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Spreadsheet Baseball: Catching A Cold...Again

I've been therapeutically playing the Blue Album and Pinkerton all day to try and take the sting out of how thoroughly farking mediocre Weezer's latest effort is. Yes, I realize probably no one else cares. I'm still going to complain about it when one of my favorite modern groups becomes the alternative rock equivalent of Bobby Higginson. To add video insult to musical injury, that thoroughly excreable single "The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived" won't stop bouncing around in my head. I want to punch myself in the face every time I catch myself singing the refrain. It's not a good song, but of course since it's a new song by a new brand band it's been on the radio approximately three thousand times in the last 24 hours. No, that's not a real figure. Excuse your local Stat Zombie if he makes up his own data every-so-often. To make matters worse, I can't stop running into people who offer the opinion "I don't like the new album, but the new single is cool." If you're one of these people, you should keep that a secret. If you don't, the robot that NYRoyal and have been building (remember, we share a brain) will come to your house and explain to you the true meaning of double secret probation.


Your move, creep.

Of course, the robot and I have something else we need to tell you, or we wouldn't be writing about baseball. That thing is...lead singers ruin good bands. They really do. No one else in the band likes them, and then they force the people who actually make the band good to choose between pandering to the frontman ego or going their separate ways.

Oh, yes, and there's always the Royals catching situation. I'm supposed to be writing about that, too. I think a lot of people saw this coming, but it's something we need to talk about as a blog. It's actually probably something that most teams' blogs will be talking about...the Royals need--or lack thereof--for an upgrade at catcher. No, just kidding, I mean the catchers on their own teams. You see, catchers this year are terrible. It seems a lot of us are pretty disappointed with Buck this year--and the way he ended last year after his 1.000 OPS start--but let's put things in perspective.



Oddly enough, on a team that has struggled to hit the ball all season, the Royals aren't all that bad off at this position. John Buck and Miguel Olivo, relative to the paltry league average line for fellow Tools of Ignorance Wearers, have given the Royals a fairly productive catching tandem.

John Buck - .252/.324/.393

Miguel Olivo - .260/.291/.474

Joe Average - .266/.328/.398

Limit the discussion to batting for a moment, and we see that the Royals are actually pretty well off. Buck is essentially dead on for league average rates, which is a little scary since he was virtually the same last year. Olivo is the same player he's always been, which is a guy who swings at everything and, when a lefty throws it, he hits it far. The funny thing is, I think most of the critiscism this year in terms of the catchers has been directed at the guy who, of the two, is usually the better player. Olivo's lefty-mashing doesn't make up for his total lack of on-base ability and, while he's certainly a good platoon option, the fact that he's DHed against RHPs serves more to illustrate the scarcity of people who can actually hit the ball on the low end of the defensive spectrum more than saying anything good about Little Miggi. Observe:

Olivo vs. LHPs - .293/.349/.638

Olivo vs. RHPs - .246/.266/.406

Against lefties, Olivo's hitting looks a lot like Ryan Braun's last year. Against normals, Olivo hits a lot like Ryan Klesko last year...without the plate discipline. A .266 OBP is simply horrible, and Olivo's career number is only ten points higher. Put simply, Olivo simply is not a significant asset as a starting option because he disappears with the bat more than half the time. And no, John Buck hasn't exactly clocked righties either:

Buck vs. LHPs - .300/.397/.580

Buck vs. RHPs - .238/.301/.335

Historically, Buck's splits have not been this pronounced. Last year, Buck had no significant platoon split at all as he hit .231/.309/.429 against normals and a bizarre-looking .189/.307/.432 against weirdos. Obviously, there's some weird sample size stuff going on this year, as Olivo has correctly taken a lot of Buck's PAs versus lefties. Is Buck a great hitter against righties? No, of course, and he never has been. However, there's reason to expect more power from him going forward whereas Olivo's slugging percentage right now likely has nowhere to go but down. That aside, a .301 OBP from your catcher against righties isn't "ideal," but it's certainly more manageable than .266. A .266 OBP getting significant playing time in the middle of your line-up as a catcher is bad, as a DH said player will kill you faster than if you were drinking cyanide-laced Drano.

A Note on OPS/OPS+

Those of you who want to point to OPS will note that Olivo has definitely out-OPSed Buck this year...and it's as good a time as any to point out the significant caveats about using OPS. OPS, being on-base % + slugging %, is a neat quick reference stat, but it isn't very specific except at the extremes. For example, if a player is OPSing .500 in significant playing time, they're hitting badly no matter how you split up the OBP/SLG. Furthermore, if someone is OPSing 1.000, they're hitting well no matter how you split up the OBP/SLG. In-between, things are a lot hazier. There are a lot of different hitters who OPS between 750-850, and their value is heavily dependent on position and the OBP/SLG split. Saying that someone is OPSing 800 without any other information to qualify that statement is akin to saying that your date at the movies lasted the duration of the movie. I mean, good for you, but [insert a terrible joke about what base you got to here].


Given that Buck is the better hitter overall, despite Olivo's obvious utility as a lefty-mashing catcher, fielding has to be the explanation for why Buck takes so much more flak than Olivo around these parts. Specifically, these defensive numbers come to mind:

Olivo SBA-CS: 10-9

Buck SBA-CS: 30-5

Of course, that's an ugly line for Buck, whereas Olivo's line is impressive. For those of you who prefer the percentages, that's 47% CS for Olivo versus only 17% for Buck. It's odd, because even with this year's dip in CS%, Buck's career rate is 28.6 CS%. Olivo's is, perhaps not so surprisingly, higher at 36.5%. But then, the knock--defensively--on Miggi has never been his arm. Rather, it's his propensity to have defensive lapses. Starting for the Marlins last year, Olivo made 12 errors and committed 16 passed balls, while Buck committed 8 errors and only 3 passed balls in logging the majority of the playing time behind the dish last year. The usual caveats with errors apply, hough one would think that catcher errors are usually pretty obvious. This year, in case you're wondering, Buck has 4 errors and 3 PBs in twice as many games behind the plate as Olivo, who has 3 and 2 respectively.

What does all this mean? It seems to support the somewhat mainstream rumors on Olivo that he has a gun for an arm but isn't all that solid behind the dish. Buck is probably due for a correction in terms of CSs, but it's safe to say that his arm is not as good as Olivo's. Nevertheless, he has to be considered less likely to make a bad play behind the plate when it comes to fielding his position. If Buck continues to only throw out one of every seven runners, this will become a problem that needs to be addressed, but I think we can expect that number to come up. Also complicit in the high number of stolen bases allowed by Buck have to be the pitchers. To attempt to find any trends in the SB/CSs against the Royals last year, I've been perusing baseball reference for an unhealthy amount of time this last week. The interesting things I found:

  • Zack Greinke has not had anyone steal a base off him this year. So on top of everything else, he holds runners well. There are two recoreded SB attempts all year against him, one on May 7th and the other on May 18th. In both cases, the runners were thrown Buck on the 7th and Olivo on the 18th.
  • Joakim Soria allowed has not had anyone steal against him, which probably helps show how desperate teams are when the Mexicutioner is on the mound to make sure they don't waste baserunners. The only CS comes from June 4th...which was when Soria picked Carlos Quentin off second. I love Joakim Soria.
  • Ditto for Kyle Davies. But come on, who really needs to steal bases against Davies? He'll give them to you for free.
  • Luke Hochevar wins the award for the Royal pitcher most often the victim of thieves, as 14 runners have attempted to steal against him this year. Of those runners, only 4 have been thrown out. Two by Buck, two by Olivo. Six of the stolen bases have come off Buck-Hochevar, but Buck has been behind the dish for 10 out of Hochevar 15 starts to date.
  • None of John Buck's CSs have come when the Royals have a relief pitcher in the game, according to baseball-references's gamelogs. If someone can find one, please let me know if I screwed up, but by my count Buck has thrown out 25% of runners when the starting pitcher is in the game and allowed all 15 stealers to reach their destination when a relief pitcher is in. What exactly does this mean? We can't really conclude much from it, but I think it's fair to speculate that this isn't completely Buck's fault.
  • Olivo has thrown out a pretty cool 4 of 7 when the relievers are in, which still means that base stealers against Royals relief pitchers are 18 for 22, or successful 82% of the time. When our starters are pitching, enemy base stealers are 22 of 32, or successful 68% of the time. If anyone has any ideas when in heck this would be, please let me know.

Overall, I think Buck still contributes more as a regular than Olivo does despite Olivo's arm and ostensibly favorable hitting thanks to his lefty-destroying. When it comes to comparing who would make the better starter going forward, we also have to take in account that Buck is almost exactly two years younger than Olivo and doesn't face the constant threat of becoming a total OBP vortex as Olivo does when his batting average drops. Buck's PECOTA also compares favorably to Olivo's. Though looking at the seven-year forecasts of both players, one thing is absolutely clear: the Royals should have a plan in place to make sure that Buck does not have to be re-signed when he hits free agency. Whereas Olivo's statsical profile makes him less than a starter, his lefty-mashing and good arm should keep Miggi in the league for years after Buck has already hung up the spikes. John Buck is the best catcher on this team, dead average for this year's slash numbers, and most of you know by now what happens when a player who has average skills hits his decline phase. It's not pretty.

In the short term, we can enjoy the fact that catching isn't likely to become a big problem for this team, even if Olivo leaves at the deadline or at the end of the year. In the near future, Moore needs to recognize that Olivo is not worth holding onto at the expense of starting money or a possible prospect at the deadline. Long term, with any luck we'll be able to bring someone into the organization to take Buck's starting job away as his arbitration years end.

Spreadsheet Baseball returns next time with more on the trading deadline and more analysis of who on the Royals roster right now should stay there. In the mean time, questions/comments are welcome/encouraged, happy reading!