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August 29, 2013

Overthinking It

Erik Kratz, and Another Thing About Catchers That We Can't Quantify Yet

by Ben Lindbergh


Catchers’ contributions, more so than those of players at any other position, defy—or at least strongly resist—quantification. We’ve long had a handle on backstops’ ability to prevent stolen bases, block pitches in the dirt, and field batted balls. But that’s the low-hanging fruit and, unfortunately, a little less juicy than the revelations hiding on the higher branches.

We have made major strides in assessing receiving, which was almost impossible (statistically) before PITCHf/x, though some aspects of that skill remain tough to untangle. But there are still some significant unknowns. Game-calling, of course. Defensive positioning. And the nebulous, but probably important, art of “working with pitchers,” which can encompass everything from recognizing when a guy is gassed to knowing how and when to boost a batterymate’s confidence. (Confidence, of course, is another intangible quality, although if Gabe Kapler is correct, “there isn’t a factor more responsible for success.”)

I’d like to add another unknown to the list, or emphasize it if it’s already on there. I’m not quite sure what to call it: stealth, or misdirection, or maybe catcher quietness. In my articles on the best and worst frames of the week, I’ll often describe a catcher’s receiving as “quiet,” meaning that his glove and his body aren’t moving around much as the pitch makes its way to the plate. But now I’m talking about a different kind of quiet—literally, not making noise, or making noise only when you want to.

When I spoke to Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers about catching earlier this year, he described his favorite kind of catcher:

Those guys that are kind of smooth and sneaky, where the opposing hitter also can’t feel you—I always said good hitters feel location from catchers, if they’re thugging [stamps foot] when they’re moving to the outside or coming up underneath. Those guys that are kind of quiet and stealthy back there, they don’t give away the location, either.

Keep that in mind as you watch this April 7th four-seamer from Cole Hamels to Alex Gordon, caught by Phillies backup catcher Erik Kratz:

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Skewed Left: Overlooke... (08/29)
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Overthinking It: A Sea... (08/27)
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Overthinking It: Baseb... (08/30)
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