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
|162 Game Avg.||162||459||12||59||63||72||.252||.344||.388||.732||91|
On october 1st at 5:30pm, Wrigley Field will host a viewing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release. This is due in part to Wrigley Field being featured in some of the scenes in the movie and in part to the way Wrigley Field (and many of John Hughes’ movies) feature Chicago. As an added kicker, there’ll be an attempt to break the world record for people singing “Danke Schoen”, the song that Ferris Bueller (played by Matthew Broderick) lipsynched during the parade scene. People can get $10 bleachers, $25 lawn seats or $75 VIP outfield lawn seat tickets. However, the idea of paying to see a movie in October instead of, for example, a Chicago Cubs playoff game is inciting some ridicule from Cubs fans and mockery of Cubs fans.
So, I decided to troll the ESPN story’s comment board for quotes. Here’s a snippet of what’s been said so far:
ImAYankeeFanBUT: why would you want to cram yourself in a urine smelling stadium in the freezing cold to watch a crappy movie?
Gosioux77: YAY! Postseason action at Wrigley!!!! Oh wait…..
tgwelch666: What a rip-off! Proceeds go to the Alfonso Soriano Extrication Fund.
Those are just some of the more “reprintable” quotes. Then, there is this quote from kingofdukezSMH that criticzes the promotion from a different angle:
kingofdukezSMH:”…when I first read they were doing a movie night at Wrigley, common sense told me that either it would be a) free to the public or b) a movie that’s now in theaters…why pay $10 to see a movie you can get from Redbox or Netflix (or buy a copy of) for less? The whole point of going to the movie theater nowadays is because a) you can’t see the movies they have at home and b) movie theaters have Imax/3D.
Even as a White Sox fan, I feel bad for the ACTUAL Cub fans out there (you know, the ones who don’t just go to Wrigley Field to get their picture taken and make @$$es out of themselves…and know who Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Greg Maddux, etc are). As long as there is a contingent of consumer $@%!$@ out there willing to overpay for anything Wrigley-related…you’re in a tough position.”
kingofdukezSMH makes a valid argument about the logic of paying so much to see a movie that could be seen on your local TV station for free. He also notes how “actual” Cub fans should be upset that Wrigley Field is drawing attention not for the talent on the Chicago Cubs but because it is being used as a marketing gimmick.
Yet, even with those arguments in mind, I take a different tack on the situation.
First, I should disclose that I am the type to pay $25 for a lawn seat. Out here in Denver, one of my favorite things to do is catch a Colorado Rockies fireworks game and pay $35 for a pavillion ticket just so I can go on the field. The grass, the dirt, it looks, smells and just plain-out feels great. Then, when the lights go off and the fireworks show goes on, sharing the field with another 30,000 to 40,000 people oohing and aahing is wonderful and an experience I happily pay for. Thus, if you ask whether I would want to see “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, a Chicago movie in Wrigley Field with the lights turned off, clapping and laughing with a larger crowd than what you can pack in a movie theater? Yep, definitely sign me up for that. I might even pay $75 because I’d consider that a lifetime experience. Going to Wrigley Field to enjoy a movie (which I admittedly have seen too many times to count) set in Chicago with fellow Chicagoans is an experience I would pay for. I’ll also throw in the extra possible perks like chatting with people about Chicago, the Cubs, Wrigley Field or the movie before and after the game. Even in modern movie theaters, you don’t get many people standing outside after a premiere and talking about it. Most just walk off. I doubt people would be so in and out at such a showing at Wrigley Field.
Second, the Chicago Cubs are out to make money. I don’t blame them, baseball is a business. Chairman Tom Ricketts did raise some ticket prices in 2010 while keeping the other half of the ticket inventory frozen other half of the ticket inventory frozen. On the other hand, that same Tom Ricketts walks the aisles and the concourses to mingle and question the fans which is a far cry from the entropy the Tribune Company’s ownership brought to Wrigleyville. The Ricketts may have looked (or been) a bit inert while waiting for some untradeable contracts to come off the books but the optimist in me thinks there are better things in store for the future of the Cubs. Given that perception that I have, I much prefer the Ricketts raise money through this kind of a promotion instead of, say, replacing the ivy with advertising, replacing the old-fashioned scoreboard with a blaring “Pick Your Song Sponsored by…” jumbotron or renaming Wrigley Field to Ameritrade Park. And yeah, those kinds of things may still come but if an event like this helps to stall a decision like that just for a year, I’m all for it.
Ironically, people pay even more money for concert tickets at Wrigley Field better watched for free on YouTube than in a public stadium not ideally built for acoustics. Some might argue, given the quality of play, that watching the Chicago Cubs for free on TV is better than paying for the privilege to watch them lose in person. However, the Chicago Cubs hosting this promotion won’t make a difference in their probably abysmal 2012 standings and maybe it’ll give them a few extra bucks to invest into their next contending team.
Continuing the excerpt idea, this takes place chronologically right after Excerpt #2 where Holt meets the scout Jay Olensky again, as well as the Owner of the Portland Roses Steven Kevec and the General Manager Sharon Tate. Yeah, Sharon Tate probably needs a name change and Portland doesn’t have a baseball team, but those little elements make it a bit more sci-fi-ish right?
* (Page 24)
Jay Olensky smiled, arms across his chest, as he looked at Holt standing on the pitching mound at Spike Field, home of the Portland Roses. Even in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, Jay thought, Holt looks at home there. Holt flexed his two fingers over the baseball, wrist tucked behind his lower back.
“That is where you’re meant to be, Mr. Holt.”
Holt flexed his back leg on the pitching rubber, testing it. “Maybe, sir. The draft’s not for another three days and Seattle still has the first pick.”
“Look, Nolan, I can’t speak much about that. There are rules with the draft. So, instead I’ll ask if you want to be a Portland Rose.”
“Sir, it would be nice… Portland has been great to me and Mr. Redman says your franchise has been very proactive in pursuing me. The subtrain ride here, for example… I had never tasted real carrots before.” Holt looked down at the dirt, thinking. “Dirt-Form 3.0. Not many parks have this.”
Olensky nodded, “Memory dirt. The nanotechnology, when treated with radio waves, will imprint the coordinates of each particle of dirt after you sculpt the mound to your liking. Before you take the mound, we hit it with another dose of radio waves and the mound will adjust itself. That data also gets sent to the other major league parks. It’ll return to that shape each time you step on the pitching rubber, even if a baseball kicks off it. Stays dry too, even if it rains.”
“Rain doesn’t bother me, sir.”
“Yes, I know that. But it’s a nice feature to have. Every little bit helps, right?”
“Yes, that’s true.” Holt turned on the mound, looking around Spike Field. Robotic ushers breezed up and down the aisles of the 200,000 capacity stadium. Besides the soft splashing as the ushers washed the seats, the arena was quiet. The holographic scoreboards were turned off, there were no mobile comps darting over the field, and the weather dome insulated sound from the surrounding downtownplex. Holt looked towards the outfield, where red and pink roses draped down in finely divided lanes from the bleachers to the warning track.
Jay stared off to the outfield. “Yes, the roses. Bioengineered to stay in bloom from Opening Day to the end of the World Series. Reinforced stems and petals so that they provide outfielders going to the wall with a cushion, but don’t break off on impact. They also help the field remain carbon neutral by recycling gases given off by the concession grills. The roses are also irrigated by water recycled from everything, the washing of the bleachers, the stadium’s bathrooms, the clubhouse showers. The roses smell quite nice too. One of Steven Kevec’s ideas when he bought the team.”
“Yes, the man who owns Spike.”
Jay nodded, “That, and other things. Besides a businessman, Steven Kevec is one of the world’s biggest philanthropists. When Mr. Kevec bought the team, one of the first things he did was lower ticket prices to $100 for anyone affiliated with education, the police, or senior citizens. He has built three arboretums in the Cascade Mountains. Their seeds will be used to help replant the woodlands. He sends free shipments of Spike to underprivileged families not only in Portland, but to other states such as Seattle and Beijing as goodwill gestures. He has sponsored radiation therapy centers throughout Portland. He has made it his goal that every person in Portland has a comp and that a tenth of Dead Oregon becomes habitable by the end of the year. He’s already halfway to achieving both of those goals.” Jay stepped onto the cusp of the mound, “And he has taken a personal interest in you. He’s become a fan of yours, so to speak.”
“I’ll do my best, sir. If he is able to draft me.”
“I have yet to see Mr. Kevec decide to pursue something and not get it. He’s not the type that just jumps in. He does his homework, so to speak.”
Holt looked up into the stands, surveying the empty rows of open-air luxury boxes. “I’m honored he took the time sir.” He turned to look at Jay, “It sounds like he would be too busy.”
“Life is worth being busy about.” Holt spun around on the rubber. Steven Kevec stood just a foot behind the mound, the dark hairs of his browned arms crossed beneath the third button of his burgundy shirt. A padded black bag was slung over his right shoulder. Just to the right of Kevec stood Sharon Tate, clad in a severe jet executive dress. Jay stepped off the dirt mound.
Holt mumbled, rubbing his thumb over his forehead, “I’m sorry sir… miss. I didn’t know you… you both were there.”
“Steven has a way of getting around.” Tate frowned, her lips touched-up red.
“You must forgive me for startling you, Mr. Holt.” Kevec dipped his head slightly. “Our affairs for the day were over so I thought I would facemeet you.”
“No problem at all, Mr. Kevec.” Holt bowed his head to Tate, “Miss Tate. It’s a pleasure.”
Sharon nodded in return, “Likewise.” Jay nodded to Kevec and then to Tate, the four people arranged in a loose square with Jay’s corner on the pitching rubber.
“So, Mr. Holt, how do you like it here?”
“I have been to games in Chicago before, sir. But being on the field is, well…” Holt took a step off of the rubber. “It’s been my dream to be on a major league field, but it’s still a bit overwhelming, sir.”
“Understandable. But that’s what makes the dream worth working for. Just as I dreamed up and then worked to build this field.”
“And you weren’t worried, sir?”
“Worried might not be the right word,” Kevec flicked his glance over to Tate, “But I was concerned.” Kevec focused back on Holt. “Some people think I shouldn’t spend so many resources on a game.”
“Jay told me you were one of the world’s biggest philanthropists.”
“The world always wants more, though.”
“So that got you… concerned, sir?”
Tate interjected, “Concerned might not be the right word either, right Steven?”
Kevec looked dourly at Tate. “Sharon, please.” He hitched the bag on his shoulder and looked back to Holt. “Yes, there were concerns and not all of them involved the public. Building a dome itself is a major undertaking. Still, I do think about what people think.”
“If I may ask, sir, what did you do about the public?”
“I tried not to listen to the ones who don’t like baseball.”
“So you just ignore them?”
“Mr. Holt, I know you love baseball. I know that you know its history. But, you’re also young. I don’t think you really appreciate what baseball means today and how important that you are to it.” Steven Kevec turned on the mound, pointing past the third-base, a few rows up in the stands. “My dad and I used to sit, about there, in a stadium east of the Rocky Mountains. Coors Field, to be exact. City of Denver, State of Colorado. It was one of the newer stadiums. It held 52,000 people. Open-air. You could see the trains outside the stadium from the concourse.” Kevec shook his head slightly, “That was in the state of Colorado, if you are familiar with it. Dad had season tickets for Major League Baseball at that stadium. He picked those seats so that we could see the game without being blinded by the setting sun. We could see Matt Holliday jog out to left field, see him wave to the crowd as they chanted “M-V-P”. We’d see a rocket shot ball hit just to the right of Troy Tulowitzki, see him dive, almost straight at us and we’d cheer as he gunned the ball back across the diamond for an out. We’d see Todd Helton stand in the batter’s box, see him squint at the pitcher, see him grimace as he pulled a ball into the right field corner. We saw him scream and pump his fists back in October of 2007 when the Colorado Rockies went to the World Series for the first time.” Kevec’s put his hands in his pockets. “And, when Papelbon threw his last pitch of 2007 and tossed his glove in the air, we knew it was the last pitch when that mitt came back to earth and there were no more Rockies stepping up to the plate that year. But, we knew there was always next year.”
Holt saw Olensky’s smile start to fade. Tate clasped her hands behind her back and looked at the grass as Kevec continued, “There were a few ‘next years’ for the Rockies but nothing quite like that one October. Then, there was The Split. Denver was one of the worst hit. In those days, in what was Colorado, they had a United States, er, Federal command center in a mountain, a training academy for Federal Air Force recruits, and nearer to Denver, a Federal Air Force base with classified spy technology oh so innocuously hidden in large structures that looked like golf balls…I mean… weather domes.” The confusion left Holt’s face, his expression downcast. Kevec looked into Holt’s eyes. “Before The Split, a celebrity dancing half-naked made more news than a few hundred people dying in an earthquake. People would spend weeks mourning celebrities who died of drug overdoses, rewriting their histories into legends that were more flimsy than the vids that they acted in. Then, no lesson learned, those same people would go out and party until they too died. After The Split, there was no more Coors Field, no more Denver, and so relatively few people left in general that things like death might’ve finally become important. When mainstream vidfeeds were restored, well, there was no Federal government telling people not to watch what were considered the more violent sports… I don’t even know if they really were that violent. But, all the same, what few people that were left stopped watching them. Indoor sports also lost their appeal. My cousin said the rafters reminded him too much of the gutted cities. Maybe after The Split, people were tired of being reminded they were indoors. Who knows? When I was young, people watched the biggest games of the year for the alcohol ads. Maybe The Split started because people were dying of boredom and needed something to kill time.” Steven Kevec placed his hand tentatively on Nolan Anthony Holt’s shoulder. “But, there it is Nolan. People do want a something, or a someone to look forward to. They want, no, they need to remind themselves that things do change, that there is soil beneath the ash they’ve spent all week shoveling. They all want something different, whether it’s baseball or an arboretum or an alcoholic binge, they want a break from the normal. Today, the normal is for people to stay inside and comp each other or to put on their suits, pull down their visors and get Reconstructing. Yet, they can’t do that every minute, every day, so they seek an escape, a future, a dream worth working for. Those that are baseball fans, they catch a bus or a subtrain to a baseball game. Why? Well, maybe for the older ones, they want to remember what it was like to be in an open-air stadium. For the younger ones, maybe it’s more of a fantasy, kind of like a trip to Disneyunderland except nothing in a baseball stadium is mythical. Everyone knows it is possible, it just takes work. And so, they work.”
Kevec unslung the bag from over his shoulder and zipped it open.
“So, Mr. Holt, you love baseball and you are good at baseball, so that will be your work. You throw that baseball, you hit that baseball, and you catch that baseball. I will be here, watching you and remembering the times when a blinding sun was a mere annoyance.”
Kevec reached into the bag and pulled out a forest green bottle of Spike and extended it to Holt. He looked down at the beverage, then up at Kevec and nodded politely as he took the bottle and pulled the straw out of the top. Holt took a sip, felt the cool liquid rush down his throat, the scent of trees wafted back up through his sinuses. He felt his cheeks warm, as if he was outside in the sun and that very sun had finally remembered how to kiss the planet tenderly. Holt smiled, he sat down on the mound, he stretched in the dirt and looked up into the clouds. Kevec, and then Olensky, and then Tate, they joined him on the mound, with Spike in their hands and they drank quietly.