September 23 – Behind the 8 Ball

Here’s an excerpt of today’s Penning Bull, on the Angels’ long odds in the AL Wild Card race.

Maldonado is a different story. He didn’t fail early, and he wasn’t displaced. In fact, he made a huge positive impact. He does absolutely everything well behind the plate, from framing to throwing to blocking pitches in the dirt to calling the game to fielding bunts and dribblers. The Angels were 11th in catcher Fielding Runs Above Average last season, according to Baseball Prospectus, where those numbers include all of those elements (except game-calling). This year, they’re second, and they have Maldonado to thank. 
That’s the good news. The bad news is that they have lacked catching depth all season, leading manager Mike Scioscia to ride Maldonado extremely hard. Only Yadier Molina (which, that’s another conversation we’ll have soon) has caught more innings than Maldonado this season. As the season has worn on, Maldonado has worn down, and not in a small way. Since August 1, he’s taken 135 plate appearances, and batted .171/.201/.287. (I double-checked because I didn’t believe it, either.) He has 41 strikeouts and one walk during that period. A regular member of any lineup carrying a .201 OBP is almost inexpressibly damaging (although I guess I’m trusting that choice of words to express the damage, more or less). The Baseball Gauge at keeps a statistic called Championship Win Probability Added (cWPA), which is basically what it sounds like. It calculates, for every plate appearance a batter takes, how much that situation stands to affect the outcome of the game, and then how much the outcome of the game stands to affect the probability that that team will win the World Series. Then it assigns a value to whatever the player does in that plate appearance, based on run expectancy models. Maldonado’s -0.017 cWPA, then, essentially means that he’s made the Angels 1.7 percentage points less likely to win the World Series with his offensive performance this year. That’s incredibly hard to do, for a team whose odds of winning the Series have been slim all along. Only two position players have lower cWPA this season, and remember, most of this lost value has come in the last seven weeks. Maldonado was hitting .239/.307/.401 at the trade deadline, which is more than enough production from such a solid defensive backstop.

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