It's Mets For Me: Off-Beat, Tangentially Relevant Mets Ruminations

Off Base Since 2005! Mets commentary from the counter-intuitive to the unintuitive and all the intuitives in between. ** "Through the use of humor and gross inaccuracy...a certain truth can be gained." Rob Perri ** (pester me or follow me @itsmetsforme on twitter)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Senseless Debate: "Calling a Good Game," Measurement, and other Nonsense

"No baseball pitcher would be worth a darn without a catcher who could handle the hot fastball."
Casey Stengel

Let us instead praise Brian Schneider's wife choosing.

A post on Metsblog this morning raises an interesting issue. Noting that both the Mets' record and pitching staff ERA are better during the 15 games that currently un-opposable digitized catcher Brian Schneider was behind the dish, the poster attributes this to "The Schnieder Effect." It has long been my positon that saying a catcher calls a good game is much like saying a potential suitor has a nice personality. Meaningless wind-baggery meant to distract from honest evaluation.

As I wrote on Metsblog, I often find the use of statistics among baseball fans to be dismaying, just as they are in the rest of learned society:

"I don't disagree that in 3 months this posting might be right on the money in terms of Schneid’s relationship with the pitching staff, and despite my undying opposition to the LM trade, I am happy to see the parts acquired making the kind of grinder everyday contributions Omar hoped they would. However, and this is not meant to be a direct criticism of the poster, the thing that always gets me is that a lot of stat head baseball fans literally don’t know the first thing about statistics and how you can use them to make strong claims.

Without even considering controlling for the myriad of variables in this ridiculously small sample, you cannot say that Schnieds was responsible for the drop in ERA through the mystical, impossible to operationalize the variable “game calling.” Period. Of course, we’re all free to speculate and that's truckloads of fun. As for his solid defense, during the period you are looking at, those 15 games, I don’t think Schneid’s best defensive foot was even put forward so to speak–I ‘d bet there were more passed balls than catcher throw outs at second."

[Editor's note: Yes, I am so lazy and arrogant that I would quote myself off of someone else's blog.]

But just for fun, how would you go about operationalizing "game calling"? I always think about Crash Davis, I think his name was, telling the hitter what was coming. That would be "calling a bad game." We got into this realm a lot in the Mike Piazza era, when someone would try to burnish Mikey's pitiful defensive skills by shouting, "but he calls a great game" which for me was like shouting "fire" in a theater. I would then run around with my head cut off.

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: God, that sucker teed off on that like he knew I was gonna throw a fastball!
Crash Davis: He did know.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How?
Crash Davis: I told him.

Crash Davis: not a good game caller.

To try to isolate the variable of "game calling" it seems to me first you'd have to establish:
That the catcher is calling pitches (not relayed from bench), controls for weather, sunspots, all those factors associated with pitcher (ability, weak-mindedness, etc.). You just don't have any baseline since, as Casey Stengle would understand, there is always a catcher behind the plate. There is no practical way to quantitatively distinguish between good and bad game calling.

Then you'd have to figure a way to measure pitch calling quality. Maybe you'd look at:
number of pitcher shake-offs
catcher trips to mound
catcher set up for wrong location
whether pitcher is surnamed "Mota"

If any of this was possible, and I submit that it is not, it would be interesting to then see how quality of "calling" varies by catcher's native language, age, experience, offensive output, size of his fingers, etc.

I'd love to hear from statistically inclined fans, and other outraged readers as to how they'd approach this.

"You have to have a catcher because if you don't you're likely to have a lot of passed balls. "
Casey Stengel

BallHype: hype it up!

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  • At 11:59 AM, Blogger Jaap said…

    now those are what I'd call "catcher's breasts"!

  • At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Mike Nichols said…

    I'm glad you read my post. And, while you make a good argument, I think you can distinguish between catchers who do and do not call good games.

    Pitchers are more reluctant to throw inside these days and I believe a catcher who "calls a good game" forces pitchers to pitch inside.

    I also believe quality game calling catchers guide pitchers through at-bats by allowing them to pitch to their strengths rather than throwing a pitch they may not be confident with.

    I highly doubt Schneider looks towards the dugout to get his pitch selection. He is veteran catcher and I'm sure he develops a game plan with that days starting pitcher.

    I think this is a topic worthy of a good debate like this and again, I'm glad you took the time to read my post and even more thrilled my post sparked you to provide your own argument against.

  • At 7:07 PM, Blogger Itsmetsforme said…

    good points Mike and uh, Jaap.

    i am half hoping that a stat head develops measures.

    For now, I'd only add that a lot of this can end up being partially reputational and as we know from the gold glove,etc, less and less meaningful. And people were once arguing that Piazza called a good game too.

  • At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Mike Nichols said…

    Fair enough, sir, fair enough.

  • At 10:50 PM, Anonymous YB said…

    Maybe we can get a Schneider face mask for Casanova so the likes of Big Pelf can psychologically trick himself to be confident in the pitch selection and throw a strike.
    I fall squarely on the side that if a pitcher can pitch, he can throw to a bean bag and get guys out. I would also like to see the circumstances under which these determinations are made. Which park, did Schneider catch Santana 4 times?
    In case no one noticed, Figueroa has been great throwing to Casanova, exclusively. It's nice to throw these thoughts around, but unless its Macky Sasser behind the plate, I think it is just another excuse.

    As a side bar, everyone visiting blogs and following sports more than is normal or healthy, needs to watch Costas Now on HBO this week. The guy from Deadspin, Chris Russo, and others are on.

  • At 11:51 PM, Blogger Itsmetsforme said…

    can i get that HBO thing with my rabbit ears?

  • At 8:41 AM, Blogger MP said…

    People always said Piazza called a good game - it was supposedly his redeeming quality behind the plate.

    Like someone mentioned, a big part of it may be the comfort level of the pitcher. Maddux wanted to throw to Henry Blanco every 5th day - did he really call a game better than Javy Lopez? It might be better to not fuck with your star pitcher's head in that spot unless the guy he doesn't want to pitch to is Piazza or Bench.

    And your point about pitchers shaking off signs actually got me thinking. How many times did we see Mota shake off signs - or better still, Sosa?


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