As you hopefully know by now, Catchella launched today at Baseball Prospectus. If you are unfamiliar, folks who are much smarter than I am have labored hard to finally quantify en masse the defensive contributions of a catcher. The importance of this in baseball circles is hard to overstate. Other metrics — like Ultimate Zone Rating — have long over-looked the men behind the plate.
While there have been some attempts to measure a catcher’s control of the running game (rSB for Stolen Base Runs Saved) in Defensive Runs Saved, metrics as comprehensive as SRAA and TRAA do a much fairer job. StatCorner has had success measuring catcher’s framing abilities and turning that into RAA, but BP’s CSAA can now be folded into WARP. ESPN released an attempt to measure the ability to call a game that crowned A.J. Ellis as king. With game-calling being so difficult to quantify, Baseball Prospectus’ Catchella opted for the more reasonable ability to block pitches in EPAA. Add all four together and we are much closer to a more comprehensive understanding a catcher’s contributions to the game through wins above replacement than we’ve ever been before.
However, what brought us here wasn’t an explanation of the statistics. [Their methodology will be laid out expertly already in posts on the main site.] Instead, we’re more concerned where Jonathan Lucroy ranks compared to his peers.
Jonathan Lucroy: Behind the Dish
In this first part, you will learn how Lucroy stacks up to the competition. However, more specifically, this post will analyze how Lucroy performed in two key areas: CSAA and EPAA. Part two, which is authored by Xavier Alatorre, will be taking a more in-depth look at Lucroy’s SRAA and TRAA — more broadly, his ability to prevent greedy baserunners.
This article will solely focus on Lucroy’s job behind the plate. The job he could do hypothetically — though I wouldn’t suggest it — without his throwing arm. CSAA stands for Called Strikes Above Average. It, as you may have already intuited, measures a catcher’s ability to frame pitches. Turning balls into strikes has been the catching hot topic for the last half-decade as framing has entered somewhat of a golden age. EPAA stands for Errant Pitches Above Average. It measures a catcher’s ability to block wild pitches or prevent passed balls. Arguably the newest idea of the four to quantify.
What do the rate stats say about Lucroy?
It depends. Let’s start with the overall picture. There’s no way that Lucroy — who has six seasons in the big leagues — will place anywhere near the top, right?
By the rate version of CSAA — which we know to be reliable back until 1988 — Lucroy ranks third. The catcher we’ve watched grow up in the Milwaukee Brewers organization is the third-best framing catcher since 1988.
There are a couple quick things to take away from this, though. First, Lucroy is still young, so his rate statistics will be somewhat higher than what would otherwise be expected. By this, I mean that Lucroy hasn’t progressed far enough into his aging curve to see his defensive prowess regress with deteriorating abilities. Aging isn’t kind to any baseball player, but especially catchers. Second, this passes a very general eye-test. The players Lucroy is ranked around — Christian Vazquez, Yasmani Grandal, Jose Molina — are known in narrative as elite defensive catchers. We can better trust these numbers because they already jive with the general consensus.
What about by EPAA? As for blocking errant pitches, Lucroy ranks just barely above the mean. EPAA — which uses components that we can trust all the way back to 1950 — isn’t as kind to Lucroy. However, that’s not bad news, as his ability is right around Buster Posey’s level. Furthermore, he has still saved his team runs this way. Other names around that rank are Yan Gomes, Gary Carter, and Craig Biggio.
But how many runs has that translated into?
Where does Lucroy actually rank?
Rate stats are immensely fun, but converting them into runs saved and, eventually, wins gained is the real entertaining part.
Starting with EPAA, Lucroy has saved the Brewers 3.2 runs worth of errant pitches. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, let’s put that into context. Lucroy has had 26,641 chances in the big leagues to block errant pitches. As previously discussed, he’s done so at basically a league-average rate. However, given that many chances of being just barely better than the mean grants you nearly one-third of a win of production, just in preventing errant pitches.
For further context, remember that Gary Carter’s rate score was similar? If they stay similar going forward and Lucroy accumulates as many chances as Carter — a whopping 75,678 — the Brewers catcher could surpass the Montreal Expos great for ninth all-time. That’s right, Carter is ninth in all-time EPAA, right behind Jason Varitek and right ahead of Yogi Berra. What an amazing list!
Which brings us to the CSAA. How many actual runs has Lucroy’s framing ability generated? His CSAA already ranks among the best, but are his attempts enough? Lucroy’s framing ability has saved the Brewers 161.2 total runs. That’s good enough for fifth all-time. Behind the very elite company of Jose Molina, Brad Ausmus, Russell Martin, and Brian McCann. That’s correct: Yadier Molina.
The crescendo of this symphony
Career measures aren’t all, though. Catchella has been separated into all-time great seasons as well. And if the above hasn’t already given you a new appreciation for Lucroy, it’s time to re-calibrate once more.
In 2011, Lucroy posted the best-ever mark in CSAA yet to be measured. He saved 49.8 runs with his framing alone. Nearly five wins worth! Second place isn’t really even that close. Brian McCann’s 2008 campaign ranks second at 41.1 runs and his 2007 season is third at 37.8 runs.
Whether that’s enough to make 2011 the best season by a catcher ever or not will have to be settled in Part II.