21 May 2018

Chance Sisco: Anatomy of a Thrown Out Runner

When Chance Sisco was drafted, he was noted as being a rather novice when it came to the defensive responsibilities of being a catcher.  His skills were uniformly seen as below average, but the potential for him to make those skills adequate was a divisive question among scouts.  Our own research found that poor defensive catchers generally do not make it to the majors, primarily because they are unable to acquire adequate defensive skill.  As Sisco rose through the minors, the common refrain was that he was improving, but he was not adequate.  More specifically, it was considered that his framing and blocking was adequate, but his movement from behind the plate was not ideal.

Last Wednesday, Sisco was challenged and this is what happened:

That marked the 18th time someone ran on Sisco and the ninth time he was able to contribute to a caught stealing.  For players with 150 IP, here are the leaders in % Caught Stealing (as of 5/17):
Name Team % CS
Salvador Perez KCR 63
Jett Bandy MIL 57
Matt Wieters WSN 50
Chance Sisco BAL
Mike Zunino SEA 43
J.T. Realmuto MIA 42
Luke Maile TOR 40
Jason Castro MIN
Pedro Severino WSN 39
Francisco Cervelli PIT 39
That looks fairly impressive and I think it is good to break down what happened in the video above.

So what are the parts of attempting to throw out a baserunner: lead control, hand break to plate, location, pop time, throw, and catch and tag.  Of those parts, the pitcher is in control of the lead and hand break to plate.  The middle infield is responsible for the catch and tag.  The catch is responsible for his pop and throw.

When it comes to lead control, there are a mix of opinions.  Many pitching coaches despise the pickoff throw.  They think it increases pitch count, messes with mechanics, can indicate when a pitcher is actually pitching more easily, and simply does not work.  This perspective usually involves a long staredown (a la Mike Mussina) or simply never really looking over and letting the catcher call a pickoff move.  The other view is the concept on continual disruption to get the runner out of their rhythm.  The Orioles appear to be a team that does not pick off much, and even if they did, it does not appear to help catchers all that much.

In the 1980s, a revolution was afoot.  Dick Bosman, former Orioles pitching coach, was trying to figure out how to limit damage inflicted on his team by the running game.  In the 1980s, running was a major element of the game with several seasons where someone would steal over a hundred bases.  Bosman realized that as pitching coach, he had trouble encouraging catchers to get off their throws and began tinkering with a pitchers time to plate.  What he realized is that a pitcher could use a quick side step and not lose all that much velocity.  He was able to reduce the time a pitcher got the ball to the plate from his hand break from over two seconds to well under two seconds.  From all appearances, it seems the Orioles still retain that perspective.  It is a concept that is loudly preached in the organization.  This helps a catcher quite a bit.

Another thing that can help a catcher is where pitches are thrown.  Dick Bosman has another story regarding the great Ivan Rodriguez who was known as a dominant force against baserunners.  He noted that IRod would call pitches high and outside to put himself in better position to throw runners out regardless of the impact on the at bat.  Eventually, hitters wised up and began expecting those kinds of pitches.  For years, the Orioles have done this.  Pitch maps are all over the place, but when a runner is alone at first, the pitches rise with greater frequency.  From what I can tell on Sisco's successes, he often gets these pitches when runners run.

This brings us to pop time, the time it takes to receive the ball and deliver it to your middle infielder.  Here is a smattering of pop times with ranks (using Baseball Savant).
Name  Team Pop Time Rank (41) MPH
JT Realmuto MIA 1.85 1 88
Gary Sanchez NYY 1.95 4 87
Welington Castillo CHW 1.96 6 80
Matt Wieters WAS 1.99 15 79
Buster Posey SFG 2.01 21 83
Caleb Joseph BAL 2.03 24 78
Omar Narvaez CHW 2.06 31 80
Chance Sisco BAL 2.08 36 78
Kurt Suzuki ATL 2.15 42 81
Sisco has one of the weaker arms in baseball behind the plate.  Of those 41 catchers, only AJ Ellis, Brian McCann, and Tony Wolters get less velocity on their balls.  What is the difference between a Chance Sisco soft-tossed 78 mph pitch and a Jorge Alfaro 91 mph burner?  About 0.07 seconds.  In other words, about 16-21% of the pop time has to do with getting the ball in the air to second.  The rest is getting into position to throw and exchanging the ball from glove to hand.

When we look at positioning, Sisco is better.  Whereas his arm strength is 38th out of 41, his positioning into a throw was 23rd out of 41.  That is below the mean, but not off by much.  Getting the ball out of his glove and into the air?  That is 34th out of 41.  All of that is below average and paints a terrible picture for what he has control over. 

One thing is not being measured though: the placement of his throws.  I do not have the data, but Joseph does an excellent job with his accuracy and delivers the ball well for the middle infielder to use.  I am unsure where it is on purpose, but he seems to hit the lip of the infield grass so that it is delivered right for a tag.  That is what we see in the graphic above.

That leads us to the catch and tag, which is something either the Orioles make a point to find in a player or teach in a player.  JJ Hardy, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, and Ryan Flaherty.  They all were excellent at receiving a ball and putting a tag down.  I am not familiar enough with the others yet to deliver anything near decisive.

So what does this all mean? 
Name Team % CS SB/9 Att/9
Russell Martin TOR 23 0.91 1.19
Matt Wieters WSN 50 0.51 1.02
Jonathan Lucroy OAK 31 0.69 1.00
Jorge Alfaro PHI 29 0.68 0.96
Chance Sisco BAL 50 0.47 0.94
Tony Wolters COL 33 0.58 0.88
Luke Maile TOR 40 0.51 0.85
Caleb Joseph BAL 21 0.67 0.84
Pedro Severino WSN 39 0.50 0.81
Robinson Chirinos TEX 8 0.74 0.81
Above you see the top ten catchers for whom the most stolen base attempts are made (at least 150 innings played this season).  For whatever reason, teams are running on Chance Sisco.  It may be that teams see the problems he has and are willing to send runners who have no business being sent to second.  It may be that Sisco indeed places his thrown balls well and that value of that is underrated.  It may be that his %CS will catch up to him.

Regardless, there are good reasons to doubt Sisco as being effective long term against baserunners similar to how Joseph was initially incredible at throwing out runners his first year, too, and is now fairly unimpressive.  My guess is that we will eventually see teams be slightly more selective running against Sisco and perform much better.

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