Today is part two of our look at the Cardinals’ focus on defending the running game. We’ll take a look at how the catchers play a role in slowing down the running game of opposing teams.
If you missed part one yesterday, you can catch up before diving into today’s post.
Let’s get some simple numbers out of the way. The chart below shows stolen bases against the Cardinals compared to National League and Major League averages from 1996-2008. You’ll note that only once have the Cards allowed better than the NL or MLB average.
|SB||STL||NL Avg||ML Avg|
Have the Cardinal catchers been particularly adept at throwing out would-be base stealers?
|CS||STL||NL Avg||ML Avg|
Not especially. Since 2000, they have been mostly below average in the number of runners caught stealing. Some quick math brings me to the next chart – showing total attempts, whether successful or not.
|Attempts||STL Att||NL Att||ML Att|
This is some really telling data for me. The Cardinals have only ranked above league averages once in stolen base attempts against them. If you remember the stolen base success percentage graph from yesterday’s post, the Cardinals were better than league averages in percentage of successful attempts allowed in each season except for 2002 and 2003. This means that even in the season that the Cardinals faced the most attempts, 1997, they were still better than league average at catching those runners. They were less than average at catching runners in 2002 and 2003, but faced far fewer attempts than league averages. Opponents have grown increasingly hesitant to run on the Cardinals defense.
|1996||Tom Pagnozzi 67/35, Danny Sheaffer 28/12|
|1997||Mike DiFelice 62/34, Tom Lampkin 55/22|
|1998||Eli Marrero 32/19, Tom Lampkin 30/13, Tom Pagnozzi 30/12|
|1999||Eli Marrero 41/29, Alberto Castillo 35/36|
|2000||Mike Matheny 44/49, Carlos Hernandez 19/7|
|2001||Mike Matheny 30/28, Eli Marrero 21/9|
|2002||Mike Matheny 43/23, Mike DiFelice 23/9, Eli Marrero 20/2|
|2003||Mike Matheny 40/15|
|2004||Mike Matheny 38/16, Yadier Molina 9/8|
|2005||Yadier Molina 14/25. Einar Diaz 11/8, Mike Mahoney 7/0|
|2006||Yadier Molina 37/29, Gary Bennett 26/3|
|2007||Yadier Molina 23/27, Gary Bennett 24/4, Kelly Stinnett 11/3|
|2008||Yadier Molina 34/18, Jason LaRue 13/8|
Looking at some of the names on that list (I only listed those of relative consequence, there have been plenty of others who played in three games or such that have been omitted) and their relative defensive reputations, you can start to correlate some of the numbers in the charts with the names that were behind the plate.
Even though Alberto Castillo had success throwing runners out in 1999, it’s obvious why the numbers started to decrease in 2000 and beyond (more on that in just a bit). 2002 saw an uptick in attempts, which I would directly relate to the throwing statistics shown above for Mike DiFelice (who also struggled in 1997, and really for his entire career) and Eli Marrero (also a below-average throwing catcher).
The arrival of Mike Matheny in 2000 clearly changed how other teams approached the running game against the Cardinals. Yadier Molina has fit similarly in the catcher’s role, following Matheny’s departure via free agency. In fact, one might be tempted to create a link between the diminishing Cardinal prevention rate and Matheny’s eventual departure. Matheny was not getting any younger, and the Cards had Molina waiting in the wings – but the numbers clearly show that runners were having more success running on Matheny by the time he left St Louis.
Molina’s 2008 caught stealing numbers, in a season where he was the National League’s Gold Glove catcher, were not necessarily what they had been in the past – many attributed this to his newfound prowess at the plate, and perhaps more focus on hitting than Yadier had committed in the past. To me, caught stealing numbers don’t tell the whole story here. Overall stolen base attempts against the Cardinals were down from 92 to only 70. I believe part of this has to do with the backup catchers, as you’ll read in a second. The other part can be attributed to teams not wanting to run against the arms of the Cardinal catchers, which should be considered just as important as how many runners they throw out.
I mentioned the backup catchers, because in many instances, they become important. Case in point, the 2006 and 2007 numbers would look better without dismal rates for Gary Bennett and Kelly Stinnett. The acquisition of Jason LaRue in 2008 looks almost purely defensive in intent, when you realize how poor Cardinal backup catchers were at preventing the run prior to his arrival. With strong-armed LaRue behind the dish, total attempts dropped about 25% from 2007 to 2008. Attempts versus the backup catcher dropped by 50%.
So we know that Tony LaRussa likes his catchers defensive and able to handle a pitching staff, thus Matheny and Molina. Looking at these numbers, can we definitively say that Cardinal catchers are *focusing* on stopping the run, or do they just happen to be good throwing catchers?
The answer is a little bit of both, in my opinion, but we’re leaving out a big piece of the puzzle. This all started with a post based upon a pitcher’s ability to prevent thefts. Tomorrow we’ll look at Cardinal pitchers over the years, and the role they played along with these Cardinal catchers in stopping the opponent’s run game.