Cardinals catchers versus the stolen base

by on February 3, 2009 · 7 comments

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.

1996 104 128 116
1997 134 127 118
1998 92 102 109
1999 80 123 114
2000 70 100 97
2001 51 91 103
2002 86 94 92
2003 55 82 86
2004 53 88 86
2005 32 85 86
2006 63 96 92
2007 58 98 97
2008 49 93 93

Have the Cardinal catchers been particularly adept at throwing out would-be base stealers?

1996 54 51 48
1997 66 59 56
1998 44 47 50
1999 69 50 51
2000 66 46 44
2001 37 45 47
2002 34 44 43
2003 24 37 38
2004 29 34 37
2005 33 35 36
2006 32 37 37
2007 34 32 33
2008 21 34 35

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
1996 158 179 164
1997 200 186 174
1998 136 149 159
1999 149 173 165
2000 136 146 141
2001 88 136 150
2002 120 138 135
2003 79 119 124
2004 82 122 123
2005 65 120 122
2006 95 133 129
2007 92 130 130
2008 70 127 128

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.


Catcher Catcher, SB/CS
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.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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undorgre February 3, 2009

I’m on board 100% with the notion that CS% is only one factor in evaluating catchers holistically. Since Yadi became the Cardinals catcher one things that I’ve always touted to people is the value he brings by decreasing the number of attempts against the Cardinals. I’d much rather have a catcher that only throws out 25% of 70 SB attempts than a catcher that throws out 40% of 110 SB attempts.

I’ll look forward to your analysis of the pitchers, which have a huge impact on the effectiveness of their battery mate.

PHE February 3, 2009

Agreed – it was really fascinating to me to see the number of attempts drop when Matheny and Molina were on board – as well as the number of attempts increased against certain backups, when Yadi or Matheny weren’t in the lineup.

I think some of the information about the pitchers may surprise as well.

Sarah-bug February 3, 2009

This is amazing! Can’t wait for tomorrow! :)

Sarah-bug February 3, 2009

Oh, I have a question, too (and it may be a stupid one)–where do pick-offs (at first) factor in for the catcher’s stats? Do they get lumped in with put-outs or do they count as caught-stealing?

PHE February 3, 2009

Great question – other than at – they’re not really tracked. They are not included in caught stealing. See Yadi’s retrosheet page:

Not surprisingly, Yadi has led the league in catcher pickoffs in three of his five seasons. He has 27 career pickoffs.

What did surprise me was how adept Matheny apparently was at the art of the catcher pickoff as well. Matheny led the league in catcher pickoffs in 2000, 2001, and 2002.

Leads me to believe that is a Cardinal-taught thing, and their strong arms make it possible.

Another great piece of evidence for the puzzle, Sarah – thanks for the suggestion!

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