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Passed balls and sabremetrics

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  • Passed balls and sabremetrics

    This is an analysis done before the end of the 2018 season, so some of the factual specifics may have changed. But the issues are the same. Please bear with.


    "You have to have a catcher, otherwise you will have a lot of passed balls." --- Casey Stengel.

    But how damaging are passed balls in real life, as opposed to life in detailed metrics and projections and computer print outs? IMHO, they look uglier than they really are.

    The NYC sports talk stations are killing Gary Sanchez for 17 passed balls in 72 games in 2018, which leads the American League. He led the league last year too. Normalized to a 162 game sched, his career average is 29.8 per season, which is hugely more than the normalized historical averages of some other great hitting catchers, although obviously some of the results are about their ages, their PT as they age and the objectivity of scorers. Mauer has not caught since 2013.

    Yadier: 7.25
    Bench 8.74
    Piazza 10.13
    Pudge 8.48
    Buster 4.39
    Mauer 7.04
    Fisk 9.39
    Yogi 7.25
    Campy 7.60

    While Sanchez seems godawful compared to these stars, in real life it does not seem too bad when other contexts are considered.

    The 2018 American League in progress passed ball average is 14.3 per team per season with a week left, so I will call it an average of 15 per team at year's end. So Sanchez's career average is really worse at this than the average AL catcher by a factor of 2.

    Meanwhile the Red Sox as a team have a current 24 total passed balls, 12 by Leon in 76 starts and 11 by Vasquez in 64 starts (as compared with the Yankees total of 23), and it does not seem to have done a lot of damage to them.

    Sanchez's 17 PB's in 2018 occurred in a total of 14 games, and the Yankees won 7 of them, including 2 of 3 games where he had 2 PB's.

    In 3 of the 7 losses, the passed balls occurred in innings in which the opponent did not score anyway.

    That leaves 4 losses in which a total of 5 Sanchez passed balls arguably led to scoring that arguably contributed to defeant.

    4/20: a passed ball in the middle of a two run fifth inning in an 8-5 home loss to Toronto. But did it really affect the game? German walked three and gave up two hits in that inning, and you could rightly blame him for the loss.

    6/4: a passed ball in the middle of a 1 run second inning allows a runner to move up to third where he later scored on a SacFly. I guess you could say that affected the game. Some. It ended 4-2.

    7/23: a passed ball in the first inning allowed a runner to score from second in one run inning a 7-6 loss. Again, I would say it was important in the result, but only to a degree.

    9/5: two passed balls in the middle of a 4 run first inning rally by Oakland in an 8-2 loss. But here too, the importance of the PB's is questionable; Severino allowed three doubles, a single and two wild pitches in that inning. He is much more culpable.

    Ok. We have four situations in which 5 Sanchez passed balls potentially cost games, if you want to count them as being the X factor that definitively did them in. But as his commission rate is roughly twice the league average, you would figure the Yankees got about two of those games back and half as many runs back on other teams' passed balls.

    So in total, his passed ball tendencies meant a theoretical -2 wins datapoint and a theoretical -8 runs datapoint over his 72 games and a projected -4.5 wins and -18 runs for a normalized season of 162 versus league average.

    Ordinarily, he figures to get all of that back with his stick because in a normal year, he would be the best offensive catcher in the league, and giving up some defense and even some for a guy who hits a 162-game normalized 43 dingers with 113 RBI's a year while protecting Stanton, Judge, etc in the lineup is not really horrible.

    But what I am figuring is getting under the skins of fans and talking heads is that they see the misplays and they look horrifying in the games and on paper, but fans can't and won't contextualize them as actually negligible to outcomes in real life in light of the rest of the guy's assets.

    They also see his large absent offense this year, at .180 batting average, leaving the passed ball situation as a target for misdirected anger at the amazing Red Sox who are simply a better club because of better pitching.

    I don't know if sabremetrics includes passed balls in player evaluations. But surely looking bad on paper and actually having bad results are clearly two different things if the Sanchez case is contemplated in depth.

    Where are all of you on this?

  • #2
    Interesting work. I'll defer to the more statistically inclined. I will add one thing you hear often which is "he's afraid to throw his xyz pitch or a pitch in the dirt" with reference to men on base and un "unreliable: catcher.


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