This is the third installment in a series reviewing the performance of the Pirates’ defense in 2007. For this purpose, I will be using Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR) and Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) by Baseball Prospectus (BP). Along with the statistical analysis, I will incorporate what I have seen while watching the team play this year. Since fielding statistics are not as precise as offensive measures, I welcome any disagreement you may have with any of my assessments. Feel free to explain an opposing point of view in the comments section. Here are the first two segments on the Pirate outfielders and infielders. Today we will discuss the catchers.
The catching position was a significant topic of debate in 2007, and Ronny Paulino was right in the middle of it. Fans that saw his defensive performance angrily called for him to be benched, demoted or even released. However, Jim Tracy and his staff showed a strong loyalty to Paulino, never questioning that he was the starting catcher.
Discussions centered on whether Ryan Doumit should start in place of Paulino. Tracy’s reasoning for playing Paulino was his skill at handling the pitching staff and calling pitches. Statistically, there seemed to be some evidence of that, as Pirate pitchers produced an ERA of 4.61 with Paulino catching, 5.43 with Doumit. However, research apears to show that a catcher’s influence on the team’s ERA is insignificant at best. Still, the dispute continues.
Statistically, neither is very remarkable. BP rates Paulino at about average (FRAR 23, FRAA -1), and has Doumit as being slightly worse (FRAR 2, FRAA -5) in a much smaller sample size. Both were mediocre at throwing out base stealers, Paulino at 26.7% (74 SB, 27 CS) and Doumit at 22.2% (21 SB, 6 CS). To be fair, Pirate pitchers were very ineffective at holding base runners close.
Clearly, the most infuriating aspect of Paulino’s defense was that he seemed to put little effort into his performance. Numerous times this season, blockable pitches eluded Paulino and skipped to the backstop, often because he neglected to move his feet properly. He seemed almost uninterested in receiving throws from the field on plays at the plate. In addition, due to the lack of catching depth on the Pirate 40-man roster Paulino had little reason to worry about losing his job.
The biggest knock on Doumit is a poor understanding of pitch selection. This flaw has been acknowledged by everyone from Tracy to Doumit himself. If he can improve in this area (or if the bench begins calling pitches), his bat could be worth his other shortcomings behind the plate.
Overall, the most frustrating thing about Pirate catchers is that it seems Paulino could be a decent receiver. He looked terrible this season, but in reality, he was simply mediocre. Hopefully, a new manager and coaching staff can motivate Paulino to play up to his potential. If not, the Pirates are in trouble, because the catching depth is extremely thin in the organization.