Catcher Wins and MVPs

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Joe Morgan and Jon Heyman, it’s that the Cy Young Award should go to the pitcher in each league with the most wins. After all, winning is the object of baseball, and teams need pitchers who know how to win. Now I recognize that not all wins are created equal, that some pitchers pitch deeper into games than others, and that some pitchers get more run support than others. At the end of the day, though, the only thing that really matters is whether a pitcher pitched well enough to win.

Unlike the statheads who live in their mothers’ basements and spend most of their time hugging their calculators, I watch a lot of baseball. I know that, while the pitcher is the player most influential in the outcome of a baseball game, the catcher is similarly important. Catchers are responsible for managing pitching staffs. They call pitches, control the running game, and even bat (in both leagues!). Heck, when a pitcher strikes out a hitter, the catcher gets credit for the putout, since the play is still live if the catcher drops it. Without a catcher, teams would rarely if ever win a game. Maybe we should give wins to catchers, rather than pitchers.

To assign wins to catchers, we need to establish some guidelines. Catchers don’t always catch the whole game, so we don’t want to give them credit for the win if they just pinch hit once or catch an inning. Let’s say a catcher has to have two plate appearances to qualify for a win. That seems to make just as much sense as requiring that a starting pitcher pitch five innings to earn a win, while a reliever can get a win with one pitch (or no pitches and a pickoff). Sure, it’s possible that two catchers on one team could earn a decision in the same game, but if those two catchers both assumed the second most important position on the field for a few innings, I think they deserve the win or loss.

It’s also possible that a catcher who got two or more plate appearances did so while not catching. We can’t take those wins away, because we all know that catchers are leaders, and whether they’re behind the plate, at first base, or in the dugout, they are constantly motivating players and creating a winning atmosphere.

Since the only smart way to pick a Cy Young is by win total, it follows that the Most Valuable Player on the field is the guy with the most wins, right? There may be other factors, such as other players who hit and field, but the catcher manages the all-important pitcher and hits, so the catcher is most responsible for a team’s wins and losses. And what’s a better indicator of value than winning?

Let’s take a look at this year’s leaderboards:

In the National League, Philadelphia’s Brian Schneider has the league’s best winning percentage. At 27-5, he has won 84.4% of the games he’s caught. Talk about a guy who knows how to win! Vance Worley sure is lucky to have a winner like Schneider behind the plate every fifth day. Now, as great as Schneider’s been in 32 games, his teammate Carlos Ruiz, is the team’s real workhorse. Ruiz only wins 62.2% of his starts, but he’s durable and willing to receive the ball four of every five days, so he’s more valuable than Schneider, as evidenced by his 61 wins.

Of course, even Ruiz isn’t the leader in catcher wins in 2011. Milwaukee’s Jonathan Lucroy has 62, which would make for a great neck-and-neck race with Chooch if not for the one guy who has won even more games. Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks has to be the frontrunner for the NL MVP this year. Sure, Justin Upton may have a 92-point OPS advantage, and Ryan Roberts may have more WAR. Obvious Cy Young choice Ian Kennedy has been valuable as well, with his 19 wins, but that hardly compares to Montero’s 71. Regardless of whether his pitcher has all his pitches working or what kind of run support he gets, it’s clear that Miguel Montero knows how to win, and that makes him the most valuable player in the National League.

In the American League, the race is a little closer. Like in the NL, it’s a backup who leads the league in winning percentage (minimum 20 games caught). New York’s Francisco Cervelli has won 26 of the 35 games he’s played this year, or 74.3%. If only Joe Girardi had access to these numbers, he would surely recognize that Cervelli needs to catch more often.

Cervelli’s teammate Russell Martin is third in the league with 62 wins. Cleveland’s Carlos Santana has caught more games than anyone in the majors, and has 66 wins (and 68 losses) to show for his durability. Our leader, though, is Santana’s division rival Alex Avila of Detroit, with 68 wins. Avila’s 56.7 winning percentage is exactly the same as the Tigers’ winning percentage, which proves that as Avila goes, so go the playoff-bound Tigers. Isn’t that the true mark of an MVP?

The Indians and Tigers play a three-game series over the last three days of the season. It looks like the Tigers have sewn up the division, but that series will be exciting to watch just because of the MVP race, which will likely come down to Avila vs. Santana. With such extraordinary athletes competing head to head, we know that series will come down to which catcher wants it more. I’ve got my money on Avila.

***I sincerely hope that the tone of this piece was obvious enough that those readers unfamiliar with my work can tell that the whole idea is a farce and that picking an MVP based on catcher wins would be almost as ridiculous as picking a Cy Young winner based on pitcher wins.***

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This entry was posted in Brewers, Diamondbacks, Indians, Phillies, Postseason Awards, Tigers, Yankees. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Catcher Wins and MVPs

  1. Nick says:

    Brian Schneider for MVP!

  2. CCX says:

    Yeah, the sarcasm was obvious. Although on a serious note, catchers and their contributions to wins really are underappreciated. Back before age relegated him to a permanent backup role, Jason Varitek had a noticeable effect on his team’s ability to win that extended far beyond his offensive contributions. Go back to 2006 and take a look at the splits on the Red Sox’ pitching staff, especially the relievers (most of whom had very little major league experience) and the younger starters. Most of them probably had considerably higher ERAs in August than in most other months–a month that Varitek spent the entirety of on the disabled list.

    • Bryan says:

      Chad, I agree that catcher defense is understated by WAR. I think in baseball circles, the catcher’s effect on a pitching staff is both underrated and overrated. It’s hard to determine a catcher’s value using ERA splits because, for instance, Tek used to catch everyone except Wake, so Mirabelli or Bard or Shoppach or whoever caught Wake always had a higher “catcher ERA” unless Wake was pitching well.

  3. Mark McHugh says:

    Bryan,

    The tone of the piece is not lost on me, but as a Phillies fan, I must say that guys like Brian Schneider have value that doesn’t show up in his personal stats. When Chooch gets a break, it’s good to know that the team still has a very good chance of winning. So I don’t care what Schneider’s batting average is.

    I would consider any attempt by the Phils to “upgrade” their backup catcher a big mistake. A guy who wins 85% of the time in baseball (for whatever reasons you want to sight) is a guy worth keeping around.

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