• 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. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      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...
      Good question and, no, Fast's study does not look at the pitchers however, Dan Turkenkopf who was recently hired by a pro team, did do a study that examined how things like age and experience effect borderline calls (found here: A Nibble Here, A Nibble There - Beyond the Box Score). Essentially, Turkenkopf's finding shows that there is some advantage granted to the experienced pitcher (over 8 years) but not enough to make a conclusive difference.
    1. Top Gun's Avatar
      Top Gun -
      Plus the Twins got Clement on there roster. I would think he could catch in a pinch.
    1. DelawareTwinsFan's Avatar
      DelawareTwinsFan -
      I wonder how many losses a bad catcher can cause. Can't help but think about the sorry state of Matthew LeCroy's catching or throwing ineptitude. If every single becomes a triple or double, it can't be good. I remember when Dave Engle would inadvertently lob balls back to the pitcher with men on base resulting in stolen bases.

      All that being said, Butera is a liability offensively. I've often wondered if they have ever considered letting the pitcher bat and DH for Butera.

      Pitch framing seems less and less of an issue as the league buckles down on the accuracy of balls and strikes. There are very few really bad ball and strike callers anymore.

      Here's a question, who is calling the game these days, the catcher, pitcher or the manager? Who ever it is, I think the Twins need a lot of help. I do believe Butera's games seem to be better than Mauer's. In fact, I think Doumit calls a better game. Obviously it might be misguided statement if catchers don't play that much of a role. I guess what I'm saying is Mauer doesn't seem to call a good game.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Is the offense good enough to give up 05% of its at bats to a guy who has a .183 career batting average?
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      My fear with a guy like Butera is that while he has a skill and some utility as a player, his inadequacies become a major drag when overexposed. Because Butera is a truly terrible offensive player, and at 30 years old, he's not likely to get any better. And it certainly possible his defensive will drop off quickly to the point where he had no value at all.

      At least the Twins haven't given him a multiyear deal (a preposterous idea, I know, but the twins have done such foolishness before). And the difference between what he's getting and a minimum salary guy isn't significant enough to cause the team to miss out on signing a free agent or extending a contract for a real player.

      So long as Butera only gets 100-125 ABs he probably won't hurt the team significantly. But if he pushes beyond that realm it starts getting ugly. Will Gardy treat Butera as a true 3rd catcher who catches no more than once a week and coming in late in games as a defensive replacement to give Mauer's knees a break in a game that's seemingly over? Or will he use Butera more as a backup because he likes Butera's D and how he can really pick it back there, giving him more starts than Doumit?

      That's the danger with a guy like Butera and a manager like Gardenhire.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      3 words about the analysis:

      Small Sample Size.

      All 3 Twins' Catchers are withing the standard deviation for this thing, and much within the standard error of a hand held stopwatch

      Some real numbers:
      2012 Butera: 23% Caught Stealing. League Average: 25%.

      Butera's alleged "fielding ability" is a suburban legend that hopefully will go away with Gardy and his crew.

      Horrible move for the Twins, paying a guy below replacement level twice the replacement level salary. Butera's scholarship got upped to $700K. Way to go Mr Ryan.
      The only good thing I can find in this move is that Gardy will give Butera 300-400 PAs and will cost him his job.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Did you just cite sample size as a problem with the analysis, then immediately turn around and use a sample size of 30 events to support yours?
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      Did you just cite sample size as a problem with the analysis, then immediately turn around and use a sample size of 30 events to support yours?
      30 factual events are 6x the size of 5 hand-held stopwatch events, when they directly contradict each other. And it does not matter if a C can throw fast to second base if he overthrows the man who covers it and the ball ends up in CF. And Butera did that at least 3 times last season
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      3 words about the analysis:

      Small Sample Size.

      All 3 Twins' Catchers are withing the standard deviation for this thing, and much within the standard error of a hand held stopwatch
      You must have missed the part of the article in which I said "inexact study" and "small sample" in reference to the analysis but, hey, super glad you brought it up again and added a smiley face.

      Second, this was not to show Mauer or Doumit are bad (both have decent numbers) but that Butera holds a small advantage over the two and comes in at a range that is considered in baseball circles to be very advantageous.

      And Butera's ability to catch bad pitches (i.e. sliders down and away to rights) and make a strong throw that nails a runner should be noted. While a small sample size (as noted in the article), none of Mauer or Doumit's throws were on difficult pitches to handle. It's a skill that baseball people pick up on.

      30 factual events are 6x the size of 5 hand-held stopwatch events, when they directly contradict each other.
      You are citing Caught Stealing% which includes the pick-off from pitchers which the catchers receive credit. This does not show how many runners the catcher actually threw out. Your sample size is actually smaller than the 30x "factual" events.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post

      Second, this was not to show Mauer or Doumit are bad (both have decent numbers) but that Butera holds a small advantage over the two and comes in at a range that is considered in baseball circles to be very advantageous.

      .
      Yeah but you got to balance things: small advantage (and I take that, over Mauer and Doumit, but not as much as advertised) in fielding but huge disadvantage with the bat. The guy is below AA replacement level.

      So, is it worth it for the Twins to carry and play Butera over someone who can hit the ball? Not in my book.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      So if you figure 6000 at bats for the twins each year we are willing to give up 150 of them to a .183 career hitter? is our offense good enough to obsorb his bat , to keep his glove in the game or on the bench?
      Also with his defensive prowes creating ing 1-2 games a year for us , how many games do we lose from not having a better bench ?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I don't see Herrmann as someone in need of extra time in the minors. I find it stupid that he wasn't moved to AAA last year in the first place. I don't think he is a star or perhaps even a regular. But he is certainly a contributor to a major league roster. And Drew Butera IS NOT. AT ALL. There is no getting around that. I think Butera would be fantastic as a AAA catcher helping to instruct pitchers coming up in the system. Meanwhile Herrmann provides actual versatility to the roster and can play multiple positions well (unlike Doumit). And he is going to hit well enough to be considered an actual bench bat (which Butera never has nor will be). Wasting time on Butera in the majors is just ridiculous and dumb. They might as well give Danny Lehmann the spot instead if they are going to keep Herrmann in the minors for most of the year.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      .183 average over 531 plate appearances. Sigh. He'd have to add 50 points to that average to be a mediocre hitter. Healthy young guy, good coordination, not intimidated by baseballs going fast...what's the problem? We've all seen him at bat. Can't he just swing flat, hit the ball straight ahead?
    1. Jeremy Nygaard's Avatar
      Jeremy Nygaard -
      There will be this "Butera debate" forever... or until he manages the 2017 Twins to a World Series as a first year manager on his way to becoming the greatest manager of all time. Whichever comes first.

      The knock on Butera as a manager will be his insistence on keeping a no-hit, "3rd catcher" on his roster because he has a soft spot for them, yet the world will insist its because those guys "have pictures". I can see it all now.
    1. johnnydakota's Avatar
      johnnydakota -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Nygaard View Post
      There will be this "Butera debate" forever... or until he manages the 2017 Twins to a World Series as a first year manager on his way to becoming the greatest manager of all time. Whichever comes first.

      The knock on Butera as a manager will be his insistence on keeping a no-hit, "3rd catcher" on his roster because he has a soft spot for them, yet the world will insist its because those guys "have pictures". I can see it all now.
      Sorry to say your wrong about the year as Joe will be the player /manager of the twins with his brother jake as his bench coach...maybe as soon as 2015 ,when Ron moves to the roving minor leaque coach
    1. jackstp's Avatar
      jackstp -
      A turd like Butera has no business playing in the majors. His defense is nowhere near good enough to make up for his historically horrible bat. This organization keeps making ridiculous choices with how it spends money.
    1. GCTF's Avatar
      GCTF -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jeremy Nygaard View Post
      The knock on Butera as a manager will be his insistence on keeping a no-hit, "3rd catcher" on his roster because he has a soft spot for them
      Two word solution...playing manager.
    1. Top Gun's Avatar
      Top Gun -
      If Gardy wants him. he gets him. Managers have say and that's the way it should be like it or not.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      I feel obligated to state that the rank disgust with Butera displayed on this board is ridiculously overblown. As long as our 3rd catcher is getting <150 PA's it doesn't matter what his offensive abilities are. The difference between Butera and a catcher that hit .250 was six hits last season. 6 hits gentlemen. 6 hits.

      Now go ahead and tell me how wrong I am. I don't think I'll be back to argue with you. I just felt it was necessary to interject a little realism into this discussion.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      How about a couple extra walks? How about a little bit of power in the hits that do come? How about the opportunity cost of flushing a roster spot down the toilet that could be used on a potentially useful player? The complete lack of versatility given his inability to a viable pinch hitter, or even be used as a pinch runner?


      But you've got the answer, 6 hits is all there is to it, nothing more.
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