Thursday, August 06, 2009

Zaun is Calling Better Games Than Wieters

Jeremy Guthrie turned in a fine pitching performance on Wednesday, but he didn't get the result he deserved from his quality start. If you need a hint as to why the up-and-down Guthrie was up, look behind the plate. Guthrie - like other O's hurlers - pitches better when Gregg Zaun is catching.

Six of Guthrie's seven wins have come when Zaun started (April 6, April 11, May 14, May 25, June 21, June 27, July 19). Overall, Zaun is calling better games than Matt Wieters regardless of the starter.

Four Orioles pitchers - Guthrie, David Hernandez, Brad Bergesen, and Jason Berken - have started enough games with each catcher to draw worthwhile comparisons between the two backstops. Taken as a whole, these comparisons reveal the value of having a veteran catcher calling the game for you.

[Details after the jump.]



Jeremy Guthrie
With Zaun catching: Allowed eight home runs in 10 games, a .265 average, a .327 on-base percentage, .448 slugging percentage, and a .775 OPS.

With Wieters cathing: Allowed 13 HR in nine games, a .286 average, a .342 on-base percentage, .543 slugging percentage, and an .885 OPS.

Advantage: Zaun.


David Hernandez
Zaun: Four games, one home run, .232 average, .284 OBP, .305 slugging, .589 OPS.
Wieters: Five games, five home runs, .298 average, .370 OBP, .518 slugging, .888 OPS.

Advantage: Zaun.


Brad Bergesen
Zaun: Eight games, three home runs, .234 average, .285 OBP, .330 slugging, .615 OBP.
Wieters: Eight games, three home runs, .257 average, .310 OBP, .359 slugging, .678 OBP.

Advantage: Zaun.


Jason Berken
Zaun: Six games, two home runs, .333 average, .405 OBP, .487 slugging, .892 OBP.
Wieters: Seven games, five home runs, .300 average, .363 OBP, .467 slugging, .830 OBP.

Advantage: Slight edge to Wieters.


Orioles fans should be excited about Wieters, especially given his prowess at the plate. However, the hype shouldn't obscure the defensive value that Zaun brings to the table.
Here's hoping that Zaun, who was signed in part to mentor Wieters, can share that knowledge with his rookie apprentice.


Image source: Orioles Card "O" the Day.

6 comments:

Heath said...

A) Small sample size

B) re: Guthrie has been much worse on the road (16 homers vs 10 for instance) and Wieters has caught Guthrie more on the road than Zaun has. Guthrie also gets murdered against lefty lineups. There's a lot of splits for Guthrie that have nothing to do with the catcher...hard to tell split to believe.

C) A handful of starts with some mercurial rookie pitchers can be thrown right out too.

I'm certain the Wieters is still learning and that Zaun is a decent defensive catcher but catcher ERA and such is overrated, especially within a season...

Matthew Taylor said...

Fair enough, though I think your second argument is the most effective.

Re: Sample Size. There are enough starts for each pitcher to detect a pattern.

As you know, sample size allows you to generalize, i.e. to say that there's a relationship that is not due to chance. I would argue that this is about more than just chance. We're talking about a steady pattern in average, OBP, OPS, etc.

Re: Rookie pitchers. They're the same mercurial rookies when Zaun is catching.

I'd actually expect the rookies to be better with Wieters since they've played with him in the minors and presumably have a greater comfort level with him.

Granted, it's not a huge revelation that a veteran catcher calls a better game than a rookie. But the argument here is that Wieters is still learning and will hopefully get better in time.

Just curious - How would you measure a catcher's ability to call a game?

Thanks for the comment.

FrostKing said...

I'll second most of the stuff Heath said, and also add that for Bergesen you said "advantage Zaun" and for Berken you said "slight advantage Wieters", when I would make the case that Berken was been better with Wieters by a greater amount (42 points of OBP) than Zaun has been with Bergy (25 points of OBP). Sorry for the nit-picking there.

It would be very hard to truely measure a catcher's ability to call a game. I guess one could like at something like called strike % with different catchers - if a catcher called a good game he may be more likely to select pitch sequences that fool the opposing batters. Or break down various pitch combinations (high fastball then curve, change-up away then fastball in) for different catchers to see how effective each one was and how often each was employed. The sample sizes you would need would be pretty big though, and it would require some serious work.

Matthew said...

Thanks for the feedback, FrostKing.

I think the main point still holds with Zaun and that is to highlight the important role he plays as a defensive catcher who can teach Wieters how to call a game. His role often gets overlooked in the Wieters hype, which is based on Wieters' offensive potential more than anything else.

That's not fair to Zaun, an easy target for fans' ire because of his struggles at the plate. The timing of my piece wasn't an accident. While it was frustrating to see Zaun take a called strike three to end the game in Detroit the other night, he does bring value to the team. It's just not as glamorous or as easy to recognize.

I dipped my toes ever so slightly into the stat pool to provide some anecdotal evidence, not necessarily to make an ironclad case. I'm glad it's at least generated some discussion. Please forgive any Type I errors, though I do think there's a relationship there. I'm not going to be the one to do the serious work you mention in developing a large sample size.

There's a larger discussion to be had about our love for offense, as reflected in the wealth of statistics for batters. Defense is much trickier to quantify. As a result, it is often under appreciated and undervalued.

Heath said...

I still call small sample size on this one. 16 games. 16-19 games is hardly enough games to establish a trend, especially considering what you're using for a measure.

Like ERA, batting average, OBP, SLG can all be impacted by so much more than the catcher and how he calls the game. The strength of the lineup faces, the defense behind the pitcher, how many lefties/righties in the lineup...a ton of stuff.

Over the course of only 8 games, for example, a couple of nice plays on a ball to the gap or a diving stab by the shortstop could account for the difference in the Bergesen stats alone. Two good plays. Or two bad ones.

Secondly, Zaun doesn't come to Baltimore with a rep as a great defensive catcher. He's good, he's serviceable but he hasn't made his money in this league with his glove beyond the fact that he's a decent hitter for a catcher.

So given those things alone, I would say that it's a shaky argument that Zaun is head and shoulders above Wieters in the "game calling" department.

The problem is that there is no good way to measure how well a catcher calls a game other than the fan's eye, a guy's rep, a coach's opinion or a pitcher. Catcher defense in general is one of the great unmeasureable things left in baseball. But knowing how other things are measured tells me that I can't take some rate stats from a partial season and accept the assertion.

The only man I can say truly made a difference on his battery mates was Crash Davis. And even his "stats" would be skewed by the two "game lesson" homers Nuke LaLoosh gave up on tipped pitches.

All this aside, I agree that Zaun brings a lot of value to the club behind the plate and that I would rather have a guy strikeout looking to end the game instead of swinging wildly at a bad pitch, especially when he's a marginal big league hitter.

Take none of this as an attack of your analysis though. It could be an indicator after all and arguing is my sport... ;-)

Matthew Taylor said...

Heath,

I don't take it as an attack. I appreciate hearing your analysis.

As I mentioned in my comments to FrostKing, my use of stats in this case served anecdotal purposes more than anything else. I'm glad that it generated some discussion.

I kept thinking about Crash Davis as I wrote this post, so there's at least one thing we agree on when it comes to catchers.

-Matt