Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

If you are reading this, there is a remarkably decent chance that you are a somewhat invested baseball fan. As a baseball fan, you probably ...

Legends whose production is understated

 The premise here is simple. There are legends across baseball history that, while they might get credit for being great players, don't quite get the statistical recognition they deserve from cursory glances of their pages. This will be due to missing information that isn't necessarily reported as missing. 

Mike Piazza

I'm not sure if anyone would contest the claim that Mike Piazza is the best offensive catcher of all time (outside of Josh Gibson, so let's just say post-integration to simplify things). However, not many would argue him at the best overall catcher of all time. Why not? Well, he was a bad defensive catcher. Or, at least, guys were able to run on his weak arm. Total zone helps fill in a lot of the picture for his defensive performance. On FanGraphs, Piazza is listed as having -52.2 career runs below average for the positions he played: -25 total zone from the pre-tracking era, -22 stolen base runs from 2002 to 2006, and -5.2 UZR from his bumbling first base performance in 2004. After one last hoorah as a catcher for the Padres in 2006, he became a full time DH in Oakland in his final season. That season, 2007, happened to be the first season that pitch FX allowed for high quality pitch framing metrics. Sometimes you might wonder why Yadier Molina's defense "improved" so drastically after his 2007 campaign. Now you know. 

This is an issue for Piazza because, while his shortcomings were front and center with the defensive metrics available during his time, his strengths were not. A Tom Glavine quote I saw in this 538 article, which I'll admit was a long forgotten inspiration for this post, summarised Piazza's plight. "Yeah, he wasn’t the greatest thrower. That unfortunately translated into people thinking that some of [his] other game wasn’t as good as it was. He called a good game. He received the ball fine. He blocked balls fine. But so often catchers are defined defensively on how well they throw and there’s much more that goes into just being a good defensive catcher than being able to throw."  Fortunately, baseball prospectus actually does have some framing data from an antiquated era. Piazza boasts an impressive +96.9 framing runs, which would vault him into 2nd among post-integration catchers in career WAR. Of course, this ignores the fact that framing stats didn't exist for other legends as well. Gary Carter's framing scored excellently in the twilight of his career, so can you imagine what he would have been during his prime? Yogi Berra has no data on him at all, but let's just break him down a little: a lot of anecdotal evidence suggests that Berra handled pitching staffs excellently. He happened to be the primary catcher for a team that owned a timeshare in the World Series, the catcher for the team that maintained the league's best ERA from 1948-1961, a stretch in which Berra caught 134 games per season. We'll never know for sure, but there's plenty of reason to think that Berra was an elite pitch framer. So, Piazza wasn't the only underrated catcher, but that's the point. 

There are so many facets to the sport that everything won't be quantified in the moment, especially from a historical perspective. For catchers, this is especially true. Pitch framing was an unidentified talent that even MLB front offices*** ignored until very recently. With the advent of these new metrics, one has to wonder the next frontier to be conquered. We have noisy statistics like rCERA* that are a sort of on/off for catchers that can at least give us an insight into which catchers' true value isn't being captured. However, like on/off in the NBA,  noise is not the only issue. Playing time is not random; managers decide when catcher will play, and that creates bias issues that are not automatically solved with large samples. Still, we can look at the top 3 by this measure: Yadier Molina, Jeff Mathis, and Salvador Perez, and gain some insight. Molina is probably the best defensive catcher of all time, at least on par with Yogi Berra. Jeff Mathis is famous for his ability to work with pitching staffs. Perez is a 5 time gold glover, and it's not like he was winning those awards because the voters were pouring over his rCERA: that's an independent correlation. Of course, Perez is infamous for his destitute framing ability, and is one of the most polarizing players in the league today. A guy known for his excellent leadership, ability to control the run game, and being a literal backstop right behind the plate, it wouldn't be surprising for him to rank highly in this sort of all encompassing metric. However, I would hesitate to excuse his poor framing with this metric; it's just too uncertain. One thing we do know: Perez' only real backup in his healthy seasons was Drew Butera. Drew Butera sucks. 

*I want to establish that I do not know whether or not rCERA is used to explain the difference between DRS and on/off, or is its own standalone stat. The former would make a lot more sense, but would be more difficult to conceive. It might explain why Perez ranks so highly and Jonathan Lucroy**, a framing god, so poorly. I don't know. There isn't enough proper explanation on the internet.

**Another explanation for Lucroy. During his framing heyday of 2010-2014, his main backup was Martin Maldonado, an excellent defensive catcher. Maldonado was +3 and Lucroy was -7. Guys like Gregg Zaun, a good defender, and this other guy that I forgot, a DH masquerading at catcher, didn't make much noise in that department. Ultimately, the team's rCERA didn't add up to 0 in that stretch. I don't understand this stat. If someone finds an in-depth explanation of this metric, please send it to me at gadarod12@gmail.com. It's intuitive enough, but the important specifics are lacking. 

***MLB front offices discovering pitch framing, among other things, has been a disaster for the human race. Stop giving pitchers the upper hand, and stop making batters (rightfully) compensate by trading strikeouts for power. And stop letting teams carry any number of pitchers on the roster that allows them to do "bullpen games". Stop letting pitchers throw to first base whenever they damn please. And don't listen to any of the pricks in the MLBPA(I'm not anti-players, just a little annoyed in some specific scenarios) who think that, despite that apparent uptick in injuries that is clearly due to pitchers throwing as hard as they possibly can for their weekly inning, limiting this nonsense will increase injury risk. 

Rickey Henderson

I'm not going to actually write why I think this at the moment, I just don't want to forget. This is an opportunity for you to figure out what makes Rickey Henderson underrated before I explain it. Assuming the 10 people who somehow find this blog care enough to read this far. 

No comments:

Post a Comment