Pedro Severino and the Worst Thing a Catcher Can Do to His Hand

Wednesday evening, Beau Taylor hurt his hand. That is, of course, an occupational hazard of catching; pretty much everything a catcher does hurts their hands. Johnny Bench might be able to hold seven hamburgers in his hand, but have you seen that paw? Yikes!

In any case, Taylor didn’t hurt his hand in any of the more normal ways that catchers do. He didn’t jam it into the ground trying to smother a ball in the dirt, or take a foul tip ricochet off the base of his palm. No, he caught Edwin Encarnación’s bat with the tip of his glove, and though he tried to play it off, this has to have stung:

That will smart for a few days, and the situation was a tough one as well. It’s painful (see what I did there?) to advance a runner to third with only one out, particularly in a one run game in the ninth inning. The difference between needing one and two runs to tie is a big deal; it roughly halves your chances of a comeback. That isn’t to say that Taylor’s catcher’s interference cost Cleveland the game — they didn’t score in the bottom of the frame, so it hardly mattered. But it was a bit of foreshadowing of what was to come.

While Cleveland and Chicago were playing, the Orioles and Yankees were engaged in a hastily-scheduled game in Baltimore. You know where this is going, at least roughly. In the top of the first, Asher Wojciechowski made a mistake. He hung a slider middle-in, a meatball Aaron Judge couldn’t resist. Judge took a mighty hack:

Oh my. That’s definitely not how Pedro Severino drew it up, because not only did he surrender a baserunner, but he might not regain feeling in his hand this week. If you could name a list of batters you wouldn’t want to hit your glove, Aaron freaking Judge would be at the top of the list. It wasn’t some glancing blow, either:

Why was Severino so close to Judge, as that side angle makes clear? It’s hard to say. There was no one on base, no real incentive to cut down on the distance. Maybe he had a mental lapse, or maybe he just panicked when the slider backed up, and he stabbed at it. Either way, the only saving grace was that Judge’s bat got nothing but glove:

Wow! Two catcher’s interference calls in one day. Given that there were 61 all of last year, that’s pretty wild. In fact, 2019 was a huge year for catcher’s interference. Those 61 free bases were the most in the Wild Card era, and likely the most of all time, dwarfing the previous record of 43 set in 2017. What a day! Let’s all admire that Judge swing one more time, and then head home.

…You’re still here? Okay, fine. You saw through my ruse. With Judge aboard, Wojciechowski had a jam to work through. He got Orioles nemesis Gleyber Torres to fan at a curveball in the dirt, which brought Giancarlo Stanton to the plate. On a 2-2 count, Wojciechowski climbed the ladder, and:

Oh, come on! There’s no way. There may not be two batters I’d be less interested in getting my hand crushed by — Stanton and Judge are just so huge, and so powerful, that I’d take my chances with Mike Trout or Cody Bellinger or really whoever else, before picking those two.

Catcher’s interference is, paradoxically, often caused by the batter. When Jeff Sullivan wrote here, he was borderline obsessed with catcher’s interference, specifically when caused by Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is the career leader in reaching base via interference, and that’s no accident; he stands so far back in the box and gets his bat into the zone so early that he picks off gloves almost by design.

Judge and Stanton aren’t disciples of the Ellsbury School of Free Times on Base. Judge had been the beneficiary of exactly one catcher’s interference in the 1,718 plate appearances in his career before 2020, while Stanton has notched one in 4,897 trips to the plate. Ellsbury has done it 31 times in 5,375 plate appearances. Clearly, this isn’t a case of the Yankees sluggers running a con on the poor Orioles.

Seriously, look how close Severino was to the plate when Stanton got him:

Why? I have no clue. Judge isn’t much of a threat on the basepaths. Maybe he missed his normal ground cue for where to stand. Maybe the umpire smelled funky that day. We may never know. In any case, after that second one, Severino needed a little time to recuperate:

After a trainer’s visit and very likely some swear words, he managed to stay in the game. Fortunately, there were no more glove/bat collisions in the game, and the Orioles didn’t even need to go to their backup catcher. But it got me wondering: is this some kind of a record?

The data isn’t perfect, particularly as you go back in time. But by scraping play-by-play data and noting the catcher of record, we can construct a rough leaderboard. Some of the data from the 1970s isn’t guaranteed to be complete, but it’s nearly so. Without further ado:

All-Time Interference Leaders

Of course, seeing Carlton Fisk on a list of catcher statistics should clue you in that this might just be measuring longevity. Fisk caught in the 1960s and the 1990s. That’s plenty of time to rack up 13 interference calls. Let’s look at a single-season list instead:

Single Season Interference Leaders
Catcher Year Times Interfering
Ted Simmons 1975 5
Terry Kennedy 1981 4
Terry Kennedy 1984 4
Evan Gattis 2017 4
Gary Sanchez 2017 4
Thurman Munson 1975 3
Cliff Johnson 1976 3
Carlton Fisk 1977 3
Bob Boone 1977 3
John Stearns 1977 3

There are roughly 30 catchers tied with three; I threw a few on there for fun. Hey, Gary Sánchez! Terry Kennedy showing up on the list twice might be interesting, who knows. For the most part, what this leaderboard does is tell you that catcher’s interference is rare. So let’s add an even goofier leaderboard, the single game catcher’s interference leaders:

Single Game Interference Leaders
Catcher Date Times Interfering
Pedro Severino 7/29/2020 2
Duke Sims 9/21/1974 2
Ron Hodges 7/24/1976 2
Carlton Fisk 5/3/1977 2
Dave Skaggs 7/24/1979 2
John Wockenfuss 8/30/1984 2
Mark Salas 4/23/1986 2
Gerald Laird 8/1/2008 2
Adam Moore 4/11/2010 2
Francisco Cervelli 4/18/2013 2
Hector Sanchez 5/14/2016 2
Stephen Vogt 4/28/2017 2
Andrew Knapp 6/7/2018 2

Wait — is this a record? There are few enough catchers with two in a single game that Severino could conceivably be the single-inning record holder. Did he do it? Did everyone watching the Yankees-Orioles game witness history, albeit incredibly dumb history?

Sadly not. Gerald Laird also had both of his calls in the first inning. He and Severino, however, are the only two catchers to rack up two interference calls in the same inning since the beginning of our play-by-play data in 1974. That’s pretty cool for a Wednesday in July.

Perhaps most perplexingly, Severino isn’t a serial interferer. Before yesterday, he’d been called for it exactly once in his career, in 2016. Before yesterday, he’d caught nearly 1,400 innings in the major leagues with only one interference call to his name, about as clean of a record as you could imagine. And then madness struck. Well, madness and Stanton’s and Judge’s bats.

We might as well answer one more record question while we’re here. Had catcher’s interference ever previously been called three times in one day? Somehow, yes. It’s happened three times since 1974, most recently on July 17, 2015. Perhaps most impressively, there were three catcher’s interference calls on August 30, 1984, then three more five days later on September 4, 1984. The tastefully named John Wockenfuss had two of the six, as did Donnie Scott. It really was a banner week for interfering, especially when you consider that there were only 28 calls all year.

On that note, I’ll leave you. Pity Pedro Severino, who will be icing his catching hand for weeks after Wednesday’s game. But pity catchers past and future, too: it’s happened before, and with more calls than ever, it will happen again.

We hoped you liked reading Pedro Severino and the Worst Thing a Catcher Can Do to His Hand by Ben Clemens!

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Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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bglick4
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bglick4

From these numbers, it looks like it’s more likely to occur again in a game if it has already happened once. I mean, I wouldn’t bet on something with a max of four in a season to occur twice in a game, yet it’s happened many times. An interview with Severino would be enlightening. Something must have been different in that first inning.