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Because data doesn't lie

January 19, 2009

The ‘Tek talk heats up, and rightfully so as we near spring training. I asked for some assistance in researching the stats on catching and how it affects teams and Gary from Chapel Hill (he of ‘Nuggetpalooza’) was more than willing to provide the sweat equity needed to get this done.

Gary went back to 1980 and looked at every team (what a trooper) and based on my earlier assumptions this was the data that came back.

By the way, that’s a total of 864 teams to start with.

The first stat is one that tells a story in and of itself. Only 35 teams went from having 80 percent-plus of the innings caught by a catcher that’s been with the team for three or more seasons to a next year of less than 40 percent of their innings caught by a catcher that’s been with the team for three or more seasons.

That so few teams have done it only reinforces my belief that they realize how vital this is to a staff’s stability. That’s less than 4 percent of the teams during that period.

Of those 35 teams they breakdown as follows:

– Four showed very little ERA change from Year 1 to Year 2 (less than .10 either way);

– Nine had their ERA decrease by at least 0.10 (two of those by 0.50 or more);

– Twenty-two had their ERA jump by at least 0.10 (10 of those by 0.50 or more).

That so few teams did it is an indicator in and of itself. That 22 of 35 had an increase of a tenth of a run or more, 10 teams by more than a half a run, is telling and really not surprising. There are so many variables that are just impossible to factor in —  health, injuries, new signings, free agents leaving, rookies that impact both ways, but overall it’s to be expected that a team featuring a new catcher would see ERA problems a majority of time due to the staggering work a catcher needs to do to handle 12-20 pitchers in a season.

Add to that the fact that so few catchers actually do it anyway, and I can only feel the argument to have ‘Tek back is even stronger.

The other X Factor is the Red Sox themselves. This team is way outside the box in terms of scouting and preparation. I know for a fact in the past five years we’ve beaten teams before a series started simply by talking to other pitchers and hearing what they do as a staff to prepare.

Throw out what’s happened, it’s meaningless at this point. ‘Tek declined arbitration, the Sox walked away, Boras f’d this up in about 50 different ways. But the facts are that ‘Tek wants to play here, he hasn’t signed yet, and this team doesn’t have it’s starting catcher for the 2009 season.

I’m hoping the past weekend was a good sign in that Jason has taken this on himself and met with Mr Henry to try and make that happen. I can’t imagine him wearing another uniform, I can’t imagine him not being the captain on this team and retiring here.

Here’s to hoping it happens.

P.S. Go Steelers!

37 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob Gaudreau permalink
    January 19, 2009 11:59 pm

    You make some very valid points. I’ve been torn this offseason if I want the Sox to re-up Tek. I think I’m leaning towards yes at this point. Boras def. f’d that one up. We can only hope this leads others to disregard his (Boras) brand of deception and power grabbing.

  2. January 20, 2009 12:23 am

    Now this is an awesome stat check. And it makes me realize that the Red Sox probably will need Tek, if they wish to seriously compete with Tamp & the Yanks. A .10 ERA difference could be a bigger factor than it sounds, in the AL East….especially if the instability of the rotation rears its ugly head against division rivals.

  3. George Dumas permalink
    January 20, 2009 12:50 am

    Curt, I agree completely except for one thing, go Krt Warner and the Cards!

  4. January 20, 2009 5:52 am

    Old Players struggle to do their job in spite of what they can no longer do physically.

    Young Men struggle to do what they do not yet know how to to do.

    The clock is ticking on Jason, unfortunately. That was obvious every time he waved half heartedly at strike 3 in ’08.

    We’ve got to get a replacement and form a platoon.

    Let the old man teach the young man.

  5. January 20, 2009 8:07 am

    Since 2000, the Yankees are the team that invests in their old stars out of loyalty. How many championships have they won since then? How is that Jorge Posada contract working out?

    Get young at the position. Even if a kid takes his lumps for half a season, can he really be any worse than Varitek was last year? Besides, Bard has shown he can play a little, if Montero or Saltalamacchia struggle a bit.

  6. Diane permalink
    January 20, 2009 8:40 am

    Thanks again Curt for quelling the nasty, impatient people who want something for nothing. I truly believe that Theo planned things this way, to teach Boras a lesson. I am sorry that Jason has to be sacrificed by the media through this,and he truly is being crucified by some. I think an agreement will be reached at the end of this week, or the beginning of next week to secure Jason Varitek for at least 2 years. I wish as a fan, that it was for more. I think that if he proves that he has released the demons in his batting, then maybe they will add another year onto that after 2009. I really enjoy this blog, keep it up & Long Live The Captain!!!!

  7. joeshmo permalink
    January 20, 2009 8:43 am

    we need to bring him back. he needs to be back. great combo. in 2001 & 2006 we slid down fast without him (injuries). it doesn’t matter to us what he makes,that’s between him & Theo. go TEK.

  8. Mike permalink
    January 20, 2009 9:19 am

    “That so few teams have done it only reinforces my belief that they realize how vital this is to a staff’s stability.”

    Just because they believe it’s vital, doesn’t make it so. It took teams 100 years to realize OBP was more important than BA. I like the numbers though, that’s pretty interesting. There’s certainly some sampling bias there (I mean, you’re not even controlling for the fact that it could be different pitchers!), but it’s certainly interesting.

  9. Judge6903 permalink
    January 20, 2009 10:50 am

    Although we all know getting to the 19-2 record took years off of our lives, it was still the best individual record on the team. If there had to be one pitcher that stood out for constantly shaking off the call and/or throwing where he damn right well felt like, who would it be. That’s right. Same person. Dice seemed to most times ignore Tek and throw what he felt like/wanted to throw. Tek was forever reaching clear across the plate or jumping up, or smothering one in the dirt. I don’t believe a MLB pitcher is THAT out of control. I more believe that the pitcher with the best W/L record in all of MLB for the 2008 season simply chose to do other than his catcher wanted. I don’t question Teks value as a man and clubhouse team mate, but I feel his days in the sun aren’t only behind the plate.

  10. January 20, 2009 12:35 pm

    I’m fairly certain that the pitching staff changed from season to season as well. Obviously that has a much bigger impact on the ERA than the catcher. If Theo can get Tek back for a couple million, fine. As long as he understands he is going to be pinch hit for in critical situations and doesn’t consider it a “personal affront.”

  11. Lissa permalink
    January 20, 2009 12:58 pm

    Thanks for all the great things you’ve said about Jason. I firmly believe that there is no other way for this team to keep the momentum it has going than to sign Jason again for at least two years while a new catcher (yeah, maybe Saltalamacchia) is broken in. If the new catcher is broken in by Tek, we know that the kid (whoever it is) will be learning the position correctly and in turn knowing how to deal with the staff. We need his stabilizing force on the team.

    Thanks again Curt for making such a great case to keep the captain.

  12. Mathew permalink
    January 20, 2009 1:01 pm

    Actually Curt, the data doesn’t do anything. Data is raw; unformed. What we get from that data is information and information can be constructed from data as anyone wishes. But, that’s just the geek in me, not the confrontationalist.

    As for the information you provided, it certainly doesn’t surprise me. If anything, it reinforces the fact ‘Tek is an important factor as a catcher/leader even is not for his bat. Even if he isn’t batting .260 with 20 HRs we still have a strong chance of winning any game he calls. And winning the game is the goal, not the individual stats.

    We have a few young arms in our rotation that need him behind the plate. Two of those arms threw a couple of no-nos in two years. Would that have happened with another catcher calling the game? Maybe, maybe not but, it’s hard to imagine that any other catcher could have done it.

    Development doesn’t end as soon as a player is called up. There needs to be an adjustment period and having a man like ‘Tek providing some of the guidance during that time is worth it in my opinion.

  13. Carl permalink
    January 20, 2009 1:06 pm

    Curt, another great blog! Diane (post 6), I couldn’t agree with you more!

  14. January 20, 2009 1:45 pm

    I’m cautiously optomistic…

  15. Komish permalink
    January 20, 2009 2:19 pm

    If NYY and Boras really want to piss off Boston brass, get Boston to make an offer, then Boras can take the low ball offer for the Captain to NYY and sign Tek for a bit more and have him split the Job with Possada. Boston also wouldnt get the number one draft choice from NYY because they forfeited it with the previous type A signings. Stealing the Captain would have the RedSox Nation jumping off the Tobin when the dust settles rather than saying let him go….The Brass better think this through….

    Its also interesting Hedi Whatney still has exclusive information on Tek when she was rumored as having the June road trip affairs with Tek that broke up his marriage. This from a inside NESN source that said she was warned twice to stay away from the players. You would have thought he would have learned to stay away from her by now after the trouble she caused him.

  16. Mike permalink
    January 20, 2009 2:53 pm

    I would agree that the red sox need to bring tek back but the sox do need to get young as well.Every body keeps saying how much he teachs and supports them.He has to know it is almost over and is time to past on his knowledge so bring him back for two years to do that

  17. January 20, 2009 3:19 pm

    Curt –

    I understand what you are getting at here in regards to stability, and if I were a Major League pitcher I would be preaching the same thing. However, isn’t the end goal to increase your net runs, whether that be through offense, defense and/or pitching?

    Say Varitek leaves, someone else steps in (i.e. Saltalamacchia, Montero, Bard, Teagarden, etc.) and does contribute to a +.10 increase in ERA staff wide. That is a loss of 16.2 runs over the course of a season. But what if that new catcher overall is a gain on the defensive end (i.e. less errors, handling baserunners better, etc.)? Between having a better bat — which won’t be all that hard given Varitek was amongst the worst catchers in OPS, ISO and wOBA — and having better defense, the end result would presumably be a net gain in runs over the course of a season despite the increase of .10 in ERA. I would say it is a pretty safe bet that Varitek cost the Red Sox more runs due to lack of offense than he saved runs due to stability for the staff.

  18. January 20, 2009 3:46 pm

    Great Information, Thankyou for the time you invest on keeping us all updated.
    I hope the Upper management realizes that Json Varitek is not just a Catcher for the Boston Red Sox- he is our Captain, No Team should ever just kick their Captain to the curb. Boras is an A– always will be. Miss you Shill!

  19. January 20, 2009 6:53 pm

    Well Said and well thought

  20. Nitelite permalink
    January 20, 2009 7:49 pm

    Look at the pitching staff of the Rays in 07: 5.53. Fast forward to last year and it was 3.82. That is a ridiculous transformation considering they had the same catcher both years who caught almost the same amount of games each year. Did Navarro suddenly become a superstar at calling games? I doubt it.

    I think Tek is replaceable considering the experience of the pitching staff. Let’s get some new blood and see what happens.

    PS, Curt, get back to co-hosting The Instance! We miss you!

  21. January 20, 2009 11:06 pm

    BTC -post #17, that’s an interesting idea, but you’re asking for something that does not exist (Joe Mauer not being available at the moment).

    On the defensive stats you mention: there are no starting catchers in the AL, besides Mauer, with fewer errors. There are none with fewer passed balls, on any AL team. And handling baserunners? Last season, Montero caught 20% stealing. Salty, 18%. ‘Tek’s 22% actually takes a slight lead on both. (And as I’ve written elsewhere, it’s no good trying to claim ‘Tek’s CS% has declined. He’s been absurdly consistent in that stat over the last five seasons, including his gold glove year and just before his last contract). So in keeping with the increase in ERA, add more errors, more passed balls, and more runners taking off for second with a new prospect on the job.

    Now to offense, which is supposed to make up for the losses above. You’ve calculated the typical staff-wide increase in ERA to equal about 16.2 runs in a season, so we’ll take that. Say ‘Tek would hit .220 again (which I very much doubt). Then say we did indeed get Salty or Montero, either of whom can be expected to pull off .250, give or take a few points, and assuming the wear and tear of a first full season’s play doesn’t give them trouble (another big leap of faith). Over 450 at bats, that’s got you not quite 14 extra hits. Baseball being what it is, a few of those will lead to runs. Most won’t.

    The kind of hitters who are actually available to replace ‘Tek are not offensive stars. They’re kids, untested and unready. They may offer a bit of offensive improvement (or they may not; .250 from ‘Tek isn’t a real stretch, and neither of those prospects has caught more than 55 games in a season). But the added offense they might give doesn’t make up for the cost of the ERA increase, by your own calculations. This is on top of the fact that neither begins to match ‘Tek defensively. (Did you notice Salty had 9 errors last season in 54 games? Over 130 games, that stretches out to about 22 errors, which is terrifying).

    I’m not saying one of these catching prospects might not turn out to be great down the road. But next year? Even without the ‘intangibles,’ the numbers still show we’re better off with ‘Tek.

  22. LouieTheLip permalink
    January 21, 2009 1:07 am

    That’s great and all but there is something you fail to mention.
    He doesn’t catch for Wakefield,
    He has never caught for Penny
    He has never caught for Smoltz.
    Beckett is constantly butting heads with Jason and has had 2 sub par seasons with Varitek.

    Basically 4 of your 6 starters COULD CARE LESS!!!!

  23. John Stevens, Springfield permalink
    January 21, 2009 5:47 am

    Thanks for the homework and effort to prove what we already know. Tek is a rock that needs to be planted behind home base.

    P.S.S. “Go Steelers” from an ex-Arizona resident? Arizona better be prepared for a beat-down.

  24. Mike permalink
    January 21, 2009 8:29 am

    17, 21, and 22 make good points. 21, you can easily come up with a run value of 14 hits using linear weights. A single is worth an about .4 runs, a double .7, a triple 1.0, and a HR 1.4. So not only will one of the Texas kids add more hits (I see them around .265 and Tek at .235, but we’re all guessing at this point), they’ll also add more power. I should add, you also have to give credit for about .27 of a run, which is the value of simply not making an out – these are 14 hits in which Jason made an out. So it’s quite likely that Salty is more than 16.2 runs better in offense than Jason.

    Regarding 22, you make a great point. Not to mention, I’m not sure how much Dice-K is into Varitek as well. Still, one could argue that even though Smoltz and Penny will be seeing a new catcher no matter what, that Varitek’s preparation and “intangibles” are worth some number of runs as well, which is why I try never to get into these arguments.

    Bottom line is, Curt is supporting a friend, and there is generally no amount of reason that can change someone’s mind and get them to stop putting 100% of their belief behind that friend.

  25. Jordan permalink
    January 21, 2009 10:21 am

    Hey Komish (#15)

    Thats the problem when you believe rumors, or excuse me, an “inside NESN source”! Please!!

    If you’re gonna post stuff like that, at least have your “facts” straight! HE filed for legal separation in the beginning of June! HE filed for divorce at the end of July!

  26. January 21, 2009 11:43 am

    LouieTheLip (comment #22), don’t be so sure about Beckett. His best games tend to be the ones where he and ‘Tek are right on the same page. He’s said himself he got better after learning to trust ‘Tek.

    And last summer, when asked on WAAF what he thought about ‘Tek being an All-Star with such a low average? Beckett said, “I’m one of the guys that voted for him, so maybe you’re asking the wrong guy. To me, he’s an all-star in every aspect. He leads our team, maybe not offensively all the time, but mentally, and there are times when emotionally, he can carry us. And he does a great job at that. There’s not too many people that I’ve ever played with at any level that I feel like can take the burden off of a whole team like he does.”

    You call that a pitcher who could care less?

    As for Smoltz and Penny, sure, they haven’t thrown to ‘Tek. I’m guessing, though, that experienced pitchers like them know the difference between a trustworthy catcher who knows the game, and one that’s just a target. I’m guessing they’d prefer the former.

    (And hey, Curt, I’ll join that P.S.: Go Steelers!)

  27. Marylin Jenkins permalink
    January 21, 2009 12:48 pm

    Thank you, Curt, for using the bully pulpit to voice the opinion of so many of us who really want Tek to come back!

  28. Jay permalink
    January 21, 2009 2:00 pm

    Hello all,

    A quick question for Gary, Curt, or whomever:

    CS Says:
    “Only 35 teams went from having 80 percent-plus of the innings caught by a catcher that’s been with the team for three or more seasons to a next year of less than 40 percent of their innings caught by a catcher that’s been with the team for three or more seasons.”

    As ‘Tek doesn’t catch Wake, and needs to miss another game now and then… Did he even catch 80% of the IP to qualify for this statement above? I have no data to back me up, and I do not have the time to check at this moment, but I am curious as to the number of teams particularly of late, that do have 1 catcher that truly does catch > 80% of all IP. I quickly check ’07 and ’08 — I didn’t get fielding innings played, I only had access to ABs and it looked as if that wasn’t going to work out to 80%. I realize this isn’t the same stat… so I wonder if anyone has easy access to that?

    Also, as for the 35 teams that did qualify, I’d like to know how many of them were “sellers” and got rid of their veteran catcher to save on payroll. In theory, if they are saving payroll on a catcher, they are saving $$ on pitching as well, thus the uptick in ERA.

    Just to clarify, I’m not trying to be a PITA, I’m just looking for more info.

    Take care!

  29. January 21, 2009 2:07 pm

    The Phillies won the World Series with Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz behind the plate. Not exactly household names.

  30. BEL permalink
    January 21, 2009 3:05 pm

    Thanks Curt. He wears a C on his jersey for a reason. He belongs with the Sox and we do need him for all the reasons Beckett mentions. It’s a shame we can’t offer two years at catcher and two more as bench coach. Don’t you all see him in Sox gear for a lifetime? I do!!

    Go Steelers!!!!

  31. RWC permalink
    January 21, 2009 3:14 pm

    If they pay him 10 million they should have their heads examined.
    He can not hit, he is a mediocre defensive catcher.
    I doubt many of you would pay him if it was coming out of your pocket.
    You can not pay him that kind of money just because you like him.

  32. Ian permalink
    January 21, 2009 4:07 pm

    Without having read everything above, I will make the statement that I feel Tek’s contributions are being undervalued by most of the people not involved in the actual negotiations.

    The amount of tribal knowledge and Jason’s research efforts all go into calling the right pitches at the right times, and when a catcher does this perfectly, it can go unnoticed by everyone who isn’t looking for it.

    Keep him on as a coach is my vote. His arms may be big hole in the lineup, but his head is too valuable to throw away.

  33. joejoejoe permalink
    January 23, 2009 2:07 pm

    If we stipulate your assumptions are true and say the average ERA increase of switching out a veteran catcher is .10 that’s an extra 16.2 runs allowed per year. If the replacement catcher produces more that 16.2 runs offensively the switch is a competitive wash. If the new catcher produces a lot more than 16.2 extra runs a year, it’s a smart move. The data says today’s Jason Varitek is a poor man’s Joey Cora at the plate. If that’s what Red Sox Nation wants in their lineup, as Yankee fan I sincerely hope they get their wish.

  34. DLEV permalink
    January 23, 2009 6:23 pm

    Bring Tek back for two more then figure it out..

    Go Yavapai Roughriders!!!!

  35. Weren permalink
    January 26, 2009 5:27 pm

    Curt. . . I hope you gave Gary From Chapel Hill more than a “thank you” email for the research. I mean, he is a blogger type and you, well, have lots of money. Nothing too extravagant, maybe just take the guy for a nice dinner.

  36. Chas permalink
    January 26, 2009 7:11 pm

    Stats are great, but to be realistic you need to include all stats. It’s great that you compared what teams have done when they change catchers. Now, how about what they do when they don’t? I’m sure there is a high percentage that have their team ERA go up regardless of the catching situation.

    For example… from 2000 to 2008 (240 variances), teams have had the following fluctuations in ERA:

    Team increase greater then 0.10 ERA (111 times)
    Teams increase greater then 0.50 ERA (40 times)
    Little increase/decrease [-0.10 to 0.10] = 40 times
    Teams decreased more then 0.10 ERA (89 times)
    Teams decreased more then 0.50 ERA (45 times)

    So team ERAs have gone up more then 0.10 46.25% of the time regardless of the catching situation. So now when you say 68.57% of the teams had changed catchers had their ERA go up by more the 0.10 — it’s a more realistic view of the situation. (Again, my stats are only relevant from 2000-2008).

    I’m sure if you go back to 1980, you’d find the fluctuation on ERA would increase in percentage of increase. I tried to find the overall league ERAs and could not, but I’m betting that ERA in general has gone up throughout the league since 1980.

    Basically the point is…. Statistics are a great thing and if you look deeply enough, you can make them say pretty much whatever you’d like (as long as you select the stats that backup the theory you are trying to make).

    Now… with that said, team chemistry is a highly underrated thing and the catching position is very valuable.

    I think that Boras is a cancer to baseball and to some of his clients. Varitek is a perfect example. He couldn’t explain to Tek that a team would need to give up a 1st Round pick to sign him??? Isn’t that his job [to make sure his clients make informed decisions]??

  37. gypsydawn permalink
    February 7, 2009 6:46 am

    First A-Rod goes rogue on Boras and now Tek does the same. If they can broker a deal on their own what do they need Boras for?

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