One of the things I’m interested in with the PITCHf/x data is seeing if we can better quantify a catcher’s impact on the game. The easiest thing to look at is how the individual catchers deal with balls in the dirt.
I looked at all the pitches classified by the Gameday scorers as “Ball In Dirt” with a least one runner on base – a total of 9907 for the 2007 season, spread across 96 different catchers. I considered these pitches to be the catcher’s opportunities to block a ball in the dirt. Brian Schneider led the way with 332 opportunities, with Jason Kendall and Gerald Laird the other catchers over 300 opportunities.
I then counted up all wild pitches and passed balls that occurred with the catcher behind the plate – let’s call them misses. Miguel Olivo had the most with 65, and Mike Redmond had the fewest with at least 100 opportunities at 7. Then I simply divided the blocks (opportunities – misses) by the opportunities to get a block percentage.
UPDATE: Mike Fast pointed out that I had missed the category of “Swinging Strike (Blocked)” when determining opportunities. I’ve rerun the numbers here.
UPDATE #2: I’ve added blocks above average and runs saved here.
Here’s the list for all catchers with over 100 opportunities in 2007:
Perhaps the most surprising placement on this ranking is Ivan Rodriguez in last. However, anecdotally he wasn’t very good defensively last year, and he’s always been better known for his arm than for his blocking ability. Joe Mauer is way down on the list, but it’s probably pretty tough for a tall catcher to get down to block the balls. Varitek ranks highly by this measure, which means he’s pretty good at blocking pitches that aren’t knuckleballs. Mirabelli, on the other hand, only blocked 64% of his opportunities – for which he can blame Mr. Wakefield.