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The Mariners And Blocking Pitches

Way back in October of last year, I fanshotted this study over at The Hardball Times about catcher pitch-blocking. It was a fantastic study that was probably worthy of a full post, but for whatever reason I went with a fanshot. I'm guessing I was busy. Or maybe I was jealous that I didn't write up this study, even though it's not something I've studied, or something I'm even capable of studying with such depth. That's the reason I don't write about articles in Cell or The American Journal of Medicine. Jealousy.

That study is back in the news today, because FanGraphs has added pitch-blocking stats based on the methodology to its player pages and leaderboards. This presents another opportunity to write about it in a full post, which I'm obviously doing.

We care about the Seattle Mariners. Some people almost exclusively. Many have had the sense that recent Mariners catchers haven't been very good at blocking pitches, and the numbers appear to back that up. To a borderline horrifying degree, as it happens. I will admit that the numbers aren't perfect, and the study author will admit that the numbers aren't perfect, but the methodology is sound, and, tell you what. The study relies on PITCHfx data, so we have information going back to 2008. Here are the worst catchers at blocking pitches since 2008 in terms of runs per 1,000 innings. I set an innings minimum of 500.

1. Adam Moore, -9.7
2. Jason Castro, -7.1
3. Rob Johnson, -6.7
4. J.P. Arencibia, -5.3
5. Jorge Posada, -5.2

Miguel Olivo comes in at eighth-worst and -4.4 runs per 1,000 innings. That's eighth-worst out of 84 catchers. Kenji Johjima ranks 31st, at +1.1.

That's part of the fun. Now let's break it down to individual seasons. Here are the five worst individual seasons when it comes to blocking pitches since 2008, again in terms of runs per 1,000 innings and again with a 500-inning minimum.

1. 2010 Adam Moore, -10.5
2. 2010 Rob Johnson, -8.8
3. 2011 Jarrod Saltalamacchia, -8.2
4. 2009 Rob Johnson, -7.9
5. 2011 Miguel Olivo, -7.4

Four of the five worst pitch-blocking seasons since 2008 have come from players wearing a Mariners uniform. That might make you think that there's some sort of bias in the study, or an adjustment that wasn't made. The alternative explanation is that Adam Moore, Rob Johnson, and Miguel Olivo were really bad at blocking pitches. There's a flaw, but something tells me it isn't with the method.

I don't know, maybe Felix Hernandez makes things really hard. But every team has guys with electric stuff, and not all of them have Felix's command, so I'm not presently willing to accept that as an excuse. I think the issue is that the Mariners have just had bad pitch-blockers. Blocking pitches is only one of a catcher's many responsibilities, but the Mariners have clearly had some guys who've been bad at it.