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Is Powell Better With Pitchers?

December 14, 2011

Since Landon Powell‘s arrival in Oakland he has done very little with the stick. Yesterday in lamenting the A’s re-upping Powell (which we now know care of Richard Blum of the Associated Press is for $620K in 2012)  I highlighted his very weak bat writing,

“in three seasons with Oakland [Powell] has amassed a .207/.284/.328 line in 406 plate appearances. To go with that he has a .276 wOBA and a microscopic 68 wRC+… of the 425 players who equaled or exceeded Powell’s 122 plate appearances only eight had lower wRC+ numbers.”

There is no question – or at least there should be little question – that Powell’s bat is a problem, but the oft-heard defense of Powell is that his meager stick is worthwhile because of how well he handles pitchers. Which is exactly what commenter Nick said of my harsh assessment of the re-signing of Powell writing,

“…but Powell’s also caught a perfect game. I believe he still catches most or all of [Dallas] Braden’s games. What’s that worth? Game calling doesn’t fit into a WAR, but for such a pitching-oriented (and soon to be even younger) team, it’s significant.”

And while I wonder how much of this myth was enhanced with his being the catcher for Braden’s perfect game, though in fairness there are reports on Baseball America that highlight that Powell,

“has shown durability and leadership”

I will take that as a catcher who handles pitchers well, though numerous fan forums, etc all highlight this very early in his career as well. But I liked what Nick was wondering, because I oftentimes wonder that too. What does handling pitchers well really mean? Can we measure it? One measure that was liked by Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan was cERA, or catcher’s earned run average. It is riddled with problems namely small sample size and the fact that catchers oftentimes catch different pitchers so you’re measuring apples against oranges instead of apples against apples. Regardless, the results are mixed as can be seen in the chart below. Using other metrics, like K/9 (a sound strategy for creating whiffs?), BB/9 (perhaps a catcher frames pitches better?) and HR/9 (poor understanding of hitter’s hot zones?) we again see a mixed record. But I imagine a good deal of this is just noise dependent upon what pitchers a guy catches, I also added cFIP which is basically a defensive-independent look at the “ERA of catchers”.

  Opp. Slash Line K/9 BB/9 HR/9 cERA cFIP
’09 Powell .269/.328/.405 6.9 3.0 0.9 4.50 3.94
’09 Others .264/.330/.415 7.0 3.3 1.0 4.20 4.19
’10 Powell .259/.313/.438 6.2 2.5 1.5 4.38 4.65
’10 Others .241/.313/.403 6.8 3.4 0.8 3.37 4.00
’11 Powell .248/.304/.356 7.7 2.5 0.7 2.70 2.50
’11 Others .251/.320/.383 7.1 3.4 0.9 3.95 3.94

There is no clear winner here but again how much is a mess created by different pitchers having different catchers? A lot. I figured to look at a pitcher like Dallas Braden who I like Nick thought was the personal catcher for Powell. Turns out aside from their perfect game together the relationship is not that lengthy as Powell has only caught 84 2/3 innings of Braden to Kurt Suzuki‘s 326. Regardless the results are somewhat interesting,

 Braden’s C Opp. Slash Line K/9 BB/9 HR/9 cERA cFIP
Powell .210/.258/.327 5.1 1.9 0.7 2.66 3.78
Suzuki .273/.326/.408 5.8 2.7 0.8 3.95 3.95

Ultimately the defense independent difference is minimal. Does Suzuki do something to coax more K’s out of the slop throwing Braden? The difference in ERA is largely due to the difference in BABIP (.227 with Powell, .306 with Suzuki) but perhaps Powell is better at framing pitches as he consistently has a lower BB/9 rate than Suzuki and other catchers in all the charts I put together. Ultimately it doesn’t appear that Powell is significantly better with pitchers than Suzuki, Jake Fox or Josh Donaldson, or any different than Anthony Recker has been or could be going forward.

To re-sign Powell is to put a roadblock in the way of the aforementioned Donaldson or Recker and it is to do so with one thing that is very clear and very measurable – an anemic offensive production. Could Powell be used more and perhaps improve? Absolutely, the A’s have notoriously run Suzuki ragged which one could argue is the reason for his declining offensive production, but should the man manning the backstop every fifth or sixth day be Powell? Of that there is no convincing. He doesn’t turn pitchers into All-Stars and at the plate he looks more like a pitcher than a first round draft pick. The time to cut our ties with Powell has long passed.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. ThanksBilly permalink
    December 14, 2011 2:54 pm

    Interesting data. Suzuki and Powell are becoming redundant. Which makes me think…maybe Suzuki’s on his way out. He’ll make $12 million over the next two years. If I was Billy, I’d try to make someone take him with Gio or Bailey. And as a fan, I’d be ok with that.

    • December 14, 2011 2:56 pm

      I really think in many ways outside of Gonzalez, Suzuki is our most valuable trade piece. I’d have said this even a week ago prior to Cahill being dealt. However, Suzuki’s value comes during the season when team find out there guy is injured like the Giants did with Buster Posey or the Astros did in Spring Training etc, or when they find out their guy just isn’t hitting at all like they wanted him to (for a while Saltalamacchia looked like he’d fit that bill, or one could argue a guy like Olivo in Seattle did for a while).

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  1. Powell to be Non-Roster Invitee to Spring Training « The Todd Van Poppel Rookie Card Retirement Plan

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