Updated: December 20th, 2013 2:08pm
Wetmore: The best word to describe Kurt Suzuki's defense is 'capable'

Wetmore: The best word to describe Kurt Suzuki's defense is 'capable'

by Derek Wetmore
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The Twins will reportedly bring in free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki on a one-year deal. It's not yet clear if the veteran catcher will become the starter behind the plate, or if he's an insurance policy to Josmil Pinto. Joe Mauer is no longer a catching option after moving to first base.

Pinto is more intriguing offensively but Suzuki is more of a known commodity. It would appear the Twins hope Pinto, who had a strong September, can be the catcher of the future. Pinto performed well with the bat in the minor leagues in 2012 and 2013, but there seem to be questions about his defense.

Enter Suzuki. At the very least, a competent fill-in behind the plate to allow Pinto to ease into a full-time role. We'll first look briefly at Suzuki's offense before getting to what might be more important, his defense.

Suzuki's last decent season with the bat was in 2009, when he hit .274/.313/.421 in 614 plate appearances for the Athletics. The average catcher that season hit .254/.322/.396. He's good a limiting strikeouts (career strikeouts rate of 11.9 percent - in line with the 2013 seasons of Buster Posey and Denard Span).

Not one time in the four seasons since 2009 has Suzuki performed offensively as even a league-average catcher. That sample size comprises 1,817 plate appearances, so let's agree this move hinges on defense.

Methods to evaluate catcher defense are ever-improving but admittedly imperfect.

Several things are important to consider, but the holistic picture is difficult to quantify: holding on base runners/throwing out would-be base stealers, blocking pitches, framing close pitches and the immeasurable but frequently discussed 'handling a pitching staff.'


Among free agent catchers this offseason, Suzuki ranks as slightly below average for framing pitches, according to Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs. Sullivan used tracking information from StatCorner, which suggests Suzuki costs his pitcher a strike about once every three games.

Controlling the run game:

Suzuki caught only 748 innings in 2013 but he was pretty bad at nabbing base stealers. He threw out eight runners in 65 attempts (12.3 percent). (Joe Mauer, by comparison, threw out 17 runners in 40 attempts (42.5 percent) in 90 fewer defensive innings in 2013.) Suzuki's career numbers, however, are much better than his 2013 performance. 

For his career, Suzuki has thrown out 159 of 610 attempted base stealers (26.5 percent). Mauer has thrown out 181 of 545 base runners (33.2 percent).  

It should be noted that teams generally run less frequently against catchers who are exceptionally good at throwing out base stealers.

Handling the staff:

This aspect, in my opinion, is immeasurable. Suzuki played with two very good pitching staffs in Oakland and in Washington. It's likely impossible to assign credit in correct proportions to pitchers and catchers for their tandem roll in getting out batters. The widely held belief is that pitchers are the far more important part of the equation.

Blocking pitches:

Suzuki had three passed balls in 748 defensive innings in 2013. In nearly 7,000 innings for his career, Suzuki has 36 passed balls called against him, or an average of about one passed ball for every 191 innings. That's slightly lower than Mauer's career average (one passed ball every 197 innings).


The Twins likely are getting a catcher who is below average with the bat and who is capable defensively.

It's a solid, relatively inexpensive move to ensure Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer won't be counted on. It's certainly a defensive upgrade over what Ryan Doumit would have provided, if he caught any innings for the Twins in 2013. The Twins opened up a spot on the roster Thursday by trading Doumit to the Braves, and didn't sit around waiting to agree to terms with a veteran catcher.

Derek Wetmore is the senior editor for 1500ESPN.com. His previous stops include MLB.com and the Minnesota Daily.
Email Derek | @DerekWetmore