Handling Hurlers: Hanigan Helps, Hernandez Hurts


I touched on this topic not too long ago. At the time, Ramon Hernandez was on an absolute tear at the plate. My overall conclusion was that both catchers should see significant playing time, because both catchers contribute in their own way. However, Travis Wood had another bad start yesterday with Ramon Hernandez behind the plate. This prompted me to do some more research on how the Reds pitchers are performing with each catcher behind the plate.

At this point, there seems to be enough data to draw legitimate conclusions about the catchers’ effect on the pitchers. In 2010, the Reds ERA was 3.36 with Hanigan behind the plate and 4.80 when Hernandez was catching. That translates to nearly 1.5 runs per game difference in favor of Hanigan. This year, the difference in ERA in not nearly as dramatic, but significant nonetheless. For the year, Reds pitchers are posting a 4.11 ERA with Hanigan behind the plate and a 4.82 ERA with Hernandez.

Surely, some of this is influenced by the fact that Hernandez has caught the majority of games started by Edinson Volquez. Yet, Hanigan has caught every start by Bronson Arroyo, who has been absolutely terrible this year. In order to get a better idea of the catchers’ effect on pitching performance, let’s take a look at how individual pitchers are performing, based on who’s behind the plate.

Travis Wood

Wood’s starts have been nearly evenly split between Hanigan and Hernandez. Hanigan has been the catcher in 7 of Wood’s starts, while Hernandez was behind the plate for 6 of Wood’s starts. Here are Wood’s splits by catcher.

Catcher             IP            ERA        SO/BB   OPS
Hanigan             39.1        5.03        3.20        .723
Hernandez          33           6.55        1.40        .983

While Wood’s ERA is pretty bad no matter who is behind the plate, he’s certainly been much better with Hanigan. The strikeout-to-walk ratio is particularly telling. Likewise, opponents are posting an OPS well below league average against Wood when Hanigan is behind the plate, while putting up a Votto-esque OPS against Wood with Hernandez behind the plate.

Mike Leake

Leake has pitched in relief and as a starter, with most of his innings coming with Hernandez behind the plate. While the sample size isn’t as large as Wood’s, the trend continues…

Catcher             IP            ERA        SO/BB   OPS
Hanigan              7.2          3.52        4.00        .902
Hernandez          40.2        5.31        2.20        .764

Again, Hanigan has caught Leake for only 7.2 innings. While the opponents are posting a higher OPS against Leake when Hanigan catches, the ERA is much lower, and the SO/BB ratio is, once again, dramatically different.

Edinson Volquez

Again, we run into sample size problems here. Hernadez has caught all but one of the games started by Volquez. Still, guess who was behind the plate when Volquez had his best start of the season… You guessed it, Ryan Hanigan.

Catcher             IP            ERA        SO/BB   OPS
Hanigan              5.2          4.76        2.33        .781
Hernandez          45.1        6.55        1.31        .818

The Others

Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto have been the Reds’ two best starting pitchers this year. Hanigan has caught every start by Bailey while Hernandez has been behind the plate for every start by Cueto. These two youngsters have posted very similar numbers, suggesting that when a pitcher is “hot,” the catcher has very little effect on performance.

So, Travis Wood is really the only starting pitching with significant innings split between the two catchers. His splits by catcher mirror the overall data compiled over the last two seasons. Based on this data, I think it’s fair to conclude that the Reds pitch much better when Hanigan is behind the plate. They post a lower ERA, better SO/BB ratios, and a lower OPS-against.

Certainly Hernandez has proven himself as an above-average major league catcher. But Devin Mesoraco is on fire at AAA. If teams come calling about a trade involving Ramon Hernandez, the Reds should listen.