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September 20, 2013

Overthinking It

This Week in Catcher Framing, 9/20

by Ben Lindbergh

2013 League Leaders
Welcome back. We’re going to start things off a little differently this time. These are the top five framers of 2013, according to Max Marchi’s model, through the end of August (it takes time to run, so it’s updated monthly). Negative numbers are runs saved, and numbers inside parentheses are called pitches.

Jose Molina, -24.6 (5259)
Yadier Molina, -23.8 (7443)
Alex Avila, -22.6 (5637)
Derek Norris, -20.1 (4947)
Brian McCann, -18.5 (5473)

Two Molinas on top, with a few other familiar names in the top 10: Chris Stewart (whom I wrote about here and here) Jonathan Lucroy (here, and in every subsequent edition of This Week in Catcher Framing), Erik Kratz (here), and Ryan Hanigan (here and here). And the bottom five:

Welington Castillo, 23.1 (7419)
Ryan Doumit, 20.1 (3374)
Nick Hundley, 17.2 (6807)
Chris Iannetta, 14.6 (6846)
John Buck,14.5 (7222)

Ryan Doumit caught about half as many pitches as anyone else in the bottom five, and he still ranks second-worst overall. Classic Doumit. As Sam Miller and I discussed on Wednesday’s episode of Effectively Wild, Doumit’s teams have a .378 winning percentage in games that he’s appeared in, which is the worst mark among active players with a minimum of 800 games played. Obviously, that’s not entirely on him—it’s not his fault that he was drafted by Pittsburgh, and even with a better catcher, the 2005-2011 Pirates still would’ve been bad. But Doumit hasn’t helped. All of his WARP go away if you factor in framing.

We also have full-season stats for Double-A and Triple-A, using Max’s Retrosheet-based estimated framing method. Here are the top five through the end of the minor-league regular season:

Sandy Leon, 24, Nationals: -21.4 (6703)
Christian Vazquez, 23, Red Sox: -20.9 (7599)
Roberto Perez, 24, Indians: -19.5 (7092)
Jacob Realmuto, 22, Marlins: -17.7 (6134)
JR Murphy, 22, Yankees: -17.7 (8681)

Leon was called up to Washington when rosters expanded, but he still hasn’t gotten into a game. Washington Times Nats beat writer Amanda Comak reported that “pitchers rave about the job he does behind the plate,” and for good reason. At the plate, it’s a different story: Leon is a career .218/.310/.303 hitter in 510 Double-A plate appearances. Vazquez is a prospect; in May, Zach Mortimer noted that he has a “plus defensive profile,” adding, “most scouts I talk to believe he has the ability to play every day.” And Murphy is another in a series of strong receivers for the Yankees, who are clearly targeting players who fit that profile.

Also of note: Austin Hedges, who played in only 20 Double-A games but saved 5.0 runs in that small sample. Hedges has a reputation as the best defensive catcher in the minors; you can watch video of his smooth receiving here, courtesy of Jason Cole. The most impressive small-sample minor-league performance belonged to Pirates backstop Ali Solis, who saved 11.1 runs in 29 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. Unfortunately, he hit .179/.231/.214.

The bottom five:

John Hester, 30, Angels: 32.9 (5623)
Josmil Pinto, 24, Twins: 21.8 (5607)
Rafael Lopez, 25, Cubs: 20.2 (6894)
Tomas Telis, 22, Rangers: 17.5 (6070)
Jake Lowery, 23, Indians: 15.5 (4814)

Hester was over 10 runs worse as a receiver than anyone else in the upper minors. He also hit .237/.307/.391 as a 30-year-old in the PCL. Somehow, that performance earned him a spot on the Angels’ September active roster. Pinto was promoted to Minnesota this month after a big offensive year (.309/.400/.482) in the minors, and thus far he’s continued to hit. But if he’s as bad behind the plate as Max’s estimate suggests, then Twins fans still won’t get to see a solid receiver while Doumit recuperates from a concussion.

***

This Week(s) in Jose Molina, 8/22-9/18

Week(s)ly Playing Time: 13 G, 13 GS, 110.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 89 G, 81 GS, 709.2 innings

3. Date: 9/13
Batter: Alex Presley
Pitcher: Chris Archer
Umpire: Hunter Wendelstedt
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 92-mph two-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.422 feet

Welcome to the AL, Alex Presley. There's a Molina in every league.

2. Date: 9/5
Batter: Kole Calhoun
Pitcher: David Price
Umpire: C.B. Bucknor
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 94-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.487 feet

Calhoun is pretty compact, so this looked high for him, if not for C.B. Bucknor. It's especially important for the catcher to make subtle movements when the pitch is up in the umpire's eyes, and Molina does a good job of bringing the ball back down without drawing attention to his actions.

1. Date: 9/10
Batter: Jonny Gomes
Pitcher: David Price
Umpire: Angel Hernandez
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 80-mph curveball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.503 feet

The farther this one travels, the lower the movement makes it look, so Molina reaches forward to snag the curve while it still sort of resembles a strike.

***

This Week in Jonathan Lucroy, 8/21-9/18

Week(s)ly Playing Time: 19 G, 18 GS, 158.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 118 G, 114 GS, 1002.1 innings

3. Date: 9/1
Batter: Erick Aybar
Pitcher: Kyle Lohse
Umpire: Jim Joyce
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 91-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.506 feet

As usual, Lucroy's leather shifts less than just about any other backstop's after the ball gets to his glove.


2. Date: 9/12
Batter: Matt Carpenter
Pitcher: Brandon Kintzler
Umpire: Chris Guccione
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 93-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.567 feet

Location: farther outside and lower, with a taller batter to boot. Lucroy has been getting this call for a long while.

1. Date: 9/12
Batter: Daniel Descalso
Pitcher: Rob Wooten
Umpire: Chris Guccione
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 83-mph slider
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.587 feet

Here he sets up outside and angles his body a bit to present the pitch to the ump, reaching a bit back toward the plate instead of away from the strike zone.

***

Best Frames of the Week

5. Date: 9/1
Catcher: Jose Lobaton
Batter: Josh Hamilton
Pitcher: Josh Lueke
Umpire: Dale Scott
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: 81-mph splitter
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.607 feet

Lobaton moves a lot here, and he has to reach back to the center of the zone as he slides toward the corner. He still gets the strike, and Hamilton probably regrets making a rare decision not to swing.

4. Date: 9/10
Catcher: Stephen Vogt
Batter: Chris Parmelee
Pitcher: Jarrod Parker
Umpire: C.B. Bucknor
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 80-mph slider
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.609 feet

Like Lucroy with a little more movement.

3. Date: 8/24
Catcher: J.P. Arencibia
Batter: Jonathan Villar
Pitcher: Chad Jenkins
Umpire: Bill Miller
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 83-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.616 feet

I wrote in July that Arencibia had reinvented himself as a receiver, and by the end of August, he had worked his way into the top 20 framers. Here's a good example of his refined receiving technique.

2. Date: 8/24
Catcher: Martin Maldonado
Batter: Bronson Arroyo
Pitcher: Bronson Arroyo
Umpire: Alfonso Marquez
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 95-mph two-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.618 feet

Maldonado has a wide, stable stance that would make him tough to tip over if you tried.

1. Date: 9/1
Catcher: Travis d’Arnaud
Batter: Ryan Zimmerman
Pitcher: Gonzalez Germen
Umpire:
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 83-mph slider
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.728 feet

Extend a series long enough, and you'll start to repeat yourself; I covered d'Arnaud's receiving skills last month, shortly after which he added this low, breaking-ball strike to his list of trophies.

***

Worst Frames of the Week

5. Date: 9/16
Catcher: Jeff Mathis
Batter: Jimmy Rollins
Pitcher: Sam Dyson
Umpire: Paul Nauert
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 89-mph two-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.413 feet

Jeff Mathis' catching skills usually earn him positive press, but we've seen through the season that snap throws often seem to cost the catcher a strike.

4. Date: 8/28
Catcher: Nick Hundley
Batter: Aaron Hill
Pitcher: Robbie Erlin
Umpire: Cory Blaser
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 91-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.378 feet

This is how Hundley got to be near the bottom of the unofficial framing leaderboard.

3. Date: 8/24
Catcher: Yadier Molina
Batter: Andrelton Simmons
Pitcher: Seth Maness
Umpire: Doug Eddings
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 91-mph sinker
Distance from Center: 0.322 feet

Look, sometimes strange stuff happens. Great hitters have extended slumps, aces have ugly outings, and yes, Molinas miss baseballs. It looks like Yadier was expecting the ball to break more.

2. Date: 9/3
Catcher: Chris Stewart
Batter: Gordon Beckham
Pitcher: Hiroki Kuroda
Umpire: Dan Bellino
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 91-mph sinker
Distance from Center: 0.320 feet

Didn't look close to a strike, and evidently the umpire agreed. But Stewart is set up way inside, so when Kuroda misses his spot he has to stab at the ball to keep it from sailing past him. Ignore how it was received, and factor in the parallax effect, and this one probably caught he corner.

1. Date: 9/14
Catcher: Tim Federowicz
Batter: Hunter Pence
Pitcher: Stephen Fife
Umpire: Brian Knight
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 93-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.097 feet

Similar to Stewart's, but even stabbier.

***

Bonus Worst Ryan Doumit Frame of the Week

Date: 8/25
Batter: Asdrubal Cabrera
Pitcher: Caleb Thielbar
Umpire: James Hoye
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 73-mph curveball
Distance from Center: 0.770 feet

Doumit has been absent from behind the plate since late August because of his latest concussion, and Ron Gardenhire said that he "would probably keep his catching equipment locked away the rest of the year." We wish Doumit well and hope he makes a swift, complete recovery, but it would be best for him to return as a corner guy/DH. As far as the locked-up catching equipment goes, it's probably time to throw away the key.

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

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