(Minimum 500 innings caught in 2000)
The King is dead. Long live the King.
Well, he isn't really dead, but after leading all major league catchers in caught-stealing percentage for five straight seasons, Ivan Rodriguez has been dethroned as the King of this category.
To be fair to the game's premier backstop, Rodriguez' 2000 campaign ended in late July with a fractured thumb. While Rodriguez was healthy, opponents smartly avoided running on him. The minuscle total of 34 attempted steals demonstrates how his mere presence on the field deters the running game. He allowed just .24 stolen bases pewr nine innings in 2000, far and away the lowest number of steals per nine among all catchers who caught at least 500 innings last summer.
Take a look at the following chart. It lists the runners each catcher caught stealing (CCS), the stolen bases (SB) while he was behind the plate, the caught stealing percentage (CS%), the runners he picked off (CPk), the stolen bases allowed per 9 innings (SB/9), and the runners caught stealing (PCS) and picked off (PPk) by his pitchers.
|Alomar Jr. Sandy||CLE||21||75||0.219||0||0.83||2||1|
The new caught-stealing king in 2000 was Milwaukee's Henry Blanco, who took over a majority of the Brewer's catching duties after he arrived from Colorado in the four-team Vinny Castilla trade a year ago. Blanco gave the Brewers the defensive component they were looking for in a catcher. He posted a solid .991 fielding percentage and threw out 57.6 percent of all baserunners trying to steal.
Interestingly, the runnerup to Blanco also changed teams prior to the 2000 season. Mike Matheny moved from Toronto to St. Louis via free agency, and reached career highs in games played, hits, doubles, RBI, walks and the three hitting percentages. He topped his career year with a stellar .994 fielding percentage and a 51.1 percent success rate in nailing opposing baserunners.
Other than Pudge Rodriguez, Brad Ausmus is the only other catcher to return to the top five in this category from the 1999 season. [See 1999 Thieves] Ausmus boosted his caught-stealing percentage from 35.2 percent in '99 to 43.2 percent last summer. While Blanco and Matheny played on new teams in 2000, Ausmus makes his move this offseason. In December 2000 he was dealt from Detroit to Houston in a six-player trade that shipped young backstop Mitch Meluskey to the Tigers.
When it comes to stopping the running game, the Astros win out by dealing for Ausmus. Meluskey's caught-stealing percentage in 2000 was below the league average at 22 percent, and he allowed a very high .74 stolen bases per nine innings. Ausmus, on the other hand, ranked second behind I-Rod by giving up just .31 steals per nine.
Now that we've come back to Pudge, look for a healthy Rodriguez to return to the top of the pack in catching basestealers during the 2001 campaign. After all, in the five seasons prior to 2000, his league-leading caught-stealing percentage inched upward each year to a career high 52.8 percent in 1999. He retired more than half of all baserunners attempting to steal against him in the three years prior to last season, and in both '98 and '99 his lead over the second-best catcher at nailing basestealers was more than 14 percentage points.
So, to Henry Blanco, who suffered a rotator cuff injury late in 2000 that remains a concern this spring, we say, "Long live the King."