Padres @ Dodgers May 23, 2015: Hot Catcher Talk

Hey, let’s talk about catchers!

Padres
Dodgers
7:10 p.m.
Los Angeles
1B
Solarte
CF
Pederson
3B
Spangenberg
SS
Rollins
RF
Kemp
2B
Kendrick
LF
Upton
1B
Gonzalez
CF
Venable
3B
Turner
2B
Gyorko
LF
Ethier
SS
Middlebrooks
RF
Van Slyke
C
Hedges
C
Ellis
P
Kennedy (R)
P
Bolsinger (R)

** Yasmani Grandal is hurt. After leaving Friday night’s game early thanks to being hit in the head by both a foul tip and a bat, Grandal has been placed on the seven-day concussion list and will be unavailable until next weekend. Don Mattingly called it “mild” — in the sense that any brain injury can be considered mild — but even if Grandal just needed a day or two, you of course can’t go without a backup catcher. (Though a not-small part of me wanted to see emergency catcher Enrique Hernandez, who caught Brett Anderson‘s bullpen today just because someone had to, get into a game just for the hilarity.) Grandal had been hitting a scorching .400/.492/.660 in May, so for a team struggling to score runs, yeah, that’s bad.

** Austin Barnes has arrived. The last part of the Dee Gordon trade to reach the bigs — Howie Kendrick & Chris Hatcher have been up all year, and Hernandez has been up and down — has been recalled to take Grandal’s place. Barnes, 25, was someone we really loved when we first looked into him last winter, although after being touted as something of an interesting multi-positional type due to his ability to play second and third, he’s been strictly a catcher this year for Oklahoma City. He’s hit .290/.390/.430 (123 wRC+) there, and he’s expected to catch Carlos Frias tomorrow. Barnes caught Frias’ first two outings in Triple-A earlier this year, so there’s some familiarity.

** A.J. Ellis is baseball’s best at something. Ellis, who catches Mike Bolsinger tonight and probably gets the bulk of time until Grandal returns, has had himself a pretty tough season, putting up a wRC+ of 8 (!) and ranking poorly as a framer. But as I noted a few weeks ago, what he adds as a pitching coach and game manager is pretty hard to quantify. Until now, I guess. Baseball Prospectus’ Harry Pavlidis and some other smart folks tried to put together a game-calling metric, which goes something like this:

Here’s a fun task: Try quantifying something as ephemeral as game-calling. Well, after a decade of research, that’s just what we’ve managed to do — by crafting a statistical model that attempts to quantify the value of everything from stolen-base prevention and directing pace of play to identifying hitter tendencies like swing behavior in various game situations and knowing which batters expand hit zones in RBI opportunities. Sound complicated? Oh, it is. But based on these factors, and controlling for others, we can now quantify, in runs saved, how well catchers manage their pitchers.

Who ranks at the top?

Because Ellis is the best game caller in the business, and now we can actually prove it. His game-calling alone saved the Dodgers 38 runs from 2012 to 2014, though he gave back 19 of those runs with everything else he did behind the plate (see below). Does it hurt to be Ellis? At times, perhaps. But at least now, when that ninth foul tip slaps his once-unheralded (but now-appreciated) inner thigh, it might not sting quite so much.

I’m still not 100% sure on the methodology involved, so take the exact numbers with a grain of salt. Sure passes the sniff test, though, doesn’t it? Someone totally unrelated to the Dodgers had dug into data and called out Ellis as being elite in the same way that pitchers always tell us he does. I’m not sure that entirely makes up for the rest of his game, but it sure explains why he’s still around. As I said earlier this month, a backup catcher isn’t just about an offensive stat line.

ThrowsRelieverSat 10/15Sun 10/16Mon 10/17Tue 10/18Wed 10/19Thur 10/20Fri 10/21
LAvilan--OFF-2421OFF
RBaez34-OFF-2727OFF
RBlanton28-OFF13-19OFF
LDayton3-OFF16-12OFF
RFields--OFF-910OFF
RJansen-18OFF21--OFF
RStripling10-OFF-2018OFF
LWood--OFF-32-OFF

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.