Today, Baseball Prospectus announced their new defensive statistics for minor league catchers. Catcher defense has always been very hard to measure, especially at the minor league level. Here's what they're able to give us:
- Controlling the running game (Swipe Rate Above Average, SRAA, and Takeoff Rate Above Average (TRAA)
- Blocking (Errant Pitches Above Average, EPAA)
- Framing (Called Strikes Above Average, CSAA)
- Total (FRAA)
Missing here is the dark matter of catcher defense: game calling, sequencing, psychology, etc. However, this is overall pretty comprehensive. So where does Gary Sanchez rank?
- Running Game: 0 runs
- Blocking: 0 runs
- Framing: +3.0 runs
- Total: +3.0 runs
This is remarkable in how boring it is. Sanchez was a league-average Triple-A catcher in 2015. Given his hitting talent, that is a big deal. An average defensive catcher was worth something in the 1.5-2 win range alone in 2015. If he were to hit something conservative like .252/.320/.453, which is what Chris Young hit last season, we're talking about a 3.5-4.0 win player. Not bad.
The story about Sanchez's defense is that he was bad when he first started playing catcher, but started working hard and getting better as the years go on. Here's his total defense over time:
- Sanchez in 2015 at Double-A/Triple-A (58/35 game): +1.5/2.7 runs
- Sanchez in 2014 at Double-A (110 games): +8.2 runs
- Sanchez in 2013 at High-A (94 games): -4.7 runs
- Sanchez in 2012 at Low-A/High-A (68/48 games): -2.8/-1.5 runs
- Sanchez at 2011 at Low-A (82 games): -3.3 runs
Normalizing this on a per-150 games basis, here is Sanchez over time:
Now, these numbers are a little deceptive. FRAA compares catchers to their peers at their minor league level. So, a player is improving as he is promoted up the ranks but keeps his FRAA constant. What is clear is that something clicked with Sanchez in 2014 (which matches the scouting reports), and he maintained it in 2015.