37 0.32 -1
ATL 3.77 0.531 67.8% 0.906 0.15 0.49 0.31 1
CHN 3.60 0.516 67.4% 0.879 0.14 0.50 0.34 3
CIN 4.23 0.481 62.7% 0.923 0.09 0.52 0.28 1
COL 3.76 0.568 81.0% 0.886 0.11 0.41 0.42 0
FLA 4.02 0.537 75.4% 0.971 0.07 0.35 0.29 1
HOU 4.71 0.457 69.1% 0.924 0.13 0.58 0.38 2
LAN 3.67 0.586 69.5% 0.914 0.09 0.41 0.37 3
MIL 5.12 0.494 79.6% 0.968 0.06 0.43 0.34 -1
NYN 4.58 0.432 66.0% 0.904 0.11 0.38 0.18 -4
PHI 4.10 0.574 72.0% 0.917 0.12 0.39 0.21 0
PIT 4.51 0.385 71.3% 0.883 0.18 0.44 0.39 -4
SDN 5.02 0.463 70.4% 0.891 0.16 0.45 0.29 -3
SFN 3.48 0.543 71.8% 0.911 0.12 0.37 0.42 -1
SLN 3.82 0.562 61.1% 0.943 0.07 0.54 0.42 7
WAS 4.98 0.364 70.1% 0.941 0.10 0.46 0.26 1

Catchers Ranked by Runs Created

Brian McCann (ATL):  Unlike the AL, where Joe Mauer is arguably as valuable as any player in the game, the NL doesn’t have even one catcher who can generate 100 runs of offense.  McCann has the ability to do it, but in 2009 fell a little short.  Not that anybody is complaining – he’s been a top flight catcher for a few years now…  Power, patience, hits for a good average (though not as high as two years ago).  McCann is such a good hitter that it might be worth it to move him to first base to save his bat before the grind catches up with him.  Backup Dave Ross was impressive against base stealers, nabbing 19 of 40 attempts.  (88.95 Runs Created)

Yadier Molina (STL):  A complete defensive package – only the best runners even DARE to run on him, and those are nabbed at a 40% rate.  As an offensive weapon, Molina almost hit .300 and worked his way on base about 36% of the time – very good offensive production for a catcher, too.  (72.22 Runs Created)

Miguel Montero (ARI):  Power, patience, decent batting average.  Granted – gets help by playing in Arizona, but would look good most anywhere.  Montero and Chris Snyder avoid mistakes, but aren’t all that good against the run – and the team generally underperformed (though it’s not their fault that Brandon Webb didn’t play except on Opening Day).  (66.14 Runs Created)

Russell Martin (LAD):  Years of playing every day likely contributed to Martin’s amazing loss of energy and power.  Still a solid defensive catcher – good against the run, his teams are very successful and the pitchers all look good.  He’s consistently the second best catcher in the NL – but now is a below average offensive run producer.  (65.19 Runs Created)

Bengie Molina (SF):  More power than most catchers, and a decent (if slightly above average) batting average.  Rarely walks, though, so his OBP is low (.291) which makes him a slightly below average offensive performer even with the power.  People can run on Bengie (and do) and he’s just below average in terms of his mobility and dependability.  Backup Eli Whiteside was great against the run.  In a year, Buster Posey will have this job.  Maybe sooner.  (61.7 Runs Created)

Miguel Olivo, recently of Kansas City and now in Colorado, would rank here.

John Baker (FLA):  He’s a decent enough hitter that Baker bats second in the lineup from time to time.  Good OBP, decent power.  His platoon mate, Ronny Paulino, also had a good season so the Marlins got a lot of production from this spot.  Both tend to be dependable, but not necessarily mobile – and Paulino threw well enough…  (50.26 Runs Created)

Jason Kendall (MIL):  Brings his lack of power and barely acceptable on base percentage with him to Kansas City.  To Kendall’s credit, the man is durable.  On the other hand, look how badly so many Brewers pitchers fared.  Look at the team ERA.  Sure, he doesn’t make mistakes, but baserunners were successful 80% of the time.  And the Royals didn’t want John Buck out there?   For 2010, the Brewers will try Greg Zaun, George Kottaras, and possibly rookie Angel Salome – who would be my first choice… (50.24 Runs Created)

Carlos Ruiz (PHI):  Not appreciably different than Baker – both had 9 homers, between 40 and 50 RBI, and virtually the same SLG and OBP.  Ruiz, Paul Bako, and Chris Coste provide ordinary, middle of the road defense.  How many teams has Paul Bako played for now?  (48.6 Runs Created)

Rod Barajas – just signed by the Mets – would rank here.

Chris Iannetta (COL):  His batting average was down (.228), but his power and OBP were still solid.  Shared the job with Yorvit Torrealba and now will share with Miguel Olivo.  Virtually everyone could run on Torrealba or third stringer Paul Phillips.  (41.42 Runs Created)

Ramon Hernandez (CIN):  I’d say this was a disappointing season for the veteran backstop – missed half the season due to injuries.  Power numbers fell off to five homers, the rest of his game is barely average.  Of course, Ryan Hanigan caught the most innings, but he’s not better with the bat (merely average at best).  Even third stringer Craig Tatum had a good year against base stealers and as a team, the Reds had pretty good catching defensively.  (40.10 Runs Created)

Nick Hundley (SD):  Had stats that his dad might have had…  Some power, a low batting average, but on the whole wasn’t too bad.  Has room to improve defensively – easy to run on and a bit mistake prone.  Henry Blanco was much better behind the plate, but you’d rather see Nick with the stick.  (39.18 Runs Created)

Geovany Soto (CHI):  Now THERE’S a sophomore slump.  Ouch.  Cut his homers in half (seemed like his batting average, too) – lost power and his OBP (.326).  Says that he’s going to come into spring training in better shape and also not have to deal with the World Baseball Classic.  For the Cubs sake, let’s hope so.  Defensively, his backup, Koyie Hill, looked stronger against the run, but as a team they were above average in five categories – so they ranked very highly.  (38.66 Runs Created)

Ivan Rodriguez (HOU):  Finished year in Texas, now catching for the Nationals.  His arm isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still solid.  Backup Humberto Quintero was even better, nabbing 12 of 25 would be base stealers.  I-Rod’s bat is gone, though.  As a prospect, J.R. Towles would appear to be finished, huh?  (36.46 Runs Created)

Ryan Doumit (PIT):  Missed time with injuries (most catchers do), didn’t have his best season offensively and, as such, fell far down the list.  As a team, Pirate catchers look bad – mistake prone, average against the run, with poor records and poor pitching ERAs.  Jason Jaramillo isn’t the answer either and hits like a backup catcher.  (34.97 Runs Created)

Omir Santos (NYM):  Forced into more playing time than planned, Santos was tolerable.  Slightly below average as a hitter – like many of the people on this list – Santos played when (a) Brian Schneider couldn’t keep his back and knees healthy and then (b) Ramon Castro got sent to the White Sox.  On the whole, Santos didn’t look very mobile and Schneider certainly is more polished.  But, the Mets catching as a whole looked off – below average results for pitchers and the team, a few too many mistakes…  (34.20 Runs Created)

Ronny Paulino, discussed above, would rank here in offensive production – not bad for the right handed partner of a very effective Marlins platoon.  (32.41 Runs Created)

Ryan Hanigan, the Reds catcher, got more innings than Hernandez, but a few less at bats.  Good glove, a little bat kind of a guy.

Josh Bard (WAS)  Got more innings than Wil Nieves or the injured Jesus Flores, Bard has some skills and was probably glad to not have to catch a knuckler…  Doesn’t hit or get on base, and is power is marginal at best.  (29.03 Runs Created)

Yorvit Torrealba (COL)  Suffered through the kidnapping of his son, which – fortunately for all – ended without incident.  Hit .305 with a decent OBA…  Brutal against the run (8 out of 57 baserunners) but made fewer errors than Iannetta.  (25.95 Runs Created)

Koyie Kill (CHC):  Not much of a hitter – but can still throw some.  (23.94 Runs Created)

2010 Season Forecast: Milwaukee Brewers

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 80 – 82 (3rd, NL Central)
2008: 90 – 72
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 75 – 87
2005: 81 – 81

Runs Scored: 785  (3rd, NL)
Runs Allowed: 818  (15th, NL)

Season Recap:

Generally a .500 team as their hitting kept pace with their poor pitching…  The Brewers got a hot run in May, winning 14 of 17 to make a run to the top of the division, but gradually fell back to .500 by mid August and a bit below it in September.  They lost Rickie Weeks to a wrist injury in May, but found ways to work around it.  J.J. Hardy’s bat got lost in the summer, but the Brewers had a way around that in Alcides Escobar.  The Brewers battered opposing pitchers with above average performers in at least six spots in the lineup on a daily basis.

What they couldn’t get around was their pitching – four starters with ERAs between 5.22 and 6.38.  They tried Mike Burns (a prospect four years ago) and his ERA (5.75) fit right in there.  Carlos Villanueva had a few spot starts and his ERA was 5.34, too.  The bullpen was tolerable – Trevor Hoffman was remarkably solid and Todd Coffey did a great job, but the rest were rather middling.

Defensively, the Brewers had two holes – first base and right field.  That both were REALLY poor suggests that there might be a statistical bias, however Milwaukee had only one lefty starter and he worked just 140 innings.  Granted – the righties on the staff don’t blow you away with fastballs either.  The Brewers third basemen, as a group, were above average – but not MORE above average than Prince Fielder was below average.  And the Brewers left fielder, Ryan Braun, was merely league average while Corey Hart was well below average.  As a team, the Brewers turned fewer balls in play into outs than the average NL team and the middle infielders didn’t help out by turning two often enough either.

2010 Goals:

As I read it, the Brewers need to shore up the starting rotation, see if Alcides Escobar is the real deal, and hope that Corey Hart is more mobile in 2010 than he was last year.  If Prince Fielder could lose 20 pounds, it might help, too.  I’d worry about the long term viability of Trevor Hoffman as a closer – but he was so good last year it’s hard to think that this is the year he falls off the map.  However, Hoffman is 42 now and the end could come at any time.

Pitchers:

In 2009, the Brewers had one pretty good starter in Yovani Gallardo, who went 13 – 12 with a 3.73 ERA.  By my count, he was about ten and half runs better than the average starter in his 185.2 innings.  That makes him a solid #2 guy in any rotation.  And so ends the good news.  Braden Looper cost the team 33 runs (14 – 7, 5.22 ERA), Jeff Suppan cost them 31 more, David Bush 32 in just 114.1 innings, and Manny Parra cost the Brewers 44 runs in his 140 innings.  The four guys (other than Gallardo) were 140 runs worse than the average pitcher – and that has to be fixed.

In the off season, the Brewers added Randy Wolf from LA – he had his best season in 2009, but has been around league average (up and down) since 2006.  He doesn’t have to blow the league away, but if he could give the Brewers 200 innings of league average pitching, he’d immediately save the team 50 runs.  Another signing was Doug Davis – a former Brewer – who has been an above average starter for the last three years.  Again – 180 innings at league average would be worth 35 runs in savings.  If Claudio Vargas can return to the rotation, or if Manny Parra can stop walking guys and getting in unnecessary trouble, there are two other chances (a little less dependable chances) that the team could save 30 more runs.

The bullpen may need help.  I like moving Bush to the bullpen.  If Vargas stays in the pen, that would help.  Trevor Hoffman is getting old, and Todd Coffey exceeded expectations.  I see this group actually taking a step back in 2010 – maybe 20 runs worse than last year.

Catchers:

Out is Jason Kendall, who last year was a tolerable catcher though a bit easy to run on, and a miserable offensive player.  In his place for 2010 is Gregg Zaun, who is nearing 40, George Kotteras, and rookie Angel Colome, who battered pitching at Huntsville in 2008 and was decent, though not great, at Nashville last year.  Baseball America named Colome as the Brewers’ #5 prospect last year.  At best this is a wash.

Infield:

This is a pretty good group.  Prince Fielder is an offensive machine and a defensive liability.  The net, though, is one of the better players in baseball.  Around the horn, Weeks, Escobar, and Casey McGehee were solid and all will contribute with the bat some.  If Escobar lives up to the hype (and he was solid in 2009’s call up), he might add a few runs offensively and remove a few defensively compared to J.J. Hardy.  At worst, he’s a wash.  Waiting in the wings is #2 prospect Mat Gamel, who was drafted five years ago and if he’s going to make a splash, better get on the diving board soon.  Gamel plays third or first – but with Fielder there, would likely push McGehee for his job.

Outfield:

Ryan Braun remains a triple crown threat, and Corey Hart needs to bounce back.  Hart’s season was marred by injuries which may have contributed to his range falling off the map.  He’s got some power, but his batting average has fallen each year since breaking out in 2007.  Mike Cameron, still a productive outfielder and rangy centerfielder, is gone having landed in Boston.  In his place is former Twins and Mets prospect Carlos Gomez.  Gomez can run down flies like Cameron, but has yet to prove himself as an offensive producer.  If Gomez shows improvement and Hart bounces back, this won’t necessarily be an improvement but it won’t be a loss either.  My gut tells me that Gomez won’t ever produce like Cameron did last year, and that the Crew will be looking for a new centerfielder in 2011.

Bench:

Remains strong – Jody Gerut is a dependable fourth or fifth outfielder.  Hernan Iribarren and Craig Counsell are still here and producing.  Prospect Lorenzo Cain will get a look in the outfield.  Heck, if the Brewers get really stuck, they could play Weeks in the outfield if necessary.  Zaun and Kotteras will be good backup catchers.

Prospects:

I like Chris Cody, a pitcher in Huntsville last year, who showed some promise and was promoted to AAA Nashville mid-season.  He’s not ready, but he might have a shot in 2011.  Mike Burns was the best AAA pitcher last year, but didn’t look overly impressive in 2009 with the Brewers and he’s not a prospect…  Chris Smith (2 – 0, 17 saves, 1.27 ERA) could be the closer in waiting.  He fanned 49 and walked just 6, in 42.2 innings.  Brett Lawrie moved up quickly to AA after showing power, discipline, a little speed – and just turned 20.  In a couple of years, check back on the progress of Amaury Rivas and Evan Anundsen, who pitched well for Brevard County (A+) in the Florida State League.  Rivas, at 23, has been working his way up slowly through the minors.  Anundsen was drafted out of high school in 2006 and looks to be turning the corner.  Another interesting guy is Eric Farris, a BURNER out of Loyola Marymount, who is a bit of a slap hitter, but stole 70 bases in 76 tries at Brevard County.  His teammate Caleb Gindl is a decent outfielder with some power and speed and is making his mark.  We’ll see him in 2012 or 2013.

Outlook:

On the whole, I think the Brewers will contend for the NL Central.  I’m guessing they score about 760 runs or thereabouts, but more importantly, cut the runs allowed number to a more respectable 700.  That would work out to 88 wins – and a potential playoff berth.  If the bullpen holds solid and three starting rotation positions show real improvement (and not just two), it could easily be 90 wins or more.