catching

Peer review

Last week I wrote that the Phillies allowed about 91.1% of the runs per plate appearance when Carlos Ruiz was catching that they did when some other player was catching. The table below shows how that compares to other teams in the NL for 2009. For each team, the table shows the player who caught the most (by batters faced) in 2009, the percentage of batters that the team faced that the catcher was behind the plate for and how the rate of runs per plate appearance with that catcher behind the plate compares to the rate of runs per plate appearance with all other catchers for the team behind the plate.

Team C % of batters
caught
rate R per PA
vs rate for all other C on team as %
STL Y Molina 81.0 74.0
SD N Hundley 44.2 84.0
ARI M Montero 63.2 85.6
PHI C Ruiz 60.5 91.1
LAD R Martin 81.1 96.3
COL C Iannetta 52.8 97.9
HOU I Rodriguez 52.1 98.3
NYM O Santos 48.0 98.7
WAS J Bard 43.9 99.1
PIT R Doumit 43.3 99.6
ATL B McCann 74.2 103.5
CIN R Hannigan 45.4 106.4
FLA J Baker 60.1 106.7
CHC G Soto 56.3 109.2
MIL J Kendall 81.1 110.7
SF B Molina 72.5 121.6

Cards backstop Yadier Molina is on the top row of the table. During 2009, he was the catcher for 81% of the batters faced by St Louis pitching. By runs per plate appearance, the team’s result was much better when he was catching than when someone else was catching. St Louis opponents scored 486 runs in their 4,931 plate appearances with Molina catching, or about .0986 runs per PA. In the 1,156 plate appearances when someone besides Molina was catching, St Louis opponents scored 154 runs or about .1332 runs per PA. Overall, St Louis opponents scored about 74.0% of the runs per plate appearance when Molina was catching as they did when someone else was catching for St Louis.

At the other end of the table, Giants opponents had much better results in terms of runs per plate appearance when Bengie Molina was catching than when some other San Francisco catcher was behind the plate — with Molina behind the plate they scored 121.6% of the runs per plate appearance that they scored when someone else was catching.

The Dodgers and Brewers were the teams that had a single catcher behind the plate for the highest percentage of plate appearances. For the Dodgers it was Russell Martin and for Milwaukee it was Jason Kendall. Each of those teams faced about 1,200 batters with other catchers behind the plate — 1,168 for LA and 1,198 for the Brewers.

This says that the Phillies have signed two left-handed pitchers, Shigetoshi Yamakita and Naoyo Okamoto, to minor league contracts.

This says that they haven’t and reports that they have are not accurate.


Catch and throw guys

As I wrote earlier this week, Carlos Ruiz had a nice season with the bat in 2009 that put him on the list of the best hitting catchers in baseball. Prior to ’09, though, Ruiz hadn’t excelled offensively with the Phils. Despite the lack of offensive production, Ruiz had a reputation as a solid defender and as a guy who helped to get the most out of the Phillies pitchers.

Did Phillies pitchers really fare better when pitching to Ruiz than they did when pitching to other catchers on the team did? Well, some did and some didn’t. In today’s post I’ll look at the six Phillies who started the most games for the team in 2009 and compare their results when pitching to Ruiz and when pitching to somebody else.

The best cases for Ruiz among the ’09 starters from the Phils were for Happ and Hamels. The table below shows how Happ fared when pitching to Ruiz in ’09 compared to how he fared when pitching to other Phillies catchers:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Happ to Ruiz .226 .292 .369 .661
Happ to Other .276 .343 .456 .799
         
% of Happ batters caught by Ruiz   % of Happ batters caught by others
63.5   36.5
         
Runs allowed per PA with Ruiz catching .069  
Runs allowed per PA with other catching .096  
Runs allowed per PA total .079  
RA per PA other catching/RA per PA Ruiz catching 1.39  

So that table suggests that Ruiz was catching for 63.5% of the batters that Happ faced and other Phillies catchers was catching for the other 36.5% of hitters. With Ruiz catching, opponents hit 226/292/369 against Happ and with another Phillies catcher behind the plate they hit 276/343/456 against him.

Opposing teams scored about .079 runs per plate appearance against Happ for the year. .069 runs per PA against him with Ruiz behind the plate and .096 runs per PA against him with someone else behind the plate. .096 is about 1.39 times as much as .069.

Happ didn’t face the same batters with Ruiz behind the plate as with the other guys catching, so maybe it was a fluke and maybe it wasn’t. Either way, Happ clearly had better results in 2009 when pitching to Ruiz.

So did Hamels.

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Hamels to Ruiz .266 .308 .416 .724
Hamels to Other .297 .339 .520 .859
         
% of Hamels batters caught by Ruiz   % of Hamels batters caught by others
76.9   23.1
         
Runs allowed per PA with Ruiz catching .099  
Runs allowed per PA with other catching .149  
Runs allowed per PA total .111  
RA per PA other catching/RA per PA Ruiz
catching
1.50  

The numbers for Hamels pitching to Ruiz improved a lot as well, even more than they did for Happ. The difference between what batters did with Ruiz catching and others catching is so dramatic it makes you wonder how much of a role the catcher he was throwing to played a role in the disappointing year for Hamels. Opponents hit 330/368/570 against Hamels when he was pitching to Bako, for example. Given how high the percentage of the batters that Hamels faced with Ruiz catching, though, I would guess that even if you were to pull out the ugly numbers with Bako behind the plate for Hamels his numbers were still a lot worse than they had been in 2008.

Anyhow, if you were trying to argue that the Phillies pitchers get better results with Ruiz behind the plate, the ’09 outcomes for Happ and Hamels would be a great place to start.

Things a little less sunny after that, though. Moyer and Myers had worse results throwing to Ruiz in 2009. Lee didn’t throw to him much, but his results were worse throwing to Ruiz as well compared to the other catchers for the Phils. Blanton was kind of in-between. Here’s Blanton:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Blanton to Ruiz .263 .327 .438 .765
Blanton to Other .259 .308 .438 .746
         
% of Blanton batters caught by Ruiz   % of Blanton batters caught by others
67.1   32.9
         
Runs allowed per PA with Ruiz catching .101  
Runs allowed per PA with other catching .109  
Runs allowed per PA total .104  
RA per PA other catching/RA per PA Ruiz
catching
1.08  

Blanton’s numbers for 2009 were very similar whether Ruiz was catching or wasn’t catching. The opponent OPS was a little better when someone other than Ruiz was behind the plate, but he allowed fewer runs per plate appearance with Ruiz behind the dish.

Moyer, Myers and Lee had worse results with Ruiz catching.

Moyer was much worse.

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Moyer to Ruiz .267 .326 .520 .846
Moyer to Other .292 .340 .400 .740
         
% of Moyer batters caught by Ruiz   % of Moyer batters caught by others
52.2   47.8
         
Runs allowed per PA with Ruiz catching .140  
Runs allowed per PA with other catching .102  
Runs allowed per PA total .122  
RA per PA Ruiz catching/RA per PA other
catching
1.37  

The slugging percentage is the thing that sticks out for the Moyer table. By batters faced, Moyer pitched to Ruiz about half of the time. He faced 699 batters on the season. The 334 batters he faced with someone besides Ruiz catching combined to hit seven home runs. The 365 batters he faced with Ruiz catching hit 20 home runs.

Myers also threw to Ruiz and other catchers about equally and had better results pitching to other guys:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Myers to Ruiz .290 .327 .586 .846
Myers to Other .252 .345 .480 .825
         
% of Myers batters caught by Ruiz   % of Myers batters caught by others
51.6   48.4
         
Runs allowed per PA with Ruiz catching .121  
Runs allowed per PA with other catching .109  
Runs allowed per PA total .115  
RA per PA Ruiz catching/RA per PA other
catching
1.11  

Like Moyer, opponents posted a much higher slugging percentage against Myers when Ruiz was behind the plate.

Ruiz caught in just three of the 12 games that Cliff Lee started during the regular season. The numbers below include just his results throwing to Phillies catchers last year (not Cleveland catchers).

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Lee to Ruiz .320 .358 .460 .818
Lee to Other .250 .271 .395 .666
         
% of Lee batters caught by Ruiz   % of Lee batters caught by others
16.5   83.5
         
Runs allowed per PA with Ruiz catching .111  
Runs allowed per PA with other catching .103  
Runs allowed per PA total .104  
RA per PA Ruiz catching/RA per PA other
catching
1.08  

Not sure what you want to make of that, if anything. Ruiz and Lee had a whole lot of success working together in the post-season.

Finally, here’s what the table looks like for all Phillies pitchers combined (not just the six mentioned above):

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
All PHI P to Ruiz .262 .328 .424 .752
All PHI P to Other .269 .332 .433 .764
         
% of All PHI P batters caught by Ruiz   % of All PHI P batters caught by others
60.5   39.5
         
Runs allowed per PA with Ruiz catching .109  
Runs allowed per PA with other catching .120  
Runs allowed per PA total .113  
RA per PA Ruiz catching/RA per PA other
catching
0.911  

With Ruiz behind the plate, opposing batters scored .109 runs per plate appearance compared to .120 runs per PA with someone else behind the plate. That’s about 91.1% of the runs allowed per plate appearance with Ruiz behind the plate as with someone else.

The Phillies also allowed fewer runs per plate appearance overall with Ruiz behind the plate in 2008 and in 2007. In 2008 they allowed about 95.5% of the runs per plate appearance with Ruiz behind the plate as with other catchers and in 2007 they allowed about 97.0%.

The Phillies signed pitcher Oscar Villarreal to a minor league deal and will invite him to Spring Training. The 28-year-old righty did not pitch in 2009 after having Tommy John surgery in April. He has thrown 336 career innings, all in the NL, pitching to a 3.86 ERA with a 1.37 ratio. The linked article says he will not be ready for Opening Day.

The Phillies also signed switch-”hitting” outfielder Freddy Guzman to a minor league deal. Guzman is 29 and has a career on-base percentage of .255 and a career slugging percentage of .274. The linked article says the deal does not include a Spring Training invite, so it’s not clear what his role will be. Just throwing things out here, but my guess would be that his role is to have someone athletic-looking to fill a uniform if everyone on the 40-man roster is killed in some kind of tragic blimp accident. In the good news department he stole 116 bases over the past two seasons in the minors so he may be able to help your Triple-A roto team. In his defense, his career line of 211/255/274 has come in just 102 plate appearances and he’s hit a more respectable 270/344/360 over more than 3,000 at-bats in the minors.


As good as it gets?

Under his new contract, Carlos Ruiz will make $1.9 million in 2010, $2.75 million in 2011 and $3.7 million in 2012. Did the Phillies get a good deal or not? The table below shows, for players across both leagues who got at least 200 plate appearances as a catcher, the top 15 catchers by OPS and their salaries for 2009:

  OPS as C ’09 Salary
J Mauer 1.061 10,500,000
J Posada .891 13,100,000
M Montero .836 425,000
B McCann .830 3,700,000
M Napoli .817 2,000,000
C Ianetta .789 415,000
V Martinez .783 5,900,000
C Ruiz .781 475,000
J Baker .776 400,000
AJ Pierzynski .770 6,250,000
M Wieters .764 400,000
R Paulino .759 440,000
G Zaun .757 1,500,000
M Olivo .755 2,700,000
K Shoppach .750 1,950,000

Ruiz’s value comes from more than just what he does with the bat, but he fared pretty well with the bat last year as well, even before he hit .341 in the post-season. Only seven catchers across either league put up a better OPS while playing catcher.

Whether the deal is good for the Phillies going forward or not, getting Ruiz for $475,000 in 2009 clearly was. Of the eight catchers who put up a better OPS, only two of them, Miguel Montero and Chris Iannetta, were paid less than Ruiz in 2009. Among all 15 players on the list above, only five made less than Ruiz.

When you consider just the offense, though, I think there are reasons to worry about Ruiz. He just turned 31 and is coming off of what is clearly the best year of his career with the bat. Ruiz hit 255/355/425 in 2009, but came into the season with a career line that was a meager 242/329/359. That .688 OPS is almost a hundred points less than his mark for 2009. His on-base percentage for his minor league career was .331 — much worse than his career-best .355 from 2009.

There were 42 players in the leagues combined that got at least 200 plate appearances while playing catcher in 2009. Had Ruiz put up his career OPS of .688 in 2009 that would have been 27th of the 42. So let’s hope the guys the Phillies are paying $3.7 million a year in a couple of years is closer to the guy who’s eighth on the list than the guy who’s 27th on the list. Offensively, at least, that’s not real hard to replace. Jason Jaramillo, for example, was 29th on the catcher list by OPS for 2009. He hit 255/312/368 for the Pirates this year, a .680 OPS, and he won’t be making $3.7 million in 2012.

I think there are two primary arguments that you can make that the Phillies aren’t going to regret paying Ruiz $3.7 million in 2012. The first is that his production with the bat last year wasn’t a fluke and he will continue to hit that well or nearly that well for the next couple of seasons. If that’s how you feel, I hope you’re right. But again, he’s old and his .781 OPS from last season is better than his career OPS in the minor leagues (.754). The other argument is harder to quantify, but it’s possible that Ruiz is so good defensively and so good at handling pitchers that even if his offense does slide back to his career levels, he’s still worth the investment.

The Phillies were expected to be one of many teams watching Noah Lowry throw yesterday in Arizona, but the workout was postponed. The 29-year-old lefty has a career 4.03 ERA but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2007 due to thoracic outlet syndrome.

This suggests that Bastardo and Escalona both have real chances to start the season on the active rosters as lefties out of the pen.

This says the Phillies have been trying to sign a veteran lefty and have been trying to ink Alan Embree or Ron Mahay to a minor league deal.


Rest of the group catchering up with Ruiz

Coming into 2009, the Phillies were 113-79 (.589 winning percentage) in the games that Ruiz started at catcher and 68-64 (.515) in the games someone else started at catcher over the past two years. Their winning percentage when Ruiz starts this year is still good, but the Phillies have had some good results this season with other guys behind the plate, too. Here’s the Phillies record and winning percentage by starting catcher for 2009:

  G W L PCT
Ruiz 97 56 41 .577
Bako 31 19 12 .613
Coste 22 13 9 .591
Marson 6 3 3 .500
Hoover 1 0 1 .000
         
Total 157 91 66 .580

The Phils are 56-41 (.577) this year when Ruiz starts and 35-25 (.583) when he doesn’t.

Jamie Moyer left last night’s game after crumpling on the mound with what the team has called a left groin strain. His status is unknown. After throwing 1 1/3 scoreless innings last night, Moyer now has a 1.93 ERA and an 0.70 ratio in 18 1/3 innings in relief for the season.

This says that Carlos Ruiz was in the Phillies lineup as of 4 PM yesterday but was scratched after batting practice. It also says that Myers may be ready by the end of the week.


Adios to scoring runs for Carlos

Carlos Ruiz has been a monster at the plate this season, posting a 309/435/511 line. Among the 18 NL players who have gotten at least 100 plate appearances as a catcher his .945 OPS at the position is best in the league.

Thanks mostly to Ruiz, the Phillies have been much better offensively at the position in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Year AVG OBP SLG OPS NL Rank
OPS
2009 270 387 455 842 2
2008 243 327 367 694 10

Whether it lasts or not the whole line is just impressive, especially considering that with the exception of an early contribution from Marson it’s mostly been the same guys in ’09 that played in ’08. The .387 on-base percentage for the position is particularly impressive.

The thing that’s not impressive is that while the Phillies have generally had their catcher hitting in the same spot in the order in both 2008 and 2009, their catchers are scoring less runs this year than they did last.

Year POS G Runs R/Game
2009 C 55 17 .309
2008 C 162 74 .457

The guys playing catcher last year were terrible with the bat. This year they’ve been great, but they score a lot less often.

Ruiz has scored eight runs on the season and gotten 116 plate appearances. He has three home runs, so that leaves five times on the season he’s been driven in by some other player. He’s on-basing .435. In 2008 he got 373 plate appearances and scored 47 runs — if he continues to score runs at his current rate this year and again gets 373 plate appearances he will score about 26 runs. In 2008 he on-based .320.

Given how often the catchers hit eighth your first instinct may be to blame the pitchers. But while the pitchers sure aren’t good, they are at least as good with the bats as they were last year:

Year AVG OBP SLG OPS NL Rank
OPS
2009 110 219 165 384 7
2008 124 176 151 326 9

The .110 batting average won’t inspire much sonnet-writing, but the .219 on-base percentage is the best mark for NL-pitchers with the bat.

While there is surely more than one reason the catchers aren’t scoring regularly, a big part of the problem seems like it has to be Jimmy Rollins and the top of the order. Even if the pitcher’s slot doesn’t make an out, there’s a pretty good chance the top of the order will. Here’s what the guys batting leadoff for the Phils have done:

Year AVG OBP SLG OPS NL Rank
OPS
2009 216 253 314 567 16
2008 286 356 453 810 5

When you think of the struggles Rollins has had at the plate this season you probably think first of the problems it causes starting rallies. And that’s a big problem. But as long as Ruiz continues to put up huge numbers in the eight hole the Phillies are going to need someone at the top of the lineup who can finish them off as well.

The question for the Phillies is how long the situation will continue or if it will continue at all. The combination of Ruiz being great with the bat and Rollins struggling has hurt them so far this season. We saw them in LA try to deal with the struggles that Rollins is having in different ways. But whether Rollins works out his problems in the short term or not, the chances that Ruiz will continue to OPS .945 and Rollins will continue to on-base .261 in the leadoff spot are close to zero.

Phillies Nation will hold a game-watching-for-charity event at McFadden’s on Thursday night to support The Arc of Philadelphia.

Update: The Phillies sent Brad Lidge to the DL with a strained right knee and called up Paul Bako. Bako has hit 357/372/381 in 42 at-bats at Reading with one extra-base hit, a double. He bats left-handed and turns 37 later this month. Career line of 231/305/317 over 2,341 at-bats.


Then again, maybe it is how you start

The Phillies started different players at third base and catcher regularly in 2008. Here is a look at the team’s record in games where they started Feliz or Dobbs at third, remembering that the Phillies went 92-70 overall, which is a .568 winning percentage:

Player GS at 3b W-L PCT
Pedro Feliz 106 63-43 .594
Greg Dobbs 42 21-21 .500

Eric Bruntlett started 13 games at third for the Phils in ’08. The team went 7-6 in those games. Mike Cervenak started the last game of the year at third for the Phils, which the team won.

Except for the last game of the year, which was caught by Lou Marson, Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste split the catching starts in 2008. Ruiz got 92 and Coste 69:

Player GS at C W-L PCT
Carlos Ruiz 92 55-37 .598
Chris Coste 69 36-33 .522

Coste and Ruiz shared the starts with Rod Barajas in 2007 as well, and again the Phillies played to their best winning percentage with Ruiz behind the plate (in ’07 the Phillies went 89-73, which is a .549 winning percentage):

Player GS at C W-L PCT
Carlos Ruiz 100 58-42 .580
Rod Barajas 37 17-20 .459
Chris Coste 25 14-11 .560

Over the last two years, the Phillies are 113-79 (.589 winning percentage) in the games that Ruiz started at catcher and 68-64 (.515) in the games someone else started at catcher.

In all three examples, Feliz in ’08, Ruiz in ’08 and Ruiz in ’07, the team’s winning percentage when starting the better defensive player is better than the team’s winning percentage overall for the season. This could be caused by a whole lot of things other than Pedro Feliz or Carlos Ruiz making the Phillies win when they start. For example, to generalize, I think it’s safe to say that Charlie Manuel starts his better defensive players in games that are started by his better starting pitchers. Ruiz, for example, caught 26 of Hamels’ 33 starts in ’08 and 19 of his 28 starts in 2007. At the same time, the Phillies went 19-14 in the 33 games that Hamels started in 2008. That’s a .576 winning percentage, worse than the .598 winning percentage that the Phillies posted overall in the games started by Ruiz. In ’07, the Phils went 19-9 in the 28 games started by Hamels, a .679 winning percentage that was better than the .580 in the games started by Ruiz.

To speculate further, another factor is surely that Manuel considers Feliz and Ruiz his best players at the position and puts them into games he sees as the ones the Phillies need to win. For that reason, it may be that the presence of Feliz or Ruiz in the lineup reflects that the lineup is stronger overall, because Manuel chose to play what he saw as he best players at all positions and not just third and catcher, rather than cause the lineup to be stronger. Still, that’s a whole lot of wins over the last two years in games that Ruiz started.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that Ruiz’s catching duties actually shrunk slightly last year for the Phils, both in terms of the number of games he started (92 down from 100) and the number of innings he caught (828 down from 912 2/3).

Interview with Charlie Manuel at Beerleaguer.

This article lists Nomar Garciaparra, Ty Wigginton, Moises Alou, Rich Aurilia, Mark Grudzielanek and Kevin Millar as the right-handed hitters the Phillies are interested in. Wigginton would be the prize of that group by a lot and a fantastic fit with the needs of the team. This says that the Orioles are interested in Wigginton, but he wants a two-year deal and Baltimore would prefer to give him one year.


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