(Minimum 500 innings caught in 1998)
In last year's Baseball Scoreboard, we joked that we were considering renaming the Best-Throwing Catchers Award in honor of Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. Well, if anything would push us to do just that, it would be Pudge's superb performance in 1998. Rodriguez not only led the American League in caught-stealing percentage for the fourth consecutive year (and the fifth time in the last seven), but he also outpaced his competition by a phenomenal margin, posting a success rate 13 percentage points better than his closest competitor.
Take a look at the following chart. It lists the runners each catcher caught stealing (CCS), the stolen bases (SB) while he was behind the plate, the caught stealing percentage (CS%), the runners he picked off (CPk), the stolen bases allowed per 9 innings (SB/9), and the runners caught stealing (PCS) and picked off (PPk) by his pitchers.
|Alomar Sandy Jr.||CLE||24||67||26.4||0||0.65||4||2|
In case you need to be impressed further, we'll also inform you that Pudge picked seven runners off last season. Only one other catcher in the majors racked up more than two pickoffs (San Diego's Carlos Hernandez with four). Is it any surprise why Rodriguez continues to win Gold Glove after Gold Glove?
The Tampa Bay duo of Mike DiFelice and John Flaherty may not have been very dangerous with the bat -- the two made up a platoon combination that hit just .217 with six homers and 47 RBI -- but they were far more deadly behind the plate than in front of it. The tandem gunned down 55 of 152 runners attempting to steal, for a mark of 36.2 percent. Now if only the Devil Rays could get a little offense out of those guys.
One of the things we like to examine in this essay is the impact of a team's pitching staff. A catcher's percentage can sometimes fluctuate wildly if the hurlers he's working with keep their runners rooted on the bag or forget entirely about them until they cross the plate. The Expos' Chris Widnger was the worst in the majors at throwing out runners in 1997, and teammate Darrin Fletcher wasn't much better. Between the two of them, they threw out only 30 of 217 (13.8 percent) runners attempting to steal! With both Montreal catchers faring very poorly, we placed a fair amount of the blame on manager Felipe Alou and his pitching staff, but we also noted that Widger was a rookie who could improve substantially. That turned out to be exactly the case, as Widger posted a mark of 29.3 percent in 1998. That actually ranked him in the top half of major league backstops.