Thursday, January 08, 2004

It's a rainy January day here in Houston, when a young man's fancy turns to...Brad Ausmus??

Brad Ausmus's re-signing with the Astros (1 mil '04, 3 mil '05) has been a hotly debated topic in the past month or so. I'd like to take an in-depth look at what he brings to the Astros.

First of all, and there's no getting around this, Ausmus was an offensive sinkhole last year:

He posted a .229 / .303 / .291 line in 450 at-bats last year.


Those numbers are good for a 594 OPS, a .209 GPA (courtesy of Aaron Gleeman), and a .209 EQA (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)

Regardless of the metric used, Ausmus was awful at the plate last year. However, (and this better be a big however, when you're slugging .291) he is still excellent defensively. I don't think anyone would argue that he saved the Astros runs last year with his defense. But how, exactly, do you measure this?

1. You stop the running game.

Ausmus threw out 37 of 105 runners this season, a 35% caught-stealing rate. This is down from his best years (2000, 2001) where his CS% was around 50%, but it's still fairly good. How good? Other catchers and their CS% in 2003:

Bengie Molina 44%
Toby Hall 43%
Charles Johnson 42%
Paul LoDuca 41%
Damian Miller 39%
Brandon Inge (Ausmus's successor in Detroit) 36%
Brad Ausmus 35%
Ivan Rodriguez 33%
Ramon Hernandez 33%

Anyway, you get the idea. Ausmus was slightly-above league average in CS%.

2. You call a good game.

This one's almost impossible to measure. Yes, you can look at CERA (Catcher's ERA), but Ausmus (whose CERA was 3.68) caught a disproportionate number of innings by Oswalt / Lidge / Dotel / Wagner, while rarely catching Jeriome Roberston, for example. What can't be argued is that Astros pitchers and pitching coach Burt Hooton have universally praised Ausmus for handling the pitchers well. One thing that can't be measured by good ol' statistics is the confidence that Astros pitchers have to throw pitches that other catchers might not be able to handle. Lidge's slider comes to mind. Maybe that doesn't make much of a difference, but maybe it does.

3. Baseball Prospectus 2001 said that the Astros signing Brad Ausmus was a hidden cost of having Jeff Bagwell on your team. I don't think there's any doubt that Bagwell and Biggio like playing with Ausmus. In addition, having a respected guy like Brad Ausmus behind the plate surely helped the Astros land Andy Pettitte. Again, neither of these factors can be measured, but they should both be mentioned.

4. Finally, it's not like the Astros have Mike Piazza sitting on the bench. John Buck, catching prospect of the future, has yet to have a full year at AAA. Raul Chavez has a career 658 OPS. There aren't significantly better options in-house; we could make a trade for a catcher, but the Astros seem reluctant to do so.

In the end, despite Ausmus having reached near-useless levels at the plate (he did post a 344 OBP in the 2nd half last year), I think he's worth retaining. He's still a defensive asset, he's well-liked, and he's not costing us that much. I do wish we had only signed him for one year with a club option for the 2nd, though: I think John Buck should be ready next year.

Well, that's it for now. Hopefully Ausmus can put up something like a 240 / 320 / 330 line this year, rebounding to his 2002 level. I think we'd all take that. In the meantime, think of him as a hidden cost of having Bagwell / Biggio / Pettitte - when you think of him that way, it's not that big of a cost to pay. Plus, as my Mom says, 'He's so cute.'

Tomorrow: Football playoff preview!

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