Russell Martin is by all accounts a fine defensive catcher. Russell Martin is healthy, recently declaring the knee he had surgery on in the off season to no longer be an issue. So what the heck happened yesterday?
In case you missed it, on Friday afternoon Russell Martin had what Toronto Star columnist Richard Griffin the “Bob Uecker hat-trick — a passed ball, a wild pitch and a throwing error” . You’d think after a performance like that, his ex-catcher manager would have some problems with how he played that afternoon. Quite the contrary. From LoHud:
“I actually thought he did a pretty good job,” Joe Girardi said. “He must have blocked 48 out of 49 balls.”
A.J. Burnett said the same thing. Burnett was actually impressed with his new catcher this afternoon. Burnett said the stolen bases were because he was slower to the plate than usual (Girardi confirmed this), and Burnett also had his curveball going this afternoon, which meant a lot of balls in the dirt.
Don’t forget who AJ Burnett is. He’s a pitcher who led the American League in Wild Pitches in 2009 and was #2 in that category last year. He’s notoriously slow to the plate, and often gets so caught up in his own issues on the mound that he forgets to hold base runners. He throws a hellacious curveball, and the same reason why it will make hitters look silly is what makes it so hard to corral for a catcher. Hard, late break that often winds up in the dirt and ricocheting in any direction. He’s a handful for anyone to catch, and working with AJ will make anyone, even a catcher with a fine defensive reputation like Martin, look bad at times.
This is why I think Francisco Cervelli caught way too much flak for his “poor” defensive season last year. He didn’t forget how to catch overnight. As AJ Burnett’s , he was given a far more difficult task than was Posada, who got the bulk of starts and , both of whom have excellent control and do a good job of holding runners. We also have to apply some common sense to the numbers. As a manager, the only way I’m pairing Jorge with Burnett is if the opponent doesn’t run all that much. Catching Jorge against the Red Sox and Blue Jays (who rarely run) and Cervelli against the Rays and Angels (who run whenever possible) is comparing apples and oranges. If anything, teams that typically run less may run more often on Jorge, knowing his poor reputation and seeking to take advantage. So while SB attempts per innings caught may be similar, opposing managers will tell you the way they approach the game is anything but similar. A good base running team that stays put (or runs like crazy) could say a lot about who’s behind the plate or who’s on the mound. Or both.
Who you catch and what teams you face is why CS% tends to vary greatly from year to year. Cervelli threw out 43% of base runners in 2009 and just 14% last year. He wasn’t hurt. We didn’t hear any stories of him partying all night with Charlie Sheen. This is why CS% is an unreliable indicator, it varies far too much for hidden reasons. It’s often a function of who you’re paired up with on the mound and which opponents you get bulk of duty facing. This is why Catching still defies statistical analysis to this day. in that both catcher and pitcher share responsibility for outcomes, and you really should control for the opposition as well. How much blame should the catcher get for a stolen base? We all know SB are at least as much the pitcher’s fault as the catcher’s, if not more so. If by mid season, fans and pundits are bemoaning how ‘overrated’ Martin was defensively, I would suggest taking a closer look at the numbers. When it comes to catchers, they can be very misleading.
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