Johnson, Bedard, Washburn, and Big Games Baby

=== CERA in a Vacuum ===

In a vacuum, you wouldn't use "catcher ERA" as the sole basis of any important decisions. 

Over one year, even over two years, you might very well see "noise" create a low CERA for your inferior catcher and a high CERA for your better catcher.  The "noise" can include tons of things -- which catcher drew better-hitting lineups, which catcher lucked into a better BABIP, which catcher drew which pitchers facing which "favorite" lineups, etc. 

Did your backup catcher get Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn when they were facing lineups with 5 lefties in them?  CERA doesn't adjust for any of that.


=== A-L-L the Data Must Fit a Scientific Discovery ===

The problem is that we tend to see a *difficulty* with using a statistic *in a vacuum,* and then we completely throw it out.  We forget to use it as one piece of evidence in a well-rounded discussion.  

When we do throw out ERA, RBI, CERA, HR, or whatever because we've "outgrown" these stats, we position ourselves to pick-and-choose stats that confirm the assumptions we've already made.


The other day we saw an argument that Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn don't matter much (!) "because the team's 2009 W/L record in their starts is actually worse than when they don't start."  

I had to blink and re-set to "rational response."  Okay.  Are we saying that we don't expect Erik Bedard to have a higher chance of winning NEXT month than Garrett Olson would?  

Bedard, the last four years, is 39-22 (equivalent to a 104-58 season) and in 2006-08, that was for Baltimore and Seattle teams that lost -95.7 games per year.   Without him, his teams were 100+ loss catastrophes; with him, they were 104-win titans.  

But in his first 11 starts this year, the Mariners are only 6-5, so really we should realize he doesn't matter that much....


Picking and choosing.  We've all got the tendency to select the stats that "confirm" our preconceived biases.

It's not that we USED to use biased arguments, before we learned better.  We are, as of July 7, 2009, all human beings who have preferences and who use our logic and intelligence to reinforce those preferences.  That's fine, but let's not kid ourselves that we're coming up with "correct" evaluations any more than we used to.


If you have discovered that the Earth revolves around the Sun, then ALL available data will show itself consistent with that reality.  (Some might *look* inconsistent, but will be explainable.)   When they thought the Sun revolved around the Earth, 95% of the data was consistent with that...

It's verrrrrrrrrry tough to ask the question, "If I were wrong, how would I know?"  But without it, we don't have science and even worse, we don't have the search for truth.  We just have arguing.


=== Pendulums and Overreactions Dept. ===

CERA shouldn't be used in a vacuum, but it shouldn't be ignored because we've outgrown it, either.

Ever since Bill James pointed out, in the 1980's, that catching impact was overrated, sabermetricians have rushed to argue that it doesn't matter *at all.*  That's the syndrome that we've repeated 100's and 100s of times since 1985.


Right now, Rob Johnson's CERA is 2.80, and Kenji Johjima's is 4.93.  Those numbers are NOT happening in a vacuum, but if they were, our reaction would still be, "Let's investigate that further."

When we did, we would find that (1) in 2008, CERA's did not reflect the same thing, since Johjima's CERA was a little (.2 to .4 runs) *better* than everybody else's; (2) in 2007, Johjima's CERA was far (1.2 runs) worse than everybody else's; (3) in 2006, Johjima's CERA was far (1.2 runs) worse than the backup's; over his career, Johjima's CERA has been about 1 run worse than his backup's.


The 4-year numbers don't occur in a vacuum, either.  The pitchers on the field have routinely told us that they pitch much better when catchers other than Johjima are behind the plate.  

This is like a tennis player telling us repeatedly that that he doesn't play well on grass, and then our checking the numbers and finding out he is in fact lifetime .850 on clay and .490 on grass.   At that point, if I keep ignoring the player's OWN reports of why he plays lousy on grass, it is ME being Neanderthal, not the player.   At that point, I need to just stop, and ask that tennis player exactly WHY he loses on grass.

The pitchers tell us that Johjima doesn't call pitches to their strengths.  Johjima tells us that he calls pitches to the batters' weaknesses.  This is the disconnect.

I'm heavy into game theory, and I believe that a Master Of The Game BECOMES GOOD ENOUGH that he is comfortable tailoring his attack to the opponent's weaknesses.   I think that this defines mastery -- that you have all weapons at your disposal and you tailor them to the fluid circumstances emerging.

American pitchers do not pitch that way; in this sense they are less accomplished than Japanese pitchers.  But Johjima's attempts to adjust have been disastrous.  They would be for me, too.  If I tried to awkwardly start adjusting my chess, or aikido, attacks based on what I like to do, as opposed to "echoing" my opponent's mistakes, I would play terribly.  Johjima calls pitches terribly, because ignoring the batter is extremely awkward for him.

Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer pitch the "Japanese", or Game Master, way.  If Johjima called pitches for them, they would probably love him.

And we're not trying to disrespect American pitchers.  Felix pitches in a "devolved" way, throwing what he wants to throw, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't beat Team Japan.  He probably would.  Mike Tyson and George Foreman dictated the fight to their opponents.  I'm not saying that you can't play that way.


As I've said before, I don't suspect this is fundamentally Johjima's fault.  I think it's fundamentally everybody else's fault.  That's a silly thing to say, but it's occasionally a TRUE silly thing to say.  Check Johjima's CERA in the WBCs that Japan always wins.

As San-Man notes, sometimes it's not a manager's fault that a clubhouse quit; it's 25 players' fault.  The logical, and sad, thing to do is to change the manager.

I think that Johjima is, in a very real sense, too highly evolved to catch in America.  But that comes down to the same thing:  he should leave America, and go catch in Japan where he is appreciated.

As you know, we mean it benevolently.


=== The 2009 Stretch Run ===

Last week, my 17-year-old son learned how to use 

I showed him the 2001 Mariners :- ) and all those winning streaks.  He sat and stared open-mouthed at the league standings ... the A's won 102 games and finished -14 games back.  The Yankees won 95 and finished -21 behind us.


I explained to him about 25 Honda Civics against Clemens, Mussina and Pettitte in a short series.   Baseball history is Sandy Koufax vs Bob Gibson, Dave Stewart vs Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson vs Pedro Martinez.   It isn't Endy Chavez vs Joe Blanton.  There is a REASON all those big games had all those big pitchers.

Cy Young starters aren't less important than we think.  They're more important than we think.

Is a baseball season about the pennant, or isn't it?  Then don't bring knives to a gunfight.  Bring Felix and Erikkkk.

My $0.02,



glmuskie's picture

So he breaks down more frequently than some other pitchers.  Do you want to win the race, or not?  What do you want,  23YO horse of a phenom who never breaks down?  Well we got one of those too.
Bedard is a seriously effective WEAPON that a manager can send out and KNOW that the other guys are going to be having fits.
Wash has been great, and this resurgence is wonderful.  For him, the team, everyone.  He's re-invented himself with his flipper pitch, sorta, as Chien-Ming Wang (3K's last night in 9 IP).
So let's not get carried away, and let's not forget that Bedard is one of the best lefties in the game, and Wash is a step below that.


There are lots of great pitchers who had to be deployed very gingerly.  Pedro Martinez leaps to mind, albeit he had more durability than Bedard has show so far.  There's nothing wrong with paying a guy the 15 mil per year he's worth in part time play if he's actually worth that in real value dollars...the fact that he hits the DL around mid-season every year with some minor problem shouldn't deter you.

glmuskie's picture

And here's the other thing...  Players can and do go through periods in their career where they are injury-prone, and when they're not.  Carlos Guillen comes to mind.  Labeled as a softie who couldn't stay healthy (despite playing for a period of time with TB), he became pretty reliable and productive for the Tigers.
Bedard had his shoulder cut open oh, 8-9 months ago.  He could have a stretch for a few years where his body is at peace, he's not overused, and he stays away from the DL.  You just can't predict this with pitchers.

Anonymous's picture

Coming from a respectable 5-4 road record, I expected the negative view on Johjima would be reduced. Out of the 5 wins, he started 3 of the games while Rob caught Felix for the other 2. But what are highlighted? 1) In game threads, it was his GIDP his very first AB coming from a DL stint. Nevermind that what he does admiringly is never mentioned - he gunned down Pierre later in that game; nevermind that he GIDP at a lower rate than Rob (per PA). 2) His PB during the last game. Nevermind that the game was virtually over (7-4) with just 6 outs at that point; nevermind that he actually has PB at a lower rate (per inning) than Rob - Rob would actually have even more PBs if at least one of the 2 WP by Felix in the previous game was scored a PB (in my (untrained) eyes, the first one should have been PB).


I've said multiple times that Johjima's bat is hot right now, that Rob Johnson is a poor defensive catcher when it comes to the kinds of things that show up in the catcher-specific defensive stats, and that neither is a good long term solution behind the plate.
And you do have to admit that Johjima has a maddeningly regular tendency to hit two hoppers right to the third baseman.  There's a reason I started calling him "groundball to third" way back in 2007.

Anonymous's picture

I just said the expected negative view on Johjima will be abetted somehow coming from a "successful" road performance. That's all. I can't see how my comment  could illicit a "Come on now"  response.


For our part, we really meant to tackle the question of "is Rob Johnson a catching genius?" and it morphed into an assessment of who should start.
Johjima, thankfully, actually seems to be catching a lot less heat in 2009 than he used to.  Wakamatsu snuffed Carlos Silva hard when Silva tried to ignite the old barbecue and Joh has had a lot more peace this year.
In Joh's defense, we did note that although the Mariners have allowed far more runs in his starts, they have also SCORED far more.  That's important, and interesting.  Why should the M's have scored 2 more runs per night in Johjima games?  Is that caused by the same things that cause the higher CERA?
:shrug: the pitchers continue to let us know that they think that they can pitch better with Johnson back there.  Their perception, in and of itself, is important.

Sandy - Raleigh's picture

Great article, Doc.  Captures my thinking almost perfectly. 
That said - I found it curious that you only mentioned K/BB when discussing "how would I know".  The first T in TTO stands for Three after all.  In previous seasons, the big slosh with Joh was BABIP - which skewed badly against Joh.  But, BABIP is viewed as a luck-driven stat, so it's not unreasonable to lay out some extra line.  But, in 2009, the HR rate for Joh has been nightmarish - (41 HRs by Joh in 31 games -- 29-HRs with Johnson in 42 games). 
The other thing (refering to the Johnson thread), is that you said RJ's K/BB isn't drastically better.  I'm looking at the 2009 stats on 7/8.  What do they show?
Johnson: K/BB = 2.38 ... Johjima K/BB = 1.59 ... Burke K/BB = 1.79 (only 12 games).
If a .81 edge in K/BB isn't big, what is?  The LEAGUE difference for best to worst K/BB is 1.58 for Cleveland up to 2.39 for the Twins.  The difference between Joh and Johnson is LITERALLY the difference between the best and worst teams in the AL in terms of K/BB.  The aggregate pitching numbers for Seattle are 1.94, (just a smidge under the league average of 1.99).  The PITCHING, taken as a whole, is average.  With Johnson, they become the best in the AL, with Joh, they become the worst.  How could that NOT be viewed as significant.  For me, the adjective I would use is massive.  (Of course, it's pretty clear that the blame is divisible almost 50/50.)  It's not that Johnson is lightyears ahead of EVERY other catcher -- but evidence suggests he is currently an "elite" game-caller, while Joh would have to be viewed as the polar opposite - "replacement level" game-caller. 


++That said - I found it curious that you only mentioned K/BB when discussing "how would I know".++
Sure... there might be many, perhaps 100's, of ways to prove me wrong... K/BB would be the first place I'd look, is all we mean...
And I didn't even look at K/BB.  I looked at K's.  Eyeballing those, the K/IP looked about the same for both.
Putting the numbers out there, you demonstrate that the K/BB *do* show a huge edge for Johnson.  So, the question remains open as to whether Johnson's a catching genius.  ;- )
You opine that Johnson's an elite defensive catcher.  That re-opens the question for me.
Thanks pardner.

Add comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><p><br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.


  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.