Rob Johnson’s Catching
Much has been made over the last few years about Kenji Johjima’s game calling, how the pitching staff doesn’t like throwing to him, etc… Much has also been made about Rob Johnson’s work with the pitching staff, how great of a communicator he is, how well he handles a pitching staff, his leadership, and all of that stuff.
Their reputations couldn’t be more opposite. A lot of people think that having Johjima behind the plate really hurts the pitching staff, while having Johnson behind the plate really helps the pitching staff.
Let’s insert some facts into the discussion, shall we?
Opposing hitters have fared slightly better against the M’s when Johjima is behind the plate, posting a .650 OPS versus a .613 OPS when Johnson is behind the plate. However, let’s look at the breakdown by pitcher.
Felix: 56 PA, .702 OPS with Joh, 27 PA, .638 OPS with Johnson
Bedard: 22 PA, .747 OPS with Joh, 56 PA, .448 OPS with Johnson
Washburn: 12 PA, .000 OPS with Joh, 68 PA, .608 OPS with Johnson
Silva: 51 PA, .836 OPS with Joh, 0 PA, NA with Johnson
Jakubauskas: 17 PA, .639 OPS with Joh, 43 PA, .931 OPS with Johnson
Rowland-Smith: 20 PA, .733 OPS with Joh, 0 PA, NA with Johnson
Morrow: 15 PA, .500 OPS with Joh, 11 PA, .282 OPS with Johnson
Aardsma: 15 PA, .298 OPS with Joh, 11 PA, .273 OPS with Johnson
Corcoran: 16 PA, .648 OPS with Joh, 18 PA, .914 OPS with Johnson
Batista: 13 PA, .615 OPS with Joh, 12 PA, .817 OPS with Johnson
Kelley: 4 PA, .500 OPS with Joh, 12 PA, .727 OPS with Johnson
Lowe: 7 PA, .452 OPS with Joh, 15 PA, .533 OPS with Johnson
White: 0 PA, NA with Joh, 17 PA, .301 OPS with Johnson
Johnson hasn’t caught Silva at all this year. Think that matters? Yea, me too. Selection bias is the glaring problem with catcher ERA. If Roy Halladay had a personal catcher, I’d bet the farm on him leading the league in CERA, even if he wasn’t very good defensively. Likewise, the best defensive catcher of all time couldn’t make Brandon Backe into anything other than a crappy pitcher.
That problem manifests itself here. Joh only caught Bedard for five innings and only got four innings with Washburn before he had to leave with his injury. By the way, if the situation had been reversed, and Joh replaced Johnson while Wash had a perfect game, only to immediately give up a base hit and a home run as soon as he entered, that would have been a story in the news, yes? It would have fit the narrative. That it happened the other way means it doesn’t get mentioned. This is how myths are created.
But, getting back to the point at hand – look at the breakdown of pitchers who have been caught by both Joh and Johnson.
Felix: Marginal difference in favor of Johnson
Bedard: Big edge to Johnson
Washburn: Big edge to Joh
Jakubauskas: Big edge to Joh
Morrow: Big edge to Johnson
Corcoran: Big edge to Joh
Batista: Big edge to Joh
Kelley: Big edge to Joh
Lowe: Marginal difference in favor of Joh
This is all ridiculously small sample stuff, but five pitchers have gotten significantly better results with Johjima behind the plate. Two, Brandon Morrow and Erik Bedard, have gotten significantly better results with Johnson behind the plate, and of course that comes with the caveat that Johjima caught the still-working-stuff-out version in Minnesota, while Johnson caught the okay-now-I’m-ready-for-the-season version lately.
What should you conclude from this? Absolutely nothing, because the sample sizes are basically worthless and there are all kinds of problems with using both catcher ERA and OPS against for a pitcher. But that’s the point – the “Rob Johnson is awesome” crowd has created this idea that the team pitches significantly better when he’s behind the plate, and want you to extrapolate actual abilities from those results, even though you shouldn’t. I’m simply pointing out that even the results that those conclusions are based on don’t support the idea that Joh is ruining the pitching staff and Johnson is working miracles behind the plate.
By the way, opposing hitters had an .886 OPS against the Mariners last year when Rob Johnson was behind the plate – easily the worst of any catcher the M’s used last year.
Don’t buy into the myth. Rob Johnson can work hard, be a great communicator, an awesome leader, a nifty teammate, and all that goes along with the praise for his work ethic, and no one still has any idea how much it matters. What does matter is that he can’t hit, and the Mariners aren’t in a position where they can afford to be giving regular at-bats to a guy with no bat and a question mark surrounding his defensive contributions.