Monday, April 11, 2011

Jason Varitek Catches Two-Hit Shutout, WAR Doesn't Care

Much has been made in the past about what a great game-caller Jason Varitek is, and with Josh Beckett pitching last night like the 2007 version of himself, I'm sure the calls for Varitek to be Beckett's personal catcher are not far off. In fact, the nonsense has already started.

I'm not trying to downplay Varitek's reputation for being good at handling pitchers. I'm sure it's warranted. I bet there are a lot of pitchers who love working with him. I just don't think it makes that much of a difference. Any pitcher with his head screwed on straight knows he's the one who decides what pitch to throw in what situation—the catcher can only suggest—and that it ultimately comes down to his ability to execute. So, I suspect the pitchers who stand to gain the most from a catcher who's a good game-caller are those who are not long for the major leagues anyway.

I'd like to see someone perform a statistical analysis of Varitek's catcher ERA in comparison to the other catchers who've played for the Red Sox during the same time frame. This would have to be a little more than just a look at the team's ERA with versus without Varitek, as it's possible that backup catchers might be at a statistical disadvantage, more often than not being called on to catch back-of-the-rotation starters. For example, when Doug Mirabelli was in Boston, he was Tim Wakefield's personal catcher. Wakefield had some pretty good years during that time frame, but I would still suspect he was below average relative to the rest of the team's starters.*

*EDIT: As it turns out, I'm wrong about this. Mirabelli spent six full or partial seasons with the Red Sox (2001-05 & 2007, catching 48-62 games in each), and Wakefield's ERA was below the team average in only 2004 & 2007. But, you get the point. Regardless of who's at a statistical disadvantage, the analysis would need to be properly weighted to ensure a fair comparison.

So, this would need to be some kind of weighted-average analysis that takes into consideration the quality of the pitchers throwing to each catcher. Who knows? If it's determined that Varitek improved his pitchers' ERA by as much as 0.2 runs per game, that translates to more than 280 runs over his 1423 games caught. Since, in WAR methodology, every 10 runs roughly equals one win, this could add 28 wins to Varitek's current career WAR of 23.1. Bringing his WAR total over 50 would put him in the class of rock-solid Hall of Fame catchers Mickey Cochrane and Gabby Hartnett.

But, seriously, I have no intention of taking on such a project. I don't have the time nor the motivation. Besides, I'm quite content in the knowledge that the closest Varitek is going to get to the Clark Sports Center podium is sitting in the invited guest seats when Pedro Martinez or, perhaps, Curt Schilling gets inducted.

I made my first visit to a major league park last night, witnessing Josh Beckett's masterful pitching performance in person. I always enjoy going to the ballpark, even if it means I have to contend with "Yankees Suck" chants and the drunks in the Fenway Park bleachers, as I did last night. I wore my Yankees hat, but maintained a pretty low profile, as there wasn't really much reason to do otherwise.

Highlights, while few and far between, included:
  • Attending a game with my pal DJ for the first time since our trip to Toronto for the World Baseball Classic two years ago, and discussing our new offensive player rating system, which I'll write more about at a later date, if it seems worthy.
  • Observing the cluelessness of fans around me, as no one seemed to notice that a run was erased when Kevin Youkilis was called out for runner interference on an attempted double play in the third.
  • Watching Carl Crawford continue to struggle. 
  • The fact that the game was over in just under three hours (2:58 according to the box score), which has to be some kind of record for a nationally televised Yankees-Red Sox game.
  • Witnessing the Yankees debut of Freddy Garcia. OK, not really.
But, as I may have said before, a night at the ballpark—even when your team manages only four base runners, and ends the game with 17 consecutive batters retired—is pretty much unrivaled by almost any other activity.

No comments:

Post a Comment