Catchers and Game Calling
Keith Woolner really broke the ground here with his article several years ago, Field General or Backstop? He didn't find anything, but set a framework that can be modified, and looked into with further detail. I started a similar study, focusing on things catchers might have an effect on if game-calling were a skill - strikeouts, walks, HBP, homeruns, line drives allowed, and popups. I figure groundball and flyball results are heavily dependent on the defense, but since linedrives are almost always hits, and popups are as good as strikeouts, let's see if a catcher has any effect on these.
But this study is a lot of hard work. To even begin to see if there's a skill, I'll have to control for park and league effects. Kevin Brown's record with Paul Lo Duca in LA and Jorge Posada in NY makes Jorge look like a terrible catcher, but it's probably just the difference of pitching in the AL East vs Dodger stadium.
I think Tango Tiger has a catcher study coming up in this year's Hardball Times (I have an article as well on History's greatest defenders). I'll wait to see what he does before putting too much effort in this.
The first question remains, is catcher game-calling a skill? Can we expect certain catchers to be better than others? And if we ever find that it is, the next question is, how much does it matter? Are we talking 2 runs a year, or 25?
I'm sure if Scott Boras had his team do a study and found a big skill for Jason Varitek, we'd have heard about it, but with the unadjusted numbers, Varitek looks pretty bad. Probably not his fault though, pitching in Fenway Park is not easy.