In the late 19th Century, a phrase entered into common usage – “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.” And despite what you may think, it’s a good phrase. You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate things and your appreciation does not have to be tied to other’s views. My preference for Abstract Expressionism does not trump your fondness for Landscapes and Portraiture or someone else’s for Cubism.
In baseball, some people prefer aggressive baserunning while some prefer great pitching performances and still others want to see lots of homers. You can win the World Series with any of these style of teams and it’s fine to appreciate one over the others. The issue is when you insist that the only way to do things is to follow the style that you appreciate.
However, it’s not quite the same thing when it comes to baseball statistics. There are some that are clearly better than others. That doesn’t mean that there are perfect stats and stats that are meaningless. My impression is that people are a bit too quick to claim “Stat A” as meaningless because they see where it comes up short.
There’s no better example of this than the Quality Start. People have gone on and on and on (and on and on and on…) about how can an outing where you go six innings and give up three runs be a quality one. Yet the vast majority of Quality Starts are better than the minimums mentioned above and the cumulative pitching lines for Quality Starts are far superior to the same cumulative lines for Wins.
Bill James once said, “When people say that one statistic is meaningless, what they are really saying is that they have learned to see the distortions in that statistic — but haven’t yet learned to see the distortions in the alternatives.” Again, no stat is perfect.
One stat that’s often treated as meaningless is catcher’s ERA (cERA.) If you’re not familiar with cERA, it’s most likely exactly what you imagine. It’s figuring out an ERA for the catcher rather than the pitcher, what his line is like when he’s calling the pitches, regardless of which pitcher is in the game.
If we were to put stats on a hierarchy, cERA would be closer to the bottom than the top. The most glaring weakness is that it doesn’t control for the quality of pitcher that the individual catchers have caught. Eddie Perez has a terrific cERA but as the personal catcher for Greg Maddux for a number of years, his cERA should be better than the guy who catches Homer Bailey.
But two things that it has going for it is that cERA is easy to understand (and calculate) and is readily available. In that way, it’s a lot like OPS. We cite OPS here frequently, not because it’s the best statistic to measure offensive production but because it’s easy to understand, readily available and will get you 90% (or more) of the way to the right answer.
There’s value in simplicity.
Now, cERA doesn’t get you as close to the right answer as OPS does. But it will get you heading in the right direction and that’s not a bad thing. Going back to Perez – sure his cERA was good because he caught Maddux. But Maddux wouldn’t have lobbied for Perez if he wasn’t good. And let’s face it, Perez wasn’t in the game for his hitting.
So, let’s use cERA with the 2018 Mets. It seems to me that this is an acceptable time to use this statistic because the Mets have employed four catchers who’ve seen more than a handful of starts and they have multiple really good and really bad pitchers. Sure, one guy is the favorite for the CY Award but two other guys have been really good, too, and not one of the catchers has caught 95% of the starts from one of the really good pitchers. Or one of the really bad ones, either. Anyway, here are the numbers:
It’s impossible to ignore how bad Lobaton is in cERA. No wonder the club lost so many games once d’Arnaud and Plawecki went on the DL in mid-April. And Lobaton’s 17 starts included four from deGrom and two each from Syndergaard and Wheeler. But Syndergaard had a .914 OPS allowed with Lobaton behind the dish and Wheeler turned in a 1.151 mark.
Let’s look at the other three catchers with double-digit games and see what stands out.
Mesoraco – He’s been the catcher for most of deGrom’s starts (20) but less so for Wheeler (10) and half again for Syndergaard (5). And with Mesoraco behind the dish, deGrom has a 1.70 ERA, compared to the 2.40 mark with Plawecki in eight starts.
Nido – Of the 29 games he’s been in defensively, Nido had caught Syndergaard 10 times and seems to have a nice thing going, as Syndergaard has a 2.25 ERA and a .607 OPS against with Nido as his catcher. And it’s only three games, but Matz has done his best work with Nido behind the plate, with a 1.35 ERA and a .470 OPS allowed.
Plawecki – He seems to do the best work with Wheeler, who has a 1.88 ERA with Plawecki as his catcher, over a run better than with Mesoraco (2.98) and nearly two runs better than with Nido (3.86) and with the catchers having 11, 10 and 7 starts, respectively.
People have been vocal about wanting the Mets to have a good defensive catcher. If you’re one of those people – how do you feel about Nido? His overall numbers may not be stellar but he’s certainly performed well with one of the guys that the club wants to build around. Does his defensive work – 2.25 cERA – with Syndergaard make his balsa-wood bat (.439 OPS) worth carrying?