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: