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Miller Crossing
2004-11-28 00:09
by Mike Carminati

Sheez, I post a fluff piece to pass off some research on the novelty of Damian Miller playing in Miller Park as an analysis of his career, and people actually hold me to it.

Well, I think the most interesting thing in the Miller signing is how it affects the A's. The Miller signing itself was somewhat ho-hum. I think my quickie analysis showed that Miller was one of the better catchers in baseball basically because of his defense as opposed to his just-average offense.

The one thing I did question was the wisdom of locking up a 35-year-old catcher for three years (though only two guaranteed). So how risky is that, in general?

Since Miller just turned 35 in October, I looked for all of the 34-year-old starting catchers in baseball history (minimum of 80 games behind the plate). Then I tried to determine how effective those catchers would be over the next three years. I averaged the games played and OPS for those players for any years that they were active. I prorated the total Win Shares over three years, even if the player was not active for those years. The reason for this was to determine the player's worth to his team over three years (ergo Win Shares), but the other stats totals only made sense as an average. (Note that Brent Mayne, who was 34 in 2002, and Brad Ausmus and Dan Wilson, who were 34 in 2003, are not penalized for the years that they have yet to play: their Win Shares are averaged over the years yet far that they have been active). Then I took the difference between their Win Share total in their 34th year and compared it to their 35-37 average. I ranked them by the difference:

34-year-old catchers34th yr3-yr avg
Chad Kreuter1999101.627365.75774
Benito Santiago1999107.6917116.716103
Ernie Whitt1986129.77413130.770163
Birdie Tebbetts1947109.6239110.761123
Deacon McGuire189893.633887.720102
Walker Cooper1949117.74413109.796152
Carlton Fisk1982133.74019131.813201
Brent Mayne200299.619598.61461
Charlie Bennett188982.624865.66080
Dan Wilson200396.6117103.61570
Spud Davis193985.740678.73560
Rick Cerone198883.686780.6986-1
Rollie Hemsley194196.614670.5835-1
Billy Sullivan190997.400458.5113-1
Rick Ferrell194099.705998.6288-1
Rick Dempsey1984108.67610105.6688-2
Luke Sewell1935112.69412105.63610-2
Oscar Stanage191795.522557.5923-2
Paul Richards1943100.6041178.6269-2
Smoky Burgess196192.8511390.74610-3
Bob Boone1982143.64713144.5899-4
Mickey Owen195086.591458.5240-4
Heinie Peitz190587.548540.6251-4
Sandy Alomar Jr.200095.728878.6784-4
Tony Pena1991140.6129100.6235-4
Jim Hegan1955111.632983.6135-4
Steve Yeager1983112.635759.5503-4
Alan Ashby1986103.7051173.6567-4
Darrin Fletcher2001129.628545.5771-4
Ron Hodges198396.691664.6151-5
Chief Meyers191596.6221076.6215-5
Ernie Lombardi194285.88616112.77911-5
Walter Schmidt1921111.6281065.6415-5
Frank Gibson192586.715742.6522-5
Jim Sundberg1985112.6891188.6626-5
Johnny Roseboro1967107.7231399.6488-5
Buck Martinez198385.790975.5814-5
Claude Berry1914122.6248100.5162-6
Ellie Hendricks197583.696826.8012-6
Wally Schang1924108.8091691.80910-6
Brad Ausmus2003143.59412129.6316-6
Gabby Hartnett1935110.94926106.86720-6
Gary Carter1988119.6591281.6476-6
Bill Dickey1941104.7881784.83510-7
Clyde McCullough195187.8061058.6703-7
Phil Masi1950114.7561157.7083-8
Al Lopez1943116.6591487.6306-8
Don Slaught1993105.7961462.7416-8
Ray Mueller1946100.6951258.6254-8
Roy Campanella1956121.72712103.7034-8
Terry Steinbach1996137.87118116.72110-8
Johnny Edwards1972105.7321265.6393-9
Terry Kennedy1990103.7121069.6221-9
Mike Heath1989117.6971186.6072-9
Aaron Robinson1949108.8251585.6926-9
Andy Seminick195593.7291134.4751-10
Bubbles Hargrave192792.7631355.7123-10
Chief Zimmer189584.8841764.6977-10
George Gibson1915118.6491124.8191-10
Yogi Berra1959116.80923108.75713-10
Elston Howard1963132.86928129.70717-11
Sherm Lollar1959122.79623110.71412-11
Bo Diaz1987137.7221568.5422-13
Lance Parrish1990131.7892474.7067-17

Of the 64 catchers on the list, just 11 witnessed either an improvement or at least no decline in their Win Share total. A number were fairly recent players, so maybe the trend is becoming less pronounced, but most catchers declined by an average of 5 Win Shares (from 11 to 9 in year one—2 WS—, to 7 in year two—4 WS—, and then to 6 in year three).

More significantly, those catchers played an average of just 82 games, or 25 fewer than in their 34th year, and that ignores those player-years when the players were inactive/retired. If you add in those years, the players averaged just 73 games.

So is three mil a year a bit steep to pay for what amounts to a bad gamble? I would think so, at least for the Brewers where that would constitute about ten percent of their 2004 payroll. Even so, Miller will probably be a major upgrade over the Chad Moeller and Gary Bennett rotation that the Brewers employed last season. The more's the pity.

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