Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine Batter's Box Interactive Magazine
Back in November, the Blue Jays signed themselves a big ticket free agent - catcher Russell Martin.

 It wasn't his bat they were investing in, as Gregor Chisholm wrote at the time:

The strength of Toronto's future clearly lies within its rotation. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Drew Hutchison, along with promising prospects such as Jeff Hoffman are expected to be the strength of this organization for many years to come, and in order to maximize that talent, an elite receiver such as Martin was required. Martin is generally regarded as one of the best game-callers and pitch-framers in baseball. That's one reason there was no shortage of interest in his services...

These sentiments were echoed in many places, Da Box among them. So... how's all this working out anyway?
          G    IP     W  L  ERA     R   ER   PA    AB    H    2B  3B  HR  SB  CS   BB   SO  SO/W   BAVG    OBP   SLG   OPS  K/9    Bb/9   HR/9
Navarro   32  255.3  17 10  3.10   94   88  1042   956  229   42   5  29 11   9   68  195  2.87   .240   .294  .385  .679  6.87   2.40   1.02
Martin   101  871.7  55 44  3.76  410  364  3634  3302  825  166  18 101  39  29  250  684  2.73   .250   .307  .403  .710  7.06   2.58   1.04
Thole    12   91.0   6  5  5.14   55   52   384   350   94   20   4  11   4   0   23   65  2.83   .269   .317  .443  .760  6.43   2.27   1.09

Not quite what we expected. How did this happen?

Let's see if we can figure it out. Obviously, it's got nothing to do with David Price, who has been by far the best Toronto starter this season. But Price has only pitched 50.1 innings for the Jays, and Martin's caught every one of them. Let's look at the individual starters:
               G   IP     W  L  ERA     R   ER   PA   AB    H  2B  3B  HR  SB  CS   BB   SO  SO/W   BAVG    OBP   SLG   OPS   K/9   Bb/9  HR/9
Dickey/Martin 18  115.3   5  5  3.51    47  45  482  428  102  20   4  12   5   4   43   77  1.79   .238    .316  .388  .704  6.01  3.36  0.94
Dickey/Thole 10   67.3   5  5  5.08    38  38  279  255   70  11   3  10   1   0   14   35  2.50   .275    .314  .459  .773  4.68  1.87  1.34

Martin's obviously done an excellent job working with the knuckleballer. If Martin was having a great deal difficulty catching the pitch, you might expect Dickey's walks to increase. Umpires have a natural tendency to call a ball on pitches that the catcher doesn't catch cleanly, or has to lunge after. And Dickey's walks have indeed jumped quite a bit with Martin behind the plate. But I think it's pretty clear that this is just colllateral damage. Dickey has simply had a much better knuckleball working on those days that Martin's been behind the plate. I don't know why, but the strikeouts are up, and the hits and home runs are down. He's been much harder to catch, perhaps, but he's been even harder to hit.

What about Drew?
                   G   IP    W  L  ERA    R  ER   PA   AB    H  2B  3B  HR  SB  CS  BB  SO  SO/W   BAVG  OBP   SLG   OPS   K/9   Bb/9  HR/9 
Hutchison/Martin   21 116.7 11  2  5.09  65  66  508  464  127  26   0  18   8   6  32  94   2.94  .274  .329  .446  .775   7.25  2.47 1.39
Hutchison/Navarro   4 21.0  2  1  5.57  15  13   95   84   32   6   0   0   5   2   7  21   3.00  .381  .432  .452  .884   9.00  3.00 0.00
Hutchison/Thole    1   6.0  0  0  3.00   2   2   23   22   5    3   0   0   1   0   1   9   9.00  .227  .261  .364  .625  13.50  1.50 0.00

Oh, Drew. It just doesn't matter.

Which brings us to the two guys who are at the root of The Mystery.
                  G   IP  W  L  ERA    R  ER  PA   AB   H  2B 3B HR  SB  CS  BB  SO  SO/W  BAVG  OBP   SLG   OPS   K/9   Bb/9  HR/9 
Estrada/Martin   14 61.3  3  3  4.11  31  28  261  238  58 11  3  7   5   2  20  50  2.50  .244  .307  .403  .710  7.34  2.93  1.03
Estrada/Navarro  15 86.0  8  5  2.51  24  24  337  303  54 10  2 11   2   3  28  61  2.18  .178  .251  .333  .585  6.38  2.93  1.15
Estrada started the year in the bullpen, and appeared in six games as a reliever. Martin was the catcher every time, as he continued to be when Estrada moved into the rotation. He went  3-3, 5.01 in his first 8 starts, all with Martin catching. On June 19, Estrada made his first start with Navarro behind the plate, and Martin hasn't caught a single inning with Estrada since.  I suspect some of what we're seeing here is Martin getting all the starts when Estrada was stretching himself out and transitioning from the pen to the rotation.

                   G    IP    W  L  ERA    R   ER   PA   AB    H  2B 3B  HR  SB  CS  BB  SO  SO/W  BAVG  OBP   SLG   OPS   K/9   Bb/9  HR/9 
Buehrle/Martin    19  119.3   9  7  4.22   58  56  496  464  134  31  4  11   0   1  18  59  3.28  .289  .313 .444  .757  4.45  1.36  0.83
Buehrle/Navarro    8   55.0   5  0  2.62   17  16  220  209   50  10  1   8   0   0   9  21  2.33  .239  .274 .411  .685  3.44  1.47  1.31
This is a little more complicated. Dioner Navarro began the season as Buehrle's personal catcher, with Martin handling the other four starters. But Navarro was injured early, after catching Buehrle's first two games. Thole took his roster spot and assumed the knuckleball catching duties, with Martin again handling the other four starters. Buehrle went 4-4, 5.26 in Navarro's absence, with Martin behind the plate.
Navarro returned on June 3, resumed his role as Buehrle's personal catcher, and Buehrle immediately tossed a six-hit shutout and followed that up with two more strong starts. But it was at this point that Gibbons tried Navarro behind the plate with Estrada (which worked well) and Hutchison (made no difference.) Martin caught Buehrle's next seven starts, and the old man was outstanding (4-1, 2.03). Navarro got three more Buehrle starts at the beginning of August, with Martin showing signs of wear, but with Thole joining the team to take on the Dickey duties, and Navarro and Estrada having evidently an effective tandem, Martin has caught Buehrle's last four starts. Which coincides perfectly with when his season went into the crapper (1-2, 6.98). Essentially, Buehrle has had three extended stints with Martin catching - one was outstanding, the others were... not so good, as Captain Kramer once said.

Buehrle is, by far, the easiest pitcher on the staff to catch, in terms of receiving the ball. He doesn't throw particularly hard and he generally hits his catcher's glove. Buehrle's demands on his catcher, such as they are, are entirely mental. Many if not most pitchers prefer to call their own game, or at least have some say in the matter, and the catcher needs to try to think along with them. But Buehrle famously throws whatever his catcher calls for, without hesitation. Catchers do expect to carry this burden for every pitcher - Buehrle is one of the few pitchers who actually lets them. This would really only be a problem with an extremely inexperienced catcher. It can take a catcher with no previous experience with Buehrle a half dozen games or so to figure out how to work with the old fella - we saw this with Arencibia in 2013 and Martin this year.

But they do figure it out. Martin went through a learning curve with Buehrle early in the season, they worked brilliantly together in mid-season, and Martin's been on the spot as the old man started running out of gas these last few weeks. I expect he'll bounce back - he always does (knocks furiously on wood) - I'm just not sure that Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium III are the places to expect it to happen.

Anyway - I started out looking at Martin's numbers, wondering what was up with that - and I've basically convinced myself.... not much, really!
Russell and the Pitchers | 11 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
uglyone - Tuesday, September 08 2015 @ 02:03 PM EDT (#310845) #
it's a fascinating topic.

is it a coincidence that navarro has had such significant success with the two guys without much kf a fastball? the gyys who might benefit most from a great game caller?

does this mean that dioner is a great game caller? does our complete ignorance of this potentially huge factor mean that the recent emphasis on pitch framing may in fact lead us further away from the truth than towards it?
uglyone - Tuesday, September 08 2015 @ 02:06 PM EDT (#310846) #
addendum: i get the feeling, somehow, that even though jays fans are a little loathe to admit, that collectively we've been impressed this year with how navarro has compared as a receiver to one of the more respected defensive catchers in baseball in martin, even just using the eye test.
Mike Green - Tuesday, September 08 2015 @ 02:32 PM EDT (#310848) #
Martin obviously has a stronger throwing arm than Navarro, but it hasn't shown up this year.  It's a bit of a surprise how successful Estrada/Navarro have been at controlling the running game.  It is an outlier in  the career record of stolen base suppression for both of them.  There are a number of possible explanations, including pure randomness.
jerjapan - Tuesday, September 08 2015 @ 03:07 PM EDT (#310851) #
Interesting read Magpie, and great call Ugly - Dioner has certainly looked better than expected (framing aside) - behind the plate.  In all honesty, I'd be happy to have him back as a backup next year, especially if we retain Buehrle / Estrada, just as long as he's allowed nowhere near the DH slot. 
Magpie - Tuesday, September 08 2015 @ 03:27 PM EDT (#310852) #
It's a bit of a surprise how successful Estrada/Navarro have been at controlling the running game.

The whole team (with the exception of Bo Schultz) has done very well in shutting down the opposition's running game. Even Hutchison has made some real strides this season. Dickey and Buehrle are both remarkably good at eliminating the running game, and it seems to have spread. The opposition has one stolen base attempt against Buehrle this season, and it was unsuccessful.
Mike Green - Tuesday, September 08 2015 @ 03:43 PM EDT (#310854) #
I hadn't realized that Buehrle's feat has been done quite a number of times before-  Whitey Ford did it 4 times and (read this carefully) thieves were 30 out of 85 stealing bases over his career.  I was not aware that he controlled the running game like no other.  Buehrle might be the closest. 

One of the other pitchers without a stolen base against is David Price, 2015.

Magpie - Tuesday, September 08 2015 @ 05:30 PM EDT (#310876) #
Estrada and Buerhle are the only guys on the staff who have anything near enough innings with both catchers to indicate anything whatsoever. It is interesting. IN the case of Estrada, his BB/9 is identical with both catchers, and he gets more Ks and fewer HRs with Martin. (Something partially affected by his work out of the pen, of course.) But the opposition is only batting .178 when Navarro is his catcher. Which does sort of scream FLUKE. It's a similar story with Buehrle. The HRs increase, the Ks practically vanish, but the opposition loses 50 points of batting average when Navarro is catching.
whiterasta80 - Wednesday, September 09 2015 @ 10:32 AM EDT (#310944) #
Thanks for preparing this: I've been wondering about Dioner and his potentially underrated game calling all year but haven't put numbers to the analysis.

I actually believe that Dioner calls a very good game. There are a tonne of other possible explanations but I'll be very curious to see what happens next season when he moves on. If I were a team looking for a "moneyball" solution to my catching then I might give him a look.

That said, Martin is still our guy no matter what.
Mike Green - Wednesday, September 09 2015 @ 11:06 AM EDT (#310946) #
Martin caught all of Estrada's starts in May and for the first half of June, and Navarro thereafter.  I looked at the monthly batted ball information for May and July/August 2015 (hard vs. soft contact, line drive and pop-up rates, and pull rates) to see if there was an explanation for the BABIP difference when Martin and Navarro caught.  I couldn't see it.  However what has happened is that the team defence has become much better later in the season with Colabello no longer in left-field, Goins being an upgrade on Travis defensively, and Tulowitzki being an upgrade on Reyes. 

As for Buehrle, Navarro started catching him in June and he was palpably better than he had been in April or May.  It might be due to them "clicking"- Buehrle does seem to work well with him- or might be simply a better a matter of good health.  Buehrle has now thrown over 200 innings with Navarro catching with an ERA of 3.25, which is quite a bit better than he has been when other Blue Jay catchers have been behind the plate.  I'd be reluctant to ascribe all of that to simple luck. 

uglyone - Wednesday, September 09 2015 @ 11:11 AM EDT (#310948) #
our offensive baserunning has also been so great this year (especially given we lack burners) that i wonder if we're exploiting something tactically and/or statistically in the running game on both sides of the ball.
Mike Green - Wednesday, September 09 2015 @ 11:24 AM EDT (#310949) #
The club is definitely running more with runners on first and second, especially with the big right-handed hitters, Encarnacion and Colabello, at the plate.  Donaldson's 5-0 and Bautista is 8-2 stealing bases, and a number of these stolen bases have come in these situations.  They are definitely picking their spots very well.
Russell and the Pitchers | 11 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.