It's time to get excited about defensive catching statistics, my friends. Unless you've been burrowed away somewhere, you're probably aware of the release of some new defensive measures for catchers on Baseball Prospectus that have been dubbed "Catchella." These are the work of Harry Pavlidis and Jonathan Judge, and especially in light of the stats glossary that John published yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what these new numbers can tell us about the three main catchers on our roster and a bit about how they stack up in comparison to the rest of the league.
I try not to get too stats-heavy here, so I'll strive to present the numbers as cleanly as possible and then attempt to offer some bit of reaction/opinion/insight based on them. There are numbers available beyond what I have included here, and if you'd like to dig into them yourself, take a look here.
The stats are broken down into three different basic categories with a subcategory in the first: the running game, blocking pitches, and everyone's favorite: framing. I'll borrow straight from today's article on Baseball Prospectus to define these a bit further:
1. Running Game
a. Swipe Rate Above Average (SRAA) – the effect of the player on base-stealing success;
b. Takeoff Rate Above Average (TRAA) – the effect of the player on base-stealing attempts;
2. Blocking Pitches
a. Errant Pitches Above Average (EPAA) – the effect of the player on wild pitches and passed balls;
3. Framing (AKA “Presenting”)
a. Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA) – the effect of the player on strikes being called.
And then from Matthew Trueblood's piece on BP Wrigleyville, here's another look at what these things mean:
- CSAA stands for ‘Called Strikes Above Average,’ which is, in short, framing. That number measures the value a catcher delivers by getting extra called strikes, either on the edges of the strike zone, or just beyond it. Our team has carefully determined the league-wide probability of a pitch in a given location being called a strike, and we credit or debit a catcher accordingly. This is (by a mile, by a mile and a half) the most important dimension of catcher defense.
- EPAA is for ‘Errant Pitches Above Average,’ a shorthand for wild pitches and passed balls. Guys who save runs in this area are very good blockers of balls in the dirt (or any other location in which pitches are prone to get past a catcher and cost the team a base).
- TRAA captures intimidation factor. It stands for ‘Takeoff Rate Above Average,’ and is our way of accounting for the catcher’s role in deterring runners from even attempting steals.
- SRAA tells us what happens when runners do take off. Catchers who throw runners out at a higher rate than we’d expect, correcting for other factors, will rack up run contributions under ‘Swipe Rate Above Average.’
I would encourage taking a look at the article on BP's main page for a deeper definition of how some of these numbers are measured, but I hope to take somewhat of a look at how at least Miguel Montero, David Ross, and Kyle Schwarber impact the Cubs while they are behind the plate. First, a look at Montero, as he logged the most innings at catcher in 2015, and will very likely do the same in 2016. I'll break these down based on the numbers given above, and then attempt to make some sort of summary from it, keeping in mind that these stats are still very fresh, and our understanding of them will develop as we move forward:
Innings (2015): 825
Framing Runs: 16
Blocking Runs: 0.2
Throwing Runs: -2.2
Montero generally sits near the top of the league in most of these numbers, with his throwing runs being the most notable exception. For some perspective, former Cub Welington Castillo is nearly at the bottom of the rankings in every category. There is a 27 run difference between him and Montero in terms of framing runs (16 to -11.3) Not to digress too far from my own topic, but with this in mind, trading Castillo makes a lot more sense with some of his defensive numbers in mind. Whatever he might add potentially at the plate, he is costing his team runs with his defense. Montero's value to the team comes primarily from his work behind the plate, with whatever pop he provides on offense really kind of being icing on the cake. All things considered, he is quite a bit above average nearly across the board.
Innings (2015): 402.1
Framing Runs: 4.3
Blocking Runs: -0.1
Throwing Runs: -0.1
While it might not be entirely fair to compare Ross to Montero directly based on these numbers because of the clear difference in terms of number of innings spent behind the plate (Montero also had double the amount of "framing chances" that Ross did in 2015), it is worth acknowledging the obvious difference in what we see between the two of them. Ross is often lauded for the intangibles that he can bring to a team, and that his defense is at least somewhat worth the cost at the plate (he had just one error in 434 chances last year), it should be noted that his defense last year was at least enough to make him just above replacement level (fWAR of 0.1). I should point out too that when looking at some of these numbers by themselves, they may not look all that impressive, keep in mind that again, Castillo's would be much, much worse if I were to include them here, and backup catchers as a whole don't usually wow anybody (remember Koyie Hill?). It's easy to harp on Ross and his putrid output on offense, but he is still ranked above most of the league in terms of his defense.
Innings (2015): 136
Framing Runs: -0.9
Blocking Runs: 0.0
Throwing Runs: -0.2
I include Schwarber's numbers here with the obvious caveat that his time behind the plate is significantly lower than either Ross or Montero, and given the defensive outlook for 2016, I don't expect that to change. In 2015, he spent more than twice the number of innings in the outfield than he did at catcher, and other than an occasional start behind the plate in 2016, I don't see that looking much differently. The question of Schwarber's development on defense is an interesting one, and probably one for a different day, but Ross is very likely out the door after this season, so the depth chart will change going into 2017. This is where someone like Willson Contreras becomes an intriguing option, but he has not yet played above AA, and his defensive performance so far is not yet close to the level where I'd want to see him behind the plate with any sort of regularity. He'll likely spend all or most of 2016 in AAA, and I would imagine that his catching defense will be a big part of what he will work on. In terms of Schwarber, his future as a catcher is very hard to see at this point, but I don't see any indication that the Cubs are looking to abandon that just yet.
As a whole, Montero not only tops the list for our rostered catchers (I didn't include Taylor Teagarden here, as his 34 total innings behind the plate in 2015 didn't strike me as worth it), but he is also among the better defensive catchers in the league. The SRAA, TRAA, EPAA, and CSAA numbers don't actually range too widely for the most part - CSAA, for instance, ranges from 0.030 at the top to -0.059 at the very bottom - and these are also based on just 2015. I think some of this is worth keeping in mind, especially perhaps in Montero's case, as his largest value added to the team can often come from what he does with his glove, and not necessarily his bat. We should be happy though, as our two primary catchers are easily among the best in the league, at least defensively.