The Catching Situation

Dave · March 15, 2010 at 10:48 am · Filed Under Mariners 

On the pre-game show Saturday, Shannon Drayer noted that we may have our first winner of a job in spring training – she feels Adam Moore has done enough to solidify his spot on the opening day roster. The presumption heading into spring training was that Josh Bard or Guillermo Quiroz would be paired with Rob Johnson to begin the season while Moore got a bit more training in Tacoma, but that plan appears to be out the window. Bard has failed to impress anyone, while Wak has been extremely impressed with Moore’s abilities.

So, barring something unforeseen, we should expect Adam Moore to travel north with the team for Opening Day. But, that does not make him the starter. Not yet.

There’s a good chance the M’s won’t have a true starting catcher this year. Shannon notes that it appears Wak is willing to let Moore learn the hitters from the bench, slotting him in as a part-time player until he sees the league and becomes comfortable calling a game against major league players. If Rob Johnson is healthy enough to break camp with the team, they’ll share time behind the plate. If he’s not, expect the M’s to make a move, unless Bard or Quiroz show something very soon.

Either way, however, you shouldn’t expect a regular starter-backup tandem. The M’s catching job is going to be a job share, with the two guys on the roster splitting time, whether its Johnson/Moore, Moore/Bard, Moore/Quiroz, or New Guy/Moore. The picture is still murky, but they have a few weeks to figure out who will be splitting the playing time with Adam Moore. For now, though, it appears that he’s on the team. We’ll just have to wait to learn who else will be coming north with him.


26 Responses to “The Catching Situation”

  1. robbbbbb on March 15th, 2010 11:00 am

    There was a discussion of Adam Moore on Fangraphs last week, that I think is worth noting again.

    There’s a good chance that Moore could put up 1 or 2 wins from the catcher spot. I believe that Rob Johnson is only a replacement-level player. That’s a 1 or 2 win upgrade that the Mariners could really use.

  2. Dave on March 15th, 2010 11:03 am

    Moore’s not going to play enough to be a two win player. Given that he’ll probably top out at 400 PA (more likely coming in around 300), anything more than +1 win is probably too optimistic of a 2010 projection.

  3. Liam on March 15th, 2010 11:05 am

    Interesting how the catching discussion shifted from Moore to Bard and now back to Moore.

  4. IwearMsHats on March 15th, 2010 11:05 am


  5. robbbbbb on March 15th, 2010 11:07 am

    Makes sense to me. There are very few major league catchers who should get more than 400 PA, and even then you’re playing with fire.

    But every win counts. The M’s are at the spot on the win curve where every marginal win has a huge effect on their chances of making the playoffs. I’m glad to hear that Moore’s gone out and won a job out of spring training. The only better news would be to hear that Michael Saunders has been hitting frozen ropes all over the place and has won the left field job.

    (You started getting hate mail for the Org Rankings yet, Dave? The comments on those posts always seem to bring out the worst in people.)

  6. Jack Swan on March 15th, 2010 11:24 am

    In an ideal world would Rob Johnson make the 25 man? Healthy or not?

  7. luckyscrubs on March 15th, 2010 12:08 pm

    Funny you make this post. Earlier this morning I was looking at spring training stats and I was surprised to see Bard with only 8 at bats so far. There has been no indication that he is injured, so it’s logical to assume he is no longer a consideration for a roster spot.

  8. Ralph_Malph on March 15th, 2010 1:11 pm

    I know everybody likes to dump on Johnson, but is it really fair to call him a replacement-level player? As bad as he was, and with being hurt, he was still 0.3 WAR; it’s hard to imagine him being anything but better this year (if healthy).

    Unfortunately Johnson reminds me (just in appearance) of Ben Davis. How many people know that Ben Davis converted to a pitcher in 2008 and was still around last year?

  9. joser on March 15th, 2010 1:59 pm

    You’re getting that 0.3 WAR from Fangraphs, which does not include defense when calculating WAR for catchers. So those 9 passed balls (and 17 “wild pitches” attributed to Felix, the most in the majors, while pitching to Johnson exclusively) don’t get factored in. Or any of his other defensive shortcomings.

    He might not be terrible but calling him replacement level in 2009 is probably charitable. (And sure, he was hurt; but now he’s rehabbing. Those may be explanations — for as far as they go — but they’re not substitutes for performance. The team doesn’t get extra wins just because it can offer good excuses.)

  10. Jeff Nye on March 15th, 2010 2:20 pm

    I know everybody likes to dump on Johnson, but is it really fair to call him a replacement-level player? As bad as he was, and with being hurt, he was still 0.3 WAR; it’s hard to imagine him being anything but better this year (if healthy).

    It’s not “dumping” on Rob Johnson to call him a replacement level player. He is pretty much the definition thereof.

    His WAR totals for his career: 0.0, -0.3, 0.3.

    I’ve never seen a player average out to be exactly 0 WAR for their career, it’s actually rather amusing.

    edit: joser’s point about his subpar defense is a valid one, but dammit, I’m not going to try to correct for it and screw up my elegant math!

  11. joser on March 15th, 2010 3:17 pm

    It’s also worth noting that good catchers don’t grow on trees, so a replacement level catcher is actually reasonably valuable*. But there’s no reason to settle for one if you can do better.

    *This would be more true if we were better able to calculate defense for catchers.

  12. Jeff Nye on March 15th, 2010 3:37 pm

    I don’t know if I agree with that, joser, either in specific in this case (Johnson’s defense probably realistically makes him, oh, a half win below replacement? That’s just a raw ballpark) or in general (there are TONS of guys in the minor leagues who can catch adequately but shouldn’t ever bother picking up a bat).

    What is tough about catchers is that there are really so few GOOD ones. Only 14 major league catchers provided more than 2 WAR to their team last season (again, this is Fangraphs’ WAR which doesn’t include defense but it works okay to illustrate the point). And that’s including the pretty hefty positional bonus for catchers.

    Personally, what I think teams should do is either try really hard to find or develop a stud at the position (Adam Moore, please let it be you) or just basically punt and pick up one of the myriad of some-glove no-bat catchers that litter the minor leagues. There is, however, really no excuse for running out a guy like Rob Johnson, who is probably significantly worse than Fangraphs’ WAR indicates. Even if you say my assessment of his defense is overly harsh and put him at 0 WAR, well, 71 catchers (out of 102 listed on Fangraphs as having played the position in the major leagues last year) provided more value to their team than that. If you like my -0.5 number, well, that puts him at the bottom with the corpse of Jamie Burke.

  13. coasty141 on March 15th, 2010 4:53 pm

    A catcher’s defense is hard to quantify and as a result we have a bunch of former catchers making the decision on weather or not a guy can do the job. Does it really make sense that Wak, Scioscia, and etc… are the ones determining who should and shouldn’t be catching? Sure the know tons about the position but isn’t possible the ex-catcher/coaches are overly critical of players ability to field the position and as a result we have Rob Johnson and Mathis taking up valuable at-bats?

  14. diderot on March 15th, 2010 4:58 pm

    We already know what Johnson can do.
    Why do we have to know it again this year?

  15. Jeff Nye on March 15th, 2010 5:01 pm

    Lots of managers are ex-catchers, and I don’t think they’re necessarily any more biased as a group than anyone else.

    What makes catchers problematic, for the most part, is that the things that they’re most highly evaluated by (handling a pitching staff, calling games, etc) are the ones we can’t get at with our current statistical tools. So it all looks like smoke and mirrors to us.

    It’s like so many other things in baseball; it’s not entirely impossible that Rob Johnson is so awesome at calling games that he makes the entire pitching staff significantly better. But it’s pretty much impossible to prove either way, so what should we do with that? All together now!


  16. diderot on March 15th, 2010 5:42 pm

    while agreeing to ignore what we can’t quantify, here’s a semi-quantification question: is there a way to know how many pitches during the course of a game are called by the bench via the catcher?

  17. Jeff Nye on March 15th, 2010 5:51 pm

    I don’t think there is, no. We hear things anecdotally, and even catchers who “call the game” get at least general, if not specific, guidelines from the coaching staff.

    However, I do think that “calling a good game” and “managing a pitching staff” are things that are teachable. So there’s really no reason to focus on a guy who (supposedly) does those well, if his other baseball skills aren’t up to snuff.

  18. Kazinski on March 15th, 2010 7:06 pm


    Of course that is wrong. There are lots of things about a catchers defense that are difficult or impossible to quantify, but we know it matters.

    Despite the fact that CERA is ridiculed so much, the criticism isn’t that it doesn’t measure anything, the problem is that sample sizes don’t allow an accurate enough measurement to be meaningful.

  19. DMZ on March 15th, 2010 7:07 pm

    That’s not a good summary of criticisms of CERA.

  20. Jeff Nye on March 15th, 2010 7:08 pm

    Well, we’ve been over this before, but why not try again:

    If you can’t quantify it, how can you know that it matters?

  21. Kazinski on March 15th, 2010 7:23 pm

    Well it was one sentence but, the point still stands, if we should ignore what we can’t quantify, should the Mariners get rid of their scouting department? Observations and statistics should go hand in hand.

  22. Jeff Nye on March 15th, 2010 7:31 pm

    Okay, then how are you “observing” that catcher defense matters? What are your criteria?

    Try to not use reductio ad absurdum in your answer, too. I have a ton of respect for scouts, and nobody’s advocating eliminating them. Let’s talk about this like sensible adults.

  23. ck on March 15th, 2010 10:24 pm

    Dave Valle said, when he was catching, the pitching coach, starter, and catchers met and went over scouting reports of the lineup they would face that day, and came up with a ‘game plan’ for that particular game, that would be amended slightly based on which of the starters pitches were working best…

  24. auldguy on March 15th, 2010 11:46 pm

    Long rambling note about catchers: First let me say that I have the greatest respect for those who understand and apply the many new metrics available to offensive and defensive performance. I still have my Bill James Abstracts from the mid 80’s, and have followed though not studied most of the “new” statistical measures. But like any application of statistics some are destined to become more useful than others. OPS has proven a more usable yardstick than TA, for example. And sadly, statistics cannot explain many of the more arcane values players bring to a team. Historically pitching and catching provide the most glaring examples of this. Well, pitching is getting there, but catching is still the least understood and perhaps understandable position on the field.

    Here are a three statements, none of them mine, which make viable points. 1) Last year, from Tony LaRussa on catcher Yadier Molina, who was hitting a picturesque .160 or so at the time. “I don’t care if he’s hitting .000, he’s our catcher.” The obvious implication is that offensive production is not particularly important at that position. 2) Old baseball adage, one that actually holds pretty much true ….”A good catcher can save more runs than he can drive in.” Self-explanatory. Third, from (IIRC) Joe Torre, “All the offensive and defensive numbers added together don’t add up to even half of what a catcher does.” Now I haven’t tried to look up the exact quotes here, and I’m sure some will be after me for that, but the fact remains that there are no statistical measures for a catcher’s most important contributions to a team’s success.

    Earning the trust and confidence of the pitchers and being able to judge their strengths and weakneses on a day to day basis, (because it often changes drastically from one start to the next,) adjusting to game conditions as the conditions themselves change, these are unmeasurable but make up the bulk of a catcher’s contribution to winning.

    I’m not suggesting that this is rocket science; this part of the job is more properly art than science.

    As for my credentials, as for statistics I enjoyed a career in MES management in a high-tech manufacturing environment, a field driven by statistical collection and analysis. And some time ago I played college level (although not a major program) baseball. To be more accurate, I got to have a terrific view very near and barely above field level. Depending on whether the field in question had actual dugouts or not. Saw quite a bit of very good ball though.

    The point I’m making is this. Stats are great, but don’t confuse the values used in rotisserie leagues with measuring value in “real” baseball. They are similar, but are absolutely not the same. Statistics can no more measure the ability to “call a game” than they can measure the value of a “good clubhouse guy.”

  25. Jeff Nye on March 16th, 2010 2:18 am

    I appreciate that you’re trying to be thoughtful and well-spoken about your position; however, you aren’t telling us anything we haven’t been told a thousand times before.

    A lot of wildly incorrect or unprovable beliefs that people have about baseball are “supported” by the same kinds of adages and anecdotes. Some of them are demonstrably untrue, while some of them fall with catcher defense into the realm of what I like to call “baseball voodoo.”

    There’s a simple fact here; if catcher defense or mojo or whatever you want to call it had a significant effect, we’d be able to isolate it. We’d be able to point to it and say “that guy makes his team two wins better because of his ability to call a game” and “that guy makes his team two wins worse because the pitchers all hate throwing to him.”

    We can’t, which means one of two things:

    1) It doesn’t exist (I actually view this as the less likely possibility);

    2) It exists, but its effect is so small that it can’t be isolated from a variety of other noise. We’re talking about fractions of wins in all likelihood, in either direction.

    And really, if you stop to think about it, it isn’t even intuitive; why would King Felix need to throw specifically to Rob Johnson to be good? He’s been fantastic throughout his minor-league career, pitching to whatever catcher they told him to…but suddenly he makes it to the major leagues and he “needs” Rob Johnson? Or what about a pitcher like Garrett Olson, whose once-promising career we’re watching slide into the gutter? Why doesn’ t the team pair him with Johnson full time to make him better, if he’s this amazing thing that turns pitchers into super-pitchers?

    Catcher ERA is the latest attempt to “isolate the effect”, but it doesn’t succeed (or really even try, to be frank) in isolating whatever the catcher’s contribution might be from what the pitcher would do on their own. That’s why we all like to make fun of it; it’s a made-up stat that tries to create the impression of causation when all it can show is correlation, and weakly at that.

    Finally, while Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre are both excellent baseball minds, managers and players are probably the worst people to try to talk to about this sort of thing. Not only does the natural human inclination to try to explain random variation come into play, but managers in particular have a strong incentive to try to “talk up” their .100-hitting catcher, and something like this mysterious, amazing “catcher defense” pixie dust is perfect for the task.

  26. msb on March 16th, 2010 10:59 am

    tangential to the bench/pitch calling question, I was interested to see this comment the other day in the Herald:

    “There are certain situations, runner at first and second with nobody out or one out, where there’s a possible double steal, and 10 times out of 10 the catcher will look over and the manager will put the sign on,” Wakamatsu said. “We’re challenging these guys to put the sign on themselves, and twice the other day [Moore] put it on. That’s growth. Fast-forward five years from now, you’ve got a major league catcher, a Carlton Fisk-type who’s running everything and not worried about what the manager says.”

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