Been caught stealing once

Hughes, bats power Yanks to series win
A hot start something new for the Yanks

If I told you that the Yanks would start the season going 6-3 against the Red Sox, Rays and Angels – three teams considered to be among the AL’s top contenders this year – would you have believed me? The Yanks currently lead the AL in runs scored and have allowed fewer runs than any of their AL East opponents. The franchise hasn’t seen a start this good since 2003 when the Yanks went 8-1 over their first nine contests, and everyone is feeling pretty good about things.

At the risk of reading too much into the results from just nine games, there is one stat though that leaps out at me as problematic. Yankee backstops have caught just one of the 13 runners who have attempted to steal against them. Jorge Posada, the Yanks’ offensive-minded catcher, has allowed 10 of 11 runners to take a base while Francisco Cervelli, the defensive back-up, allowed both runners to steal against him on Saturday. Although some of the fault lies with the team’s pitchers, only the hapless Orioles, who have allowed 14 of 15 runners to steal, have a worse mark in the early going.

Generally speaking, these stolen bases haven’t had a tremendous impact on the Yanks’ win chances yet. For example, whereas Dave Roberts’ infamous stolen base increased Boston’s win expectancy from 37 percent to 47 percent, last night’s Erick Aybar steal dropped New York’s win expectancy from 53.1 percent to 52.1 percent. With two outs in the third, it was hardly a game-changer.

Take a look at each of the stolen bases so far the Yanks have allowed this season, and their corresponding win probability added values. Even with Jacoby Ellsbury‘s stolen bases and an error on the same play that allowed him to move to third, the Yanks have lost just 0.155 WPA points – or 15.5 percent of a win – by catching just one out of 13 base stealers. A few more runners gunned out will easily negate that positive advantage.

Player Outcome WPA
Aybar SB 0.01
Wood SB 0.026
Izturis SB 0.006
Abreu CS -0.028
Bartlett SB 0.023
Crawford SB 0.021
Longoria SB 0.015
Zobrist SB 0.004
Upton SB 0.019
Bartlett SB 0.001
Crawford SB 0.001
Ellsbury SB + Error 0.047
Beltre SB 0.01
Total   0.155

My fears for the season though aren’t in the potential for a single stolen base to be a game-changer. Rather, it is in the sheer number of stolen bases the Yanks may allow. So far, Jorge Posada hasn’t shown much on his arm this year, and we can’t be too surprised. He’s 38 – two years removed from shoulder surgery – and has always been an offensive force first and a defensive catcher second. His current 1.147 OPS makes it easy to forget about his defense.

Yet, right now, any time a player with a modicum of speed reaches first base, Posada will be tested. Other than Andy Pettitte, Yankee pitchers aren’t adept at holding runners on, and Posada’s arm will only encourage opposing managers to run. While it’s unsurprising to see Ellsbury, Barlett and Crawford attempt steals, Adrian Beltre ran only 15 times in 2009. He’s a player who will test Posada this year.

The Yanks know their limitations. Joe Girardi will try to get Cervelli into as many games as he can over the course of the season both for defensive purposes and to keep Jorge fresh. Additionally, it’s far too early in the season for us to make major pronouncements on the team’s deficiencies, but as the season gets older, keep an eye on those stolen bases. One or two may end up coming back to haunt the Yanks yet.

Hughes, bats power Yanks to series win
A hot start something new for the Yanks
  • Pat

    Interesting, if a short sample. Yet the continued overkill on the WPA is distracting. Find a new pet stat.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      You are the only one complaining about this.

    • pat

      I’ll never understand comments like this.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Your Favorite Pundit’s Favorite Pundit

        I find it most interesting that he understands the dubious nature of small sample sizes, and yet doesn’t like WPA, which does an excellent job of crystallizing exactly how much or how little a particular event impacts a game by comparing it to other massively large, massively reliable sample sizes.

        Cognitive dissonance FTL.

    • whozat

      Yeah…I hate knowing how much a given play impacts the outcome of the game. I’d much rather go back to a narrative-driven evaluation of things in which the 8th is more important than other innings and all steals are awesome because LOOK SPEEEEED!!!!

      • Pat

        Agreed that, in this case, it is useful – and speaks strongly to the overrating of stolen bases on final outcomes. Apologies for showing my fatigue with that stat’s usage and letting it cloud what are the truly useful applications of it. That is my mistake 100%.

        My point stands though, when it comes to the game recaps. I recognize the value in measuring impact of each play on the outcome – but am more interested in why something occured and if anything predictive can be gleaned from it. WPA seems more of a case-study stat and is less interesting on a day-to-day, pitch-to-pitch basis. It’s (obviously) my issue though.

        I came off harsh in my post, and again I apologize (pre-AM coffee perhaps?). I wouldn’t have been reading the site as long as I have if I didn’t find it valuable. Have a good weekend.

    • Accent Shallow

      I don’t have much use for WPA ordinarily, but I like the usage here, in that it’s used to tell the story of the game, and how sometimes we don’t realize when the big moments are.

      If they start using WPA to evaluate player performance over the season, however . . .

  • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    On a related note, Posada has started 8 of the first 9 games of the season. I assume he’s playing more often, early, than he will later, because the Yanks were playing premium opponents these first 9 games, but it’s something to keep an eye on. At this point in his career, Posada probably shouldn’t be starting behind the plate in 89% of the team’s games, so I would expect that rate to drop (and the Yanks’ catchers’ CS rate to rise a bit accordingly).

    • AndrewYF

      It’s also because the Yankees have had 3 off-days distributed between their first 9 games. Posada will get a day off on Saturday (day game after a night game), and again on Thursday and Saturday.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Ah, good point, thanks.

      • Joseph Pawlikowski

        He might actually get tonight off. It would give Cervelli a chance against the lefty Wilson, and would give Jorge a three days on, day off, two days on, day off (off-day Monday) workout for the week.

        • larryf

          and if CC pitches great again with Frankie-we will have our first soap opera of the season!

          • JGS

            nah–CC pitched about as good as you can pitch in his very last game with Posada. If you want drama, have Cervelli catch Vazquez when he has a good start

            • larryf

              a no-hitter into the eighth??? with Posada? but yes, if Frankie can help Javy that would be nice…

  • Frank

    I’m not so much concerned about Posada’s inability to throw out runners (the pitcher has a lot to do with this as well) as I am about his overall defensive liabilities. I love Jorge, but let’s be honest, he’s just not very good defensively. He can’t block the plate (last night Matsui was safe) and how many passed balls has he allowed already in 8 games? Last night’s second run was set up by a passed ball. I really hope this is his last season as a FT catcher.

    • Tank Foster

      Jorge is a great player, but he’s really a one-dimensional player. He’s a fantastic hitter, and that’s it. He’s not only slow, but he’s a bad, stupid baserunner. He is, best I can tell, below average at every aspect of catching that can be reasonably evaluated. He is poor at blocking the plate, at throwing, and as we saw last night with the Matsui play, he doesn’t seem to know how to set up and block the plate very well, either.

      Shows how important offense is. I wouldn’t trade Jorge for any catcher in the league not named Mauer.

      • Tank Foster

        I meant to write “He is poor at blocking balls in the dirt, at throwing, and as we saw last night….[blocking] the plate.”

      • whozat

        “hitting” is not one dimension. Hitting for power is one dimension. Having a great arm is one dimension. For a catcher, Jorge hits for a great average, great power, and has an amazing OBP. As an all-around hitter in general, he’s still very good.

        • Tank Foster

          Meh…I think of hitting as one dimension. Hitting for power is just being more productive on that one dimension. I guess they do separate power and average hitting in the “5 tool” thing.

          • whozat

            ok, but that’s an incredibly facile evaluation. there are guys who hit for power but can’t get on base to save their lives. There are guys who hit for an empty .280 and don’t take walks (we call them “journeymen”). There are guys who get on base a lot, but don’t have a lot of power. How can we talk about these players in contrast to one another if “hitting” is collapsed into a single axis of evaluation?

            • Tank Foster

              ok, uncle…….sheesh. You can talk about hitting in general. You can look at anything in broad terms or narrow terms, if you wish. I conceptualize hitting as one dimension. You want to break it down. No problema….. He is what he is, a very good hitter, a poor baserunner, an average to below average catcher.

      • Bronx Cheer

        Not sure if this is urban legend or fact, but I’ve heard one of the reasons Jorge fails to block the plate is that he had his leg snapped like a twig early in his catching career on a play at the plate.

        In any event, the passed balls are more of a killer than anything else. I’ve never seen a catcher give up passed balls on fastballs that don’t bounce and are 5 inches out of the zone.

        • Bronx Cheer

          … give up *so many* passed balls …

        • Rick in Boston

          He broke his leg and hurt his ankle while in AAA. So the story is plausible, but I believe it was in a collision at homeplate. And we’ve seen Jorge take some hits blocking the plate.

          • Bronx Cheer

            Right, but if you notice, Jorgie is never out in front of the plate. You are taught to put your left leg into the baseline and set up out in front of the plate. He sets up behind the plate. The plate collisions generally come where the ball beats the runner by a mile and he has no chance to slide safely, or where the throw drags Jorgie directly into the runner. Jorgie never sets up to block the plate. Big difference.

    • Chris

      Jorge has allowed 2 PB and 3 WP in the first 8 games. Sure it’s tough to watch him behind the plate sometimes, but he has a 1.147 OPS this year which outweighs his defensive short comings.

  • Yankeegirl49

    I just like the Jane’s Addiction reference in the title.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      I’m glad someone did.

  • Cam

    Jorge did technically throw out someone the other night/day, but Cano dropped the ball. I can’t remember who it was but I think it was a so called “speedy” runner. Obviously the guy still got the base, but Jorge did get the ball there on time and in a perfect spot.

    • Mike HC

      Good point. Which is why the caught stealing percentage for catchers is a very flawed stat.

      But even just by watching Jorge, throwing runners out is clearly a weakness in Jorge’s game. He has a very average arm and not a particularly quick release.

      • Chris

        League average for catchers last year was 26% caught stealing. To be league average, Jorge would have to have thrown out roughly 3 baserunners this year. He has 1 CS so far, and should have had a second. Is there really that much difference between 2 CS and 3 CS through 8 games?

        It’s certainly something to keep an eye on, but with such a small sample size so far I expect him to end up close to league average.

        • JGS

          All sorts of this.

          CS% is also highly influenced by the pitching staff, which as was pointed out, isn’t particularly good at holding runners on, meaning that to have a league average CS%, he would actually have to be better than average to overcome that

        • Mike HC

          Fair enough. Definitely a small sample.

          I do see it as a potential problem like Ben though. At least something to keep your eye on.

          As Tank Foster has pointed out, and I agree, Jorge is relatively weak at every aspect of catching. Throwing out runners is just one aspect.

          • Chris

            Actually, Jorge has been about average at throwing out runners through his career – 29% caught stealing in his career. He was (predictably) awful in 2008 with the bum shoulder, but was back to normal in 2009. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on, but the results so far can easily be explained by good baserunners and small sample sizes.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Your Favorite Pundit’s Favorite Pundit

      Jorge did technically throw out someone the other night/day, but Cano dropped the ball. I can’t remember who it was but I think it was a so called “speedy” runner. Obviously the guy still got the base, but Jorge did get the ball there on time and in a perfect spot.

      I disagree. Cano dropped the ball, but the throw was late regardless. Had he fielded it cleanly, Aybar still would have been safe.

  • John

    not a terribly well thought-out post. while you do give voice to the insignificant sample size, you never actually mention that the teams the yanks played, namely the Angels and Rays, stole 10 of the 12 bases mentioned above, will likely be 1, 2 in the AL in SB this year. they’ll steal against everybody, not just the Yanks.

    • Dexception32

      I tend to agree with John, not only are the teams played significant, but Jorge’s throws have consistently been referred to as strong for the most part by all announcing crews. This isn’t like when he came back from shoulder injury, and everything was floating on him, I thought Jeter’s tag was horrible last night otherwise that guy was out, and another poster mentioned the Cano drop. I really think most of the fault lies with our pitchers in terms of really skewed results. Of course I think that too can be attributed to our successful start. Runs right now don’t seem as premium because our offense is clicking, I think pitchers are simply being told worry about pitching and it shows.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        Very well put, except for the part where you reference announcing crews as part of argument.

        That’s a .25 deduction, so I give you a 5.50. Well done.

    • Mike HC

      “While it’s unsurprising to see Ellsbury, Barlett and Crawford attempt steals, Adrian Beltre ran only 15 times in 2009. He’s a player who will test Posada this year.”

      He also mentioned every guy by name. Stealing bases is an individual thing. The point was that not only are the speedy runners going to try Jorge, but even guys like Longoria and Beltre are going to test him.

  • Matt Imbrogno

    Jorge’s no great shakes back there, but like I’ve said each time this has been discussed, the Yankees don’t hold runners on well at all. All of the starters are pretty slow to the plate, and that allows runners to get good jumps.

    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      But that’s Russian Roulette with Andy :)

  • Mike HC

    Yea. the combination of Javy, AJ and Hughes with Posada are not a good mix for throwing out potential baserunners. Between the slow deliveries and Jorges mediocre arm, it could be a long season in that department.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      CC and Andy aren’t quick to the plate, either. Andy’s got a good move, but if he’s not throwing to first, he’s very slow.

      • Mike HC

        True, but the runners have to hold at least a split second longer for both CC and especially Pettitte. It still helps a ton

        • Thomas

          Conversely, Pettitte allows a ton of stolen bases, because many baserunners go on first movement with him. Thus, if a decides to go and Pettitte wasn’t trying to pick him off, the runner is likely going to be safe regardless of the catcher.

          • Mike HC

            Yea, definitely true.

            I think this entire thread shows how many different factors go into stolen bases. It is not fair to blame the catcher for every successful attempt. But I still think Jorge does nothing to prevent steals. Molina would snap throw to first sometimes, throw from his knees sometimes and would get rid of the ball quicker, and had a better arm.

            It is a weakness is Jorges game, but this isn’t exactly new territory. Jorge is an offensive catcher.

  • steve s

    Where Jorge’s catching problems lead as well is that probably Yanks aren’t going to be able to last the season without having a legit 3rd catcher on the major league roster so that Jorge can get some DH time and be pinch-run for.

  • larryf

    Where is that Molina snap-throw behind the runner at 1B? We need some of that from Frankie…

  • Hughesus Christo

    It’s funny that people keep mentioning the Longoria steal as a sign of things to come since that was a Cervelli start. The Yankees’ starters are wild and slow to the plate.

    • Hughesus Christo

      I point that out in particular because it’s the only one here that’s close to being alarming. Elite baserunners are going to steal bases. Especially if they’re on the Rays or Angels.

    • Mike HC

      The pitchers are just as much to blame as Jorge. But Jorge does absolutely nothing to try to help that. He doesn’t keep runners close to first with the snap throw, he does not have a strong arm, average at best, and he does not get the ball out particularly quick. And as Ben pointed out, is 38 and his throwing shoulder has a history of injury.

      Not the best situation here, but not the end of the world either.

      • Hughesus Christo

        Snap throws to first can look cool. That’s the only positive thing I have to say about them.

        • Mike HC

          I think they have an effect that may not be obviously noticeable.

          They may seem like they do nothing but look cool, but in reality, they have an effect.

        • dalelama

          I don’t about that…didn’t Molina have a big snap throw pick off in last year’s World Series?

  • A.D.

    I prefer that the pitchers ignore the baserunners and go through their business, until if/when the stolen bases actually cost the Yanks in a game.

  • Tank Foster

    Measuring defense is hard, measuring a catcher’s defense is harder. But I was wrong about Jorge being “poor” at throwing out runners. He’s actually pretty average. In 2009, he threw out 28% of runners – and that was post-surgical, too – and the league average was 26%. His career high (1998) was 40%, and his career average is right around 27-28%.

    How important is throwing out runners?

    I looked at 2009 stats, and based on those, an average AL team had about 150 SB attempts made on their catchers. League average was for about 74% of these to be successful.

    That’s 112 bases, 38 caught stealings.

    The best catcher in history in a season for throwing out runners I think was Roy Campanella who had a season or a few seasons at a whopping 57%. A typical average for a very good catcher is 45-50% caught stealing. IRod was usually in this range.

    So going back to that 150 steal attempts per year, if you look at an average catcher as 25% rate, and the best possible at 50%, in modern baseball, you can gain about 38 outs/stealing “erasures” per year with a really good catcher.

    I’ll leave it to you guys to tell me how important 38 outs is over a 162 game season. Obviously, there is the context, and these outs can be extremely important in close playoff games in late innings, but overall, it can’t mean much.

    • king of fruitless hypotheticals

      i can’t believe you said that.

      i’ll tell you how important it is…at this rate, instead of winning 106 games, we may only win 102.

      oh wait what?

      my bad. never mind.

      • Tank Foster

        Are those numbers serious….would 38 outs equate to 4 wins? A great throwing catcher, versus a league average throwing catcher, is worth 4 wins? I mean, I know your post is a joking one, but I didn’t know if the win number was serious.

        • king of fruitless hypotheticals

          looking back on it, i should have gone with 110 and 98.

          i guess the differential needs to be about 10 mph :)

  • Bronx Cheer

    On a related note, anyone notice that Hughes seemed to have changed his stretch delivery? Much quicker to the plate than previously. His pick up of the left leg into the load position was noticeably quicker. He is still not “fast” to the plate by any definition, but not nearly as dreadfully slow as it was.

    Every little bit helps.

  • larryf

    Never see the snap throw to third anymore…

    Thurman Munson

  • SabathiaWouldBeGoodAtTheEighthToo

    Opponents won’t steal if they are down by four or five runs. Jorge help put them there.

  • http://None Jake

    I think the here is Jorge’s ARM with men on base.
    It’s also his GLOVE when he’s catching.

    The Yankees didn’t tell Matsui to take a hike so that Nick J
    could be the starting DH for the entire year.