Before the flurry of activity begins at the winter meetings I thought I would look back to a signing late last week that I didn’t get a chance to check out. The Brewers signed Gregg Zaun to a $1.9m deal with a $2.25m club option in 2011 or a $0.25m buyout. Not an earth-shattering deal, by any stretch of the imagination, but because on the same day I posted at Baseball Analysts that, based on my pitchf/x model, Gregg Zaun is one of the best pitcher blockers in the Majors, it interested me.
The model predicts how often the average catcher lets a pitch by (Passed Ball or Wild Pitch) based on some pitchf/x values of that pitch and then looks at all the pitches a given catcher has seen to predict how many pitches the average catcher would have let by if he saw those pitches. By this model Gregg Zaun has seen the toughest set of pitches over the pitchf/x era (part of 2007 and all of 2008 and 2009). The data show that low pitches are the toughest and Zaun saw particularly low pitches. His are in blue with average in gray. They are broken up for fastballs (solid) and all other (dotted).
But Zaun did a great job with those tough pitches, and over the 1610 innings he caught covered by the pitchf/x data, he let by 32 fewer pitches than expected (more than any other catcher according to my model and also one of the top on a per inning basis). That works out to 0.02 fewer WPs+PBs per inning than the average catcher. That is probably not his true rate, though. Let’s regress it back to zero by a third, say he gets 600 innings at catcher, and apply 0.28 runs per WP or PB and he projects to be about two runs better than the average catcher just at blocking pitches. That is a fifth of a win or almost a million dollars of value right there.