Molina vs. Lucroy: opposition research, catcher HBP edition

Christian Petersen

Maybe Jonathan Lucroy wasn't lying about saying he isn't fond of pitchers hitting batters.

Jonathan Lucroy told this to Todd Rosiak yesterday:

"If a pitcher comes to me and says, 'I want to drill a guy in the head,' I will tell him, 'No, you will not. Not while I'm catching,'" he said before Wednesday's game.

In an email thread between the BCB writers, this got us (well, mainly JP) wondering about how catchers influence hit by pitch numbers among their pitchers. Unlike overall catcher ERA, which is a stupid stat, this seems to be something the catcher might have a decent amount of control over. But it is going to be influenced by a few things:

  • General team pitching strategy, heavily inside or outside
  • Wildness of pitchers caught by the particular catcher
  • Crazy-ass managers (your Gibsons and LaRussas)
  • Proclivity of batters faced to lean into pitches (your Weekses)
  • Catchers calling for balls inside

I'm sure there are more. But would it not be interesting if certain catchers were to tend to get more batters hit than others?

I created a rate stat of batters hit per inning, by catcher who was in the game when the batters were hit. The set includes all catchers who caught 150 innings or more in a year between 2011 and 2014 (so the cutoff applies to this year as well). I sorted from high to low, so rank #1 means the catcher had the highest rate of batters hit per inning while they were catching, and #273 has the lowest rate of batters hit per inning while catching.

Of the 273 seasons by a player that qualify,

  • Yadier Molina ranks 83 (this season), 84, 165, and 172.
  • Jonathan Lucroy ranks 222, 241 (this season), 251, and 265.

I looked into this thinking that maybe Molina had an unusually high rate of batters getting hit, which is something we could use to hit him with in some sort of attack ad, but the real story here is that Lucroy consistently ranks so close to the bottom. As previously stated, that may have more to do with the organizational strategy and the pitchers he's working with than anything Lucroy consciously does as a catcher. But if we cannot find something that is relevant, at least we can say that it is interesting.

Complicating the "it's just how the Brewers pitch" theory is Martin Maldonado's two appearances on the list. In 2012, when he filled in for Lucroy for a few months, he had a Lucroy-like showing of rank 254. But last year in backup duty, he ranked closer to the middle of the pack, at 134.

The culprit for the worst rate season of the past 4 years belong to Tyler Flowers. He played in only 49 games in 2012 but allowed 30 batters to be hit. He also checks in at numbers 41 and 42 on the list.

If you have questions about this dataset or things you want me to look into, let me know in the comments!

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