Introducing Catchella using Jonathan Lucroy Part 2: Holding the Runners

Two weeks ago, Baseball Prospectus released four new metrics that comprehensively measure a catcher’s positional contribution to the game. Whereas my colleague, Michael Bradburn, examined Jonathan Lucroy’s Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA) and Errant Pitches Above Average (EPAA), I will look at Lucroy’s Takeoff Rate Above Average (TRAA) and Swipe Rate Above Average (SRAA).

If you’re familiar with pitcher statistics, then you might have already heard of TRAA. It is a player’s ability — in this case, the catcher’s ability — to hold runners on base. In other words, do baserunners take off more or less often when a particular player is behind the dish? Inevitably, baserunners will attempt to steal no matter how superior a catcher’s ability to hold runners may be. With that in mind, SRAA measures a catcher’s propensity to throw runners out.

Following a similar format as Part 1, this article will look at what the rate stats say about Jonathan Lucroy, focusing on his ability to hold runners on base and throw them out when they attempt to steal. I will then explore how those rates translate to wins. Finally, I will compare Lucroy’s 2011 season — the best “pitch-framed” season there ever was — and see how his capacity to keep runners from stealing holds up against other catchers.

Holding the Runner

When looking at TRAA data for players that have played in the major leagues, some obvious catchers are at the top of the list. Over the span of an eleven-year career, Yadier Molina boasts a -0.72 percent takeoff rate above average. Steve Yeager also sits near the top of the list with a -0.59 percent TRAA. In other words, runners were less likely than average to take off against catchers such as these two. Intuitively, that makes sense. Where does Lucroy rank by comparison?

Over the last six seasons, Milwaukee’s man behind the plate has posted a .37 percent TRAA. With the league average TRAA being zero, Lucrory is worse than average when it comes to keeping men from taking off. In fact, when examining individual seasons, the only season in which Lucroy posted a better than average TRAA was in 2014 when he posted a -0.10 percent TRAA.

Despite being on the wrong side of the mean, there is some good news when the rate stat is convereted to runs. While he has not saved the Brewers runs by holding runners, he also has not cost the team any runs either. Over six seasons, Lucroy has had 8,324 chances to keep runners planted on their respective base. In that many chances, he has saved/cost the Brewers 0.0 runs.

Inevitably, though, the baserunners will attempt to steal a bag from the catcher. Let us take a look at Lucroy’s ability to throw men out.

Throwing from the Plate

Much like TRAA, the data for SRAA has some catchers that clearly come ahead of everyone else. Both Yadier Molina’s and Ivan Rodriguez’s, notable defensive greats, SRAA career marks make their way to the top of the pack. The data confirms what we’ve only been able to eyeball over the years. With an SRAA of -7.3 percent for Molina and -6.2 percent for Rodriguez, over the span of their careers, runners were least likely to successfully steal against either catcher. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Lucroy.

Similar to TRAA, the league average SRAA is zero. Lucroy comes in with a 0.95 percent swipe rate above average with six seasons played. Simply put, runners are more likely than average to successfully steal against Lucroy. There have only been two seasons in which he has been better than league average. In his first two seasons, 2010 and 2011, Lucroy posted a -1.4 percent and -0.05 percent SRAA, respectively. Since 2011, Lucroy has hovered above the league average.

In terms of runs saved, over the course of his career, our beloved catcher has cost the Brewers -2.8 runs. Without a doubt, swipe rate above average is Lucroy’s weakest area.

 Jonathan Lucroy: As a Whole

As Michael noted in Part 1, Lucroy is clearly a superior pitch framer. He boasts the best season ever framed going back to 1950! Aside from framing, however, Lucroy is at or near league average in blocked pitches, holding runners, and throwing out potential steals. It should be noted that being league average is not weighted equally for each stat. Again, as Michael pointed out, being slightly above replacement level in EPAA makes Lucroy worth almost one-third of a win of production. Conversely, being league average in SRAA has cost him nearly a third of a win of production. If we think about what is happening when a catcher is unsuccessful in SRAA — a runner advances to the next base — it makes sense that being at or below league average can cost more runs than pitch framing despite experiencing fewer chances of throwing a runner out.

Rare is the catcher that is overwhelmingly successful in all four stats.

Player CS Runs EP Runs TR Runs SR Runs Total Runs
Brad Ausmus 210.3 17.4 4.6 16.8 249.1
Jose Molina 224.9 -6.4 0.1 12.4 231.0
Russell Martin 203.2 -1.4 0.1 16.2 218.1
Yadier Molina 159.0 11.1 2.4 26.0 198.5
Brian McCann 166.4 13.3 -0.1 -4.5 175.1
Jonathan Lucroy 161.2 3.2 0.0 -2.8 161.6
David Ross 109.7 0.9 0.3 9.0 119.9
Ryan Hanigan 93.8 2.7 0.3 7.5 104.3

Since 1950, there have only been eight catchers that have garnered over 10 wins of production from catching alone. Only four have produced at least one win from throwing out would be base-stealers. Fewer still are able to generate more than a quarter of a win simply by holding the runners. What seems to truly define an elite catcher is their ability to influence the call on pitches.

Considering that he will be catching a much younger pitching corps in 2016, in light of what Catchella has revealed, there is a new found appreciation to be had for Jonathan Lucroy.

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