Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On Brian Harper and catcher defense

As part of his annual offseason series of the 40 greatest Twins, Aaron Gleeman today has a post on Brian Harper, No. 25 on his list. Harper, for a generation of Twins fans too young to recall the 1991 World Series team, was the Minnesota catcher for a few years in the late 1980s and early 90s.

Brian Harper's Start-O-Matic card from the 1990 season,
when he hit .294. It was his lowest batting average in six
seasons with the Twins.
In discussing Harper's reputation as a poor defensive catcher, Gleeman focuses on Harper's caught stealing rate, which, as he points out, wasn't all that bad. He wasn't Pudge Rodriguez, but he wasn't Jorge Posada (circa 2010) throwing either.

But in truth, that was only part of the story. Harper's bad defense rap was largely because he was very poor at receiving pitches. He dropped a lot of balls that hit him in the mitt. Junior Ortiz was Scott Erickson's personal catcher because Harper simply couldn't handle Erickson's sinker.

On the other hand, when Harper and Laudner were splitting the job, Laudner caught the guys who didn't need help (mainly Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven), and Harper caught the rookies and projects. Tom Kelly trusted Harper's pitch calling more.

This is all part of why catcher defense is so difficult to quantify. All defense is, really, but catcher defense particularly so.

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