Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Catching on: Kurt Suzuki and Josmil Pinto

Kurt Suzuki has been a far better hitter this season than anyone could have imagined. The veteran backstop, signed for his defense, is bopping along at a .312/.378/.416 clip. My preseason expectation — that the Twins would need to catch Josmil Pinto for his offense — is looking pretty foolish at the season's quarter pole.

Kurt Suzuki applies the tag to Adam Jones of Baltimore
to complete a strikeout earlier this season.
Not that Pinto has been a slouch at the plate himself. Pinto's OPS+ — On-base Plus Slugging, normalized to league context with 100 being average — has actually been slightly better than Suzuki's: Pinto's is 125, and Suzuki's is 123.

But Pinto is regarded as a raw receiver at best. The Twins broadcasters have raved all season about Suzuki's skills at blocking pitches in the dirt.

Last September I offered this examination of the 2013 Twins catchers and their abilities (or problems) at preventing passed balls and wild pitches. As I said at the time, the two events have the same outcome on the game: base runner(s) advances, or a batter reaches base on a strikeout. Passed balls are blamed on the catcher, wild pitches on the pitcher — but as the praise aimed at Suzuki suggests, a good catcher can prevent wild pitches a lesser one will allow.

Suzuki so far this year has caught 269.1 innings. He has not been charged with a passed ball, but there have been 10 wild pitches with him behind the plate, .33 per nine innings, or about one every three games. That's a better-than-league rate (.35 entering Monday), but not up to Joe Mauer's career standard (.27).

Pinto: 112 innings caught, five wild pitches and three passed balls. That's .40 WP/9, but .64 WP+PB/9.

Pinto is allowing a wild pitch or passed ball about twice as often as Suzuki. That certainly fits the belief that Suzuki is the superior defensive catcher.

There are complications, of course, and one complication that may ultimately make directly comparing their numbers futile is that it appears that Ron Gardenhire is going to make Pinto the personal catcher for Sam Deduno, who is probably the Twins' most difficult pitcher to catch.

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