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  • Drew Butera and Defensive Prowess

    On Thursday the Minnesota Twins and catcher Drew Butera avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year, $700,000 contract, an almost assured sign that Butera will be on the roster as the team’s third backstop.

    Why, you ask, might the Twins invest almost a million dollars in a player who is completely expendable as the epitome of a replacement level player?

    Consider this: Over the past three years Butera’s OPS (.497 OPS) has been the worst in the American League and the second worst in all of baseball. Only the Giants’ Emmanuel Burriss has had an OPS lower than Butera. This, for all intents and purposes, should be the definition of replaceable.

    Almost all of the rational for his retention revolves around his defensive prowess. In fact, Googling “Drew Butera” and “Defensive Prowess” pings back numerous articles using that phrase to describe him. Much like focusing on someone’s “good personality” to conceal other glaring flaws (i.e. nasty body odor, operates a baseball blog, etc), “defensive prowess” feels like a similar smokescreen to avoid stating the obvious about his bat.

    But how “prow” is his defense?

    This question is harder to answer as there is no definite measurement or widely available statistic that accurately portrays a catcher’s value based on things like game-calling, framing and/or controlling the run game. One can look at a stat like caught stealing but that tells as much of a story of a catcher’s skill has fielding percentage does a shortstop or outfield assists speak towards a right fielder.

    In 2011, pitch f/x guru Mike Fast – now an analyst for the Houston Astros – showed the baseball world just how much value could be placed on a catcher’s framing ability. By his methods, having a catcher who can coax out a borderline strike could save 15-20 runs per season – the equivalent of one or two wins. Conversely, a bad catcher could cost their team the same amount of runs. Of course, while this data is fascinating, it is something that has not been automated by any sites to make this information publicly available so we do not know if Butera’s technique save or cost the Twins runs.

    One thing we do know is that Butera has a strong track record of throwing runners out. In 2011, possibly because of Carl Pavano’s disregard for the run game, the Twins paired him with Butera who has show a propensity to cutting down base-runners in his minor league career. According to his Baseball-Reference.com stats, between 2005 and 2011, he nabbed 42% of all would-be thieves. This past year, his caught stealing rate plummeted and he managed to throw out just four on the bases.

    In George Will’s Men At Work -- an examination of some of the game’s finer points through the eyes of the best players at the time -- teams will track a catcher’s catch-and-release time which is dubbed “pop-to-pop” time. Pop-to-pop time is a measurement used by coaches to separate good catcher arms from bad ones. This means they are stopwatching from the moment the ball hits the catcher’s glove until it smacks the middle infielder’s mitt. In the book, an unnamed coach rattles off pop-to-pop times.

    1.94 seconds: Good.

    2.12: That base is good as gone.

    2.04: M’eh.

    1.85: Nailed ‘em.

    Overall, the difference between being ninety feet closer to scoring a run or gaining an out is approximately one-hundredth of a second. Naturally, the ability to throw runners out is tied to the pitcher keeping the runner from breaking early.

    This brings me to the Twins’ trio of backstops. While theft is a shared liability with the battery mate, having a pitching staff that has total disregard for the running game reduces the effectiveness of a defensive catcher. The 2012 Twins were labeled as one of the worst at base-runner attentiveness. That said, Butera’s ability to catch and release provided this staff with the best odds of thwarting larceny.


    In an inexact study, a stopwatch has shown that over the course of five throws to second, Butera’s “pop-to-pop” time averages out to be the best:
    So Butera has a better arm or better footwork or a quicker release than the other two, at least in this small sample. Observationally, Butera was able to make these quick throws while handling sliders down and away on at least two of those five examples. This should not go ignored.

    Over the entire season, Baseball Info Solution has assigned a value on a catcher’s ability to subdue the run game. Of the Twins’ three, Butera (0) outperforms both Mauer (-3) and Doumit (-1). So, strictly speaking controlling the run game, Butera’s effect on the overall team’s performances is slightly better than Mauer and Doumit’s but minimal according to BIS. This begs the question, is being able to control the run game worth paying nearly a million for a third catcher?

    Someday we may have the tools to be better equipped to answer that question. For now, the Twins are committed to bringing him back – for better or worse.
    This article was originally published in blog: Drew Butera and Defensive Prowess started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 83 Comments
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I don't understand the skepticism over pitch framing. We are talking about a sample of 22,000 pitches over 5 years, in Doumit's case. So, as historically bad as Butera's been with the bat, Doumit's been just as bad with pitch framing. That's why I wasn't so high on the Doumit extension. it guaranteed a roster spot for Butera. Those two are joined at the hip.
    1. LimestoneBaggy's Avatar
      LimestoneBaggy -
      Parker, very informative. Thank you.

      Since Sweet Drew came up to the bigs, I've wanted this guy to succeed. Likely because "throws like Pudge, but he hits like.......". I can't help but be entertained when he throws the ball around the diamond to hold runners on. I'd like to think his value is locked into defensive prowless, intangibles, and character; but I can't help but think a third catcher is available who can hit (a little) and throw. Frankly, I've made up my mind that his general role is very little, and if an injury happened, we would see someone else for an extended time instead of 2011 Drew AB's (Hermann or otherwise). He's likely a hell of a guy the organization feels won't hurt them as much as he helps. For better or worse, he is what he is, and I'm willing to go with this one.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I don't understand the skepticism over pitch framing. We are talking about a sample of 22,000 pitches over 5 years, in Doumit's case. So, as historically bad as Butera's been with the bat, Doumit's been just as bad with pitch framing. That's why I wasn't so high on the Doumit extension. it guaranteed a roster spot for Butera. Those two are joined at the hip.
      Are you saying that if given the choice between having Butera on the roster or Doumit on the roster you'd pick Butera?
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      Are you saying that if given the choice between having Butera on the roster or Doumit on the roster you'd pick Butera?
      I'm saying it might be a better use of $4.2m to go with one guy who is not completely horrible at one part of his job. Doumit necessitates Butera, and vice versa.
    1. edavis0308's Avatar
      edavis0308 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I'm saying it might be a better use of $4.2m to go with one guy who is not completely horrible at one part of his job. Doumit necessitates Butera, and vice versa.
      But...but....Butera hits worse than some pitchers?!
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I'm saying it might be a better use of $4.2m to go with one guy who is not completely horrible at one part of his job. Doumit necessitates Butera, and vice versa.
      So, that's a yes? Are you forgetting Doumit does more than catch?
    1. Jim Crikket's Avatar
      Jim Crikket -
      I don't see the Twins trading Herrmann. I think it's more likely that they'd trade Doumit.

      If we still think Mauer's time behind the plate is going to continue to be rationed during the rest of his contract, the Twins will always have a need for a catcher that can hit some and is versatile enough to play positions other than catcher. I think the Twins see Herrmann as the eventual successor to Doumit in his role, not Butera. Replacing Butera with Herrmann saves you a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. Replacing Doumit with Herrmann saves you a couple of million.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim Crikket View Post
      I don't see the Twins trading Herrmann. I think it's more likely that they'd trade Doumit.

      If we still think Mauer's time behind the plate is going to continue to be rationed during the rest of his contract, the Twins will always have a need for a catcher that can hit some and is versatile enough to play positions other than catcher. I think the Twins see Herrmann as the eventual successor to Doumit in his role, not Butera. Replacing Butera with Herrmann saves you a couple hundred thousand dollars a year. Replacing Doumit with Herrmann saves you a couple of million.
      I guess I thought when the Twins signed Doumit to that extension late last season it meant they weren't going to trade him any time soon.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      Instinctually I agree with that. That said, I still circle back to the fact that we do not measure defensive contributions of a catcher very well. So, for a back up catcher, is it possible to overcome that unbelievably bad offensive performance with some defensive value? I'm of the belief that, yes, defensive catchers have plenty of value but in the specific case of Butera, I don't think he compensates enough to make up for that deficit.

      My main point is I want someone smarter than me to come up with some push-button analyses that helps tell me how good he is at framing, controlling the run game, etc...
      Oh, I agree that catcher metrics are pretty awful at this point. Butera definitely gains back some of that offensive ineptitude with his glove.

      But it can't be enough to offset his horrible, awful, terrible bat. There's just no way a player can make up 200 OPS points with a glove. At the major league level, everybody is pretty good and there's just not enough room to be that much better in one facet of the game to make up for a glaring deficit as large as Drew's bat.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      The reason we' need' Butera (or a player like him) is because we have two catchers who carry bats potent enough to want in the lineup together as much as possible by slotting them at DH or 1B or wherever Gardy's crystal ball says they should play if they aren't playing catcher. It's an issue created by having two catchers who can also hit very well.

      It's still not a reason to carry three catchers cause, at worst, one happens to be at DH when the other is hurt catching and we have the pitcher bat a whole 2, 3 times in that game before another catcher can be recalled for the next game.


      If Doumit wasn't on the team, or was just the DH, and Butera (or someone like him offensively) was the #2 catcher, we'd only need two catchers...
    1. ericchri's Avatar
      ericchri -
      I've typed up and not posted more Butera-bashing posts than I'm honestly happy about at this point. I've not stopped myself from all of them, but an awful lot. He's easily one of my biggest peeves with the Twins of late. I'll simply say I don't think there's any way he's a good enough defensive player, pitch-framer, pitcher-psychologist, game-caller, etc..., to make up for his abysmal offense. His salary is of no concern to me in this equation, he could be making $200,000, he just isn't good enough to occupy a roster spot in my opinion. That roster spot could be used on something I would value more than his occasional defensive contribution (gimme back Jim Thome, please). My opinion doesn't really count for a whole lot, though.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      But it can't be enough to offset his horrible, awful, terrible bat. There's just no way a player can make up 200 OPS points with a glove. At the major league level, everybody is pretty good and there's just not enough room to be that much better in one facet of the game to make up for a glaring deficit as large as Drew's bat.
      Right. Drew isn't just another of your typical bad-bat, good-field players, their places on a roster are usually justifiable. He's among history's all-time worst offensive performers. The collective putridity of the players on that list is truly a thing of wonder.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      So, that's a yes? Are you forgetting Doumit does more than catch?
      You're right, Doumit's bat is worth keeping around, but he shouldn't be catching, not with this pitching staff. As long as Doumit's considered the 2nd catcher though, then Butera's defensive skills gain even more value. Coincidentally, as long as Butera is considered a viable catching option, then Doumit's bat gains even more value over his replacement.

      If you never let Doumit catch another game, then Butera would not be on the roster. So to answer your question, I'd rather have Doumit, not Butera, with that caveat.

      Unfortunately, the Twins view both Doumit and Butera as viable catching options.
    1. mnfanforlife's Avatar
      mnfanforlife -
      Should this thread be categorized under: "Minors" or "On the Farm" ?
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Oh, I agree that catcher metrics are pretty awful at this point.
      Or is it that the metrics are trying to measure something that, at best, is such a small overall effect that it's hard to distinguish from statistical noise?

      I don't keep up with the latest, but around a decade ago the attempts to find something in Catcher's ERA turned up nothing of systematic value. I realize that CERA suffers from various defects, for instance if Butera is paired up with Pavano it means that you can't get reasonable comparative numbers versus Mauer that year; but still the researchers gave what I thought was a pretty good go at it, over a long historical period. It is astounding to me that someone more recently could determine a 1-2 win (10-20 run) variation just from pitch framing, yet CERA was such a dud before that.

      A good metric ought to tie to something tangible in terms of on the field results - if it is Runs then we're essentially back to CERA, so what would you suggest?
    1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
      Oldgoat_MN -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      The reason we' need' Butera ...

      It's still not a reason to carry three catchers cause, at worst, one happens to be at DH when the other is hurt catching and we have the pitcher bat a whole 2, 3 times in that game before another catcher can be recalled for the next game.


      If Doumit wasn't on the team, or was just the DH, and Butera (or someone like him offensively) was the #2 catcher, we'd only need two catchers...
      I think this is a really good point, ThePuck.

      I wish all the best for Chris Hermann. That said, a .276/.350/.392 slash line in AA suggests that he should spend some time at AAA before juming to MLB. As I've stated in other posts, that is a HUGE jump and only managed well by players such as Joe Mauer. There aren't many guys like that out there.
    1. mnfanforlife's Avatar
      mnfanforlife -
      Would love to see Butera teach Meyer and May in AAA next two years, and Berrios in three for that matter... Hermann should be ready to swap with Butera sometime this year.
    1. joeboo_22's Avatar
      joeboo_22 -
      I believe that Hermann is way more valuable then Butera for the fact that he can play other positions. If you carry 12 pitchers and Butera you have a short bench without a lot of mobility. Now I agree you have to carry a 3rd catcher with Mauer and Doumit as your other 2 but if you have a guy who can play 3B, 1B and OF on top of it, the whole bench thing improves quite a bit.

      I do agree though that letting Herman get some AAA AB's is a good move, only problem I have is too many people in the Twins organization have way too much love for Butera.
    1. Winston Smith's Avatar
      Winston Smith -
      As a best case a great catcher gives you 3-4 wins a year? Assuming Butera is a great catcher and he will likely catch 40 games so at best his defense will add 1 win. His bat being close to the worst in all of baseball will surely be a negative and probably enough to cancel anything added by his defensive greatness.
      Now the problem comes with the other 120 game he takes up a spot on the bench. He has no value at all during this these games and actually takes a spot that a more all around and productive player could take. This year with the inter league games spread out over the entire season it gets worse. Now the ptichers will need to be pinch hit for all year and not just bunched together. So now who is your pinch hitter? Sure you have the would be DH for one a bat but when the pitchers only go 6 innings it is likely that you'll need at least two pinch hitters a game.
      There is the problem as I see it he is a basic wash at best during the 40 or so games he plays but during the 120 or so he sits on the bench he is worthless. Can a team with limited talent afford that? IMO no.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I'm just curious Parker, did the pitch framing study take any consideration into who the pitcher was? I only ask because from a fans perspective, pitchers of superior experience and reputation tend to get a "framed" pitch called in their favor compared to a wet behind the ears or unreliable arms. I was just wondering if framing seems to work out better for guys like Andy Pettite as opposed to Francisco Liriano. It seems likely it would.
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