• 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. edavis0308's Avatar
      edavis0308 -
      His ability to come out of the bullpen is invaluable.
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      You will all feel dumb when Butera wins MVP this year.
    1. Expression451's Avatar
      Expression451 -
      Breaking it down in a way to make Butera look servicable is impressive writing... believing it however is something that one should never do! Every game he plays the Twins get one less inning against the opponents as he is guaranteed to be 0-3 without a walk most games. Throwing an entire inning away every single game seems counter productive. We can talk about his framing pitches, but he certainly didn't make this pitching staff better as it's been one of the worst in baseball the last two years. The throwing out runners aspect is also vastly overrated when teams don't bother to run because they know the guy behind them is going to drive them in with a double or a homer because our pitching staff was so bad. Chris Hermann or even Brandon Inge are better options if we must carry 3 people on the active 25 man roster with the capability to play catcher. Butera is a back up AA catcher, or a BP catcher. Nothing more. 700K wasted on a team that has slashed 30 million from it's payroll. Solid warning signs that Terry Ryan and the Pohlads may not have a good grasp on the reality of baseball.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by raindog View Post
      You will all feel dumb when Butera wins MVP this year.
      Agreed; I already feel dumber just for having read this.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by edavis0308 View Post
      His ability to come out of the bullpen is invaluable.
      His ability to stay within the bullpen should be explored, as well.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      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.
      Exactly!

      I fully don't understand those who scoff at improving the team, even in small ways regarding the last spot on the roster. No one could dream of using Butera for anything other than is defense as a catcher, which is overblown in the first place. Herrmann will be a viable left handed pinch hitter (batter really, as he can draw a good amount of walks) and he can be a 5th OF (and, right now, the Twins might kinda need that).

      In Shane's world, both Herrmann and Colabello saw AAA time last year and would be on the 25-man roster this year to start the season (given the Span and Revere trades).
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      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.
      We should totally take that approach with our entire bench then! This is so brilliant! Why worry about filling out your roster with useful players when you can stuff them full of cheap garbage! I rest easily knowing now that Butera's utter inability to be a baseball player is in no way hurting our baseball team. Thank you sir.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      In Shane's world, both Herrmann and Colabello saw AAA time last year and would be on the 25-man roster this year to start the season (given the Span and Revere trades).
      I like that (and Herrmann saw MLB time too ). But what this would mean that the Twins cannot carry 3-4 MIFs, Butera, and the guy-who-would-push-Plouffe to be named later. The manager wants that and he is the root cause of the problem...
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      We should totally take that approach with our entire bench then! This is so brilliant! Why worry about filling out your roster with useful players when you can stuff them full of cheap garbage! I rest easily knowing now that Butera's utter inability to be a baseball player is in no way hurting our baseball team. Thank you sir.
      Would this be an opportune time to use the, "if everyone else does their job *insert player* doesn't have to," bit from BYTO?
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      Would this be an opportune time to use the, "if everyone else does their job *insert player* doesn't have to," bit from BYTO?
      Yes indeed it is sir. Though from the looks of this team it might be more like "If Mauer never gets hurt, plays catcher every day, and there is never a use for a good pinch hitter.....Butera doesn't have to be good" I'm sure all three of those scenarios will never happen. Rest easy.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I know its SSS-flawed, but, Liriano's turnaround midseason last year coincided perfectly with taking on Butera as personal catcher. It started on May 30 and went through his trade in late July. Only 1 lousy start in the mix. He also had his worst games when Doumit caught him:

      2012:
      Split G IP ER ERA PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB ▾ BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
      Tyler Flowers 3 14.2 9 5.52 64 55 9 14 4 0 1 0 0 5 15 3.00 .255 .323 .382 .704 21 0 1 2 1 0 0 .325 90 95
      Drew Butera 13 68.2 27 3.54 283 244 27 45 11 0 6 4 2 32 82 2.56 .184 .284 .303 .587 74 3 3 1 3 2 2 .245 59 71
      A.J. Pierzynski 9 42.0 25 5.36 189 160 19 40 2 3 6 3 0 27 43 1.59 .250 .365 .413 .778 66 4 2 0 0 1 0 .306 110 116
      Joe Mauer 7 23.2 23 8.75 114 93 25 30 6 0 4 8 0 16 20 1.25 .323 .412 .516 .928 48 4 1 0 4 1 0 .356 150 132
      Ryan Doumit 2 7.2 9 10.57 43 35 8 14 2 1 2 1 0 7 7 1.00 .400 .500 .686 1.186 24 0 0 1 0 1 0 .462 218 199
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Willihammer View Post
      I know its SSS-flawed, but, Liriano's turnaround midseason last year coincided perfectly with taking on Butera as personal catcher.
      please do me a favor and look at Liriano's numbers in 2011 when Butera caught him vs when Rivera caught him
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      please do me a favor and look at Liriano's numbers in 2011 when Butera caught him vs when Rivera caught him
      Are we sure Butera wasn't catching blindfolded and trying to use telepathy? It's the only explanation for that blasphemy!
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      please do me a favor and look at Liriano's numbers in 2011 when Butera caught him vs when Rivera caught him
      I looked at 2011. Its not good, but there's no data to compare to Doumit.

      I don't know whether, on balance, Butera has a better catching track record compared to Doumit. That's a tough question to answer, let alone assign a run value to. And it may not be conclusive due to Butera being a part-timer anyway. But, we've seen guys request Butera for their personal catcher before. Why? Maybe he's a better pitch framer. Maybe guys tend to keep the ball down to him since he's the smallest of the 3 catchers. Maybe they prefer Butera's pitch selection. Maybe Liriano just had a great bullpen session with Butera before being reinstated as a starter, they had a rythm or something. It could be anything, or nothing. I just see a guy rattle off the kind of 2 month stretch Liriano had last year, which included a 15k/ 1 BB start, a 10k start, and a bunch of other quality starts, and where he threw to literally nobody else except Butera that entire time and never threw to him again either before it or after it that year, and it gets my attention.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      How about 2010 when he was better with Mauer behind the plate than he was with Butera?
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Floriman has to be happy that Butera is on the team. If not for Butera, Pedro's interpreter would have to lie about all of the writing about his offensive production on this website. If it was Floriman, it would be whover plays 2b, 3b, or currently failing in the OF. It is not the lack of spending that caused this situation, it was the years of poor drafts and worse trades.
    1. The Wise One's Avatar
      The Wise One -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Exactly!

      I fully don't understand those who scoff at improving the team, even in small ways regarding the last spot on the roster. No one could dream of using Butera for anything other than is defense as a catcher, which is overblown in the first place. Herrmann will be a viable left handed pinch hitter (batter really, as he can draw a good amount of walks) and he can be a 5th OF (and, right now, the Twins might kinda need that).

      In Shane's world, both Herrmann and Colabello saw AAA time last year and would be on the 25-man roster this year to start the season (given the Span and Revere trades).
      Other than exist, what did Chris Herrmann do that was exactly noteworthy in a year and a half in AA? Being the best catching prospect in the Twins organization is being Miss Congeniality in a beauty pagent.
    1. Top Gun's Avatar
      Top Gun -
      At least Butera can pitch, we need that.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Wise One View Post
      Other than exist, what did Chris Herrmann do that was exactly noteworthy in a year and a half in AA? Being the best catching prospect in the Twins organization is being Miss Congeniality in a beauty pagent.
      The best catching prospect in the Twins organization is probably Josmil Pinto at this point...
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      How about 2010 when he was better with Mauer behind the plate than he was with Butera?
      I can only look at the two periods where it was clear that Butera was being requested as personal catcher, and in both cases, the results were very good. The other period being July 2010 - Sept 2011 where Butera was Pavano's PC. I do think there is a rhythm that some batterymates can get into. Liriano and Mauer were in rhythm for all of 2010. It certainly helped that Mauer was healthy enough to catch all those starts. When these periods of sustained pitching success happen, you don't fiddle with it, even when the guy's bat is as lousy as Butera's. And, for what its worth, nobody on the staff achieved a similar period of sustained success with Doumit catching him. then again, maybe guys like PJ Walters and Cole DeVries, just aren't capable of achieving a similar, prolonged period of success with any catcher. Its difficult to tell.
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