This article originally appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

By Meg Rowley

Last week, Baseball Prospectus debuted expanded catcher statistics in an all-day festival immortalized forever as Catchella. We have long known that catcher defense, particularly pitch framing -- we will not be referring to it as "presentation," whatever your preferences, players -- is hugely important in assessing a catcher's value. With framing data going back to 1988, and blocking and throwing data going back to 1950, we have a wealth of new information to sort through and analyze to help understand exactly how much those skills affect the game. The totality of that analysis will take time, but as we start to unpack this treasure chest, a few interesting tidbits emerge.

One way to gauge how much catcher defense contributes to overall value is to see who benefits from a more precise accounting of it. The addition of our catcher statistics didn't shake up the top 10 career catcher WARP too dramatically. But there was a fair amount of movement within it. There were also a couple of new faces whose new totals were aided by impressive framing metrics that, as we saw from Jonathan Judge and Harry Pavlidis' primer last week, can be a significant driver of catcher defensive value.

Career Catcher WARP Leaders
BEFORE Catching Statistics

Player Name

Rank

WARP Before

WARP After

Mike Piazza

1

68.48

75.58

Johnny Bench

2

68.19

71.98

Carlton Fisk

3

68.17

73

Gary Carter

4

62.02

67.65

Ivan Rodriguez

5

61.59

64.11

Yogi Berra

6

60.86

63.11

Ted Simmons

7

54.21

52.78

Joe Torre

8

53.57

54.17

Jason Kendall

9

49.08

36.26

Gene Tenace

10

46.74

46.4

 

Career Catcher WARP Leaders
AFTER Catcher Statistics

Player Name

Rank

WARP Before

WARP After

Mike Piazza

1

68.48

75.58

Carlton Fisk

2

68.17

73

Johnny Bench

3

68.19

71.98

Gary Carter

4

62.02

67.65

Ivan Rodriguez

5

61.59

64.11

Yogi Berra

6

60.86

63.11

Brian McCann

7

36.22

54.56

Joe Torre

8

53.57

54.17

Russell Martin

9

31.54

52.97

Ted Simmons

10

54.21

52.78

Greats like Piazza, Berra, Bench and Fisk managed to keep their seats after the music stopped, albeit in slightly different chairs, but poor Gene Tenace and Jason Kendall! They had impressive careers with lofty WARPs, but their defensive offerings couldn't keep them in the top 10 when stacked up against Russell Martin and Brian McCann. Martin and McCann are third and fourth, respectively, in framing runs, and third and fifth in total defensive runs, which include blocking and throwing runs. Tenace has slightly negative catcher statistics, although his play pre-dates framing statistics. But Kendall was a defensive mess, according to the stats, particularly when it came to framing. In fact, he was the sixth most damaging framer ever. More on Kendall in a moment.

Given the changes we see in the top 10, you can imagine how we might have to adjust our expectations of WARP going forward. The inclusion of catcher metrics can alter WARP fortunes, throwing defensive deficiencies into sharp relief for some while elevating the games of others.

So who gained the most from the inclusion of catcher metrics? Much like the changes in the career catcher WARP top 10, the top 10 gainers list appears to be driven largely by the value of pitch framing to these players' total defensive performance:

Player Name

Gain/Loss in Defensive Runs

Before

After

WARP Change

Brad Ausmus

247.8

15.85

40.07

24.22

Jose Molina

223.41

-1.17

21.85

23.02

Russell Martin

208.05

31.54

52.97

21.43

Yadier Molina

179.52

24.88

43.41

18.53

Brian McCann

175.11

36.22

54.56

18.34

Jonathan Lucroy

161.67

13.87

31.15

17.28

David Ross

114.58

10.79

22.5

11.71

Ryan Hanigan

94.68

9.23

19.16

9.93

Miguel Montero

90.35

19.95

29.46

9.51

Javy Lopez

96.48

34.14

43.46

9.32

Given his status as the best defensive catcher since 1950, it isn't surprising that Ausmus' numbers would improve and become nearly as handsome as he is. The jump from 15.85 to 40.07 isn't just enough to make him the biggest WARP gainer. It's also enough to move him from 65th in career catcher WARP to 18th, a move that makes you wonder if his Hall of Fame candidacy deserved a bit more consideration. (He received no votes.) Almost all the rest of the gainers' strides appear to be driven up by their framing, with nine of the 10 top gainers also in the top 10 of framing runs. Ryan Hanigan scoots in at no.11.

By contrast, the top 10 losers is a veritable murders row of bad pitch framing:

Player Name

Gain/Loss in Defensive Runs

Before

After

WARP Change

Ryan Doumit

-195.99

13.68

-6.48

-20.16

Gerald Laird

-139.2

5.97

-8.27

-14.24

Charles Johnson

-137.46

17.94

4.62

-13.32

Jorge Posada

-133.31

45.38

32.09

-13.29

Jason Kendall

-131

49.08

36.26

-12.82

Kirt Manwaring

-113.15

1.16

-9.93

-11.09

Dioner Navarro

-92.52

6.93

-2.5

-9.43

John Buck

-88.85

9.64

0.4

-9.24

Kurt Suzuki

-83.8

10.17

1.25

-8.92

Carlos Ruiz

-81.71

22.33

13.7

-8.63

Doumit was bad before and is even worse when the totality of his defensive ineptitude is factored in. In fact, the top 10 losers list is an exact replica of the top 10 worst defensive catchers list, costing their teams a staggering 1,231.3 runs in aggregate over their careers. John Buck was once designated for assignment by the Mariners on his birthday; perhaps this was why. Our old friend Jason Kendall reemerges here, demonstrating that his fall out of the top 10 WARP was not a graceful one. But the real surprise of the group is Posada. We knew Posada's arm was failing toward the end of his catching career, and we knew the Yankees kept putting him in the lineup anyway, but the toll may have been worse than we imagined. Couple that with framing skills that were always costly, and you get the third-worst defensive catcher since 1950 by our metrics. Indeed, his drop to 25th on the all-time catcher WARP list puts him behind active players Martin, McCann, Yadier Molina and Buster Posey and could damage his Hall of Fame case, if voters choose to care about such things.

And let's take a moment to discuss Buster Posey. We knew Posey was good before these catcher metrics came out, but his 90.1 total runs saved only enhances his case. He's the 10th best defensive catcher since 1950. He's ranked 20th in career catcher WARP. There are a few other active catchers who rank ahead of him: McCann is seventh, Martin is ninth and Molina is 15th. What's amazing about Posey, of course, is how few games he has played relative to the others on the career list. Posey has played in 753 games. The next lowest game total in the top 20 is McCann at 1,380. The 19th highest WARP catcher is Darrell Porter. His WARP is just two wins higher, and he appeared in 1,782 games! It's incredible production, and our understanding of what is driving that value is made richer as we are able to incorporate Posey's defensive skill into our knowledge of his game.  

We aren't done talking about catcher metrics anymore than the research stemming from those metrics is complete. There is a lot of exciting work to be done in the coming months to clarify all of this. But it all serves to bring to light interesting new dimensions to players previously believed to be well understood. We don't quite know where we'll be able to take it as we come to understand it better. And that might be the most exciting part of all. 

Thanks to Rob McQuown for research assistance.

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