Last night when I was watching the Gold Glove awards being announced, I started thinking about how the awards were doing a much better job this year of going to people with actual good defense. That is opposed to the past trend of giving out an award because of a good offensive season, or highlight reel plays that would be routine plays by better defenders. Basically, there weren’t as many Nate McLouth’s this year.
Then it came to the catcher awards, where I figured Jonathan Lucroy or Russell Martin would have received the award. I would have gone with Lucroy, getting the edge over Martin. The actual winner, Yadier Molina, would have been my number three choice. When Molina was announced, I figured it was a case where as long as he spends time behind the plate, and does fairly well defensively, he will win the award. After seven years in a row, we’ve reached the point where you can’t just be better than Molina defensively to win the award. He has to be removed from any consideration for someone else to win.
I didn’t want to write much about it, other than a quick tweet last night, because honestly it doesn’t even matter. If the Gold Glove awards were announced in a week or two, they would be easily over-shadowed by the qualifying offer decisions, Rule 5 additions, or free agency rumors. Any commentary on Gold Glove decisions can usually be broken down as saying “nothing else is happening in baseball right now.”
But then I saw that SABR released their SDI rankings, which is their analytical approach that makes up 25 percent of the voting for the Gold Glove awards. At the top of the leaderboard was Yadier Molina, who had an 8.9 SDI, versus an 8.7 for Martin. Lucroy had a 5.2. That ran opposite of the numbers I came up with, which had Lucroy first, Martin a close second, and Molina third. So I wanted to dig a bit deeper into SDI.
According to SABR, the SDI rankings are made up from the following:
Within the batted ball location-based category, we’ve included 3 measures — Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) from John Dewan’s company, Baseball Info Solutions; Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), authored by noted sabermetrician Mitchel Lichtman; and Runs Effectively Defended (RED) from Chris Dial. The play-by-play based metrics include two measures: Defensive Regression Analysis (DRA) from Michael Humphreys and Total Zone Rating (TZ).
I couldn’t find UZR or RED for catchers. I also couldn’t find DRA or TZ for catchers. The only metric available was DRS, which had Martin ranked first (12 DRS), Lucroy second (11) and Molina tied for third (8).
There was also this addition:
For catchers, blocking balls in the dirt and stolen bases/caught stealing are also included in their ratings.
That gives us two more stats to go on. The first would be rSB, which measures runs saved on the bases by catchers. Russell Martin ranked tied for first in the NL with six. Yadier Molina was right behind him with five. Jonathan Lucroy was way down the list at -1.
There are two ways to determine value for blocked pitches. The first is RPP, via FanGraphs. Lucroy ranks first at 7.4. Molina was seventh in the majors with a 1.6. Martin was 11th with an 0.9. Baseball Prospectus looks at passed balls and wild pitches saved. They had Molina with an 0.9, Lucroy at -1.4, and Martin way down the list at -7.6.
I’m not sure how SDI is calculated with the other metrics, but based on the ones we have above, it seems that a big weight goes to stolen bases (which really hurts Lucroy), and the blocking issues for Martin were enough to put Molina ahead. That said, here is the final thing about SDI for catchers.
Pitch framing by catchers is not currently included in the defensive metrics that comprise the SDI.
When I had Lucroy and Martin ahead of Molina, it was because I incorporated pitch framing. Lucroy was the best at that, worth 23.7 runs this year, or just shy of two and a half wins. Martin was also near the top at 19.3, just shy of two wins. Meanwhile, Molina was down the list at 3.7, which is barely half a win of value. The difference between Lucroy and Molina was two full wins, which would easily trump the value of the difference between the two in stolen bases.
This raises a question: is pitch framing fully appreciated yet? You might argue that SABR is behind the times on this one. You could also argue that pitch framing numbers aren’t gospel yet, since the (outstanding) work by BP is the only thing we have to go on at the moment. But what about the things we’re seeing on the open market?
Sure, Russell Martin will get a contract that says “Texa$” under the amount, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is due to framing. What about David Ross? BP says that he has been worth about 10 runs per year in pitch framing as a backup. That’s a win, or about $5-6 M on the open market. Yet he will probably have trouble making more than $1 M this off-season. Or, to put it another way, let’s look at the 2014 numbers in the following comparison.
Russell Martin: 7810 framing chances, 19.3 runs added
Chris Stewart/David Ross: 6686 framing chances, 19.5 runs added
Martin will probably cost at least six times as much as Ross and Stewart. And for a very good reason. Stewart and Ross, in their best offensive years at this point, couldn’t match a normal year from Martin. Martin’s value trumps their value in other areas behind the plate, such as caught stealing numbers. I’m not saying at all that Stewart and Ross are equal to Martin.
What I am saying is that they are equal to Martin in terms of pitch framing. In fact, they’re better than Martin in that area. And if the Pirates miss out on Martin (which seems likely), there won’t be another catcher available who can provide the pitch framing, plus the offense, stolen base prevention, and other things Martin does so much better than the alternatives. The Pirates will then have to choose a catcher who can excel in one of those areas, and make up for the other areas with the rest of the team.
Based on the projected price for Stewart and Ross, it seems the best value would still be pitch framing. The Pirates could get both catchers for around $2.5 M. That’s the price you pay for, at most, half a win on the open market. If you take the 2014 numbers and assume Stewart and Ross would combine for 10,500 chances as starting duo, you’d get 30.6 framing runs out of the duo. That’s three wins of combined value, even if both catchers will be replacement level in every other area.
Even though pitch framing has gotten so much attention, it still seems that there is value to be had.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.