Earlier this offseason — before Omar Minaya went into hibernation — there were rumblings that the Mets might be looking to upgrade their catching situation. Various rumors swirled involving Jason Varitek, Ivan Rodriguez, and Bengie Molina, among others. According to “sources with knowledge of the Mets’ thinking”, the team was hoping to get more offensive production from their backstops. The lefty-righty tandem of Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro combined for 16 HR, 62 RBI, 45 runs scored, and a .253 average. Not bad, but not great either. It’s about the same output as Varitek’s 2008.
Most recently, statistics published on Adam Rubin’s “Surfing the Mets” blog suggest that Schneider could be more the scapegoat of the Mets’ failure — but because of his defense, rather than his offense. The numbers reported in Rubin’s column, by way of “RayRubin Sports Analytics“, are as follows:
SANCHEZ caught by CASTRO 65 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=292
SCHNEIDER 108 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=454
HEILMAN caught by CASTRO 50 ABs , allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=340
SCHNEIDER 195 ABs, allows 9 HRs and OPP SLUG%=456
FELICIANO caught by CASTRO 36 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=306
SCHNEIDER 134 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=455
WAGNER caught by CASTRO 49 ABs, allows 0 HRs and OPP SLUG%=204
SCHNEIDER 99 ABs, allows 3 HRs and OPP SLUG%=313
SANTANA caught by CASTRO 333 ABs, allows 6 HRs and OPP SLUG%=297
SCHNEIDER 524 ABs, allows 15 HRs and OP SLUG%=401
PEDRO M caught by CASTRO 138 ABs, allows 2 HRs and OPP SLUG%=377
SCHNEIDER 185 ABs, allows 15 HRs and OPP SLUG%=600!!!!!
Same phenomena holds with John Maine, Claudio Vargas and Nelson Figueroa. Fascinating, isn’t it?
Huh … those stats are worrisome, particularly since Schneider’s value as a ballplayer is tied directly to his defensive performance. If he can’t hit, AND can’t catch, how can the Mets move forward with him behind the plate?
Before we go piling on Brian and blaming him for all the Mets’ woes, let’s take a better look at what these numbers mean.
First of all, I don’t see the actual stats for Maine, Vargas, and Figueroa, so I’m taking for granted the source is telling the truth. Further, I don’t see any stats for Pelfrey, Perez, Smith, Schoeneweis, Stokes, Muniz, Sosa, Ayala, Wise, Rincon, Parnell, Knight, Niese, Armas, nor Kunz. Maybe the guys at RayRubin found similar trends, but didn’t deem it necessary to continue belaboring the point. Or, perhaps the split performances of the other pitchers don’t fit RayRubin’s argument, and thus were conveniently left out.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to say which is the case, because I can’t for the life of me find these individualized stats anywhere (if someone can, please send us the link!). All I can find is the “Catcher’s ERA” (CERA), which has Schneider at 4.11 and Castro at 3.68. Before we judge Castro the big winner there, consider that most statheads find CERA to be an unreliable indicator of a catcher’s performance.
But put all that aside for a moment, and let’s look at RayRubin’s reported numbers specifically. What could be the explanation for such a dire contrast in performance from Schneider to Castro? Right off the bat I’m seeing an issue with the sample sizes. Other than in the cases of Martinez and Santana, Schneider caught about double the ABs for each of the pitchers in question (with Heilman and Feliciano, it was nearly FOUR TIMES as many at-bats). Is it possible that Castro simply caught those pitchers on “lucky” days? What if the appearances were reversed — if Castro was the one to catch Heilman for almost 200 batters, for instance? Would Heilman have pitched extraordinarily better? No one knows for sure. These numbers suggest that Schneider looks bad simply because he was the guy that was usually behind the plate, rather than any negative impact he had on the pitching staff.
Which brings up another point — even if Castro was that much better as a receiver, it matters little since he couldn’t stay healthy enough to remain on the roster.
Looking at the rest of the defensive stats, Schneider has a fairly solid advantage over Castro (other than passed balls). Schneider threw out 21 of 63 (33%) runners attempting to steal, while Castro nailed 5 of 23 (21.7%). Passed balls — Schneider , Castro 1. Errors — Schneider 4, Castro 4. That last number is a bit scary, since Schneider caught 109 games and Castro only 47. If Castro caught, say, 120 games, he might have committed 10 errors or more. Another stat I can’t find anywhere is the number of wild pitches allowed per catcher. Though wild pitches aren’t necessarily a catcher’s fault, the better catchers minimize their occurrences. My eyes tell me that Schneider is much more nimble behind the plate than Castro, and my guess is that Schneider does a better job of keeping balls from getting past him.
As many of you know, I’m a catcher myself and so you may want to know my personal thoughts on this idea that Schneider is a prominent scapegoat. I have to say no — at least, I wouldn’t blame the Mets failures on Schneider’s defense or game-calling abilities. I do believe it’s possible that the pitchers who were with the Mets in previous years were probably more comfortable throwing to Castro, and I can tell you firsthand that it takes a while for a catcher to learn how to get the most out of a pitcher. When Schneider was swatting at balls early in the season, many wondered how a defensive specialist could commit so many passed balls. Anyone who’s caught at a fairly high level can tell you instantly — it’s hard as heck to catch a guy who (a) you haven’t caught before, or very often; (b) is throwing 90+; and/or (c) is wild. Since Schneider missed nearly all of spring training last year, he didn’t get a chance to catch the Mets pitchers as much as he should have. You can read the rest of my explanation on his passed balls here and here.
In other words, it probably took a while — probably half the season — for Schneider to both get comfortable with, and begin to learn how to extract the most from, the Mets’ pitching staff. A good catcher has to manage the pitcher’s emotions as well as his pitching repertoire, and also needs to know when and how to push / motivate a guy — and when to stroke his ego to build his confidence. In addition, the catcher needs to gain the pitcher’s confidence. When I look at those big slugging numbers, I wonder if the extra-base hits were due to Schneider calling a bad pitch, or the pitcher shaking off a pitch? We all remember that fateful NLCS game, when Guillermo Mota continually shook off Paul LoDuca; sometimes the catcher has the right idea, but the pitcher either doesn’t have confidence in the call, or doesn’t have confidence in himself to throw the pitch. Who is to blame in such a situation?
Assuming that Schneider returns to catch in 2009 — and all signs seem to point that way — I believe that the numbers cited above by RayRubin will improve, based on the fact that Schneider will have a better “feel” for his pitchers, and in turn, the pitchers will be more comfortable, and have more faith, in him. In short, NO — Brian Schneider does NOT stink — and the pitching staff can only improve with the continuity of Schneider behind the plate in 2009.
(Schneider has at least one more thing going for him — as of today, Martinez, Heilman, Wagner, and Vargas are not on the 2009 roster … so those terrible numbers can’t get any worse!)
******** Shout out to “isuzudude” for suggesting this subject *******