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April 26, 2013

Overthinking It

This Week in Catcher Framing, 4/26

by Ben Lindbergh

Last July, Sam Miller administered a blind BABIP test, providing nine GIFs of batted-ball outs and nine GIFs of hits but cutting them off just before the point at which contact was made. The purpose was to test whether we could tell which would be which, based on all the visual information we had about the pitch prior to the point of contact. We failed with flying colors.

So this is a catcher framing version of that. Below you'll find 10 pairs of GIFs. One pitch on each row is a called strike, and the other is a ball, but I've cut them off before the umpire starts to signal either way. All of the pitches are from this past Wednesday, and all of them are on 0-0 counts.

Record your guesses and leave them in the comments section, or email me by clicking the email button below, or send me a tweet @ben_lindbergh. You can just list your responses ("The strikes are on the 1. Left 2. Right 3. Left", etc.), or you can include explanations of why you guessed the way you did. I'm interested either way. I'll tally up the responses and report back next time. Maybe I'll do it again at the end of the season to see if we've gotten any better at predicting strikes after watching catchers frame pitches for the next few months.

You'll find all the usual "This Week in Catcher Framing" features below the test. You might want to let your browser load for a while, so that the GIFs don't destroy it.

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League Leaders

The Best (min. 30 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Jonathan Lucroy

108

49

2.20

Carlos Corporan

37

17

2.18

Hank Conger

24

12

2.00

Evan Gattis

58

37

1.57

Yadier Molina

97

69

1.41

Francisco Cervelli

73

54

1.35

Jose Lobaton

41

32

1.28

Wilson Ramos

27

22

1.23

Erik Kratz

67

55

1.22

Jose Molina

58

54

1.07

 

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Jonathan Lucroy

108

49

7.7

Yadier Molina

97

69

3.6

Evan Gattis

58

37

2.7

Carlos Corporan

37

17

2.6

Francisco Cervelli

73

54

2.5

Hank Conger

24

12

1.6

Erik Kratz

67

55

1.6

Jose Lobaton

41

32

1.2

Wilson Ramos

27

22

0.7

Jose Molina

58

54

0.5

  • If it's possible to be a dominant pitch framer, Lucroy is doing it.
     
  • Remember the terrible defensive problems Conger had in spring training? Since the regular season started, he hasn't committed a throwing error, he's caught one of two attempted basestealers, and he's done a fine job of framing. No catcher will ever replace Jeff Mathis in Mike Scioscia's heart, but Conger must at least be winning a grudging regard.
     
  • I spoke to Cervelli yesterday about his apparent improvement behind the plate—prior to this season, he'd been a below-average framer. More on that next week.

The Worst (min. 30 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Ryan Doumit

8

24

0.33

Jesus Montero

29

80

0.36

Nick Hundley

45

110

0.41

Chris Iannetta

40

92

0.43

Gerald Laird

21

47

0.45

Rob Brantly

44

94

0.47

Miguel Olivo

17

35

0.49

Matt Wieters

61

121

0.50

Kelly Shoppach

21

41

0.51

A.J. Pierzynski

40

78

0.51

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Nick Hundley

45

110

-8.5

Matt Wieters

61

121

-7.8

Chris Iannetta

40

92

-6.8

Jesus Montero

29

80

-6.6

Rob Brantly

44

94

-6.5

A.J. Pierzynski

40

78

-4.9

John Buck

47

84

-4.8

Wilin Rosario

41

74

-4.3

Gerald Laird

21

47

-3.4

T-10 John Jaso

34

59

-3.3

T-10 A.J. Ellis

50

75

-3.3

 
  • Last week, I said it was strange that Matt Wieters, Yorvit Torrealba, and Ryan Hanigan were on the list of the bottom 10 backstops. Now only Wieters remains, but he holds a prominent place.

This Week in Molina, 4/18-4/24

Weekly Net Strikes: -5
Weekly Net Runs: -0.65
Weekly Playing Time: 5 G, 5 GS, 46.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 17 G, 13 GS, 118.3 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 4
Yearly Net Runs: 0.5

It was a net negative week for Molina, but he's still above even on the season. And his best frames of the week were still pretty sexy: 

3. Date: 4/24
Batter: Francisco Cervelli
Pitcher: Alex Cobb
Umpire: Sam Holbrook
Count: 2-2
Pitch type: 92-mph four-seam fastball 
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.195 feet


Cervelli wins the week's best batter reaction:

He also said some very complimentary things about the Molinas to me, which I'll relay next week as well.

2. Date: 4/24
Batter: Robinson Cano
Pitcher: Alex Cobb
Umpire: Sam Holbrook
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 79-mph curveball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.223 feet

1. Date: 4/21
Batter: Josh Reddick
Pitcher: Roberto Hernandez
Umpire: Jeff Nelson
Count: 2-2
Pitch type: 93-mph sinker 
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.279 feet


And Reddick is the runner-up for this week's best batter reaction:

One nice thing about watching a bunch of called strikes every week is that you start to recognize umpire punchouts. Jeff Nelson's is one of the best. It's pretty much a prelude to the People's Elbow.

We have Lucroy's framing valued at 117.6 runs over the past three seasons (in 23,439 pitches) and Molina's at 115.4 runs (in 13,759 pitches). That makes Molina the reigning pitch-per-pitch champion, but because Lucroy has been so great this season, I'm adding him to the weekly update rotation. Welcome to "This Week in Lucroy."

This Week in Lucroy, 4/18-4/24

Weekly Net Strikes: 3
Weekly Net Runs: 0.39
Weekly Playing Time: 6 G, 6 GS, 30.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 18 G, 16 GS, 54.0 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 59
Yearly Net Runs: 7.7

3. Date: 4/23
Batter: Will Venable
Pitcher: Jim Henderson
Umpire: Gary Darling
Count: 2-0
Pitch type: 93-mph four-seam fastball 
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.288 feet


2. Date: 4/23
Batter: Will Venable
Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo
Umpire: Gary Darling
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 79-mph curveball 
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.355 feet

This is a low pitch, and Lucroy gets even lower to receive it by going down to one knee. That helps explain his uncanny ability to get low strikes.

3. Date: 4/24
Batter: Chase Headley
Pitcher: Marco Estrada
Umpire: Paul Emmel
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 89-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.453 feet

This seems like a solid reception, but it also looks like a pretty nice pitch, and maybe not as far from the zone as PITCHf/x says. On to the best and worst frames of the week among all catchers:

Best Frames of the Week

5. Date: 4/23
Catcher: Yadier Molina
Batter: Jayson Werth
Pitcher: Adam Wainwright
Umpire: Cory Blaser
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 92-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.384 feet

Textbook.

4. Date: 4/21
Catcher: Chris Stewart
Batter: Maicer Izturis
Pitcher: Ivan Nova
Umpire: Tim Timmons
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 95-mph two-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.396 feet

Stewart has been buried behind Cervelli in the early going, but New York's pitching staff is in good hands no matter which one is catching.

3. Date: 4/24
Catcher: Jason Castro
Batter: Endy Chavez
Pitcher: Bud Norris
Umpire: Tom Hallion
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 89-mph four-seam fastball 
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.448 feet

Carlos Corporan has been the better Astros framer so far this season, but Castro's technique looks okay here.

2. Date: 4/24
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy
Batter: Chase Headley
Pitcher: Marco Estrada     
Umpire: Paul Emmel
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 89-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.453 feet

This is the Lucroy frame of the week we saw earlier.

1. Date: 4/21
Catcher: Yan Gomes
Batter: Marwin Gonzalez
Pitcher: Joe Smith
Umpire: Dan Bellino
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 90-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.544 feet

This is a low delivery, but the call may have had as much to do with Gonzalez's extreme crouch (which made the ball look higher relative to his strike zone) as it did Gomes' glove.

Worst Frames of the Week

5. Date: 4/22
Catcher: Carlos Santana
Batter: Jeff Keppinger
Pitcher: Justin Masterson
Umpire: Jeff Kellogg
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 92-mph sinker
Distance from Center: 0.466 feet

Masterson misses his spot by a bit here, but Santana's reception is still too stabby.

4. Date: 4/20
Catcher: Chris Iannetta
Batter: Alex Avila
Pitcher: Michael Roth
Umpire: Paul Emmel
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 91-mph sinker 
Distance from Center: 0.423 feet

Sliding after the catch isn't a great way to get calls. This pitch looks slightly outside, and maybe it was, but imagine what it might have looked like if Iannetta had stayed still.

3. Date: 4/23
Catcher: Gerald Laird
Batter: Michael Cuddyer
Pitcher: Cory Gearrin
Umpire: Wally Bell
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 87-mph sinker
Distance from Center: 0.374 feet

Can only kind of see the plate, but that pitch looks like it crossed the corner.

2. Date: 4/19
Catcher: Nick Hundley
Batter: Hunter Pence
Pitcher: Edinson Volquez
Umpire: James Hoye
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 93-mph four-seam fastball 
Distance from Center: 0.557 feet

Maybe more of a Volquez error than a Hundley mistake, though Hundley didn't do anything to minimize the amount by which the pitch appeared to miss. Volquez had his first career start of at least seven innings without a walk on Wednesday, with Hundley catching, but it doesn't seem as if his catcher got him any extra strikes in that outing:

1. Date: 4/22
Catcher: Jose Lobaton
Batter: Brett Gardner
Pitcher: Matt Moore
Umpire: Andy Fletcher
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 93-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.335 feet

The new, aggressive Brett Gardner didn't swing, but that looks like a strike. Could be that Lobaton's collapsing knees during the delivery distract the ump. Could be it was just a bad call.

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

57 comments have been left for this article.

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