Bill James on Fielding, Part 8

As I mentioned in my last entry in this series of posts about Bill James’ new series of articles, Bill has unveiled the 25 best-fielding catchers of all time — according to his new methodology, that is — along with the 10 worst-fielding, and Roy Campanella came out on top.*

* If you want to know what made Campanella so great, a certain longtime teammate shared some vivid memories.

Before I move along to Bill’s next article, I do want to mention Brad Ausmus again.

Ausmus comes in sixth on Bill’s list, with a .782 winning percentage. Except that’s really tied for fourth, because while Johnny Bench and Elston Howard are listed ahead of Ausmus, they’re at .782 also. I think it’s fair to say there’s no meaningful distinction between them, plus Ausmus caught more games than both Bench and Howard; about a season’s worth more than Bench, and about five seasons more than Howard. So it’s easy to argue that Ausmus is actually the fourth-greatest defensive catcher of all time, at least among those with at least 1,000 games caught (Bill’s cutoff). Behind only Campanella, Yadier Molina, and Hall of Famer Ray Schalk (whose Hall of Fame case does look more convincing now than before, to me anyway).

But Bill’s using only the statistics that have historically been available for everyone. Which means he’s not explicitly considering pitch-framing. As we saw a couple of months ago, though, Ausmus seems to have been an exceptional pitch-framer. Now, Bill’s methodology does implicitly consider pitch-framing. Sort of. Each catcher’s final score is based on weighted values, and 15 percent of Ausmus’s score is team strikeout-to-walk ratio … which is largely going to result from the qualities of the pitchers on his team, but (presumably) will also include some of his pitch-framing skills.

Enough, though? I sorta doubt it.

It’s hard to get much better than fourth, and maybe Ray Schalk was also tremendous at stealing strikes. But based on everything we know, I think it’s quite safe to suggest that Ausmus does belong in the highest echelon of glove men, and probably deserved more than the three Gold Gloves he actually won.