Phillies Catchers Need Defensive Improvement

Going into last night’s game against the New York Mets, Phillies catchers had not been punishing opposing base-stealers. With Carlos Ruiz (58 percent of defensive innings at catcher), Brian Schneider (26 percent), and Dane Sardinha (16 percent) behind the dish, the Phillies had thrown out just 23 percent of base runners. The average National League team has stolen 33 bases in 45 attempts, a 73 percent success rate (or, conversely, a 27 percent failure rate) . The Phillies’ catching trio entered the night with 24 percent, 18 percent, and 29 percent caught-stealing rates.

The Mets ran wild on Ruiz on Saturday night. Four different Mets stole a base, including Jose Reyes with two. The only runner caught stealing was Angel Pagan on a pick-off move by Cole Hamels. The Mets entered the night third in the league in total stolen bases at 44. As they are slightly below-average offensively, base running is tantamount to their scoring runs. Both Mets runs last night were directly attributable to stolen bases:

  • Bottom 1st: Jose Reyes doubled to lead off the inning, stole third, then scored in the same at-bat on a Justin Turner single.
  • Bottom 3rd: Jose Reyes singled to lead off the inning, stole second, advanced on a Carlos Beltran fly ball to right field, then scored on a one-out Jason Bay single.

Ruiz is known as a decent defensive backstop with a great ability to block pitches in the dirt, call games, and handle a pitching staff. However, he received poor grades in terms of throwing out runners in Matt Klaassen’s Catcher Defense Ratings as of May 10. At the time, Ruiz was 70th out of 76 eligible catchers with 1.1 CSRuns below average.

Player PA Tm CSRuns
Josh Thole 925 NYM -2.4
A.J. Pierzynski 1035 CHW -1.8
Ryan Hanigan 689 CIN -1.7
Jonathan Lucroy 653 MIL -1.5
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 759 BOS -1.2
Carlos Ruiz 676 PHI -1.1

Although the Phillies’ offense has picked up since Chase Utley’s return, averaging 6.5 runs per game in his six games, they still figure to be an average to slightly above-average offense with great pitching. With so many games expected to be close and low-scoring, preventing base running efficiency for opposing offenses becomes more important.

In other news, Mike Pelfrey balked yesterday and it was hilarious.

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  1. Danny

    May 29, 2011 08:07 AM

    I wonder if those ratings take into account times the catcher doesn’t attempt to throw.

    Some of those stolen bases yesterday (not every day) were Hamels’ fault. Take Jason Bay’s stolen base, for example. In no way was that Ruiz’s fault (except maybe for the calling of the pitch). It’s tough to quantify catcher defense and defense in general, so I wouldn’t be too worried right now about it.

  2. I think...

    May 29, 2011 09:11 AM

    I think Ruiz is fine. He threw a guy out once but the runner was mistakenly called safe. Reyes’s 2 stolen bases were legit, but the other one is on Cole. I was impressed with his play last night with the slow roller~a very tough play with his back to the first base..I think Ruiz is very sold all around. And for the money Phillies pay him, there just isn’t anyone catcher who is as dependable as Ruiz.

  3. Richard

    May 29, 2011 09:37 AM

    There’s really not much to go on here, is there? The difference between 23% & 27% is hardly worth mentioning, given the necessarily small sample sizes at play. Nor are we given much insight as to how the components of Klaassen’s rankings are determined. Most steals are on the pitcher.

  4. illrhyme

    May 29, 2011 10:22 AM

    I think catchers are doing just fine. problem is our pitchers are kinda like “I’m not even bother to care about runners” mode. they don’t try hard to hold runners. I think it’s because that is considered as a ACE’s mentality. coincidently, we have 4.

  5. Css228

    May 29, 2011 12:04 PM

    @illrhyme, exactly what I was about to say. Greg Maddux used to get run all over when he was on the mound. It was the one way you could get to him because he just didn’t care about the guy on 1st or second. He realized that the guy on base is far less dangerous than the guy at the plate. He just focused on getting that guy out and in no way was the catcher’s low rate of throwing guys out the catcher’s fault. Our guys seem to take the Maddux approach to baserunners (which I’m fine with and completely agree with, especially if they can pitch like Maddux). So I’m especially not going to blame Chooch given what he saves us in blocked balls on pitches in the dirt, but I also can’t really blame any of our guys behind the plate. Overall, this is an issue with the pitching, not the catching.

  6. David

    May 30, 2011 09:33 PM

    That balk just gets funnier every time I watch it. After he dropped the ball, was there even anything he could do that wouldn’t make for a balk?

  7. LTG

    May 30, 2011 10:45 PM

    No. Dropping the ball while on the rubber is a balk. At best, he could have hoped no one saw it, stepped off while acting as if he still held the ball, and pretended to tie his shoe while really collecting the ball. So, no, nothing.

  8. Richard

    May 31, 2011 08:23 AM

    Bill, I’d already read the article before you linked to it, and re-read it now. It really doesn’t provide much explanation of the method used. But regardless, the main “deficiency” is Ruiz at -1.1 runs in the CS category. Are those numbers at all informed by whether the catcher even had a chance to get the runner out? That is, I know stringers look at games to determine, for other fielders, plays on balls in zone, out of zone, etc; do they also decide whether a CS was even possible on the play? I don’t recall too many stolen bases that could have been prevented by better throws from the catcher. Phillies pitchers are not awesome at holding on runners.

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