• Kurt Suzuki - Signed to be the starter?

    Mike Berardino reported this weekend that Terry Ryan expected Kurt Suzuki to start this year for the Minnesota Twins at catcher. At the time of the signing, it appeared that Suzuki was signed to give the Twins a veteran backup. On this site, there were certainly questions about his defense and concern about the workload he carried early in his career. At the time, the best available options other than Suzuki were John Buck or retaining Doumit. While Suzuki has been a poor pitch framer, Doumit and Buck are at the bottom.

    Does it matter that Suzuki is a poor at framing pitches? Perhaps he makes up for it in working with pitchers and pitch selection.

    If a catcher has an impact on pitcher performance, how might it show up in the stats? FIP uses the defense independent stats of strikeouts, walks and home runs. I am not sure how much a catcher might impact home runs, but if he impacts anything it will be strikeouts and walks. Suzuki's has worked for two clubs in each of the last two years. Add 2011 and there is a sample of over 12000 batters faced. How does he compare to the 12 other catchers who caught for Oakland or Washington in the last three years?

    Year Team Suzuki Others Suzuki Others Suzuki Others
    k/bb k/bb K% K% BB% BB% BF
    2013 OAK 1.86 2.84 17.06% 19.66% 9.19% 6.91% 381
    2013 WSN 2.78 3.31 19.68% 21.15% 7.08% 6.38% 2795
    2012 WSN 2.6 2.69 20.88% 21.80% 8.02% 8.13% 1547
    2012 OAK 2.15 2.75 17.54% 19.32% 8.16% 7.04% 2720
    2011 OAK 2.13 2.67 18.46% 20.18% 8.67% 7.51% 4811
    3yr TOT 2.31 2.84 18.79% 20.45% 8.13% 7.20% 12254

    Over the last three years, the other 12 catchers have a 23% better strikeout walk ratio, a strikeout rate that is 9% better and a walk rate that is 11% lower.

    Every year over the last three and on every team, pitchers who happen to be throwing to Suzuki strike out fewer batters and walk more batters. Small sample size? It is over 12000 batters. Maybe he has had teammates who are very good catchers? It was 12 different guys on two different teams.

    The Twins needed a backup catcher. The free agent and trade market for catchers dried up quickly and only the catchers with poor framing numbers remained. Suzuki appears to be the best of what was left. Signing a veteran catcher to start in 40-50 games seemed a good move. Before spring training, Ryan has said he expects him to start. It seems the plan all along was to seek a starter. If that is the case, is Suzuki the right guy?
    This article was originally published in blog: Kurt Suzuki - Signed to be the starter? started by jorgenswest
    Comments 48 Comments
    1. Chance's Avatar
      Chance -
      I still believe Suzuki was the best option. Why? I would say gut feeling. I have always been a fan of his. Every time the Twins played Oakland I would take notice of Kurt. At the plate and behind the plate. I can't name anything in particular, but It always left me thinking, "this guy is a good player."

      I also believe that, despite what Ryan has said, Pinto will play himself into the majority of starts. Maybe Kurt will click with a particular pitcher (Butera, Pavano) and catch all those games. I just don't see Pinto regressing like Parmelee did following his September showing. This is all gut feelings, I could be completely wrong, but the BP article projected using stats and that seemed to be nonsense. Maybe my gut feeling is more reliable? Time will tell.
    1. UCLA_YANKEE_COLA's Avatar
      UCLA_YANKEE_COLA -
      Gut feelings are obviously less reliable than statistics. That's why we have statistics. I do agree that Pinto will likely earn his time and will "steal" the job but these kinds of moves (assuming Suzuki really does get the job) is what makes it hard to be a Twins fan sometimes. He can't hit and all signs point to him not being a good defender (truthfully, I've seen him play probably less than 30 games in my life, tough to judge defense in that sss). At least Butera had a notable tool.
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      John Buck was the worst pitch framer in the MLB and comparable to Doumit at the plate. Doumit didn't want to catch this year either. Suzuki was the best choice on the market and just above Arencipibia. That's unless you wanted Saltalamacchia or McCann for their bigger contracts.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      I assumed all along he was signed to be a starter. I have been generally skeptical of framing statistics but the numbers in the article seem meaningful.

      Generally speaking, I think most TD posters are getting ahead of themselves when it comes to prospects making their big league debuts. My guess is that Pinto (along with Sano, Hicks, Meyer, Gibson) all start at Rochester and remain there for a couple of months minimum or until they prove they can adequately handle themselves at the AAA level.

      I also think this is the correct way to handle this situation - if Pinto (or any of the others) can't handle AAA, there is no point in pushing them to the majors. Losing a year of development (see Hicks, Aaron) is a far bigger price to pay than the benefit of a couple extra months in the bigs.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      I also don't put much stock into framing stats as they make the assumption that an umpire doesn't already have a preconcieved notion of the pitchers strike zone tendancies. This however I can buy. A breakdown of K% and BB% compared to his teamates catching the same pitchers is persuasive. The only thing it doesn't account for is possiblity of pitchers using (or not using) Suzuki as their personal catcher, ala Scott Erickson and Junior Ortiz, Francisco Liriano and Drew Butera. However sub-par pitchers (those that would make inflate/deflate Suzukis BB and K numbers) don't generally get personal catchers.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      There were reasons he signed with the Twins and for a small (MLB) salary. The starter? we shouldn't be surprised given the contract renewals, the over-belief in AAA experience, and an incentive to delay a player's promotion date.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      I don't think it is fair to say the Twins can be accused of basing any of their promotion decisions on service time. The most recent examples would be Hicks and Arcia who, if anything, were pushed to the majors.
    1. jay's Avatar
      jay -
      Great job of putting the debate about framing and the impact it has into real, concrete numbers with a huge sample size.

      I think Suzuki and Fryer could start the year on the MLB roster unless Pinto shows a lot in the spring. Keeping him in Rochester for a month or three wouldn't be the worst idea ever.
    1. USNMCPO's Avatar
      USNMCPO -
      I have nothing to back this up but I am wondering if something has changed. Perhaps the Twins expected Pinto to be the starter and Suzuki to back him up. Then either through performance or some unknown insider information has made the Twins believe that Pinto is not ready yet to be a starter.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Linus View Post
      I don't think it is fair to say the Twins can be accused of basing any of their promotion decisions on service time. The most recent examples would be Hicks and Arcia who, if anything, were pushed to the majors.
      Hicks, yes, but only after the Twins decimated their OF in the offseason. Arcia was promoted based on merit and need, he kicked the doors in to get here. Gibson certainly could have been moved up in May, especially after 2 outstanding AAA starts and a near no-hitter, right when many members of the rotation were in varying states of distress, injury or collapse (Worley, Pelfrey, Diamond, Deduno).
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      From a Washington Post article

      In eight career starts with Ramos catching before this year, Strasburg punched up a 1.64 ERA in 44 innings with 39 strikeouts, 34 hits allowed and three walks. After he arrived last season, Suzuki caught Strasburg five times. The results: 26 innings, a 4.50 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 22 hits allowed and 13 walks.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by USNMCPO View Post
      I have nothing to back this up but I am wondering if something has changed. Perhaps the Twins expected Pinto to be the starter and Suzuki to back him up. Then either through performance or some unknown insider information has made the Twins believe that Pinto is not ready yet to be a starter.

      Pinto was shut down in Winter Leagues due to a sore shoulder and a .179 BA, and by the end of December, LEN 3 was whispering that Pinto may start out in AAA, right as Terry Ryan was singing Eric Fryer's praises. It isn't hard to do the math, with all the money they are shelling out to Suzuki and Gardy's proclivities towards using veterans, Suzuki's going to play a ton until Pinto proves he's ready to supplant him.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      From a Washington Post article

      In eight career starts with Ramos catching before this year, Strasburg punched up a 1.64 ERA in 44 innings with 39 strikeouts, 34 hits allowed and three walks. After he arrived last season, Suzuki caught Strasburg five times. The results: 26 innings, a 4.50 ERA, 27 strikeouts, 22 hits allowed and 13 walks.
      Let's do apples and apples, how did Ramos do catching Strasburg, in 2013?
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      2012 statistics comparing Strasburg pitching to both Ramos and Suzuki more than prove the point. The article was written in May of 2013 and would have suffered from the complaint of small sample size

      In three starts with Ramos behind the plate this year, Strasburg has a 1.80 ERA over 20 innings with 18 strikeouts, 13 hits allowed and two walks. In three starts throwing to Suzuki, Strasburg has a 5.19 ERA over 17 1/3 innings with 19 strikeouts, 10 walks and 20 hits allowed. (Strasburg also threw to Jhonatan Solano once, allowing three earned runs in seven innings.)
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by old nurse View Post
      2012 statistics not valid enough?

      In three starts with Ramos behind the plate this year, Strasburg has a 1.80 ERA over 20 innings with 18 strikeouts, 13 hits allowed and two walks. In three starts throwing to Suzuki, Strasburg has a 5.19 ERA over 17 1/3 innings with 19 strikeouts, 10 walks and 20 hits allowed. (Strasburg also threw to Jhonatan Solano once, allowing three earned runs in seven innings.)
      Don't we have some overweight, straight-ball-throwing relief pitcher that might be of interest to the Nats for this guy I'm not too familiar with, whatzzhizzname? Ramos?
    1. Lefty's Avatar
      Lefty -
      I think the Twins just know that Suzuki knows how to get pitchers to pitch to contact, we all know the philosophy!

      I'd rather have Suzuki back there than any of our other current options.
    1. S.'s Avatar
      S. -
      I must be missing something, but what's the point of these 3 game comparisons of Ramos and Suzuki? You can't honestly think comparing 3 games caught for two catchers can give you any sort of worthwhile statistics

      Edit: was missing something: other one was 8 games and 5 games. Still way too small a sample with way too many variables to do an actual comparison though. Different seasons, different opponents, different parks, etc. You're gonna need a lot more games before those comparisons mean anything at all in my opinion.
    1. Lefty's Avatar
      Lefty -
      I agree with you S. Three games against the Astros vs. 3 games against the Yankees/Red Sox/Rangers are two completely different things.
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      I'm wondering if they're just trying to keep the pressure off of Pinto and in reality expect him to win the job this spring.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by S. View Post
      I must be missing something, but what's the point of these 3 game comparisons of Ramos and Suzuki? You can't honestly think comparing 3 games caught for two catchers can give you any sort of worthwhile statistics

      Edit: was missing something: other one was 8 games and 5 games. Still way too small a sample with way too many variables to do an actual comparison though. Different seasons, different opponents, different parks, etc. You're gonna need a lot more games before those comparisons mean anything at all in my opinion.
      By your argument the statistics that are the premise of the article would be eroneous as there would never be a large enough sample size to suit anyone.
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