#33 – Jerry Grote: The Problem with Catchers

Jerry Grote attempting to fly during the 1969 World Series.

Opening Day 2011 will be the 50th Opening Day in Mets history. To honor that, around here we’ll be counting down the top 50 Mets in team history, one every weekday from now until we’ve done ‘em all. Today, #33, Jerry Grote:

Jerry Grote is problematic to rate. His numbers, both sabermetric and traditional, aren’t particularly impressive. He put up decent on base percentages for a catcher, but had no power — his career slugging percentage (.326) is lower than Luis Castillo’s (.351). Grote’s Mets OPS+ sits at 85, putting him right between Ron Hodges and Vance Wilson on the pantheon of “Mets catchers who couldn’t really hit so good.” Defensively, Grote had a good arm for a catcher, but perhaps not a great one: he threw out 38% of would be base stealers during a period when the major league average was 36% caught stealing. He threw a little bit better than average. Still, no-hit, decent-throw catchers grow on trees . . . no, wait. Outfielders grow on trees. Catchers probably grow below the ground, like potatoes and dwarves. Anyway. Wherever no-hit catchers grow, they’re not uncommon.

However, Grote was well regarded for all of his defensive virtues, and not just his throwing in particular. “Jerry Grote is a catcher who hits. Johnny Bench is a hitter who catches,” once spoketh Joe Torre. “There is a big difference.”

Catcher defense remains a big problems for sabermetrics. Everyone knows what goes into catching – calling the game, framing pitches, blocking the plate, controlling the running game, making sure the batter isn’t peaking, remembering to wear a cup – but no one really knows how it all fits together, or even the relative sizes of the parts. It’s like a big puzzle with no directions, and some pieces are invisible. It’s hard to objectively measure all of Jerry Grote’s defensive contributions, which may cause him to be massively undervalued by something like wins above replacement. Given his defensive reputation, I suspect that WAR does just that.

For example: During his twelve years with the Mets, Grote’s pitchers allowed 3.65 runs per nine innings while he was behind the plate; when someone else was the catcher, Mets pitchers allowed 3.91 runs per nine innings. A 0.26 run difference may not seem like much, but over the course of a full catcher season — 800 innings behind the plate — it’s a difference of about 23 runs. That’s about the same as the difference a great defensive shortstop or center fielder would make.

Of course, it’s not really that easy. I don’t know how much of this effect is Grote, and how much is simply which pitchers he was catching. Or if the Mets’ other catchers were terrible and made Grote look good in comparison. There are too many possibilities in these sorts of thing, which is why catcher defense is still a problem for baseball Zuckerbergs. If you want to assume that the difference in runs allowed is an effect of Grote, he jumps all the way into the top 20 of this list. For lack of better knowledge, I left him here at number 33, but he probably should be much higher.

Weird list this time. Mets with at least 10 home runs, but more sacrifice hits than home runs:

Rk Player HR SH
1 Jerry Grote 35 44
2 Ron Hunt 20 29
3 Timo Perez 18 23
4 Joe McEwing 15 29
5 Kazuo Matsui 11 13
6 Bruce Boisclair 10 16
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/2/2011.
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4 Comments

Filed under Mets, Words

4 responses to “#33 – Jerry Grote: The Problem with Catchers

  1. I remember Jerry Grote making the all start team with a very low batting average/ not a lot of offense, because of his defense. He was the perfect compliment to a team that didn’t have a lot of offense anyway, but tried harder than anyone else, dove for everything, scratched and clawed for runs, and then had Tug McGraw to come in and put out almost any fire – (and not just in the 9th inning).

    I also remember his batting average comming up as he got older.

    Last memory, I remember him playing left field late in his career, I don’t think it was regularly, it may have been a situation where they were out of guys that particular day. But I remember a drive down the line that was bouncing around and as he gets to it, he goes into a slide and kind of blocks it with his legs, corrals it picks it up and fires it in. What else would a catcher do, who cares he’s 350 feet from the plate.

    He was definitly a big piece on the 69 movement

  2. Not much of a comment this time.

    I was the statistician for our high school softball team for six years (last three years of high school, then three more while I was attending the local community college). There was a pair of girls — one a year behind me and one three years behind — who alternated at catcher and first base. The younger was the better catcher, and built like a fullback, but her knees couldn’t handle the position full time, so every second or third game this little lefthanded swimmer who usually played first base would struggle into the gear and stagger behind the plate for seven innings. That was the best team we ever had, and the only one in my era to win a game in sectional play (two, if I’m remembering correctly).

    Anyway, the reason I brought that up was that the younger one called the older ‘Grote’, and the older one called the younger ‘Stearns’. That was during the 1981 season.

    • Patrick Flood

      My favorite part of doing this list has been the stories like this that people have been leaving as comments. Thanks for that.

  3. The first baseball game I attended as a 10 year old, Jerry Grote was catching and Tom Seaver pitched. Mets won 3 to 2 and Jerry hit a home run.

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