Guest Post By Albert Lang
(Bill note: Ah, the holidays. I’m sure you’ll hear a lot more from the TPA staff between now and the end of the year, but for now, we’ve got a second consecutive guest post from Albert Lang, who you can typically find over at H2H Corner. Albert sent this to us a while ago, and the original title was “A Thanksgiving Miracle: Orioles fans have something to look forward to.” That’s probably more descriptive than my headline above, but it’s not quite timely anymore.)
It’s beenan incredibly tough season/off-season for Orioles fans. After the way the clubfinished 2010 and a pretty good 2010 offseason (sure they made their share ofbad signings, but, this time, they were limited to one-year deals!), which sawthem deal fringy relievers for solider major league players, Orioles fans couldsmile a little smile that the team was at least sort of going in the rightdirection.
On April9, the Orioles were 6-2 and 5.5 games ahead of Boston and Tampa Bay. Of course,reality set in and the Orioles continued to completely and utterly fail todevelop minor league talent at the major league level and finished 69-93, 28games behind the Yankees. Then, the 2011 off-season came and GM candidate aftercandidate turned them down. Eventually, they hired Dan Duquette (who has beenout of baseball almost as long as it has been since the Orioles finished above.500), and, sadly, it didn’t seem nearly as embarrassing as it could have been.
Of course,the one joy Orioles fans had throughout the season was the defense of MattWieters. It was beautiful to watch him play baseball well. Then, when theFielding Bible and Gold Glove Awards recently came out, we had validation forour love of Wieters.
Nevertheless,a bit of controversy came with the Fielding Bible awards, namely that Wieterswas named above Yadier Molina (the recipient the last four seasons) – and itwasn’t really close. Given the “statistical nature” of some of those on thepanel, this was labeled as another egregious oversight by beatniks inbasements.
As isoften the case with baseball, both sides have their merits, so I’ve decided toset-up a hypothetical scenario to test who the best catcher in 2012 will be.
It is gamefour of the 2012 ALCS, bottom of the ninth, the home team down by one. Theteam’s fastest runner, say, I don’t know, Andy Fox or Dave Roberts is on first. Tony “The Apollo of the Box” Mullane is your pitcher. Whichcatcher would you want behind the plate?
Let’s lookat the tale of the tape:
Typically,the more data, the more complete story we can tell. I went back three years totry and establish some typical performance measures which could reasonably beapplied to 2012. There are a couple of caveats. For instance, 2009 was MattWieters first year, whereas 2009 was arguably in Molina’s prime sweet spot. Itis possible Wieters is approaching his “prime” while Molina is moving away fromit.
Inaddition, the nature of the question demands we focus on the future. There isno doubt that Molina has been the better catcher over the last two, three,four, etc. seasons. However, there appears to be some doubt who was the best in2011, which clearly makes 2012 an open case.
Back tothe fielding awards: after Molina won the first unanimous victory in 2010 inFielding Bible History, Wieters somewhat demolished Molina in 2011, obtaining97 points to Molina’s 74. Molina hascaptured the last four Gold Gloves in the National League, whereas Wieterscollected his first piece of hardware in the American League this season. Hadboth catchers been in the same league, I have to imagine Molina would havegotten the nod this season, rather easily, over Wieters based on a variety ofsilly (made-up) criteria.
So, itlooks like popular opinion would be vehementlysplit on who they’d designate as the best defensive catcher. Based on history,Molina would be the backstop, but, based on age and trends, Wieters wouldlikely get the call.
A fewstudies on catcher’s defense have been released lately. Mike Fast, of Baseball Prospectus, wrote a fascinating piece on acatcher’s ability to frame pitches and generate strike calls. Yadier Molina (alongwith his family) scored quite well. Molina ranked fifth at saving runs, whileWieters came in 21st.
Meanwhile,Bojan Koprivica wrote a seminal piece at The Hardball Times on the ability to blockpitches. Molina came in second in his ability to block pitches, but Wieters wasright behind him.
Again, itappears the two catchers are quite close, making this an interesting debate.
In digginga tad deeper, we see that Molina is a bit more adept at picking runners offbase. He had nine non-caught stealing (CS) runner kills last year alone, whileWieters has seven total over the last three years. It is possible that Molina’sability to gun the ball down to first base behind the runner shortens thepotential thief’s lead just a smidge and, with such a close race, every smidgematters.
Inaddition, there is the “caught stealing leverage index,” which measures “theimportance of the context in which the runner was caught.” Obviously, in thenot-so bizarre, yet highly unlikely, scenario above, this might play animportant role in the ability to gun a runner down. Clearly, Molina had anexceptional year at this metric, however Wieters was just as good in 2010, andtheir three-year averages are nearly identical.
While Ihope the question of the best living defensive catcher spurs a lot of debate, Idon’t think you can go wrong with either choice. That said, I’m going to put mychips on Matt Wieters. He is younger and has been improving. Obviously, thisline of reasoning makes Molina older and potentially declining, which doesscare me a bit (as it is largely based on one year of performance, defensiveperformance at that).
The aspectthat really concerns me in picking Wieters is that it certainly is possiblethat Molina’s reputation has created a bias in the quality/number of hisdefensive opportunities: it is plausible that there are fewer teams willing torun on the Cardinals with more marginal base runners.
At thesame time, with Wieters coming into his own defensively in 2011 (and not havinga sterling defensive reputation until now), it’s possible he faced more lessskilled runners this past season than he will in 2012. So we could see adecline in attempts against Wieters in 2012 and, possibly, a worse CSpercentage.
However Ido have a slight bit of solace. Molina has actually seen an increase in the amount of people runningon him each of the last two years and, with that, his percentage has gone down.It could just be that he is seeing much higher volumes of strong base runners,but some of that has to be decline, right?
Baseballfans, let us thank whatever deity for whatever substance he/she put in Wieters’golden arm – and also be thankful for Yadier Molina’s continued brilliance.
Lastly,with all the equivocating out of the way, I’m taking Wieters. Who do you got(the wrong answer is Jesus Montero/Jason Veritek)? I will accept write-ins forDerek Jeter.
To clear any potential bias out of the way, Ilove baseball and I love the Baltimore Orioles, but the losing has left me nasty,brutish and short.