Wow. The conversation about the Padres sure has changed quickly. After a season in which the San Diego nine was setting records for offensive futility, everyone was talking about the need to add some bats to support the Padres’ excellent young pitching staff. That was before the Week That Changed Baseball in San Diego, when the team added Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, and Derek Norris, among others, to the roster. Nobody is saying the Padres need more offense now. And why would they? They added an entire middle-of-the-lineup in just a few days.
Now that they have an offense to go with the pitching, the discussion has started to turn to more specific weaknesses. Instead of needing an offense, now we need a shortstop. Instead of needing some power – any power – now we need some left-handed hitters. Instead of needing run producers, we now need some speed and defense.
That’s a much better conversation to be having. It’s the type of conversation that teams that want to win the World Series have.
One example of this change in tone comes in this week’s column by Jeff Sullivan, in which he discusses the drop-off in defense at the catcher position, and more specifically, pitch framing. As we have discussed here at Friars on Base, 2014 Padres catchers Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal were two of the best in the game at this relatively new metric, which measures a catcher’s ability to catch pitches in such a way as to get additional strike calls from the umpire. Sullivan points out that incoming backstops Norris and Tim Federowicz represent a significant dropoff from last year’s catching tandem.
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Among all major league catchers last year, Rivera was the fifth best at framing pitches, and Grandal was number eight. Norris and Federowicz, by comparison, were numbers 76 and 68, respectively, out of a total of 114 catchers. That seems like a gigantic difference. But let’s look a little closer at the numbers.
According to StatCorner, Rivera managed to get 138 extra strike calls last season, and Grandal got 96. This number calculated by taking the number of pitches outside the strike zone that were called strikes, and subtracting the number of pitches inside the strike zone that were called balls. This statistic only applies to pitches that were not swung at.
While the Padres were stealing strikes, Norris and Federowicz were both in negative numbers, but only by a little, at -16 and -12.
Because catchers play different numbers of games, these numbers may be better viewed as “per-game” averages. Rivera’s skills accounted for an additional 1.75 strike calls per game, and Grandal 1.43. Norris lost about 0.19 calls per game, and Federowicz 0.56. So the actual difference is about two pitch calls per game. And while those two pitches certainly have the potential to affect the outcome of a game, we may want to remember that the average number of pitches per game is around 150.
As Sullivan points out, neither Norris nor Federowicz is particularly bad at framing pitches, indeed, the numbers show that they are very close to the league average. But because last year’s duo was particularly good at framing, this” average” production will be a drop-off.
So, unless A.J. Preller isn’t done dealing catchers yet, this year’s Padres will be a bit worse at one small aspect of defense at catcher.
This is a good kind of conversation to be having.