If there’s one thing us Royal fans like to do (besides watch old videocassettes of vintage games) it’s to keep tabs on departed players. We can’t help it. It’s part of Our Process… The guys who got away.
So you probably know how our two former catchers are doing. In a word: Excellent. Check out their numbers along with the new Royals catcher (for this year and next!) Jason Kendall:
Miguel Olivo – .284/.348/.549, 8 HR, 20 RBI, 23.5% SO%
John Buck – .279/.336/.595, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 11 2B
Jason Kendall – .286/.351/.336, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 7 2B
On base wise, Kendall has the edge. That’s the only place he has the edge. And I’m pretty certain he’s not going to own that edge for long. Since his hot start ended he’s hit .250/.310/.300 in his last 87 plate appearances.
I think everyone was certain he wouldn’t match Buck and Olivo offensively. Defensively… That’s where Kendall was supposed to help this team. Let’s look and see how that’s working.
Four catchers have appeared behind the dish for more than 300 innings this year, and Kendall leads them all with 337.1 innings played (through Wednesday’s games.) He leads all catchers with 16 caught stealing. That’s great! But he also leads the league with 44 steals against. That’s bad!
Hang on a sec and let’s try to put this in the proper context.
Since Kendall is the dean of American League catchers when it comes to playing time, it’s unfair to look at his 44 stolen bases against and pass judgement. Same can be said for his 16 caught stealings. He has played so much (started every game but two and has appeared in 92.6% of all defensive innings for the Royals) that counting stats like this will be extremely skewed.
So let’s normalize things, so to speak. By taking the total of stolen bases and caught stealings, multiplying them by nine and dividing that number by total innings played in the field we come up with what I call Stolen Base Attempts per 9 (SBA/9). This doesn’t pass judgement on who is good (or bad) at throwing out base stealers. It’s a simple way to measure how often baserunners try to take advantage of a particular catcher. My theory is one of perception: Base stealers will run on catchers they perceive as having a weak arm. Thus, the catchers with the highest rate of SBA/9 are the catchers who many believe have the worst arms.
Here are the top five catchers this year in SBA/9.
Kendall – 1.6
Martinez – 1.4
Napoli – 1.3
B. Molina – 1.2
Doumit – 1.1
Quite simply, runners believe they can swipe a base with Kendall behind the plate. The funny thing is, that’s not necessarily true. Kendall has caught 27% of all would be base stealers, which is a decent rate. It’s an example of where perception doesn’t match reality. Kendall’s caught stealing rate is just a hair below the current league average of 28%. (Honestly, I don’t know why more runners aren’t taking advantage of Doumit. The guy is horrible at cutting down base stealers. He’s caught only three of 35 runners.)
We know how horrible John Buck and Miguel Olivo were at stopping balls in the dirt last year. The conventional wisdom in replacing the Scare Pair with Kendall was that our catchers would stop giving away random, extra bases. While Kendall is better at blocking the ball in the dirt, my initial thought when looking at SBA/9 is that whatever gains the Royals make in preventing the extra base via the passed ball or wild pitch, they’re giving back (and then some) because the opposition is running against Kendall at seemingly every opportunity.
To see if this is in fact the case, let’s look at how often base runners advance with certain catchers behind the plate. For that, we’ll look at past balls, wild pitches and stolen bases. Of course, not all of this is on the catcher. If Gil Meche is bouncing balls on the left side of the plate to a right handed hitter, there’s not a lot a catcher can do except go to the backstop and pick up the ball. Still, we heard all winter about how great Kendall was behind the plate at controlling the running game, this is part of that.
Again, the formula is normalized to eliminate the handicap of too much playing time. Here are the top five catchers in bases taken per nine
Martinez – 1.68
Napoli – 1.67
B. Molina – 1.53
Kendall – 1.50
Buck – 1.29
There’s Buck. I knew if I ran enough defensive numbers (and focused on the negative) he’d end up on one of these lists.
Basically, Kendall is giving runners three free bases every two games. Most of that damage does come from the massive number of attempted steals. He’s allowed just 12 passed balls and wild pitches. Just for fun, here are the leaders in the PBWP/9 category:
Napoli – 0.73
Buck – 0.60
Olivo – 0.53
B. Molina – 0.51
Marson – 0.51
That’s more like it. Of course Buck and Olivo are making more trips to the backstop than anyone not named Mike Napoli. Kendall owns a 0.32 PBWP/9 which ranks him seventh best in the league among catchers who have logged at least 220 innings behind the plate. That’s solid, and exactly as advertised.
It’s the enormous amount of stolen bases that are hurting Kendall defensively. For the amount of time he’s played, he’s doing a great job blocking the ball in the dirt. However, there’s a perception that you can run on him. And for the post part, that perception is true.
It’s difficult to look at what the former Royal catchers are making this year because the collective bargaining agreement limits the depth of a pay cut when a player remains with his old team. For the Royals to have gotten one (or both) back at the rates they eventually signed for – Olivo signed for one year at $2 million (with a $2.5 million club option for 2011) while Buck signed for one year at $2 million – the team would have had to have signed them as free agents.
Instead, the Royals threw a total of $6 million at Kendall for two years. They paid a higher rate for what amounts to less overall production offensively. And defensively as far as allowing the free base, it’s really too close to call.