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June 8, 2013

Overthinking It

This Week in Catcher Framing, 6/8

by Ben Lindbergh

In the comments section of a post at Tom Tango's site about Max Marchi's "Retroframing" article, commenter "pm" asked:

Is there any evidence that batters subconsciously know which catchers are the good framers and the bad ones? Is there a difference in swing rates with both groups? Do hitters swing at more borderline pitches with good framers and lay off the borderline pitches of bad framers?

I took a quick look at this with Ryan Lind. Here's a scatterplot of the 79 catchers with at least 1000 borderline pitches, defining "borderline" as 0-2 inches off the edge of the strike zone (in any direction). Batter swing rate is on the x-axis, and catcher ratio between pitches outside the zone called strikes and pitches inside the zone called balls is on the y-axis.

The correlation between the two is 0.31. The five at the top right who have high ratios and swing rates are Erik Kratz, Chris Stewart, Carlos Corporan, Ryan Hanigan, and Brian McCann. If you remove those five, the correlation is still 0.20. The outlier on the left is Bengie Molina, who wasn't quite the framer his brothers are (but was still pretty good, from what we can tell).

It's not conclusive, but it does seem like there might be some slight tendency for batters to swing more often at borderline pitches with a good receiver behind the plate.

***

2013 League Leaders (Out-of-zone strikes and in-zone balls, not adjusted for other factors)

The Best (min. 80 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Hank Conger

74

40

1.85

Jonathan Lucroy

261

159

1.64

Martin Maldonado

81

58

1.40

Brian McCann

99

77

1.29

Erik Kratz

151

118

1.28

Jose Molina

149

118

1.26

David Ross

86

69

1.25

Evan Gattis

103

88

1.17

Francisco Cervelli

73

63

1.16

Yadier Molina

235

207

1.14

The Worst (min. 80 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Ryan Doumit

34

116

0.29

Jesus Montero

52

149

0.35

Kelly Shoppach

65

149

0.44

Rob Brantly

103

231

0.45

Henry Blanco

32

71

0.45

George Kottaras

30

66

0.45

Wilin Rosario

115

240

0.48

Gerald Laird

43

89

0.48

Carlos Santana

107

215

0.50

Miguel Olivo

44

86

0.51

As you probably know from previous articles, Max Marchi has a framing model that adjusts for many factors Ryan's and my simple OZoneStrikes/ZoneBalls method doesn't: count, umpire, pitch type, batter, etc. The problem (for my purposes) is that Max's code is set up to run on a monthly basis, and it takes a lot of processing time, so I can't use it for This Week in Framing, at least right now. However, we did a quick check to see how closely the two methods agree.

The correlation between the two methods for 2013, through the end of May, was 0.44, which is actually fairly strong given the sample size. The larger the sample size, the stronger the correlation. If we compare catchers with at least 1000 called pitches this season, the correlation rises to 0.48; at a minimum of 2000 pitches, it's 0.52. (The correlation between Max's method and Mike Fast's method, when Mike checked in 2011, was 0.86, but that was with a sample of 80 catcher-seasons.) Of the top 10 framers by Max's method, five were also in the top 10 by Ryan's and my method (Jose Molina, David Ross, Erik Kratz, Yadier Molina, and Francisco Cervelli), and of the bottom 10 framers by Max's method, five were also in the bottom 10 by ours (Chris Iannetta, Kurt Suzuki, Matt Wieters, Ryan Doumit, and John Buck).

So while we're using an extremely stripped-down methodology for this series, I'm confident that it's doing a decent job of distinguishing between successful and less successful receivers.

This Week in Jose Molina, 5/30-6/05

Weekly Net Strikes: -1
Weekly Playing Time: 3 G, 3 GS, 25.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 38 G, 32 GS, 270.0 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 31

A lackluster week for Molina, but with a few highlights, as usual. All three of his best frames come from the June 4th game against the Tigers, when umpire Chris Conroy was willing to give him the high strike.

3. Date: 6/4
Batter: Prince Fielder
Pitcher: Cesar Ramos
Umpire: Chris Conroy
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 90-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.219 feet

Fielder had words with Conroy after this one.

2. Date: 6/4
Batter: Avisail Garcia
Pitcher: Matt Moore
Umpire: Chris Conroy
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 92-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: .241 feet

Garcia was no happier to see this pitch called a strike.

1. Date: 6/4
Batter: Victor Martinez
Pitcher: Matt Moore
Umpire: Chris Conroy
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 84-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: .345 feet

The highest of all.

It's not as if Conroy was calling all pitches in this location strikes. Those two were the only ones Moore and Molina got:

And Anibal Sanchez, who was starting for Detroit, didn't get any called strikes above the zone:

Of course, he didn't have Molina.

This Week in Jonathan Lucroy, 5/30-6/05

Weekly Net Strikes: 34
Weekly Playing Time: 6 G, 6 GS, 52.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 47 G, 33 GS, 393.0 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 102

Lucroy's best week yet. Two of his three best frames were also two of the week's three best by any catcher.

3. Date: 6/3
Batter: Coco Crisp
Pitcher: Burke Badenhop
Umpire: Jerry Layne
Count: 3-1
Pitch type: 89-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.434 feet

Lucroy delivers a strike that looks a lot like the ones we see in this section week after week, and Crisp checks his ball-four bat toss.

2. Date: 5/31
Batter: Kevin Frandsen
Pitcher: Burke Badenhop
Umpire: Phil Cuzzi
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 89-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.480 feet

A little lower still, as Badenhop benefits again.

1. Date: 5/30
Batter: Ryan Doumit
Pitcher: Donovan Hand
Umpire: Jordan Baker
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 89-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.602 feet

The angle makes it hard to tell how low this was: 15.8 inches above the ground, according to PITCHf/x. The irony of Doumit being the batter is rich.

Best Frames of the Week

5. Date: 5/31
Umpire: Jonathan Lucroy
Batter: Kevin Frandsen
Pitcher: Burke Badenhop
Umpire: Phil Cuzzi
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 89-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.480 feet

The second-best Lucroy frame above.

4. Date: 5/30
Catcher: Yan Gomes
Batter: Todd Frazier
Pitcher: Scott Kazmir
Umpire: Eric Cooper
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 81-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.495 feet

Especially nice because Gomes was expecting something on the outside corner and had to adjust down and in to catch Kazmir's change. Frazier wasn't amused.

3. Date: 6/1
Catcher: Hector Gimenez
Batter: Nate Freiman
Pitcher: Matt Lindstrom
Umpire: Paul Emmel
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 95-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.532 feet

Gimenez appears on the "worst of the week" list below, but his work wasn't all bad.

2. Date: 6/5
Catcher: Erik Kratz
Batter: Jacob Turner
Pitcher: Cole Hamels
Umpire: John Hirschbeck
Count: 2-2
Pitch type: 90-mph cutter
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.535 feet

Kratz's wide stance lets him get low and come up from under this ball, freezing Turner.

1. Date: 5/30
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy
Batter: Ryan Doumit
Pitcher: Donovan Hand
Umpire: Jordan Baker
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 89-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.602 feet

The best Lucroy frame above.

Worst Frames of the Week

5. Date: 6/5
Catcher: Hector Gimenez
Batter: Seth Smith
Pitcher: Jesse Crain
Umpire: Paul Emmel
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 81-mph slider
Distance from Center: 0.459 feet

Gimenez knelt for a moment before throwing the ball back to give Emmel a chance to change his mind.

4. Date: 6/5
Catcher: Russell Martin
Batter: Andrelton Simmons
Pitcher: Jared Hughes
Umpire: Brian Knight
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 92-mph sinker
Distance from Center: 0.452 feet

Hughes has thrown only 25.6 percent of his pitches inside the strike zone this season, almost 10 percentage points less often than the next-most-zone-averse pitcher (min. 100 pitches thrown). Maybe Knight was so surprised to see a strike he didn't know what to do. Martin made a decent attempt at framing the pitch, but its movement forced him to reach too far.

3. Date: 6/4
Catcher: Brayan Pena
Batter: Kelly Johnson
Pitcher: Anibal Sanchez
Umpire: Chris Conroy
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: 84-mph slider
Distance from Center: 0.427 feet

Pena seemed to be preparing to thrown this one around the horn before the ball even got to his glove. He then had to perform the catcher's equivalent of the batter's checked ball-four bat toss. Sanchez did a double-take when he realized this wasn't an at-bat-ending strike.

2. Date: 6/5
Catcher: Hector Gimenez
Batter: Kelly Shoppach
Pitcher: Addison Reed
Umpire: D.J. Reyburn
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 82-mph slider
Distance from Center: 0.415 feet

Gimenez again, but this time coming up to throw probably cost him the strike. He didn't get the runner, either.

1. Date: 6/1
Catcher: Tim Federowicz
Batter: Troy Tulowitzki
Pitcher: Ronald Belisario
Umpire: Gerry Davis
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 94-mph sinker
Distance from Center: 0.370 feet

Belisario missed his spot, and he throws hard, so Federowicz didn't have a ton of time to adjust. Still sort of on the stabby side.

Bonus Worst Ryan Doumit Frame of the Week
Date:
6/2
Catcher: Ryan Doumit
Batter: Raul Ibanez
Pitcher: Scott Diamond
Umpire: Marvin Hudson
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 79-mph curveball
Distance from Center: 0.607 feet

Compare that to Lucroy's technique on low pitches. So much more movement.

Thanks to Ryan Lind for research assistance.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

4 comments have been left for this article.

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