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Should Tommy John be in the Hall of Fame?
1. Yes
2. No

Rating the catchers

on 01/08/2002

Additional fodder for thought include Greg Zaun ranking 4th in cEQA

How does one properly rate a catchers value? Many view the position as being primarily a defensive one. And consequently you get the most value from a defensive catcher. Traditionally, the defensive contributions can be broken down into 3 areas. One the running game. Two game calling. And three everything else like catching pop ups and blocking the plate. Of these the third is of little interest to me since I believe that most catchers are pretty equal in those areas and even if theyre not the difference in results (runs allowed) between the best and worst is small.

The second area of game calling is lauded by some as being the most important and derided by others as being a figment of imagination. Those who believe in game calling listen to Tim Mcarver rant for hours on end and point to differences in cERA. I do not put much stock in a catchers ability to call a game at the major league level. As evidence I point to Nichols Law of Catcher defense which states that defensive reputation is inversely related to offensive reputation (IRod excluded). This has happened to a number of player like Charles Johnson who was a great glove man until he hit 30 HRs and suddenly people thought he couldnt call a good game. The more damning point was made in a study at Baseball Prospectus were they tinkered with cERA to eliminate many of the sources of variability (like pitchers caught, home ballpark, etc.) Over a multi year span the statistic showed a normal distribution (which is consistent with a randomly distributed statistic) and most powerfully it did not correlated from year to year for individual players. In other words one year Brad Ausmus was shaving 0.5 runs off per 9 innings and the next he was dead average. Simply put skills will show significant correlation from year to year. For this reason I believe that a catchers sole defensive contribution is throwing out runners and not giving up pass balls.

To this end I have used BPs Equivalent average (EQA) statistic to rate all MLB catchers with significant playing time (more than 60 ABs behind the plate). Calculation of EQA equalizes ball park effects and DH effects for players and thus allows for easy comparison between all players without having to estimate how much a player was hurt by playing in LA or helped by hitting in Texas. EQA considers the value of a SB in an accurate manner and thus allows for it to easily be modified to factor in a catchers ability to catch base stealers by simply subtracting the number of SB allowed by the catcher where they would normally be added. The same for caught stealings (CS), and pass balls were treated the same as SB.

RawEQA = (2*H + DB + 2*TP + 3*HR + 1.5*(BB+HBP) + SB) / (AB + BB + HBP + CS + SB/3)

This is the formula for RawEQA, which hasnt accounted for park or DH effects. It also hasnt scaled to look like batting average like the finished product, but it gives a good idea of how it values offensive contributions. Before showing my monstrous table I want to give a few caveats about my methodology. First the new stat cEQA as I call it, cant be compared with normal EQA of other players in a meaningful way. Second given the complex nature of EQA I cant be entirely sure that I didnt make a small goof along the way, for the most part the numbers look right since they closely match the normal EQA for that player except when the player was exceptionally god or bad at throwing out runners. Third sample size rules still apply, and even though I got rid of the very small ones most catchers only got 100-300 ABs which isnt a lot. If I get ambitious I may try to add in last years data too. Fourth, adding in the stolen base totals created a few aberrant results with really bad players, namely they were so bad offensively and defensively that their cEQA became uncalculable. Finally, the AL was much better at base stealing than the NL, but this wasnt accounted for by me, though it isnt clear if this difference was due to the quality of stealers or the quality of the catchers. But Im comfortable that this is a better way to rate a catcher on his total value and none of these issues undermine my efforts. Here I present 69 MLB catchers ranked on the left by cEQA and on the right by normal cEQA.

I Rodriguez0.3204731Mike Piazza0.319
P Lo Duca0.3191952Lo Duca0.311
M Piazza0.304023Zaun0.303
G Zaun0.2977584IRod0.299
M Redmond0.2881855Varitek0.298
J Posada0.2755446Posada0.293
W Gonzalez0.2748077Redmond0.284
J Varitek0.2742258Fick0.283
C Johnson0.2677849Wiki0.28
G Myers0.26339110Mirabelli0.276
C Kreuter0.26185611Greg Myers0.269
R Fick0.25774112Kreuter0.268
D Mirabelli0.25728213CJ0.266
T Hall0.2553114Toby Hall0.266
J LaRue0.253915Stinnett0.265
D Miller0.25198516Casanova0.263
E Marrero0.24990817Josh Paul0.263
J Lopez0.24977718Mark Johnson0.261
A Pierzynski0.24835819R.Hernandez0.26
M Johnson0.24752220D.Miller0.26
B Davis0.24385721Javy L 0.259
D Wilson0.24170722D.Wilson0.257
E Diaz0.24153823Pierzynski0.256
R Casanova0.24024824Eli Marrero0.256
T Eusebio0.23925925B.Davis0.254
K Stinnett0.23922726Haselman0.254
R Hernandez0.23834227Einar0.252
M Lieberthal0.22931428 Eusebio0.251
J Kendall0.22730529Ben Petrick 0.25
E Guzman0.22717530Tom Lampkin0.248
B Haselman0.22674831Hatteberg 0.246
T Lampkin0.22607432Taubensee0.243
J Girardi0.22358933Kendall0.242
B Mayne0.22330334Jason LaRue 0.24
T Prince0.2232535 Estalella0.24
B Petrick0.22259936Benito0.239
B Santiago0.22159737Ben Molina0.237
B Estalella0.21932538Paul Bako0.236
B Ausmus0.21434539Brent Mayne0.235
H Blanco0.21357740Todd Pratt0.235
B Molina0.20807341Lieberthal0.234
T Pratt0.20723642Joe Girardi0.233
S Fasano0.20512843J. Cardona0.231
J Estrada0.20467644E. Guzman0.231
J Cardona0.203245Tom Prince0.227
P Bako0.19623646 Bennett0.227
J Paul0.19602747 Flaherty0.225
M Matheny0.19602248 Alomar Jr.0.225
S Alomar Jr.0.19499749M Barrett0.224
G Bennett0.18457750Blanco0.224
K Osik0.18214651Hundley0.224
D Fletcher0.18105252Sal Fasano0.223
H Ortiz0.17615353D. Fletcher0.222
M Barrett0.1734254J. Estrada0.219
R Machado0.17094955 Fordyce0.218
E Taubensee0.16882256Randy Knorr0.218
T Hundley0.16625457 Lunar 0.217
J Flaherty0.1563158Keith Osik0.217
F Lunar0.15032159Brad Ausmus0.213
J Fabregas0.12018560R. Machado0.212
A Hinch0.11587761H. Ortiz 0.209
M DiFelice0.10592862 Matheny0.206
R Knorr0.09735363 Fabregas0.198
R Barajas064A.J. Hinch0.197
B Fordyce065Todd Greene0.194
S Hatteberg066 DiFelice0.194
B Inge067A. Castillo0.189
T Greene068Inge0.171
A Castillo069Rod Barajas0.163

With all this data I need to make some conclusions for you. Not surprisingly offensively most catchers stink. More interestingly though is that many of the catchers appear to be interchangeable offensively that is many give about the same production as anybody else 24 catchers have a normal EQA of between .250 and .222. Certainly its a fair difference between a .250 (ranked #29) and a .222, but its symptomatic of the greater trend in that from a .269 EQA to that .250 theres another 18 catchers.

Basically theres a lot in the middle that are the same quality offensively. When using cEQA over that same ranked stretch however you find that instead of encompassing .057 EQA points the range is .091, much larger. This could be just a quirk of my calculations or it could mean that for really discriminating actual catcher value for the mass in the middle it is pretty important to consider defensive ability. I didnt calculate the league wide cEQA, but its easy to locate the median value, which I think is more instructive. In this case that corresponds to Tom Prince of the Twins with a .223 cEQA. The offensive median player is Bobby Estella at .240 EQA. I like the median especially with this sample size since the median player (ranked #35) should be about equal in value to the best backup catchers.

I pointed this out before in my spoilers, but Estella was much touted by BP as someone who shouldnt be on waivers. And he really shouldnt have, as his cEQA rank was 38 way ahead of a good number of really bad catchers on bad teams that could have picked him up instead of the Yankees. But the interesting part was that the BP guys also maligned Henry Blanco and he rated #40. Or essentially a top 10 backup. Sure we might have done slightly better with Bobby, but not much. A slightly bigger problem was that our good catcher (Casanova) only rated 24th. It is worth noting that offensively Casanova rated 16th and Blanco 50th giving us atleast the tactical ability to do an effective offense/defensive platoon.

Additional fodder for thought include Greg Zaun ranking 4th in cEQA and while he might not be able to catch 120 games hes one heck of a bench up grade for Houston at a very low cost. I mentioned Wiki Gonzalez as a big surprise and his raw numbers werent eye popping, but he did well because he played in the worst hitting park in the NL and a lot of runners tried to steal on him even though he had a plus CS rate. Other names around the 10 spot in cEQA include Greg Myers, Robert Fick, and Doug Mirabelli. These guys all seem very available and would be a pretty good upgrade for us


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