Friday, May 19, 2006

Doumit and Paulino

A couple posts down, Rory asked me to clarify some of the things I've said about Paulino as a catcher, and admittedly, I do come off a little more harsh on the subject than I mean to. When I make snide remarks about Paulino's effect on the pitching staff, I don't mean it as a slight to Paulino, but rather I'm going after the flawed and predictable decision making process that handed him the starting catching job in the first place. Paulino may well become a good starting catcher, in fact I hope he does. The problem I have at the moment is that I don't think he's earned the excessive praise lavished on him by Tracy and staff. Which of course means I've spent hours at Retrosheet the last couple days trying to put together some evidence of that. Here goes...

As I'm sure we all know by now, the argument from the team goes something like this, "Ryan Doumit is a dumbass who can't tell his elbow from his asshole, thus he cannot call a major league game. He has 10 thumbs, making him a poor defensive catcher, despite his rocket launcher of an arm. He kills the ball, especially for a catcher, but is so defensively deficient that we must play savior Ronny Paulino behind the plate who is the best catcher since Jesus himself (bet you didn't know Jesus was a catcher) because of his miraculous effect on the pitching staff, iron wall defense, and decent bat." They back this claim up by feeding people stats about Paulino's cERA (catcher's ERA) this year in comparison to the numbers for Doumit (who's sepnt all of five games behind the plate) and Cota (who's spent the majority of his starts catching Perez). This ignores a lot of other factors, primarily that new pitching coach Jim Colborn changed a lot of the mechanics of our very young pitching staff that they were clearly struggling with the first two or so times through the rotation, a time when Paulino was in AAA. It also completely ignores anything Doumit did as a catcher last year, when he spent much of the last two months of the season as our primary catcher. It also assumes that Cota sucks, and I'll stick with that assumption because I don't have space for that and Cota is clearly no more than a backup.

Doumit caught in 50 games last year, making 48 starts and finishing 40 of those starts. For the sake of this exercise, I ignored the two games he didn't start behind the plate last year, because the innings caught are negligible and I don't think a catcher should be judged on how he performs as a mid-game replacement as it's something that happens very rarely. In Doumit's 48 starts, he caught a total of 415 and 1/3 innings and had a catcher's ERA of 4.53. On the season, the team ERA was 4.42 in 1436 innings. The difference comes to about 18 runs over the course of the season. I won't dispute the meaning of 18 runs (adding 18 runs to the Pirates run totals last year costs them about 2 wins using Baseball Reference's pythagorean win/loss formula) but I will point out that the second half of the year last year saw both Mark Redman and Kip Wells turn in some of the worst performances in recent memory. Given the later knowledge that Kip was pitching with a giant clot in his pitching arm and that Mark Redman really really sucks, I think anyone would be hesistant to blame their struggles on Doumit. Doumit also spent his first month or so in the bigs mostly on the bench. When he did play, he alternated between catcher, right field, and DH. If you take his cERA from when he started catching exclusively, it's actually 4.21 over those 356 and 2/3 innings, an improvement of about 34 runs over the course of the season (3 wins by the same formula).

This year, Paulino in his 16 starts (which is an absurdly small number to even be talking about something like this) has put up a cERA of 3.57 (numbers from ESPN gamelogs since Retrosheet only updates at the end of the season). It is true that it's much better than the team ERA of 4.91, but save one start, he hasn't been asked to catch Oliver Perez all year. Like Kip Wells and Mark Redman last year, it's unfair to blame Perez's struggles solely on Cota. The team ERA this year without Perez is 4.66. It is difficult to compare Paulino and Doumit's numbers as the pitching staffs and coaching staffs are different. I do think that comparing Doumit's cERA to the team's ERA for the entire year last year may be decieving as Doumit did most of his catching in the second half when Redman and Wells had gone off the deep end, through no fault of his own, and the rotation was being juggled, especially in September after guys like Snell and Gorzellany had been called up for cameos in the bigs. Also, Paulino's sample size is too painfully small to actually do anything with yet. As for defense, Doumit's fielding percentage last year was .975. It's very poor for a catcher, but it's virtually identical to Paulino's .973 at the moment. Paulino's thrown out 8 of 18 base stealers this year (44.4%) while Doumit nailed 14 of 35 last year (40%). This renders the claims about defense irrelevant to this point in their careers.

There's very little evidence to support an argument that Doumit is worse than average at calling games to this point in his career. While Paulino, to this point, does have a better cERA than Doumit did last year, the Pirates have gotten in big trouble trusting small sample sizes that were much larger than 16 games (see: Redman, Tike and most likely Duffy, Chris). In fact, the sample size on Doumit is incredibly small as well, given that he caught less than 1/3 of the team's total innings last year. I'm not trying to say that Doumit is a Gold Glover behind the plate or even that he's better than Paulino back there. I'm just trying to point out that at a position where offense is traditionally hard to find, the Pirates have a very good hitter in Doumit that they aren't using behind the plate (or anywhere, I'm not convinced at all that he's still hurt) because of very circumstantial defensive evidence. Doumit's bat is simply less valuable at first or in right because it's easier to find good bats in those positions (at least traditionally, maybe not for the Pirates).

I know I've ignored what Paulino can do with a bat, but besides his numbers in AAA last year, his minor league numbers kind of look like Humberto Cota's. His OPS in the bigs looks decent at the moment, but there's still the small sample size problem and it's mostly because he's batting .300 (something he did once over a full season in his minor league career) which is keeping his OBP up. While it's possible his numbers from AAA last year are the real thing and he may blossom at the plate as a big-leauger, it seems unlikely.

The bottom line is that while keeping Paulino behind the plate and moving Doumit may work out, my gut feeling (which is partly from looking at all of these numbers) is that it's much less likely to work than keeping Doumit behind the plate and trading Paulino now or sometime soon to a team desperate for catching (the Phillies are using Sal Fasano on a regular basis, for chrissake) while his value is highest. Of course, because of the flawed decision making process, we'll never see that happen. Paulino has already become the every day catcher and Doumit is in the process of becoming the organizational whipping boy, a position that will need to be filled once we don't have Craig Wilson to kick around anymore.