I’ve used this metaphor before, but I can’t think of a better one. Say 30 people are in a room for a meeting, and in comes a giant plate of sandwiches. Maybe more sandwiches than are needed (35?), but not so many that people aren’t eyeing the buffet to see if they need to make a bold move to get the roast beef if they hate tuna, etc. You’ve been in that situation before, or something like it. You can play it cool or be That Guy, but either way, you’re probably going to eat.
But let’s say one of the 30 people leaves the room for a hot second, to grab a pen, tell someone more coffee is needed in the room, whatever. And while that person was gone, some other jerk goes to grab a sandwich, and sneezes a terrible, wet, disgusting sneeze all over one end of the buffet. Yikes. Now the rush is on, because hell if you’re going to be one of the people to get up there before all the non-sneezed sandwiches are taken.
Call the one person who left the Arizona Diamondbacks. What are the chances he gets a non-sneeze sandwich? They’re practically nil. Maybe some of the other people will be nice to the D-backs, and tell him about the sneeze, even though that draws attention to the sneeze guy and most people choose to avoid calling others out. It’d be up to the D-backs to believe it, or not believe it. Because while most people would have sandwiches, to the D-backs, it would look like there were some pretty great looking ones on that one end of the buffet, and you gotta eat — maybe you just delude yourself into thinking the sneeze must not have happened.
It sure seems like there’s only one organization in MLB now that doesn’t appreciate catcher framing. There’s only one organization that, time and again, keeps heading to that one end of the buffet that everyone seems to avoid. On one level, it’s understandable — unlike the sandwiches that are all together in one place, catchers like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Gerald Laird and Jordan Pacheco and Chris Herrmann aren’t so similar that you have to ask yourself “why are these guys available?” And part of that is just that if a player can’t catch but can really hit, they don’t become available for a waiver claim or minor league deal or distant prospect — they get moved to a different position.
It’s frustrating. I happen to think that the D-backs have been so fearlessly different than the other 29 clubs that they actually have derived some kind of advantage from that. Other teams may have dismissed BABIP as luck for hitters and pitchers both, but sometimes the actual results are the least misleading — and I think that’s been true for Shelby Miller, in particular. Still, wouldn’t you rather know how sneezed-on a sandwich really is? Shifting is wonderful, but it has only ever moved the needle on run prevention by about 1%, or less, for any team, ever. The difference between baseball’s best framers and worst framers appears to affect run prevention by about 8%. It’s freaking huge. And even if you only half believe in it, you should still admit that’s it’s huge.
Would it really be so hard for the D-backs to march to their own drum and at least consider some of these data-driven things? Just under two years ago, it seemed like Managing Partner Ken Kendrick thought so. Via Dan Bickley:
“When we look at where we are and where we were, I can compare two regimes,” Kendrick said. “I don’t want to say polar opposites — that’s too strong — but there was a pretty significant reliance on data with Josh than with Kevin. I always hoped for, with each, more balance. It’s easy to say, but not always easy to achieve.
“I think we know we don’t have the balance I still think is the right way to go, and I think we need to recognize (that). To this point, there are only a few teams that are starting to do exotic (defensive) shifts, which is an element of a much bigger picture of (baseball analytics) …
I don’t know that Josh Byrnes was too analytics-driven — I wasn’t digging in on the D-backs regularly at that point, and as far as I know, the only other team to have consciously shifted away from analytics is the Red Sox, and recently. But if Kevin Towers was too far to the other extreme, how would one describe the current front-office-by-committee?
Look, there’s a possibility that Tuffy Gosewisch just wasn’t ready right now, and he’s far from being deity-like as a framer anyway. But why oh why would you take Chris Herrmann over Gosewisch when pitching has been this team’s Achilles heel? You can almost see the logic — the D-backs did invest in the pitching staff, and the idea of having a left-handed-hitting backup for Welington Castillo has lots of appeal. But check out these defensive numbers, and how they’d affect the team on a game by game basis:
That was easy; the Baseball Prospectus defensive numbers are set so average is zero at catcher. To do the same kind of thing on offense, the most accurate stat is Runs Created. But Runs Created isn’t keyed to average, and it’s not even keyed to replacement level — so this is based on the fact that if you average all 2015 catchers together, the average catcher had 64.2 Runs Created over 650 PA (which is about where a catcher would get if he played 162 games, keeping it the same as the defensive numbers).
Players get better and worse, so it’s not like any of this is written in stone. But with two numbers that can actually be compared to each other, the conclusion should be pretty obvious: in terms of total run differential, Gosewisch is about a -0.21 runs per game guy, and Herrmann is a horrific -0.32 runs per game.
So… what the hell? Because it’s not like Herrmann is much, much better against RHP, either (he’s hit .191 over his career against RHP, and Tuffy has hit .211 over his career against RHP). The only way to prefer Chris Herrmann over Tuffy Gosewisch is to ignore defense completely. Looking only at offense, Herrmann looks like the (slightly) better player, and since Castillo struggles against “Finesse” pitchers, you actually could form a pretty good hitting platoon between Castillo and Herrmann. But that’s still missing the point.
There are always things we don’t know, and it could be that Herrmann has made some change for the better, that Gosewisch is really slowed after knee surgery… a whole host of possibilities. Given the revelation that GM Dave Stewart‘s wife is Herrmann’s agent (which I think means that Stew was his agent before he became GM), it would be easy (and lazy) to suggest that had something to do with it. This time last year, though, I said that I would never again question the front-office-by-committee’s motives, and I meant it. It’s just that completely ignoring framing seems like the only other explanation, especially considering the deep chasm between Herrmann’s value and Gosewisch’s.
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