One often overlooked aspect of the game of baseball is how catchers impact the game past hitting and throwing baserunners out. Often times, you hear about how certain pitchers prefer throwing to a certain catcher on the team. With the Braves specifically, Julio Teheran prefers pitching to Tyler Flowers. With the start of the season and both Braves starting catchers going down to injury within the first two games, I wondered what impact a catcher might have on the pitcher.
What got me thinking about this is the impact of backup catcher, Chris Stewart. I wondered how he was influencing the games, as I felt we gave up more runs when he started than our other catchers. The catchers call the pitches, and if the pitcher doesn’t like what the catcher is calling, he sometimes has no choice but to throw it anyways. I decided to look into a made-up statistic, used to represent this impact. I will call it “Catcher’s ERA (CERA),” though it is not as statistical as an ERA for a pitcher.
I calculated this statistic for each of the catchers who have started games for the Braves this year. I took every game in which the catcher had at least 2 ABs, and then the number of runs the opposing team scored. I added together the totals for the number of runs scored for the year, and divided that by the number of games the catcher had 2+ ABs. This may not be perfectly accurate, but gives an interesting look at the numbers.
In 2017 (while still playing for the Pirates), Chris Stewart was the worst of any of the Braves current catchers. In 2018, teams scored an average of 5.15 runs per game in which he had 2+ at bats. Francisco Cervelli, in contrast, had a CERA of just 4.52, significantly better, yet played for the same team in the same year.
Laso in 2017, Tyler Flowers had a CERA of 4.97, while Kurt Suzuki’s was lower, sitting at 4.76. These are much closer, though it is clear the Kurt Suzuki is better in this category. Obviously, there are many determining factors to the number of runs scored and the catcher isn’t entirely responsible, but this statistic helps give us an idea of the impact catchers have on the pitchers.
Looking at this year, the year that got me thinking about this in the first place, the Braves catchers have a wide margin. The sample size is small, but the difference is big. Tyler Flowers does not have a CERA because he has not posted 2+ ABs in any game this season. Chris Stewart, again, has the highest at 5.25, fairly comparable to what he had last year. Carlos Perez came in to relieve Stewart of his starting role after the Braves acquired him through a trade with the Angels. He has had a CERA of 2.67, significantly lower than that of Chris Stewart. Kurt Suzuki, again, has everybody beat, posting a 2.6 CERA.
Obviously, much of this statistic is due to the pitchers and how well they locate/throw their pitches, but when we compare this to catchers who catch for the same pitchers, I think it helps us get a clear understanding of the impact that a catcher has on the pitcher. We often only look at catchers as guys who frame pitches and guys who don’t usually steal a lot of bases, but their impact carries much further than we often think.
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