Tagged: gregg zaun

Reframing Gregg Zaun

In my Baseball Chirps on Some Links (which is my fancy way of updating “Bird on a Wire”), I touched on Mike Fast’s study at Baseball Prospectus on a catcher’s ability to frame pitches and the way those framed pitches tended to switch close pitches from balls to strikes. One thing that stuck out to me was catcher Gregg Zaun’s name near the top of that list.

One interesting quirk of sabremetrics (which can lead to a lot of fun debate) is how new studies can lead to reevaluations of existing players. This concept was illustrated, in part, in the book and movie Moneyball. According to Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, Scott Hatteberg stuck out because his high on-base percentage (OBP) skills were undervalued by the rest of baseball. Thus, Beane brought Hatteberg to offset departing MVP Jason Giambi’s production for pennies on the dollar. Now, I am not a sabremetrician but I do love thinking about baseball in new ways. Thus, I decided to, for lack of a better pun, reframe my thinking about Gregg Zaun.

Now, Zaun was a bit of an oddity as a switch-hitting catcher without much power and a “small” 5’10” 170 lb frame. Most of the early part of his career was spent as a backup catcher to the likes of Chris Hoiles (who had the reputation as a good hitter) and Charles Johnson (who had a reputation as a great defender). A few years ago, he picked up the label as “The Practically Perfect Backup Catcher and later, as David Ross of FanGraphs notes, “However, as people looked more closely. they began to realize that a catcher who was close to league average offensively (Zaun has a career 94 wRC+) and non-horrible defensively would actually make a Pretty Good Starting Catcher. The Toronto Blue Jays noticed and were the only team to really give Zaun a full season of playing time in 2005.”

Mike Fast’s study indicates that since 2007, Zaun saved the sixth most runs of any catcher in baseball based on his ability to frame pitches, equivalent to 36 total runs. What makes it more interesting is that Gregg Zaun also did not play in 2011 and had durability issues from 2007 to 2010. Fast calculated that Gregg Zaun saved 19 runs per 120 games. Based on my rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations, it is possible that his framing skills were worth an extra win a season above an average major league catcher of that time period. To put that into scale a bit, an “average” major league catcher (as opposed to a Triple-A replacement level player) is generally worth three wins without counting runs saved from framing pitches.

So, we have Gregg Zaun, a person who was at first considered a backup catcher, then upon further analysis, would be considered a “Pretty Good Starting Catcher”. Does this new analysis on his catcher framing skills push Gregg Zaun into elite territory? I do not think so. Does it make him a star? Perhaps not. We do not know if he exhibited these framing skills early in his career. However, it does reinforce the idea that a potential opportunity was missed to see if Zaun would have been a “Pretty Good Starting Catcher”.

More importantly, if the results of Fast’s study are vetted, this could become a tool used by Major League Teams to analyze a catcher’s defensive performance. If that happens, I strongly believe that a future rookie that has Gregg Zaun’s skillset will no longer be undervalued but will stick out and thus warrant a full-time role to show that they really are a “Pretty Good Starting Catcher”.

Gregg Zaun’s Minor and Major League Statistics

Year Age Tm G AB HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1990 19 BAL-min 98 284 3 28 30 32 .239 .315 .310 .625  
1991 20 BAL-min 113 409 4 51 50 41 .274 .353 .369 .722  
1992 21 BAL-min 108 383 6 52 42 45 .251 .324 .376 .700  
1993 22 BAL-min 100 336 4 49 33 37 .295 .357 .384 .740  
1994 23 BAL-min 123 388 7 43 56 72 .237 .337 .353 .690  
1995 24 BAL-min 42 140 6 18 14 21 .293 .367 .529 .896  
1995 24 BAL 40 104 3 14 16 14 .260 .358 .394 .753 95
1996 25 BAL-min 14 47 0 4 11 6 .319 .441 .362 .802  
1996 25 TOT 60 139 2 15 14 20 .245 .318 .367 .685 75
1996 25 BAL 50 108 1 13 11 15 .231 .309 .352 .661 67
1996 25 FLA 10 31 1 2 3 5 .290 .353 .419 .772 106
1997 26 FLA 58 143 2 20 26 18 .301 .415 .441 .856 130
1998 27 FLA 106 298 5 29 35 52 .188 .274 .292 .566 53
1999 28 TEX 43 93 1 12 10 7 .247 .314 .323 .637 60
2000 29 KCR-min 9 25 0 3 4 3 .280 .379 .400 .779  
2000 29 KCR 83 234 7 33 43 34 .274 .390 .410 .800 102
2001 30 KCR-min 17 61 1 9 10 8 .213 .329 .328 .657  
2001 30 KCR 39 125 6 18 12 16 .320 .377 .536 .913 131
2002 31 HOU 76 185 3 24 12 36 .222 .275 .319 .594 53
2003 32 TOT 74 166 4 21 19 21 .229 .309 .349 .658 67
2003 32 HOU 59 120 1 13 14 14 .217 .299 .300 .599 56
2003 32 COL 15 46 3 8 5 7 .261 .333 .478 .812 97
2004 33 TOR-min 7 23 0 2 2 5 .304 .346 .348 .694  
2004 33 TOR 107 338 6 36 47 61 .269 .367 .393 .761 96
2005 34 TOR-min 2 6 0 0 2 2 .333 .500 .500 1.000  
2005 34 TOR 133 434 11 61 73 70 .251 .355 .373 .729 94
2006 35 TOR-min 1 4 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000  
2006 35 TOR 99 290 12 40 41 42 .272 .363 .462 .825 112
2007 36 TOR-min 3 11 0 0 1 2 .091 .167 .091 .258  
2007 36 TOR 110 331 10 52 51 55 .242 .341 .411 .752 98
2008 37 TOR-min 2 8 1 1 0 2 .250 .250 .625 .875  
2008 37 TOR 86 245 6 30 38 38 .237 .340 .359 .700 88
2009 38 TOT 90 262 8 27 31 48 .260 .345 .416 .761 99
2009 38 BAL 56 168 4 13 27 30 .244 .355 .375 .730 92
2009 38 TBR 34 94 4 14 4 18 .287 .323 .489 .813 112
2010 39 MIL 28 102 2 14 11 12 .265 .350 .392 .743 101
16 Seasons 1232 3489 88 446 479 544 .252 .344 .388 .732 91
162 Game Avg. 162 459 12 59 63 72 .252 .344 .388 .732 91
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2011.