Yadier Molina’s game-calling and the Gold Glove

by on April 7, 2009 · 0 comments

Spurred on by my continuing research into the Cardinals and their defense of the running game (Jake, I promise that I will have the *real* Yadi post up by the end of the week) and even more by an excellent post over at Fungoes by the UCB’s resident statistician  – I wound up coming across some additional statistics that were interesting, particularly in light of last night’s events while Jason Motte was on the mound.

I should preface this by saying there is debate about whether these statistics are really measurable in the manner I’m about to present them – but there are statisticians far smarter than I cranking out these numbers, so I’m inclined to think they at least have some merit.

The statistic in question is Adjusted Earned Runs Saved, which is based upon an equation that takes into account Catcher ERA versus the ERA of the pitchers throwing to them (basic, high level explanation).

The guy who put it all together, smarter than I, is John Dewan, author of The Fielding Bible II.

I should qualify that I have not read the whole book, but I do have an excerpt from Sabernomics.com that presents information from Dewan putting together lists of the thirty-five catchers with most innings caught for 2006, 2007, 2008, and the sum of those three years.

Yadier Molina ranked second to Jason Kendall in Runs Saved over the past three years, with nineteen and twenty-seven, respectively.

The statistic of particular interest to me (for this post at least) is the Earned Runs Saved column.  Kendall, not known for his throwing arm, saved only four runs versus the stolen base.  Where he made his mark was in Earned Runs Saved, with twenty-three over the three year period.  Compared to Molina’s five in that category, Yadier looks pretty feeble as a game-caller.

Kendall is an outlier in that category, as Molina’s plus-five ranks him in a four-way tie for eighth among the thirty-five listed.  So for the 2006-2008 sum total, not too bad.

What concerns me is the 2008 total for Molina.  Minus-two Earned Runs Saved, compared to plus-six in 2007 and plus-one in 2006.  His arm will always make a difference in his total Runs Saved, and influences his defensive win shares as well – but the 6.6 fielding WS he compiled in 2008 were his lowest total since becoming the starter in St Louis.

I write all of this to bring us back ’round to Pip’s post about yesterday’s game.  Given, there were clearly some differences in opinion between Motte and Molina on what pitches to throw.  Once they’ve settled on that, the pitcher has to throw the called pitch effectively and to the location where the catcher has set up.  I’ve seen the replay though, Molina was calling for that pitch up to Jack Wilson.  As Pip illustrated, anything up to Wilson is in his wheelhouse.

How much of this should fall on Yadi’s shoulders?  He has had the benefit of some pretty good pitching through his career in St Louis, a number of veteran guys.  Has that overrated his reptuation for managing pitchers?  I don’t know the answer, that’s why I’m asking you all.

To close this out, while using the same metrics for comparison, it really illustrates how Gold Gloves have become a bit of a mockery.

I’m sure many would agree that Yadi’s 2008 Gold Glove-winning season wasn’t his best defensive effort (and these numbers bear that out), yet he broke out offensively.  Compare that to his 2007 where he led the league with 13 Runs Saved versus Gold Glove winner Russell Martin’s 9 Runs Saved.   The difference?  Martin approached .300/20/90 while Molina, while a good season for him, only managed .275/6/40 in 111 games.  Give Martin credit for durability, playing 151 games.  All I’m saying is that the Gold Gloves appear to me to be less based on defense anymore and more on a defensive reputation of sorts, coupled with a good offensive season.  End of soapbox.

I’ve opined on more than one occasion that Yadi’s offensive progression has led to a bit of a decline in his focus on defense – whether he’s spending more time in the cage, spending more time on the bases than he used to (don’t laugh, catching is tiring, so is running the bases when you lumber around like Molina), or it could be just chance and/or poor sample size.

His percentage for runners caught stealing has gone from 64% in 2005, to 44% in ’06, to 54% in ’07 – and bottoming out at 35% in 2008.  More evidence or circumstance?  The attempts against him are low compared to league-wide numbers, but they always have been, and now he’s throwing less of them out.  Can he bounce back again in 2009?

More on Yadi and the running game defense later in the week…

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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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