Other than stolen bases, which I addressed a few weeks ago, very little has been published on catcher’s fielding numbers. Tom Tango first conceived his WOWY technique in studying catchers. Now I’ve extended my stolen base study back to the beginning of the current RetroSheet in 1953, and added the rates of wild pitches and passed balls allowed back to the same date. It should put a smile on Tango’s face that Gary Carter of his beloved Montreal Expos rates third in career SB_RAA behind Ivan Rodriguez and Jim Sundberg, and fourth in career WP_RAA behind Bill Freehan, Bruce Benedict and Brad Ausmus, and second overall behind only Pudge, along with the best single season of +28.2 in 1983…the worst, Dick Dietz, -18.6 in 1970.
I had earlier included groundballs to catchers when I ran my infield defense. There just aren’t that many grounders fielded by catchers – the most in any one season over the past sxi years was 74 by Jason Kendall in 2006. Single season RAA on grounders ranges from Jason Phillips’ +1.1 in 2004 to Mike Lieberthal’s -2.4 in 2003. Totals for the last six years range from Carlos Ruiz’s +2.4 to Lieberthal’s -3.4. (I don’t yet have a groundball table built for seasons before 2003).
The process is the same as I descrobed in the previous article on stolen bases. I queried RetroSheet’s events table, creating a new table of every combination of catcher and pitcher in each year, how many batters were faced with runners on base, and how many wild pitches and passed balls occured. A total was made of each catcher’s stats in each year (the “with” part) and also the stats of each pitcher he caught, while working with any other catcher (the “without”). These were weighted to the smaller of the sample sizes, and then summed into season and career totals.
The single best season for preventing wild pitches and passed balls, since 1953, was Bill Freehan of the Tigers in 1971. The pitchers he caught that year would have been expected to throw 62 wild pitches and 20 passed balls in Freehan’s playing time, but he only allowed 31 wild pitches and 7 passed balls to get by hum, saving an estimated 12.6 runs that season. His total allowed of 38 was 46% of the expected 82. Freehan had the highest career RAA of +52.0, while Jorge Posada had the lowest at -38.2.
On the other end is one of America’s favorites, who not only couldn’t hit, but apparently couldn’t catch either, Bob Uecker. In 1967, appropriately his last in the majors, in which Uecker split time between the Phillies and Braves, in only 80 games played he allowed 40 wild pitches and 25 passed balls, 222% above his expected totals of 18 and 12.
The major league average is .016 wild pitches and .004 passed balls per plate appearance with a runner on base. The best career normalized wild pitch rates go to Bruce Benedict, Yogi Berra and Mike Redmond at .010; Brian Downing, Del Crandall and Jason Varitek at .011; and Rod Barajas, Manny Sanguillen, Bill Freehan, Kirt Manwaring, Sherm Lollar and Steve Yeager at .012. The worst wild pitch rates are Earl Battey at .021; Junior Ortiz and Mike Macfarlane at .021; and Miguel Olivo, Johnny Roseboro, Tim Laudner, Jorge Posada, Pat Borders, Thurman Munson, Hal Smith, Darrell Porter and George Mitterwald at .020.
The lowest normalized passed ball rates were Brian Downing, Charlie O’Brien, Bruce Benedict, Dan Wilson, Yogi Berra, Brad Ausmus, Del Crandall, Sherm Lollar and Ron Karkovice at .002, with the worst being Miguel Olivo and Bob Brenly at .008; and Joe Azcue, Jorge Posada, Earl Battey and Lance Parrish at .007.
The top 5 ratios of reducing both are Bruce Benedict 56%, Yogi Berra 59, Brian Downing 60 and Mike Redmond and Del Crandall 64% each. The worst were Bob Brenly 142%, Earl Battey 140, Miguel Olivo 140, Jorge Posada 132, and Junior Ortiz and Mike Macfarlane 129% each.
In 2008, the best at runs saved blocking the plate were Kurt Suzuki +6.9, Kenji Johjima +5.8, Brian McCann +5.2, Ramon Hernandez +5.1 and Jason Varitek +4.1, while the worst were Miguel Montero -3.0, Miguel Olivo -2.8, Kevin Cash -2.7, Greg Zaun -2.7 and Jesus Flores -2.6. In case you were thinking that one year might be a small sample size for some of these backup catchers, Montero, Olivo and Flores are also among the five worst career rates for active catchers, along with Mike Rivera and Jorge Posada.
Brian got his start in amateur baseball, as the statistician for his local college summer league in Johnstown, Pa, which also hosts the annual All-American Amateur Baseball Association. A longtime APBA and Strat-o-Matic player, he still tends to look at everything as a simulation. He has also written for StatSpeak and SeamHeads You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org