In Defense of Chris Coste

3 Feb

also available at www.SethSpeaks.net -

Good morning everyone. And Happy Birthday to Phillies catcher Chris Coste! During December’s Winter Meetings, the Pirates and Phillies completed a minor deal. The Phillies acquired catcher Ronny Paulino in exchange for former catching prospect Jason Jaramillo. The Twins Geek asked me at the time if it might mean a new role, or even a new team, for Chris Coste, the Phillies backup catcher the last three seasons. I really didn’t think much of it. Paulino is a AAAA type of catcher who doesn’t hit enough and really doesn’t field very well either.

 

Why would a Minnesota Twins blogger care about the backup catching situation of the Philadelphia Phillies? Well, for those that are unaware, or haven’t noticed the Chris Coste Updates on the left side of this screen, I had the incredible opportunity of playing baseball at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, for two years. At the time, he was a 3B and a pitcher, a three-time conference MVP and a three time Division III All-American. I played 3B which meant that I got to watch Chris Coste play a lot of 3B. The benefit was getting to take a lot of groundballs together. Chris is a great guy, and I was thrilled when, after living the life of a minor league journeyman for a dozen years, he was called up to the Phillies in May of 2006. His book, The 33 Year Old Rookie, came out last March, and it is excellent. I definitely would recommend it to everyone.

 

Back to the situation at hand, the Phillies acquired another catcher with big league experience. Mike McFeely of the Fargo Forum wrote on his blog A McFeely State of Mind an article stating that the trade could cost Coste his job. At the same time, during the rumor mill that is the Winter Meetings, there was talk of Coste potentially being traded. His name was mentioned with the Florida Marlins, the Baltimore Orioles and with the San Diego Padres. The latter was later denied by the Padres. The reason? The Padres were concerned about Coste’s defense.

 

His defense? I started thinking about it and noted that during the second half of the 2008 season, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would frequently use starter Carlos Ruiz as a 9th inning defensive replacement when Coste started. Why? Well, the thought is that Ruiz is the better defensive catcher, and when you have got Brad Lidge and his monster slider on the mound, they would want their better defensive catcher.

 

I just kind of shook my head at this, and figured it was time to do a little bit of research. I know that there has always been a perception that Coste is an offense-first catcher. If you read his book, he talked about being hurt in his minor league career by being so versatile, by being able to play catcher, first base, 3B and even the outfield. Coste always considered himself a catcher who could play other positions, but that he is a very good catcher. So, again, I thought taking a look at the numbers would be appropriate. From having watched the Phillies on many occasions over the past two or three years, my thought would have been that Ruiz was a more “natural” catcher, whereas Coste appears mechanical and very fundamentally sound. There is no way to measure it statistically, but it appears that Coste does a great job of framing pitches and call the game where Ruiz makes things look really easy behind the plate. If I were to hypothesize what the statistics would tell us, I would guess that Ruiz would have better numbers. In reality, this research is not done to say that Chris Coste should be a deemed a Gold Glove catcher. In fact, I have read quotes that Coste considers Ruiz a great friend and teammate and he enjoys watching him catch. So I am not even saying that he should be starting for the Phillies. I think my main point in doing this would be to point out that Chris Coste’s defense should not be considered a liability, but in fact, a strength.

 

So, I went to The Hardball Times and found their Catcher Statistics. I then sorted by the number of innings caught in 2008 and will look at only the top forty. Chris Coste and his 613 innings caught ranks 29th. Now before going further, I need to point out that catcher statistics are difficult to interpret because many of them are dependent upon others. Let’s start with arguably the worst catcher statistic, Caught Stealing Percentage. (Note – Ronny Paulino caught 210 innings in 2008 for the Pirates.)

 

Caught Stealing Percentage – This is a bad statistic because it is dependent upon the pitcher on the mound, his move to first, his pitch repertoire, his control and several other variables. Chris Coste threw out 15.4% of would-be base stealers in 2008. That ranks 35th out of the top 40 catchers. However, Carlos Ruiz threw out just 17.7% Former Twin AJ Pierzynski was ranked the lowest, throwing out just 9.4% Joe Mauer threw out 26.4% Leading the list was the Yankees Jose Molina who threw out 43.2% To show how random this stat can be, I don’t think anyone would consider Jason Kendall or Victor Martinez good throwing catchers, but in 2008, Kendall threw out 39.6% (in 2007, he threw out just 15.3%) and Martinez threw out 31.2%

 

Although the number is not impressive, Coste threw out the Mets’ Jose Reyes three times, including once from his knees. He has also thrown out his former teammate Coco Crisp from his knees. Carlos Beltran is successful 88% of the time he attempts to steal bases (89% over the last three seasons), and Coste has thrown him out. Given a legitimate opportunity, Coste has a strong and accurate arm. Maybe even more impressive, there is a stat from Baseball Prospectus that no runner had been caught stealing with Brad Lidge on the mound since August of 2005. Late in the 2008 season, with Lidge on the mound, Dan Uggla was thrown out attempting to steal by Chris Coste.

 

Stolen Base Attempts per Game – This may be a more telling story. If teams believe that a catcher can be run on, they are more likely to run. Just makes sense, right? Of the top forty catchers in 2008, the average SBA/G is 0.733. Chris Coste’s is 0.76 and is tied for 20th of the 40. Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies starter, is run on at a rate of 0.86. Twins Fans, Joe Mauer ranked fourth at 0.52 which basically means that one runner will attempt to steal a base every 18 innings when Mauer is behind the plate. Brad Ausmus leads the way at 0.36, and as you would expect, the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina is at 0.44. On the other end of the spectrum, Ramon Hernandez was 40th at 1.04. (Note – Ronny Paulino threw out 25.8% of base runners, but his SB/G was at 1.07.)

 

So controlling the running game is one part of what a catcher does. Another job of a catcher is to keep the ball from getting past him on every pitch. Simply stated, a big part of a catcher’s job is to catch the ball. In reality, the one thing that a catcher can actually control is the number of Passed Balls he allows. In 613 innings in 2008, Chris Coste had just one passed ball, which was by far the best rate in baseball. Wild Pitches are tough to judge. A catcher obviously attempts to save his pitcher of as many wild pitches as he can. However, if a curveball bounces on the plate, or in the batter’s box, there isn’t much the catcher can do. Have you seen those Brad Lidge sliders? Being able to block 99% of them in the dirt is pretty impressive. In Coste’s case though, it seems as if he can block 999 in a row, but when he lets one slip by, it is ‘because he isn’t a top-notch defensive catcher.’ Right? By the way, the research shows that Brad Lidge threw five wild pitches in 2008, four with Carlos Ruiz behind the plate. Again, this isn’t saying that Coste should be the starter, but it does make you wonder why Charlie Manuel would find it necessary to replace Coste with Ruiz in late-season, late-inning situations.

 

WP+PB/G – Wild Pitches PLUS Passed Balls per Game – Of the Top 40 catchers in 2008, Chris Coste ranked #4 at 0.235. Ahead of him were Jason Varitek (0.233), Kurt Suzuki (0.207) and Brad Ausmus (0.205). Carlos Ruiz came in at 0.25 which was sixth overall. Joe Mauer ranked 12th at 0.329. Brandon Inge (0.565) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (0.562) filled the final two spots on the list. Ronny Paulino was at 0.312.

 

Catcher ERA – This is another statistic that is difficult to read into too much. Rod Barajas of the Blue Jays led the majors with a catcher’s ERA of 3.32. However, the pitchers throwing to him included Roy Halladay, AJ Burnett and when healthy, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum. Chris Coste’s Catcher ERA was 3.97 which was good for 14th. Carlos Ruiz was 10th at 3.85. But then you have to note that Ruiz got to catch Cole Hamels while Coste got to catch Adam Eaton., and the struggling Brett Myers. That alone could make up the difference. For your information, Joe Mauer ranked two spots behind Coste, with a 4.22 CERA. The Worst? Brandon Inge’s came in at 5.67. In 39th was the Tigers new catcher Gerald Laird at 5.21. Of course, that has a lot to do with catching for the Rangers. So it won’t surprise you that Saltalamacchia came in at #38 at 5.14.

 

Summary – There is some perception around the game that Chris Coste is somehow subpar defensively. Now catcher’s statistics have to be taken for what they are, and we have to understand the limitations that each presents. However, by looking at these statistics, I think we find that Chris Coste is, at worst, an average big league defensive catcher. He has thrown out some of baseball’s best base stealers. Teams do not run on him excessively when he is behind the plate. He had the best Passed Ball rate of the forty catchers with the most innings caught. He is one of the best at limiting wild pitches too. What’s not to like?

 

In an excellent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Paul Hagen, Coste explained, “Baseball people have always assumed that I was a weak defensive catcher, and once the label of poor defense was attached it became nearly impossible to shake. I could block a thousand dirt balls in a row, but the first one that gets by me is the one people will remember.

 

He continued, “Believe me, I don’t claim to be a defensive wizard. I am Carlos Ruiz’ biggest fan. He deserved to be the World Series catcher and deserves to be the starter in 2009. I do know that I’m far better than what people think.”

 

NOW DON’T FORGET THE BAT! – Now, we have alluded to the fact that Coste is perceived to be a very strong offensive catcher, but let’s take a couple sentences and just remind people of just how good. In 601 career at bats (essentially one full season), he has hit .288/.338/.449 with 34 doubles, 21 homers and 90 RBI. I think that is a very strong statement. I would think that most Major League Baseball teams would be happy with a backup catcher who can do what Chris Coste can do. In fact, I would venture a guess that there are several big league teams that would be happy if he was their regular catcher.

 

The Phillies are in a good situation behind the plate. Carlos Ruiz is a solid major league catcher, particularly defensively. Chris Coste is a very good offensive catcher, and I think the numbers today show that he is no slouch behind the plate or calling a game either. Good teams, playoff teams, are generally good because they have strong pitching. But I think more than that, some of the credit for the good pitching has to be given to good catching. Likewise, the Twins are in a great situation behind the plate. Joe Mauer is as good as it gets offensively and defensively. Mike Redmond has proven year in and year out the value of a solid backup catcher. Jose Morales is not a bad #3 guy, if he could only stay healthy. The sky is the limit for Wilson Ramos. And maybe some of these defensive metrics help better explain the value in a catcher like Drew Butera.

 

Here are the defensive statistics (Hardball Times Catching Stats) for the Top 40 catchers by Innings Caught.

 

Year

Last

First

Tm

Lg

Inn

SBA/G

CS%

ERA

WP+PB/G

2008

Ausmus

Brad

HOU

NL

570

0.36

17.4%

3.71

0.205

2008

Suzuki

Kurt K

OAK

AL

1215

0.53

22.5%

3.86

0.207

2008

Varitek

Jason

BOS

AL

1041

0.60

18.8%

3.66

0.233

2008

Coste

Chris R

PHI

NL

613

0.76

15.4%

3.97

0.235

2008

Martinez

Victor

CLE

AL

447

0.64

31.2%

4.31

0.241

2008

Ruiz

Carlos

PHI

NL

828

0.86

17.7%

3.85

0.250

2008

Barajas

Rod

TOR

AL

785

0.68

28.8%

3.32

0.264

2008

Mathis

Jeff

LAA

AL

793

0.83

21.9%

3.66

0.272

2008

Martin

Russell N

LAN

NL

1238

0.63

19.5%

3.63

0.298

2008

McCann

Brian M

ATL

NL

1143

0.90

18.4%

4.25

0.315

2008

Baker

John D

FLA

NL

496

0.83

13.0%

4.23

0.327

2008

Mauer

Joe

MIN

AL

1203

0.52

26.1%

4.22

0.329

2008

Kendall

Jason

MIL

NL

1328

0.62

39.6%

3.85

0.332

2008

Johjima

Kenji

SEA

AL

833

0.77

26.8%

4.57

0.335

2008

Pierzynski

A.J.

CHA

AL

1134

0.84

9.4%

4.23

0.341

2008

Molina

Yadier B

STL

NL

1002

0.44

30.6%

4.22

0.350

2008

Soto

Geovany

CHN

NL

1150

0.68

20.7%

3.80

0.352

2008

Hundley

Nicholas

SD

NL

486

1.02

23.6%

4.76

0.352

2008

Snyder

Chris R

ARI

NL

923

0.67

29.0%

3.83

0.361

2008

Navarro

Dioner F

TB

AL

1011

0.62

35.7%

3.90

0.365

2008

Shoppach

Kelly B

CLE

AL

873

0.48

21.3%

4.37

0.392

2008

Treanor

Matt A

FLA

NL

525

0.96

21.4%

4.61

0.395

2008

Schneider

Brian

NYN

NL

881

0.59

27.6%

4.11

0.419

2008

Bako

Paul

CIN

NL

771

0.88

26.7%

4.36

0.420

2008

Rodriguez

Ivan

DET

AL

706

0.62

34.7%

4.24

0.421

2008

Laird

Gerald

TEX

AL

753

0.87

27.4%

5.21

0.430

2008

Torrealba

Yorvit

COL

NL

581

0.88

21.1%

5.13

0.434

2008

Buck

John R

KC

AL

950

0.63

10.6%

4.55

0.436

2008

Molina

Jose

NYA

AL

737

0.90

43.2%

3.69

0.440

2008

Nieves

Wil

WAS

NL

450

0.96

18.8%

4.60

0.460

2008

Iannetta

Chris D

COL

NL

837

0.53

16.3%

4.61

0.462

2008

Molina

Bengie

SF

NL

1128

0.80

32.0%

4.30

0.471

2008

Zaun

Gregg

TOR

AL

612

0.76

23.1%

3.81

0.485

2008

Hernandez

Ramon

BAL

AL

1039

1.04

17.5%

5.01

0.485

2008

Napoli

Mike A

LAA

AL

625

0.88

14.8%

4.45

0.490

2008

Flores

Jesus M

WAS

NL

673

0.78

19.0%

4.51

0.495

2008

Doumit

Ryan M

PIT

NL

909

0.82

18.1%

5.07

0.525

2008

Olivo

Miguel

KC

AL

494

0.56

38.7%

4.42

0.546

2008

Saltalamacchia

Jarrod S

TEX

AL

464

0.91

14.9%

5.14

0.562

2008

Inge

Brandon

DET

AL

494

0.66

27.8%

5.62

0.565

 

Any thoughts? Leave your comments here.

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7 Responses to “In Defense of Chris Coste”

  1. greenmachine February 3, 2009 at 9:06 pm #

    Right on Seth, take it to the haters.

  2. Tom February 3, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

    Started following your website this summer – enjoy it.

    Hey, I played at NDSU and overlapped with Coste (my end, his start), so bit older.

    Hadn’t thought about it before and waiting for you to mention in your nice detailed article (I’m analytical so liked it) – Coste and third base — Twins?

  3. Tom February 3, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    third catcher help make Gardy happy. Can play lots of positions – good Gardy guy, and probably cheap -

  4. J. Lichty February 4, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    I always thought that when Coste was stuck in the minors given that he can play 3b and catch (Gardy collects catchers) that he would be a perfect fit for the Twins.

    I was very surprised that they never tried to get him as they also like guys with local ties.

  5. Rosterman February 4, 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    Coste would be a ncie pickup for the Twins if they didn’t already have Redmond, with Morales and Drew Butera at AAA and Ramos on-the-line.

    Noticed that AAAA Ryan Jorgensen retired rather than play for Cincinnati AAA-ball. Considering the Reds let Javier Valentini walk — and he signed a minor league deal with the Nationals — a switch-hitter with a decent bat and okay defense. I know Corky Miller is still out there, Chad Moeller signed with the Orioles. Coste should find work — I mean Inge and Detroit?

    But, hey, Rodriguez is still unsigned. What’s going on with the catcher market? Even with LeCroy off the table and now managing…there should be dynamite jobs for reliable abck-up catchers, especially if they can play other positions.

  6. Clint February 4, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    Like previous comments, I think Coste would be an excellant pick-up for the Twins. I’ve secrectly wished it for years. It would allow Redman and/or Mauer to DH, backup spot start at 3rd, and play some 1st for Morneau the 2 days a year he needs a break. Also a RH PH and insurance for Mauers legs and Redmans aging body.

  7. Ruth February 5, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

    Yes! Let’s start a campaign to bring Chrsi Coste to Minnesota!

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