Which Catchers Are Best At Blocking Wild Pitches?
A recent study by Sean Forman of baseball-reference.com comes up with an excellent method of determining which pitchers are best at blocking balls in the dirt, thus preventing wild pitches and passed balls (which he collectively calls “missed pitches” (MPs)).
Noting that a pitcher’s wildness affects his propensity for pitches in the dirt, Sean ran a couple of regressions on missed pitches versus walks, strikeouts, HBPs, and whether or not the pitcher throws a knuckleball. He found a strong linear relationship.
The regression equations thus estimate of the number of MPs a given pitcher would allow.
Then, if a pitcher’s stats suggest he should be giving up 30 missed pitches, but he only gives up 20, we can conclude that the catcher is responsible for saving the other ten. If, on the other hand, he’s expected to give up 30, but he gives up 40, we can conclude that the catcher is below average.
A typical outstanding year in either direction would be about 20 pitches a season. 30 pitches puts you in the top 3 of the last 40 years.
Sean gave a talk on his method at the recent SABR convention in Seattle, and deservedly won the prize for best research presentation.
The full set of Sean’s slides is here. If you only care about the catchers and not the methods, single season bests (Brian Downing leads) are here. Worsts (Bob Uecker, in only 68 games!) here. And here are career bests and worsts.