After this weekend, all three of the Rays catchers have caught at least 20 games. So we thought it would be a good time to take a closer look at how the catchers have performed defensively.

First, let’s take a look at some standard defensive metrics (stats do not include Sunday’s game)…

Dioner Navarro has been slightly better than John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach, having thrown out 38% of would-be base stealers. Navi also did not have a single passed ball in nearly 300 innings of work. Still, based on these numbers, we wouldn’t say Navi has been so much better that it would make up for his lack of hitting.

Now let’s look at how the pitchers have performed based on who was behind the plate…

Now we start to see some clear statistical distinctions. Pitchers have an ERA a full run less with Navi than with Jaso and 2 runs better with Navi compared to Shoppach. But does that mean the pitching staff was better when Navarro was catching? Yes. But it may not have been because of Navarro.

Opponents batted only .215 with Navarro behind the plate. That is about 40 points lower than both Jaso and Shoppach. That difference is almost entirely explained by the lower batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Considering the pitching staff has changed little, a significantly lower BABIP with Navarro suggests that the pitchers were luckier earlier in the season when Navarro was doing the majority of the catching.

Nobody was more concerned about Jaso’s defensive abilities than we were. But the numbers so far suggest that Jaso is holding his own. And the Rays have not lost a step defensively by demoting Navarro. The pitching staff just isn’t as lucky as they were early on.

 
 

12 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    I dunno – it seems to me that you are quick to dismiss the better numbers posted by Navarro as “luck.” That makes the assumption that the only outs for which a catcher can be “credited” are those on strike outs. But if the catcher’s role contributes to ERA because of pitch calling, a pitcher’s comfort throwing breaking balls, or whatever, a pitcher may STILL have balls put into play, but hit weakly for outs. So can you really say that a low BABIP is entirely a question of luck?

    Look, I have no great insight into what exactly Navarro does or doesn’t contribute to the team’s defensive performance. But to go through the effort to run these numbers, find some significant differences, and then dismiss them as “luck” doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      The theory is that once a ball is hit fair (Ball In Play) the pitcher and catcher no longer have control over what happens. And some feel that BABIP should be consistent. Now, that is not entirely true. Some pitchers will have naturally lower BABIPs (eg Mariano Rivera, who breaks a lot of bats). But in this case, the pitchers are all the same. And they are (in theory) throwing the same pitches to each catcher. So over time, BABIP for the pitchers should be consistent.

      So unless It can be shown that the pitchers Were throwing different pitches with Navi, then the only explanation is that more balls were being hit right at fielders with Navi. And that is really a luck thing.

      • Beth says:

        Don’t mean to obsess on this, but…you write, “[the pitchers] are (in theory) throwing the same pitches to each catcher” — but aren’t we, in part, trying to tease out the catcher’s skill at calling pitches? If Navi, for example, calls a better game, then the pitchers would NOT be throwing the same pitches. So pitchers throwing to catcher X might have a consistently lower BABIP as he calls pitches less likely to be hit hard.

        • Cork Gaines says:

          It’s fine. This is a good discussion. In posts like this, I always struggle with that fine between giving enough detail and killing you guys with math…

          Your point is certainly a valid one and just one reason I don’t think BABIP is as luck-driven as some people. Also consider little things like where a catcher sets his target. Maybe Navi is better than others. Or maybe the pitchers have more confidence to throw low pitches because Navi is more likely to block a pitch in the dirt. These are all things that can affect how well a batter hits the ball if he does make contact.

          And maybe that is a factor here. But, .248 is still a very low value even if we do consider those things. For example, in 2009, pitchers had a .291 BaBIP with Navi. In 2008 that number was .282. Did Navi improve that much this year alone? Not likely. In fact, those numbers are very consistent with what the pitchers have done with Shoppach and Jaso. That leads me to believe that at least most of the difference was luck.

  2. Alex says:

    Never-hitto was never charged with a passed ball? I have a hard time believing that. At least half of the wild pitches when he was catching were his fault because he’s too fat and lazy to block a damn ball in the dirt. It’s just like with Upton getting picked off. Whenever there was a ball in the dirt you were more surprised if he actually blocked it than if it got by him.

  3. John S says:

    One thing this def shows is that Kelly Shoppach is not really that good.

    Average to Below Average Hitter and Average fielding catcher…

    I have questioned often his pitch selection..

  4. Brixology says:

    How does this account for strength of schedule? I understand the BABIP argument, but couldn’t the fact that the Rays had a weak schedule early when Navarro caught a large number of games also skew the numbers in Chorizo’s favor? Perhaps the current catchers’ numbers against the Orioles this week will be instructive. I also echo Alex’s sentiment about some of the wild pitches charged while the Fat Catcher was behind the plate. Definitely some passed balls in there.

  5. Don says:

    I was kinda of hoping all this figuring was not going to conclude that Navarro should be back in the majors…god bless numbers!

    • Ken Kandefer says:

      Hopefully these “good numbers” for Navi means we can get something better in a trade for him this winter. I only want to see Navi if someone gets hurt between now and 9/1. Otherwise, bring him up in September as a backup insurance policy.

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