Mike Rabelo – the anti-save

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but Todd Jones and Mike Rabelo don’t really go together. If Jones is peanut butter, Rabelo is asparagus and if you look back at the game logs you see that Mike Rabelo has caught half of games where Jones has allowed runs. Luckily it seems that Jim Leyland has picked up on this, and has Ivan Rodriguez catch Jones in his last 13 appearances. A period where Jones has allowed a meager .490 OPS against.

On June 26th the Tigers were hosting the Rangers at the beginning of a lengthy homestand. Todd Jones entered the game in the 9th inning with the score tied at 6 after the Tigers scored 3 in the bottom of the 8th. After 2 quick outs Jones allowed a few baserunners and there seemed to be a conference between every single pitch with catcher Mike Rabelo. A triple and a single later the Tigers were down 3. After the game Jones admitted to missing a sign from Rabelo. He was supposed to step off the rubber, and instead gave up a hit. That was the last game that Rabelo has caught Jones.

And I’m pretty sure this isn’t a matter of coincidence. Twice Rabelo was the starting catcher, only to be replaced by Pudge at the end of the game for defensive purposes.

Looking back, Jones has allowed runs in 10 of his apperances and in 5 of those Mike Rabelo was the catcher. Jones has 5 blown saves, and Rabelo was manning the plate for 3 of them. Remember April 18th against the Royals? The Tigers take a 3-1 lead into the 9th inning. Jones walked 2 and allowed a double and a single tying the game.

Or what about May 28th against the Devil Rays? The Tigers have a 5-4 lead when Jones loads the bases on 2 hits and an intentional walk only to see Elijah Dukes single in the winning run on a chopper. Rabelo.

And who could forget the low point of the season (at least the low point before this week). The debacle on June 1st in Cleveland. Jones allowed 5 runs in the bottom of the 9th for a crushing 12-11 defeat. Rabelo.

In all, 12 of the 23 runs Jones has allowed have come with Rabelo behind the dish, which is disproportionately high for the backup catcher.

I don’t mean this as an indictment of Rabelo’s ability. His overall catchers ERA is 4.66 which is only slightly higher than Pudge’s 4.47. Given Rabelo’s limited playing time I’m not sure that is even a real difference. But for some reason, he and Jones just never seemed on the same page. They seemed to confer on a regular basis, and the Rangers game was just a manifestation of that. So if the game is close, and Rabelo is playing, you’ll probably continue to see Pudge get that 9th inning call.

26 thoughts on “Mike Rabelo – the anti-save”

  1. Good work. I never would have made the connection. But apparently, you’re on to something.

    I’m game to anything that improves Jones’ game.

  2. Great observation, Billfer. Pudge really has a good rapport (sp) with his pitchers (some, more than others). Even when Vance catches Jonsey and they start with the meetings at the mound, you know Jonsey is feeling vulnerable. I personally think Pudge gives him (Jonsey) confidence.

  3. It’s unrealistic that in the heat of the game, down by 1 in the ninth inning, Rabelo meets with Jonsey on the mound, pounds his chest, pats him on the back and give him words of encouragement and confidence. All that from a AAA catcher. I mean it can happen, but I’ll take Pudge on any given Sunday. Thank you very much.

  4. IMO both have stunk this season. Pudge doesn’t have the arm he used to, and he is not at all the punisher at the plate that he once was.

    All those years squatin’ in Texas heat, Flordia and now here have made him seem old.

    Still at least he knows what he is doing behind the plate. Rabelo isn’t has hit exactly how you expect a backup to hit.

    If Vance were healthy I think he could be a much better hitter than Pudge (if given regular ABs.)

  5. At first I thought ‘well of course he splits his problems between catchers until realizing per game, he’s a lot worse with Rabelo.’ Very nice idea to research this!

  6. Great post thank you. This is no shock. Rabelo is a back up catcher, he doesn’t know how manage (not catch) major league pitching, much less manage a closer in the ninth.

    It’s funny because I remember when Inge was coming up in the Tigers as a catcher, and one positive they loved about him was his ability to catch his pitchers.

    I think the bottom line is, we miss Vance Wilson. Granted Rabelo’s bat is ok, but major league pitchers need veteran catchers.

  7. I don’t think Rabelo has done a bad job at all as a catcher and I really don’t know how much of a difference Wilson would make in that role. There’s probably a pretty big learning curve for a rookie and I think he’s done admirably. But with Jones in particular it seems to be oil and water – at least in terms of results.

    I’d run all the numbers for all the pitcher catcher combinations, but the data isn’t really available except to look at every box score which is just too tedious.

  8. I would never have guessed it at the beginning of the season, but we have something of a hole at catcher all of a sudden. Pudge is not the same defensively, seems as impatient at the plate as ever and Rabelo is no Vance Wilson.

  9. Interesting catch. This is the kind of thing that makes you wonder what the beat reporters do with their time–when a blogger can find it w/o being there every day.

  10. I’ve been wanting to see a post like this anywhere. I hadn’t picked up on the Jones/Rabelo singularity, but I’ve had the impression all season that there’re some trust issues betweeen Rabelo and our pitching staff. I feel like I’ve seen substantially more crossed signals and generally poorer performance, but never had the stats to back it up. I don’t have any major issues with Rabelo on the whole and I think he still could be a decent catcher, but there seems to be something going on that needs adressing.

  11. Bill,

    If your theory is correct, I think it’s more and indictment of Jones than Rabelo. At his age and level of experience, he should be above needing a designated catcher. Jones knows how to pitch, and should know the batters well enough to know what to throw in a particular situation. If Rabelo isn’t flashing the right sign, shake him off until you get what you want. It’s understandable why a young pitcher would benefit from an experienced catcher like Pudge. But Jones? Come on!

    My own opinion is that Jones forgets at times that he can’t overpower hitters with his stuff. He has to pitch to be effective and his location has to be very good, which it often isn’t. You throw a 90 mph fastball without much movement over the plate to a Major League hitter and you’re probably going to get hurt.

  12. It could be worse…I’m in Chicago right now where fans are drinking the “clubhouse/pitching staff leader” and “We already have enough bats in our lineup, we don’t need one more” Kool-Aid to justify purchasing Jason Kendall’s animated corpse. At least Rabelo’s cheap and remembered to pack his bat on the drive up from Toledo.

  13. Thinking Man: Greg Maddux has always had a personal catcher, usually the back up, was he too old and experienced to need this? I’d say it worked out for him.

  14. Also, whoever said Pudge’s arm is gone I disagree with. Is it what it was when he was 25? No. Is it still above average? Absolutely. The low caught stealing total isn’t unprecedented for him. In 2004 he posted a 29.0% caught stealing and then in 05 and 06 went on to have a 44.0% and 46.0%.

    Part of it is Bonderman being slow to the plate, Miller has a long delivery, Chad Durbin wasn’t exactly quick to the plate either when he was starting and everything Nate Robertson throws doesn’t reach Pudge’s glove.

  15. I had posted that a while back. I think in ’04 the low caught stealing was a result of the type of runners that ran on him – only the best would even try (thus the 29% caught is not really an effective measure, a better # would be YoY stolen base attempts). Check out the total # of bases stolen off of him in ’04, he’s about to pass that with 1/3 of the season left.

    Just from observing him this year I think he’s lost something on his throw, his snaps to 1B are a bit slow, and he’s allowed more PBs (and WPs) than in recent memory. I’d consider moving him to the field, but his OPS has been borderline average for the last three years, and I don’t see it getting any better anytime soon. His ability to handle the staff definitely warrants his place as a starter for the remainder of the year, but we really need to move him down to 8 or 9 in the lineup and get Rabelo up to speed on calling games.

  16. Mike R:

    To test your theory, run Pudge’s low caught stealing stats with Verlander. If they’re up considerably, I think you’re on to something.

  17. Pudge is all-star level player and I think he’s one of the best. and we have a lot of players that are some of the best just like Pudge

    Now Mike ain’t quite there yet, yeah, I agree but guess what: we gotta have a backup catcher to play here and there. ya all know that

  18. Wow… nice, nice post. I never really noticed that. By the way, Jones has a pretty good OPS against with Inge catching. I’m just saying.

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