>There has been some recent chatter about Rod Barajas having a particularly low catcher’s ERA during his time in Toronto, with the assumption that a low catcher’s ERA indicates that he works better with a pitching staff than an average catcher. Okay, maybe it was just Marty Noble that said it, but whatever. Pitchers put up an ERA of 3.31 with Barajas behind the plate, compared to a team ERA of 3.49 in 2008. They put up a 4.26 ERA, compared to the team ERA of 4.47 in 2009. So it’s true – in 2008 and 2009, pitchers had a lower ERA when Barajas was catching – but that doesn’t indicates anything about Barajas’ skill level behind the plate.
Here’s a list of people responsible for Barajas’ low catcher ERA, in order of responsibility:
1. Roy Halladay, 2.78 ERA over same period.
2. Roy Halladay, again, 154 ERA+ over same period. It’s mostly Halladay.
3. Shaun Marcum, 3.39 ERA
4. Jesse Litsch, 3.84 ERA
5-30. Everyone else who pitched for the Blue Jays over that two year span.
31. The other Blue Jay catchers
32. Rod Barajas
This isn’t to say that Barajas is a poor catcher or that he tells the batter what pitch is coming in advance, but rather that catcher ERA is an utterly useless statistic. It tells you if pitchers allowed more or fewer earned runs with catcher X in the game, but it doesn’t tell you why that happened. Blue Jays pitchers did have a lower ERA when Barajas caught, but that could be explained in numerous ways other than “Barajas makes pitchers better.” For example:
1. The other, non-Barajas – “Nahrajas” for short – catchers made the Blue Jays pitchers worse, and Barajas is just an average receiver who is made to look better in comparison. Sort of like when the only thing on TV is “Two-and-a-Half Men”, or the informercial for the Miracle Blade III. – Wait. I know what this is. It’s “The Odd Couple” with an inoffensive kid thrown in. Suddenly, watching that pineapple get smoothly cleaved in two seems much more appealing . . .
2. Personal catchers: Say Barajas caught Halladay, Burnett, Marcum, and Litsch, and the other Blue Jays catchers caught spot starters and AAAA players. Maybe not something as dramatic, but something similar would cause a disparity. (Read: Catching Roy Halladay more often than the other guys.)
3. Platoon possibilities. If the Blue Jays have a set line up against RHP which includes better defensive players than their lineup against LHP, the catcher in the RHP lineup is going to have a lower ERA because of the improved defense.
4. If the catcher is making a whole bunch of throwing errors, ERA isn’t going to account for that. So, if Barajas throws the ball into center field once a game and allows a runner to score an unearned run, catcher ERA isn’t going to charge him for that, even though he’s the one throwing the ball away.
I’m not saying any of these examples happened in the Barajas/Blue Jays situation, because most of them didn’t, but I am saying they all could happened and they all illustrate why CERA is not useful. I’m also not saying Rod Barajas is a poor defensive catcher, and I don’t believe that he is – what I am saying is that if you are looking for the defensive effects of a catcher, CERA or CRA (catcher run average) is not the place to look for it.
To push this point along, here is a graph of Rod Barajas’ team’s run average, minus his catcher run average. I went with run average because it removes the possibility of errors making things weirder than they need to be. So now, with RA instead of ERA, if Barajas is making a whole bunch of throwing errors – and he does sometimes – he should theoretically be penalized for it. Here you go. The difference between Barajas’s RA and his teams RA:
So, does that look:
A.) Like a reliable statistic that is a good indicator of what a player will do in the future.
B.) Like randomness.
C.) Suspiciously like an EKG. I probably shouldn’t have made the line green . . .
You can see Toronto pitchers performed better with Barajas over the past two seasons, but pitchers performed worse with him when he was in Philadelphia and Texas for the two prior seasons. So, if you want to call him a better receiver because of his work in Toronto, you must then ignore his subpar work in Philly and Texas the two years prior.
If you compile the total difference between his CRA and his teams’ RA for his entire career, Rod Barajas has been worth -3.53 runs over 6300 innings according to CRA. Over a full season’s work of about 800 innings, that comes out to .45 runs below his team’s average. Making Barajas a slightly below-average catcher. Which makes even less sense. See? CRA doesn’t make any sense – just Google catcher’s ERA, and every result is a blog post about how useless it is. Maybe this one will be there some day. In fact, maybe this is how you found this post. Hello future-reader. Welcome.
For present day readers, the best way to look at catcher defense is over at Driveline Mechanics, found here, which ranks Barajas as an above average defensive receiver, worth 4.2 runs defensively last season – he would have been worth more except that he made 8 throwing errors, tying him for first in the league, and knocking him down a few runs. For future readers living in a bleak, desolate, post-apocalyptic Mad Max world, you’re on your own for finding the best method of capturing catcher’s defensive contributions, but you should probably be worrying about other things.
Anyway, yes, Barajas is a solid defensive backstop, but he doesn’t making the pitching staff better just by being there, as CERA would imply. He’s not Rod “Falkor” Barajas, luck dragon, and Oliver Perez is not going to suddenly emerge from Fantastica because Barajas is hanging around, whispering words of magic and framing pitches well. Rod Barajas helps his pitchers by saving wild pitches and passed balls, and by controlling the running game, and that’s really all he can do.
Patrick Flood writes the blog you’re reading right now. Well, he does some other things too, but the only Mets-related thing is this. You can find him on twitter here, this blog on facebook here, or by email.