Is Tomoya Mori the PL’s most valuable catcher?

i. value
So often the postseason awards are pretty routine. Evaluate a player’s contribution one way or another, and vote for the players you think contributed the most wins to their team’s record over the season. Sure, there are people like my buddy John Gibson who, from my standpoint, complicates matters by asking whether those games played are meaningful and whether that player was essential to the team’s success. I don’t really understand the concepts he is arguing so, I’ll leave them there.

Once on our podcast, I posited the question of who is the most valuable? Well, I’m no economist, but it seems one way to measure value is the resources one is willing to expend to acquire something. In that mind, I thought if you knew everything about a player except their age and what they had done in previous years — how well they fielded, how hard they hit the ball, how well they threw and ran, their leadership and makeup. Then ask yourself, if you were an owner trying to fill your roster and could choose from all the available players that season and had to buy them in an auction with other owners, who would you spend the most money on for your team? Wouldn’t that player be your choice as most valuable? If you said, ‘not necessarily, because a player who didn’t contribute as much was more valuable’ then you are arguing that your team would be better with people who do less to win.

That doesn’t mean we have to agree. How do you understand and value leadership, versatility? I doubt anybody sees those things the same way.

ii. Tomoya Mori
I use Bill James’ win shares as kind of a pickax to answer these questions. It’s not really definitive for reasons anybody who uses them knows, but its a nice way to eyeball disparate seasons by players at different positions.

This brings us to the Seibu Lions’ slugging catcher Tomoya Mori. By win shares, Mori is by far the most valuable catcher in Japan — because of his huge offensive value. He also gets points for being really good at throwing out would-be base stealers. He gets 21 win shares, 18.5 from his bat, 2.2 from his fielding — the worst total of any team’s No. 1 catcher. His closest PL rival this past year was Tatsuhiro Tamura of Lotte with 9 win shares, most from defense.

The first issue is Mori the DH. He spent half of his at-bats for the league champs as DH. but he was a lousy DH. As a catcher, he had a .396 OBP and a .497 slug over 341 plate appearances — better than most teams get from their DH. Ignoring his DH offense, he’s still more valuable just from the time he spent in his 81 games behind the plate than any other catcher in Japan. But that’s win shares.

If you look at how opposing hitters performed against different Lions catchers, Mori, Ginjiro Sumitani and Masatoshi Okada, it sure looks like Mori is costing the Lions runs every game he catches. We can throw out the games pitched by Seibu’s two top starters, since Yusei Kikuchi pitched almost exclusively to Sumitani, while Shinsaburo Tawata threw all his pitches to Mori. Lefty Daiki Enokida was caught by Mori and Sumitani in even ammounts, while Ken Togame split his workload between Mori and Okada. The rest of the pitchers were fairly mixed between the three.

The image below shows the batting results for each pitcher and catcher — ignoring stolen bases and caught stealing — with the runs created and the outs from those results.

When Mori caught Ken Togame, opposing batters created 6.25 runs per 27 batting outs. With Okada catching, that figure was 3.93.

When Mori caught Daiki Enokida, opposing batters created 4.64 RC per 27 outs. With Sumitani catching it was 2.94.

Against other pitchers, mostly relievers, opposing batters had 5.40 RC per 27 outs, 4.92 against Okada, and 5.12 against Sumitani.

There may be reasons why these results occurred. If Mori WAS the reason opposing hitters created a half a run more per 27 batting outs against him than they did when his teammates were catching, the value of his offense as a catcher comes close to being a wash.

We don’t know that IS true, but I believe it might be. That being said, Mori is really, really valuable, because A, he can really, really hit, he throws out base stealers and can catch the ball, and the same can’t be said for lots of players. This might be an anomaly or there might be a cause for it that can be addressed and might learn to be a better receiver. But I’m not going to give him my Best 9 vote this year.

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