Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/11/14
At one point last season, the Pirates were 63-47, right in the thick of the National League playoff race. They were in excellent position to finish at .500 or above for the first time since 1992; they just needed to win 18 of their remaining 52 games. They won 16 of their remaining 52 games and really Pirates’d everything up. What happened to the Pirates? Well, you can’t blame their inability to stop the running game, according to Rod Barajas, reasonably: “Is (allowing stolen bases) the reason why we’re not winning? Absolutely not,” Barajas said. “The first half we weren’t throwing anybody out, either, and you didn’t hear anybody complaining.” The Pirates didn’t lose because they couldn’t stop the running game, but they really couldn’t stop the running game. The numbers say that Michael McKenry threw out 13 of 74 would-be base-stealers, and that’s bad. The numbers say that Rod Barajas threw out six of 99 would-be base-stealers, and that’s much much worse. That’s arguably the worst throwing season in catcher history. Of course, a lot of this is out of the catchers’ hands, but they’re the ones who have to wear the statistics. Rod Barajas has to wear some humiliating statistics. I was curious to learn more about Barajas’ 2012 successes in the throwing department. If he was having so much trouble gunning runners down, what on earth did the runners who made outs look like? Of note is that Barajas doesn’t have a track record of having a pathetic arm. In his first year as a professional, he threw out 34 of 74 runners. His success rate in the minors is 38%. His success rate in the majors previous to 2012 was 31%. It wasn’t entirely Barajas’ fault that opponents ran wild in 2012, but still I craved video of his infrequent triumphs. I noted that Barajas threw out six runners. Here is a list of relevant information: April 13, Nate Schierholtz, James McDonald pitching April 30, Michael Bourn, James McDonald pitching July 6, Justin Christian, Juan Cruz pitching July 13, Nyjer Morgan, Brad Lincoln pitching August 5, Ryan Ludwick, A.J. Burnett pitching August 27, Jon Jay, A.J. Burnett pitching I loaded all the video prepared to make .gifs so I could write something about Barajas or the runners or both. While conducting research, though, I stumbled upon an unexpected and astonishing discovery. I still made .gifs, and we’ll proceed in order, beginning with April 13. April 13 This is just a clean caught-steal. Barajas caught an offspeed pitch and threw a strike to the side of second base, where Josh Harrison applied a tag to Nate Schierholtz. Nothing special. You might remember this game as the time Matt Cain threw a one-hitter, and the one hit was a single by James McDonald in the top of the sixth. James McDonald is a career .097 hitter. April 30 It’s a terrible throw on an apparent attempted hit-and-run. Rod Barajas still throws Michael Bourn out, but replays show that the call was wrong, and that Bourn was actually safe. Subtract one from Barajas’ success column. This is what it looks like when Michael Bourn complains and Rod Barajas watches on: Barajas doesn’t look like a man triumphant. This is because he was not one. He was a man fortunate. July 6 Perfect throw. Great job, Rod Barajas! July 13 Nearly perfect throw. Great job, Rod Barajas! August 5 Wait, that can’t be right, the numbers credit this caught-steal to Rod Barajas. Barajas wasn’t in any way involved, as this was a successful pickoff by A.J. Burnett. Ryan Ludwick would reach base again in this game, drawing a walk in the ninth, but he didn’t try to run anywhere. Ludwick made one out on the bases. It had nothing to do with Rod Barajas, but credit was given to Barajas anyway, mistakenly. August 27 Holy crap, it happened again. In 1969, Joe Torre threw out six would-be base-stealers, while three base-stealers were successful. Rod Barajas is credited with having thrown out six of 99 would-be base-stealers for the Pirates in 2012. Among catcher-seasons with at least 40 attempted steals, Barajas caught the lowest rate of runners since at least 1956. But when you take a closer look at Barajas’ six successes, some things stand out. One was the direct result of a blown call. Two were pickoffs that didn’t even directly involve Barajas in the play. From looking at Barajas’ six successful caught-steals, we can identify, in truth, three successful caught-steals. Making Barajas and the Pirates’ pitching staff out to be even worse. Of course, for a proper evaluation, we’d have to look at the 93 successful steals against Barajas, to check for blown calls in the other direction. I’m not personally interested in doing that right now, and I’m guessing I never will be. This is where I’m content to leave off: in 2012, by the numbers, Rod Barajas had maybe the worst catcher-throwing season ever. And there’s reason to believe the numbers are skewed in Barajas’ favor, masking an only uglier truth. What happened to Rod Barajas wasn’t all Rod Barajas’ fault. I’d say it wasn’t even mostly Rod Barajas’ fault, since a slow pitcher is a slow pitcher and no catcher can throw hard enough to make up for that. But what happened to Rod Barajas has also been understated by the statistics. It’s almost impossible to believe. The whole situation in the first place is almost impossible to believe.
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