With Gerald Laird you know what you get. A player who is challenged offensively but who can lay down a bunt. He brings very little value offensively. He’s also a player with quick feet and a strong accurate arm behind the plate. The offensive part is easy to slap numbers on and assess. But while there has been quite a bit of advancement in defensive statistics, particularly around range, those range stats don’t really apply to catchers. Understanding just how much Laird contributed defensively beyond a caught stealing percentage had been kind of a mystery. Fortunately some work done at Driveline Mechanics has helped to translate a catcher’s defense into runs saved.
This methodology focuses on caught stealing, pitch blocking, and errors. A common belief is that there is little difference amongst catchers when it comes to game calling. Pitchers and catchers would probably tell you a different story, but being able to tease out tangible results from a greatly called game versus a poorly called one (as opposed to all the other variables in play like a pitcher’s stuff, the opposition, random variation, etc.) is well…difficult?
It’s no surprise that Laird flourishes underr this study. His caught stealing rate of 42% was outstanding in and of itself. That he saved 5 runs more than the next best catcher (Yadier Molina) is astounding. In total Laird was the top defensive catcher at 13.3 runs saved above average, a full half-win better than the next catcher.
Laird’s difficulties with the bat make him a liability at the plate and he was 16.9 runs below average with the bat (about 1.5 wins – or losses in this case) and with a positional adjustment Laird is about 1 win above a replacement level player. Add in his defense though and his value doubles to just over 2 wins above replacement.
The question for the Tigers for 2010 then is whether they look to improve offensive production at the catcher position or whether to look for improved production at other spots to be able to carry Laird’s glove in the lineup.