Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Who's got the Golden Gun?
By Christina Kahrl
Sort of like yesterday's exercise with pitchers, if you want to take a stab at who's doing the best job of eradicating the running game from behind the plate, you can go in a few directions. Cut off playing time around 400 innings caught (we'll cheat and keep Joe Mauer in the sample, because he just missed) and you can go with simple caught-stealing percentage. And voila, this year's best catchers at getting caught stealings are the Indians' Lou Marson and Kelly Shoppach of the Rays at 44 percent apiece. Raise your bar to include only the most regular receivers, and the Snakes' Miguel Montero is your guy (40 percent).
However, just running with SB/CS data doesn't necessarily give us the whole picture, does it? Regardless of whether a play's ruled a stolen base -- and let's set aside the anachronistic silliness of "defensive indifference" -- what we're interested in is results in terms of baserunners advancing or getting thrown out. Poor receiving skills on top of a weak arm can contribute to runners taking more extra bases on loose-ball plays (wild pitches, passed balls), but a strong arm can help deter runners from going anywhere lest they get gunned down.
So, using Baseball-Reference's Runner Bases Allowed (which include PBs and WPs as well as steals) and Runner Kills (outs of every fashion, whether they're pickoffs, caught stealings, etc.), plus Baseball Info Solutions' Catcher Runs Above Average (RsbC), let's see if we can get a slightly more involved look at the best guys:
That makes for a fairly interesting field, but we see a lot of the same names crop up: Wieters, Shoppach and Marson. Opportunities aren't equally distributed, of course -- some guys draw tougher assignments. So Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Josh Thole, the catchers charged with most frequently handling baseball's knuckleballers (Tim Wakefield for the Red Sox and R.A. Dickey for the Mets) don't catch many breaks.
And looking strictly at Runner Kills can give you a false impression -- one of the reasons Olivo and Lucroy show up in that column but nowhere else is because they lose so many bases on steals and loose balls that they get attributed more opportunities. They're very average at throwing out runners (an exactly MLB average 28 percent for Olivo, 26 percent for Lucroy), but they're both allowing around three extra bases per nine innings they catch, among the worst marks in the majors. Olivo's hands of stone made him a strange choice for the defensive-minded Mariners, especially since they settled on him in last winter's backstop sweepstakes fairly early (Dec. 9), but it's consistent with his track record.
In the end, I'm partial to the ratio of bases allowed to kills as a useful quick-and-dirty way of answering the question of who's doing the best job of killing off baserunners when opportunities come along. If you're partial to giving part-time players full credit -- and why not, catching's no easy gig -- that means giving Shoppach and Marson their due as the game's best sharpshooters behind the plate. But among the ironmen asked to be everyday receivers, it's the Orioles' Wieters who should walk away with the gold.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.