Quantifying Gerald Laird

Twins vs. Tigers


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.

76 Comments

  1. Nick

    October 14, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Gerald Laird’s value is -16.9 which would make him 31 runs worse than a replacement player. Does the negative value not matter?

  2. Chauncey

    October 14, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    There’s no doubt that Laird has his value- especially against teams like the Twins or Angels. But, I’m not so sure he has a ton of value as an everyday catcher- it’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers have a viable alternative next year (maybe if they feel Avila is ready for a larger role) how much Laird plays.

  3. Joel in Seattle

    October 14, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I think he’d be a great platoon player… he had stretches where he hit pretty well, and I think he just got used too much. He hit lefties pretty respectably. Also, he’s a plus baserunner, which is rare for a catcher. He’s a useful guy to have on the bench in all kinds of situations (late-inning defense, pinch running, etc.).

    If you’re paying next to nothing for the other guy (Avila), I don’t think it’d hurt to have him around around the 3 million he made this year. All of this unless you can somehow significantly upgrade the offense. Most catchers that would be available wouldn’t give you THAT much improvement.

    • Vince in MN

      October 14, 2009 at 6:50 pm

      Looking at Laird’s career stats, it seems he is best suited to the platoon role. You could give him the bulk of starts, but more than 90-100 is probably pushing it.

      http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/pl.....lYqSmFCLcF

      • Vince in MN

        October 14, 2009 at 8:45 pm

        In fact, it is uncanny how the two seasons in which he caught over 100 games (’07 and ’09) are almost exactly the same.

  4. Stormin Norman $

    October 14, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    the defense is just part of the puzzle – how many games did Laird cost the Tigers for his truly inept hitting? A: a lot more than he won by his defense. David Ortiz only hit .230 for the Red Sox this year, but he still batted in over 90 runs… My point, hitting a fly ball with a runner on third and less than two outs produces runs – Laird has proven he’s not capable of being an every day catcher in the batting dept.

    The Rangers just parted ways with Jaramillo, their hitting coach, fire or re-assign McClendon, and hire Jaramillo… though he couldn’t do anything for Laird when Laird was with the Rangers…

    • Andre in Chi

      October 14, 2009 at 3:39 pm

      “[Q:] how many games did Laird cost the Tigers for his truly inept hitting? A: a lot more than he won by his defense.”

      And you can show this how?

      “David Ortiz only hit .230 for the Red Sox this year, but he still batted in over 90 runs… ”

      Imagine how many RBIs he would have had with a .260 avg.

      “My point, hitting a fly ball with a runner on third and less than two outs produces runs”

      Laird was 3rd on the team in sac-flys and second over-all in sac-hits.

      “Laird has proven he’s not capable of being an every day catcher in the batting dept.”

      This is probably true from a batting standpoint, but the post is about the position as a whole and how to quantify it.

      Laird is definitely at the bottom of the catching pile, offensively…but catchers are not a terribly impressive group of offensive players as a whole.

      I’m not saying he’s a great overall catcher either, at .9 WAR he’s still very far down the list in terms of catchers — but for his salary, that’s a bargain.

    • billfer

      October 14, 2009 at 6:50 pm

      how many games did Laird cost the Tigers for his truly inept hitting? A: a lot more than he won by his defense.

      Compared to who?

      If you mean compared to an average player he lost them about 1.7 games with his bat (see the -16.9 runs with the bat up above). But with his defense and a positional adjustment he was pretty much a league average player last year.

  5. Kathy

    October 14, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    I absolutely love Gerald Laird. I know, I know, there’s no statistical basis for my love. Remember the argument he got into with Verlander? He appears to me to be a very emotional guy who gives 100% effort at least defensively. He’s awful at the plate, except for bunting, but I just like his attitude and defense.

  6. stephen

    October 14, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    I don’t have a problem per se with Laird, but I’ll stick to my chronic complaint: There is no way the Tigers win anything in the American League with a 7 through 9 of Inge, Laird, and Santiago/Everett. It just can’t be done. All three would be fine #9 hitters, the problem is two of them have to hit 7 and 8. If the 2010 Tigers trot all three of them back out there, I’m gonna blow my brains out.

    • Vince in MN

      October 14, 2009 at 8:37 pm

      I agree completely. The Tigers went from a team with about 4 or 5 guys who were best suited as DHers to this year’s incarnation of a team with 4 or 5 guys who should be DH for. There must be some happy medium!

      • stephen

        October 14, 2009 at 10:56 pm

        double agreed!

      • Coleman

        October 14, 2009 at 11:51 pm

        It could be worse–we’ve had teams with a DH you should DH for (ahem, Sheffield..)

        • Vince in MN

          October 15, 2009 at 1:09 am

          I would even go so far as to say that for the last 4 years we have had an M (now EM) that we should have had a DM for. But I digress.

    • Rick G

      October 14, 2009 at 8:42 pm

      If the Tigers don’t re-sign Polanco, they could trot out Inge, Laird, Santiago, and Everett as hitters 6 through 9. That’d be the makings of a regular Bizarro world murderer’s row! Yikes!

      • Vince in MN

        October 14, 2009 at 8:49 pm

        If you add the ’09 version of Granderson and Thomas to the 1-2 spots…..

        • Jeff Molby

          October 14, 2009 at 11:10 pm

          Don’t stop there… slot the June-July Maggs in at #3 and we might lose to USF.

          • Coleman

            October 14, 2009 at 11:50 pm

            Hmm…OK, but only if I can bat Josh Anderson 3rd against RHP…

          • Jeff Molby

            October 15, 2009 at 2:40 am

            Can’t do it. I already have Anderson platooning with Clevlen in LF

  7. Coleman

    October 14, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Last season our pitching and defense were awful, our hitting so-so, and the results predictable. This season our pitching and defense were very good, our hitting so-so, and the results better than predicted.

    It’s easy to say just add offense, and voila, there we go. But–though I agree with adding offense–I think we also have to be a bit careful. For example replace the wrong positions with the wrong guys, and we’re back to the awful defense. And I think–and this is a much more iffy opinion I realize–suddenly our pitching isn’t as good anymore, since–to some extent at least–defense and pitching aren’t always completely separable (unless you have a bunch of Verlanders who just strike everybody out).

    And I think of all these tricky defense/pitching areas, catcher is the trickiest, because of the more-or-less unanalyzable “staff handling” quality. And on top of that I wonder if, when you have a catcher gunning out baserunners like Laird did, it even helps the pitchers avoid giving in to hitters (“can’t walk him or he’ll take 2nd” becomes “yeah let him try it.”)

    • Vince in MN

      October 15, 2009 at 12:41 am

      I’ll take a slight bit of exception on the general team analysis. The hitting wasn’t even so-so in my opinion. The Tigers finished no better than 9th in the league in any major category. BA and RS we were 10th. That is pretty much how they ranked during the whole campaign – below average.

      As for pitching, yes they were very good in the FIRST HALF. However there was a fall-off in the 2nd half. Near the mid-point, Tigers pitching was 2nd in the league behind Seattle, (just a tick over an ERA of 4.00 if memory serves) and they ended up 5th with a 4.29 team ERA.

      The defense was 6th in the league (pct wise anyway) at the end. I don’t know where they were exactly amongst the various sabermetric measures earlier or at the end, so I don’t want to come across as too strident on this issue. I remember there being talk of Polanco, although sure handed, losng some range, Everett was even considered below average (or at least a disappointment) and although Inge made a boatload of fantastic plays, he also booted it 20 times (again). And the gods know we chewed our fingernails to the quick more frequently than not when a ball was hit to RF or LF. Even Granderson had a sub-par year I think.

      I agree that defense and pitching are definitely linked, but on the other hand defense doesn’t help much with pitchers that can’t get the ball over the plate. I am inclined to believe that the assessment of our pitching and defense may be overly valued. If this be so, how much damage would it actually cause if some of this were sacrificed to beef up the attack.

      • billfer

        October 15, 2009 at 6:12 am

        UZR had the Tigers at 45.6 runs as a team. That was 3rd best in the AL and 5th best in all of baseball. In 2008 they were -39.1 runs. That’s a swing of 8-9 games on defense. You put an average defense behind the Tigers pitchers and the team ERA goes from 4.34 to 4.63.

        • Vince in MN

          October 15, 2009 at 1:24 pm

          OK, defense definitely helped the pitching then. However, what was the negative impact of having a sub-par offense? As Stephen notes below, by Pathagorean projections the ’09 team was 2-3 games better than the ’08 team – basically still a .500 team. Also, with “an average defense behind the Tigers pitchers and the team ERA goes from 4.34 to 4.63″, maybe our pitching isn’t really that hot. Do we need to consider improvements there?

          • billfer

            October 15, 2009 at 8:40 pm

            Well, the Tigers scored 80 runs less in 2009 than they did in 2008. Everett, Inge, and Laird were definitely a part of that. But the bigger drop didn’t come from the all glove no hit positions. Granderson, Polanco, Ordonez, and Guillen were a combined 50 runs worse in 2009 than 2008 (Cabrera was 14 runs better).

            As for the pitching, it was certainly bolstered by the defense, Rick Porcello especially. The Tigers will definitely hope to have improvement at the back of the rotation. I don’t know if that means acquiring another pitcher via FA or trade. I do think there is reason to hope that Bonderman provides a) more than he did this year and b) more than the combination of Miner/Willis/Washburn/Bonine/Figaro that was rounding out the back of the rotation.

    • stephen

      October 15, 2009 at 1:25 am

      The Pythagoren numbers for the 08 Tigers was 78-84, The Pythagoren numbers for the 09 Tigers was 81-82. Lets not get carried away with how much better this team was than 08. According to the numbers, the 08 team was unluckier than average while the 09 Tigers were much luckier than average. Either way, both teams were disappointments for the money spent. I don’t care how cheap or defensively skilled Everett is, his OPS+ is 60. I love that Laird guns down baserunners. He hit .220. I love that Inge has a gun and gobbles up balls at third. He hit .217 after May 1, hit .205 in 08 and has exactly one OPS+ above 100 in his ten year career. These are not building blocks for a championship team. They’re ‘on the cheap’ filler for an also-ran squad in baseball’s weakest division.

  8. Tigerdog

    October 15, 2009 at 2:23 am

    If there’s one position where I can live with a purely defensive player, it’s behind the plate. Catcher is the most important defensive position on a baseball team. A catcher’s primary job is to Catch. If you can add one of the few that can hit well, that’s a luxury, and he’ll cost a bundle once he gets into his arbitration and free agency years.
    The Tigers have an adequate combination of catchers, provided that Avila can put up decent numbers at the plate, and an average job behind the plate. Al’s kid should see a little more time next season, and the rest will probably help Laird’s numbers as well. Should be somewhere between 60- 40 or a 2/3 split.
    What concerns me is the combination of Laird, Everett, and Inge. We can live with a defensive catcher. Maybe even a defensive shortstop, if we have to (and we don’t), but Inge can’t stay in the lineup if he’s hitting like he was in 2008, or the last half of 2009. Three straight months under .190 doesn’t cut it at third base, and no amount of defense can justify keeping a player like that in the lineup.
    What’s even more illogical, is that the Tigers would consider keeping Inge OR Everett and letting Polanco walk. They can’t keep singing about emphasis on defense if they let him go. They can’t complain about leaving runners on base. PP hit .331 with runners on. Now, if PP gets a sweet multi year offer from another club AND that club is willing to give the Tigers a first round pick, I could understand letting him go. But if DD fails to even offer arbitration, and lets Polanco walk for the sake of 6 million, while keeping Inge, and Everett, and Ordonez at three times the cost, then DD needs to be canned.

    • Jeff Molby

      October 15, 2009 at 2:50 am

      But if DD fails to even offer arbitration, and lets Polanco walk for the sake of 6 million, while keeping Inge, and Everett, and Ordonez at three times the cost, then DD needs to be canned.

      (emphasis added)

      You’re setting yourself up for frustration by thinking like that. The money to Inge and Maggs is guaranteed. Spent. Gone. They’re only going to be replaced if the team can afford to bring in someone significantly better than them. Highly unlikely. So get used to them being here, regardless of what happens with Polly.

    • Andre in Chi

      October 15, 2009 at 10:22 am

      http://tigers.scout.com/2/908978.html

      “The next question that needs to be answered then becomes whether or not to offer Polanco arbitration. If the Tigers don’t, he’s free to sign with any other team, and the organization receives no draft pick compensation in return. However, offering arbitration could come with a price. According to Eddie Bajek over at Tigers Thoughts, Polanco is likely to be a Type A free agent this winter, meaning any team that signs him will have to forfeit one of their own draft picks in addition to the sandwich pick the Tigers would be awarded. That sort of price tag could make Polanco too steep for the buyers out there, and Polanco without a strong offer could accept arbitration from the Tigers, leaving them on the hook with Polanco for another season at the price tag they may not want to meet. “

      • Joel in Seattle

        October 15, 2009 at 8:47 pm

        Last projection I saw had Polly as a type B.

        EDIT: Nope, looks like he’s type A. I noticed Laird is type B.

        • Vince in MN

          October 15, 2009 at 9:29 pm

          Considering the wheelbarrows full of cash that are being paid out to a bunch of players who contributed negatively or not at all, 6 million to Polanco for 1 more year doesn’t sound too bad.

  9. The Only Tiger Fan in Mississippi

    October 15, 2009 at 7:47 am

    Hi All: Interesting analysis and discussion. However one variable missing is Laird’s leadership abilities with the pitching staff. I can only recall one time in the 2009 season that he was at odds with a pitcher and it came on some terse discussion in the dugout between innings. Meanwhile it seem that Laird has great leadership qualities with Tigers pitchers and that they are on the same page. Such teamwork qualities prove very important in close games.

    • Kathy

      October 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

      Only: Remember when he said about a month ago about the Tigers being in the driver’s seat? Leland got ticked off at that remark. He is a very good defensive catcher but he also comes across with the leadership skills both you and I see in him.

  10. Keith (Mr. X)

    October 15, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I think Avila should play much more next year. Part ways with Laird if he doesn’t want to be a back-up. I think Laird is somewhere between a good back-up catcher to a decent platoon catcher. He stinks as the full-time guy. Dusty Ryan can be the back-up next season. Avila is the future and the future is 2010.
    I want to see Sizemore instead of Polanco too.

  11. The Nicker

    October 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

    “Looking at Laird’s career stats, it seems he is best suited to the platoon role. You could give him the bulk of starts, but more than 90-100 is probably pushing it.”

    I agree with this. If we can get him for $3 mil ( i don’t see how he wins more in arb), playing him in a straight righty-lefty (or pitcher oriented) platoon with Avila would be the ideal option here.

    Letting him walk is ok, I’m fine with an Avila/Ryan situation next year as well.

  12. Nate

    October 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I’m pretty sure that Leyland is not comfortable with Ryan as a back up catcher, Laird will be back because they don’t have any better options and even platooning a kid that has been playing the position three years seems a little silly.

  13. Scott

    October 15, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    I think the key to the Tigers off-season, besides the bullpen, is actually left field. I would not use Guillen in left field at all, DH only. When Maggs needs a day off, sit Guillen.

    If the Tigers can acquire an adequate everyday left fielder, it would give them the luxury of carrying Everett and Laird in the lineup (although I’d like to see Avila start 40-50%). By adequate, I mean someone who can drive in 85 runs plus and play decent defense. In a fantasy world, you’d sign Carl Crawford, but we all know that’s not going to happen. Xaiver Nady, another free agent, might be worth looking at…

  14. Jeff

    October 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Speaking of LF, how many Tigers LF’ers have played enough to qualify for a batting title in the last 20 years? Seems like it’s been a platoon position for as long as i can remember.

    • Scott

      October 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm

      You’d probably have to go back to Larry Herndon or Steve Kemp. I just don’t see a lot of good options for that slot in house. Ryan Raburn, I think, would be exposed if you gave him 500 abs and, as I said, Guillen really isn’t suitable for any position at this point other than DH. If Wilkin Rameriz made more contact, he might be interesting. But I think he would strikeout 160 times and hit about .220. We already have enough of that in the lineup.

    • RPS

      October 16, 2009 at 9:31 am

      Craig Monroe: Gone and forgotten?

      • Ypsi

        October 18, 2009 at 7:19 pm

        gone but NOT forgotten

  15. Jason

    October 15, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    Very good read all in all especially trying to tackle the most difficult position in all of baseball to quantify in catching. Some mentioned that when he had similar number of starts in 07 his production was the same as this year. I wonder how much of a bump does taking those 2 years out does his career averages get. I totally agree that if there is any position to carry for pure defense it is the catcher. It is just to hard to quantify the handling of staff category.

    Unfortunately I think we are stuck for a rough ride these next 2 years due to the abundance of bad contracts given by DD. I don’t even count Mags because the 2 trigger clause years were put in by Mr. I himself and the Tigers were bidding against themselves. The scary news is the young talent the Indians have and the White Sox locking up Peavy long term and all of a sudden the division gets tough and 500 ball will be good for 3rd and no better.

    • Kathy

      October 15, 2009 at 7:59 pm

      And Guillen is already quoted as saying he wants to play every day.

    • Vince in MN

      October 15, 2009 at 9:48 pm

      You make a good point about a possible rough ride for the next two years. Bad contracts tie their hands for 2010. 2011 could potentially be a “rebuilding” year as the home grown replacements for some of the bad contracts get their feet wet. DD will have more salary flexibility for free agents in 2011 to supplement, but who knows what will be available.

      • Scott

        October 16, 2009 at 9:45 am

        At least a fair amount of money will be coming off of the payroll after 2010. But I agree; the coming season isn’t likely to be a good one for the Tigers.

    • RPS

      October 16, 2009 at 10:07 am

      I’ve gotta disagree. The Indians won’t be ready until 2011, and, while Peavy, Buehrle, Floyd, and Danks form a really nice rotation, the offense of Konerko, Thome, and Dye (and Quentin?) is going to be almost impossible to replace with Rios on the books. The Royals are irrelevant, and the Twins will be, well, the Twins. If next year’s JV/Jax/Rick can be a reasonable facsimile of this year’s, the Tigers have a great chance in 2010.

      If they can find a way to upgrade SS and DH, I think they end up being the favorites. How about Milton Bradley for Guillen? Similar contracts, Bradley needs a fresh start, and Guillen needs a spot to play. If Bradley acts up, he can go away. For SS, how about either J.J Hardy or Bobby Crosby? Hardy will take a decent amount in trade (Figaro + ?), but has an excellent, excellent glove. Crosby is a walking injury, but should be Everett-cheap, and has upside.

      Or how about this one? A huge trade between two teams that have worked together on blockbusters in the past:

      Porcello and Strieby for Hanley Ramirez and Uggla. Uggla is becoming expensive and needs to DH, and Hanley’s contract, while very fair, is quickly going to become 25% or 30% of the Marlins’ payroll. I think five years of Porcello and six of Strieby might do it. Obviously it would suck to trade Rick, but I think Hanley is the kind of guy that you have to get when you have the chance.

      • Scott

        October 16, 2009 at 10:45 am

        Rameriz is a great player, but no way would I trade Porcello. I think he’s a future Cy Young winner. Bradley would be a nice addition if he wasn’t such a knucklehead … I don’t see him fitting in with Jim Leyland at all. I do like your idea for either Crosby or Hardy. Either would be a huge upgrade.

        Also with Porcello, he could role into the No. 1 slot in a few years if the Tigers are unable or unwilling to pony up 20-million a year for JV. I think that’s why they keep drafting those type pitchers early … keep them while they’re young and cheap then let them go as free agents or trade them for big value. Thoughts?

        • RPS

          October 16, 2009 at 12:40 pm

          Agreed with your line of thought about Bradley, but I think at some point he’s gotta realize that he’s looking at Milton Bradley’s Last Chance really soon. Hopefully the organization could impress that on him.

          I’m assuming the Tigers try to lock JV up this off season for 5/$75 or thereabouts. I’d agree that if JV seems inclined to wait for free agency, I’d hesitate more to trade Porcello. Still, a guy that can hit .342/.410/.543 (.410 wOBA) while playing an acceptable and improving SS at age 25 with 5 more years of reasonable contract is pretty uniquely valuable. Even if Porcello ends up being a Cy Young, the trade is still pretty good for both sides.

      • Mark in Chicago

        October 16, 2009 at 1:03 pm

        definitively “no” on Bradley. he can’t stay healthy enough to play in the field every day, and we already have a DH-in-waiting with Maggs. he’s also not that great of a fielder. to say nothing of the fact that he’s a first-class jerk on and off the field. even his teammates don’t like him.

        also “no” on trading porcello. he’s about league average production now, and 5 more years of club control as he develops into a potential ace is the most valuable thing to have. him an verlander in 2 years could be the best 1-2 in baseball. no sense giving it up, even for an offensive talent like ramirez. if i’m going to trade porcello, i at least want to get pitching back.

        SS is a tough spot to fill, i suspect Adam Everett will be back. the cost is reasonable and he catches the ball well. in DD’s eyes, Everett is just a placeholder keeping it warm for Iorg.

      • Keith (Mr. X)

        October 16, 2009 at 4:08 pm

        I’d rather get a ham sandwich than trade for Milton Bradley.

      • Keith (Mr. X)

        October 16, 2009 at 4:23 pm

        No way would I ever trade Porcello. 20 year old rookies that go 14-9 with an ERA below 4 are a rare find. His ERA will be half of that, in the low 2′s in the near future. I think we have a HOF caliber pitcher with him.
        I don’t want to overpay for another SS like we did before in the Jurrjens/Renteria trade. We’ll just have to take our lumps at that position for time being. We’ll have to wait for the bad contracts to go away or wait until we have some excess blue chip prospects in our farm system that we can deal.

        • stephen

          October 17, 2009 at 6:43 pm

          Mr. X, I missed you. Porcello’s ERA will be two runs lower? Excellent! Then he will be the best American League starting pitcher of the modern age.

      • Vince in MN

        October 16, 2009 at 5:18 pm

        I am guesing there will be no Milton (“Big Pain”) Bradley or Milton Bradley-type player coming to the Tigers while DD is GM. He wants nothing to do with troublemakers (i.e. Urbina, who was gone in a flash after the plane mixup thing in ’05). Sheffield was probably even a stretch.

  16. Coach Jim

    October 16, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    The catcher position affects the opponent’s scoring more than any other position. I believe Laird’s skill calling games affected our pitching far more than an extra runner caught stealing once a week. If he were replaced with a player not as skilled in calling games, we might see a jump in team ERA of 0.50 or more. I don’t think upgrading ONE position in your batting order from .220 to .260 would improve your offense enough to offset that. It would probably only improve the team output by 0.10 runs per game. So for me, I’ll take the good defender/poor hitter over the mid defender/mid hitter. Of course, if you can find a mid defender/good hitter, you might be onto something.

    • Kurt

      October 16, 2009 at 7:02 pm

      Would you be making the same statement if Verlander didn’t bounce back, Porcello didn’t make the team and the Tigers hadn’t traded for Jackson?

      Did Pudge suddenly forget how to call a game after 2006?

      • Kathy

        October 16, 2009 at 9:37 pm

        Pudge made alot more money.

        • Chris Y.

          October 17, 2009 at 2:12 am

          And all three of those events involved G. Laird on the receiving end.

          Unless you have data on their performance independent of Laird, I don’t think you can exclude his contribution.

          In fact, one might argue that the co-incidence of a Verlander “bounce-back”, a Jackson breakout, and a mercurial Porcello, just might be related to, um, something… (Rick Knapp or otherwise).

          Clarify?

          RE: Pudge (’09; you know the 07, 08 results):

          Roy Oswalt, 8-6, 4.12 ERA, 181 1/3 IP
          Wandy Rodriguez, 14-12, 3.02 ERA, 205 2/3 IP
          Bud Norris, 6-3, 4.53 ERA, 55 2/3 IP
          Brian Moehler, 8-12, 5.47 ERA, 154 2/3 IP
          Felipe Paulino, 3-11, 6.27 ERA, 97 2/3 IP

          All while he hit .249, slugged .384, and posted a monstrous .663 OPS.

          • colin

            October 17, 2009 at 10:46 am

            Taaaaa-daaaaa! Here’s your data. (Article is free content)

            http://www.baseballprospectus......icleid=432

            Cliffs Notes: “Game-calling isn’t a statistically significant skill”

            Laird is a good defender, and sometimes pitchers do need a little help to maintain composure but in general I think “…calls a good game” is something that Sawx fans attribute to Jason Varitek to try and justify his continued employment.

          • Kurt

            October 17, 2009 at 3:42 pm

            OK, let’s stick with the Astros

            Quintero:
            2007 Catcher’s ERA: 5.18 (fourth place of five)
            2008 Catcher’s ERA: 4.92 (third place of three)
            2009 Catcher’s ERA: 4.37 (first place of three)

            Towles:
            2007 CERA: 4.26 (first place)
            2008 CERA: 4.81 (second place)
            2009 CERA: 5.72 (third place)

            Game-calling as repeatable skill?

  17. Chris Y.

    October 17, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Actually, the article you reference only reinforces Billfer’s point about the difficulty of objectively measuring a catcher’s influence on pitching through game-calling.

    Indirect measures aren’t much good, but they are as good as any other measure. The lack of statistical evidence does not prove the absence of effect.

    From the article’s intro and conclusion (I’ve excerpted a significant part of the conclusion):

    Introduction

    “One of the great remaining unknowns in sabermetrics is the true defensive impact of the catcher. What few commonly available stats we do have to deal with peripheral defensive responsibilities like passed balls and throwing out basestealers. Yet most knowledgeable observers believe that the aspect of the catcher’s job that has the most impact is his game-calling, that is, his ability to work with pitchers and help them throw more effectively. The cumulative effect of game-calling is potentially huge. For example, a catcher who catches 130 games a year, and who may reduce the ERA’s of his pitchers by just a quarter of a run (0.25) is worth 32.5 runs defensively — a figure that ranks up there with the top shortstops and outfielders in the league. Yet there have been no satisfyingly thorough attempts to quantify this presumably crucial aspect of run prevention.”

    Conclusions

    “Though we would colloquially say that game-calling doesn’t exist, it’s more accurate to say that if there is a true game-calling ability, it lies below the threshold of detection.

    There is no statistical evidence for a large game-calling ability, but that doesn’t preclude that a small ability.

    For example, a genuine game-calling ability that reduces a pitcher’s ERA by 0.01, resulting in a savings of about 1.6 runs per year for the entire team and could be masked by the statistical variance in the sample size we have to work with. Players would need to play thousands more games than they actually do to have enough data to successfully detect such a skill statistically.”

  18. colin

    October 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I didn’t say “Gamecalling doesn’t exist” I quoted the article’s conclusion saying “Game-calling isn’t a statistically significant skill”. If you’re seriously worked up about 1.6 runs/year, more power to you.

    If you have another point, what is it?

    • colin

      October 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

      I guess I don’t understand why you quoted the study, and what you’re arguing otherwise. If you think that the study’s results do not support the null hypothesis and that therefore no conclusions should be drawn about game-calling, I encourage you to look at graph #4 “Year-to-year trend in Battery Z-scores”.

      For what it’s worth, the results of this study surprised me when I read them ~4 years ago and I haven’t found anything better written on the topic.

      • Chris Y.

        October 17, 2009 at 4:04 pm

        My original post was in reply to the suggestion that Laird was not an upgrade over Pudge. I disagree and I certainly don’t think you can definitively state that he had no influence on the pitchers this year. You also cannot prove the converse.

        “Statistically-significant” is relative to the statistic of choice. While Woolner did an excellent job trying to tease out game-calling from pitcher:catcher stats, I don’t think his analysis tells us all that much. First and foremost, the Z-score relies on differences in pitcher performance between say Laird and Avila+Ryan+Dane. The sample sizes are likely to be highly unbalanced since Laird caught 135 games this year. So, I would expect these scores to be fairly random depending on the quality of starting catcher, quality of back-up(s), and time-share. A non-parametric analysis might have been better, but this is probably as good as one can get at isolating pitcher-catcher performance.

        That said, I’m not really a big believer in “game-calling”. However, given the difficulty in quantifying the influence of catchers on pitcher performance, and the historical cred given to it by the players themselves, I’m still waiting for more convincing information.

  19. colin

    October 17, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Chris Y: I understand your thinking. I think that it’s simply human nature to see ‘faces in the clouds’: concrete explanations, rationalizations, and stories for mostly random data trends.

  20. Coleman

    October 17, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Bob Gibson will wish he had been Rick Porcello.

    Seriously though, the Mr X remark about trading a Ham Sandwich for Milton Bradley gave me a good idea of a possible landing spot for the Belligerent Board Game. SF is desperate for an OF, and this is a team that managed to deal with The Bonds. Yeah, I know, MB is no BB. Still…

    (BTW The Ham Sandwich IS available…if only we could get the Twins to take a bite…)

    • Vince in MN

      October 17, 2009 at 7:47 pm

      No way the Twins go for Bradley – they hate trouble makers as much as, if not more than, DD.

      As for The Ham Sandwich, I am convinced most Minneapolitans are organic only vegans, so that is out also.

    • Kathy

      October 18, 2009 at 6:52 pm

      Bob Gibson pitching against the Tigers used to be a day of dread in my family. He was really something.

  21. Coach Jim

    October 18, 2009 at 11:19 am

    There are many things a catcher can do, or not do, that affects the pitcher’s performace. One thing I teach my catchers is that they need to have their mitt as a target when the pitcher reaches his balance point (when the front knee is at its highest point, before the forward motion) Late in the year, I noticed Miguel Olivo for KC was terrible at this. He kept his mitt pretty much on the ground during the pitcher’s wind up, only bringing it into the strike zone to catch the ball. On the other hand, Joe Mauer gives a target and leaves it. Maybe this affects some pitchers, maybe not. There is no stat for “strikes thrown when the target is presented by the balance point.” Furthermore, this style could affect Pitcher A negatively, but Pitcher B positively.

    In any event, trying to prove split-hair differences in catching with stats is a futile endeavor. Nobody is going to change their minds because of “evidence” supplied by a contrary position. The best we can hope to accomplish here is to state our opinions, along with our reasoning, and marvel and the diversity.

    • colin

      October 18, 2009 at 2:45 pm

      I didn’t mean to come off so negative earlier. However, I certainly hope that evidence supplied by contrary positions could cause both myself and others to change their minds!

  22. Coleman

    October 18, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    You might be surprised–I think I may have seen an opinion or two change here. Besides there are more positions besides the contrary ones. I find it hard to form an opinion at all on the subject, unless you would call “I guess I’ll just go with what the players and coaches seem to think” an opinion…

  23. billfer

    October 18, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    I believe there is probably some effect to “handling a staff” but I think the effect is pretty minimal. The fact that numerous studies have failed to really identify such an effect isn’t a reason to believe that it doesn’t exist, just that its impact probably isn’t as great as it is often made out to be – kind of like clutch hitting or being a good presence in the clubhouse.

    As for Laird, I don’t even know that he’s that great at it. People say he is because he is good overall defensively and can’t hit worth a lick. But how often did Verlander get rattled and fastball happy and go from no hit stuff to a 4 run inning? Shouldn’t staff handling and game calling help mitigate that for someone with Verlander’s stuff? What happened to Galarraga this year? The Tigers staff had a great year in 2006 with Pudge behind the plate and he’s widely regarded as an awful handler of pitchers.

    On the other hand, I’ve spoken with pitchers who feel having a good relationship and a level of trust with their catchers is very important so I don’t know what to make of it.

  24. Coach Jim

    October 18, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    Actually, I have a theory what happened to Galarraga this year. One thing a pitcher can do to help “hide” the ball is to keep his glove and throwing hand at the same vertical level as they rise from the break point (about cup level, where the hands break apart) to the full-extension point (where both arms are outstretched like a scarecrow. Some pitchers knowingly use their glove to block the view the batter might have of the ball. In this way, the batter never sees the ball until it’s on the way to the batter. In ’08 I think Galarraga did this quite well. Early this year, I think his arms were not level; he was tilted slightly backwards. This caused the ball to be visible below the glove.

    Let me add that later in the year, he seemed to have corrected this “tilt” but his results seemed to be about the same…so what do I know?

  25. Coleman

    October 18, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Well I don’t know what you know either Coach Jim. But I DO know that I now have something I can think about while I watch someone pitching that I never did before, so thanks for that (by the way if that’s something Knapp noticed and corrected, that’s exactly the sort of thing fans never see; we just see results, which, really, isn’t the worst perspective, is it? Still…).

    That’s what’s cool about baseball, and about having a place like this where so many people knowledgable in different ways grace us with their presence. (And I might as well make explicit the implicit–props to billfer for doing such a good job running the place).

  26. Coleman

    October 18, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Nice try Kathy but no way you were any older than 1 or 2 when Bob Gibson retired.

  27. Chris

    October 21, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    The Tigers do not have any money to do anything next year..They will have to rely on Zumaya and perry in the Pen and Sizemore at 2nd…Unless they deal a player, somebody wants. JV and Edwin Jackson are both going to arbitration or they will sign rich new deals…WE ARE BROKE…18 Mill for Maggs was such a waste, we need defense at the corner outfield positions, some speed…but, we will be a worse version of the 2009 Tigers.
    Why? We have no money

  28. RPS

    October 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Ellipsis troll is fond of the ellipsis.

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