By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) It happened quietly a couple weeks ago, but it was seismic in baseball’s analytical world: a gold mine of retroactive data on catchers unearthed by Baseball Prospectus to measure defensive value.READ MORE: Naperville Police Searching For 3 Men Wanted In Jewelry Store Robbery
Stat folks were referring to the day as “Catchella,” reveling in the opportunity to dive into all the new measurements of how catchers block and frame pitches, as well as attack and deter opposing baserunners. Many teams had already been harvesting this information with proprietary devices, but this was the unveiling of a standardized measure for all of us.
Get to know CSAA, or Called Strikes Above Average. It’s another term for framing pitches, a measurement of how a catcher makes a team more or less likely to win by the number of strikes he “grabs” that would otherwise be called balls. This is the critical factor, as long as human beings continue to make such judgments behind the plate.
Then there is EPAA, or Errant Pitches Above Average. This measures the ones that get away, either as wild pitches or passed balls. Simply enough, the better catchers keep this from happening.
For the run game, there’s now SRAA, or Swipe Rate Above Average, which shows how successfully catchers throw out would-be basestealers. There’s also TRAA, or Takeoff Rate Above Average, which quantifies how the mere threat of the catcher keeps runners from attempting to steal or straying off base.READ MORE: Man Arrested In Countless Social Media Threats Directed At CPS Schools, Days After Shootings Kill 2 Simeon Career Academy Students
It’s a lot of new information, and those wanting some historical context can find it here from Sports on Earth. BP’s Cubs-based local site analyzes the data here, and a look at both allows for the conclusion that the Cubs have been out ahead of this understanding of the real defensive value of catchers and how important they are to winning.
It’s notable that in the total recalculation of career Wins Above Replacement Player, two of those gaining the most in MLB upon the release of the new statistics are Cubs catchers David Ross (up 114.58 defensive runs saved to raise his WARP from 10.79 to 22.5) and Miguel Montero (90.35 more runs saved, jumping from 19.95 wins to 29.46). That means the Cubs’ pitching staff remains in fine hands for now, but the future isn’t as certain with Ross only a bit player at the end stage of his career and Montero’s contract up after next season.
While MLB.com last week named Willson Contreras the top catching prospect in all of baseball, the new numbers don’t do him many favors, suggesting the excitement surrounding him is primarily due to his offense. While Kyle Schwarber was a decent receiver in the minors, his struggles behind the plate were evident at the big league level last season. Both kids are big-bodied and blocky, with neither possessing ideal flexibility. BP Wrigleyville notes that Triple-A catcher David Freitas is a non-roster player who would still present the best defensive option if a need arises in 2016, having accounted for 10 runs saved just last year.
What we do know is that executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have already been operating with a keen awareness of this, and it would be reasonable to expect that extra attention will be paid to the development of Contreras’s defense above all else this year, if not that of Schwarber behind the plate as he tries to become a not-completely-terrible outfielder for now.
The Cubs have been on this for a while already, seeing yet another hidden advantage that is just now coming more completely to light.MORE NEWS: XS Tennis Village In Washington Park To Host Pro Tennis Stars For 'Chicago Fall Classic'