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May 3, 2013

Overthinking It

This Week in Catcher Framing, 5/3

by Ben Lindbergh

Let’s start with the results of last week’s blind framing test. (If you haven't taken it, and you want to know, go back and do it before you see spoilers.) I gave you 10 pairs of pitches, with one called strike and one ball in each pair, and asked you to tell me which was which. The catch was, I cut off the umpire calls at the end of the clips (because, well, it would've been pretty easy otherwise). These were the strikes:

1. Left, Morrow vs. Machado
2. Right, Halladay vs. Jones
3. Right, Volquez vs. Betancourt
4. Left, Pettitte vs. Molina 
5. Left, Latos vs. Navarro
6. Right, Resop vs. Gomes
7. Right, Halladay vs. McDonald
8. Left, Harrell vs. Seager
9. Left, Roth vs. Kinsler
10. Right, Anderson vs. Ortiz

I received 51 responses via comment, tweet, and email. Here are the results:

GIF Num. Right Wrong
1 88.2% 11.8%
2 54.9% 45.1%
3 74.5% 25.5%
4 39.2% 60.8%
5 41.2% 58.8%
6 27.5% 72.5%
7 27.5% 72.5%
8 94.1% 5.9%
9 41.2% 58.8%
10 58.8% 41.2%
Total 54.7% 45.3%

Not quite a toss-up, but pretty close. The majority got five right (1, 2, 3, 8, 10) and five wrong (4, 5, 6, 7, 9), with about a 55-45 overall correct rate. The results were sort of skewed by no. 1 and no. 8, which almost all of you called correctly. In no. 1, Nick Hundley pushes an outside pitch farther outside by gloving the ball while his glove is still sweeping away from the center of the plate (and he was already set up outside, so he didn't have to do that). In no. 8, Wilin Rosario waits till the last second and stabs at the ball. Most good receivers relax their wrists after initially presenting the target, which allows them to react quickly to the pitch's trajectory. Rosario sets the target and more or less holds it there until the ball gets to his glove. He's not loose and relaxed.

Both Hundley and Rosario are poor receivers. You perceived that! Where you didn't do so well was nos. 6 and 7, and, well, I don't blame you—I probably would've said the same. On any particular pitch, an umpire can blow a call, a good reception can go unrewarded, or a bad frame can go unpunished. Over the course of a season, that tends to even out.

***

There was an interesting receiving-related exchange in yesterday's Red Sox-Blue Jays game, relayed to me by @SMcEwen_eh on Twitter. J.A. Happ facing Mike Carp, 1-0 pitch:


The pitch was over the plate—we might see it in next week's worst frames—but Arencibia wasn't expecting it, so he went into a blocking stance and failed to catch it. Happ wasn't happy. "The ball handcuffed Arencibia," said Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez. "It looked like it might've been a good pitch." "It was a strike," responded his partner, Jack Morris. "But if the catcher catches it like that, it's not going to be a strike."

The next pitch was in almost exactly the same location, but this time Arencibia caught it cleanly and Toronto got the call.

"That's the art of catching," Martinez continued. "Receiving that ball to a point where you really show the umpire that it's a quality pitch." Arencibia rates as a very poor receiver, and certainly that has to do with his technique. But Martinez and Morris suggested that this has been happening often, so maybe it also has to do with simply not knowing what pitch is on the way to the plate.

Of course, this exchange raises an interesting question: Did Morris teach his catchers to receive to the score?

League Leaders

The Best (min. 30 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Jonathan Lucroy

131

64

2.05

Carlos Corporan

50

31

1.61

Hank Conger

35

25

1.40

Wil Nieves

18

13

1.38

Yadier Molina

120

89

1.35

Evan Gattis

74

57

1.30

Jose Molina

73

57

1.28

Wilson Ramos

32

25

1.26

David Ross

49

39

1.18

Francisco Cervelli

73

62

1.17

 

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Jonathan Lucroy

131

64

8.7

Yadier Molina

120

89

4.0

Carlos Corporan

50

31

2.5

Evan Gattis

74

57

2.2

Jose Molina

73

57

2.1

Francisco Cervelli

73

62

1.4

Hank Conger

35

25

1.3

David Ross

49

39

1.3

Wilson Ramos

32

25

0.9

Wil Nieves

18

13

0.7

Erik Kratz

69

64

0.7

 
  • Chase Hughes of CSNWashington.com wrote something this week about the difference in Washington's pitching results with Wilson Ramos behind the plate (h/t to @nationalsreview). That's not all attributable to framing, but Ramos' receiving is far superior to Kurt Suzuki's.

The Worst (min. 30 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Ryan Doumit

9

42

0.21

Henry Blanco

8

30

0.27

Jesus Montero

34

96

0.35

Kelly Shoppach

26

62

0.42

Yan Gomes

17

39

0.44

Nick Hundley

59

125

0.47

Chris Iannetta

53

111

0.48

Rob Brantly

57

119

0.48

Taylor Teagarden

11

22

0.50

Miguel Olivo

25

50

0.50

 

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Matt Wieters

81

159

-10.1

Nick Hundley

59

125

-8.6

Jesus Montero

34

96

-8.1

Rob Brantly

57

119

-8.1

Chris Iannetta

53

111

-7.5

Wilin Rosario

51

98

-6.1

John Buck

60

105

-5.9

Carlos Santana

52

92

-5.2

A.J. Pierzynski

50

89

-5.1

Kurt Suzuki

62

100

-4.9

Kelly Shoppach

26

62

-4.7

 
  • Someone needs to stage an intervention for any team that gives Doumit a glove. Most of the guys at the bottom of the leaderboard have been framing offenders for years.

This Week in Jose Molina, 4/25-5/01

Weekly Net Strikes: 9
Weekly Net Runs: 1.2
Weekly Playing Time: 3 G, 3 GS, 22.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 20 G, 16 GS, 137.3 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 16
Yearly Net Runs: 2.1

Molina had a heck of a week, saving the Rays nine net strikes in only 22 innings. He was removed from Saturday's game in the fourth inning after being hit by a pitch on the knee, but the 2013 season was saved when he made it back on Monday after a day off on Sunday. Here's his best work of the week:

3. Date: 4/30
Batter: Alex Gordon
Pitcher: Alex Cobb
Umpire: Dan Bellino
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 78-mph curveball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.222 feet

2. Date: 4/30
Batter: Billy Butler
Pitcher: Alex Cobb
Umpire: Dan Bellino
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 91-mph two-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.267 feet

1. Date: 4/30
Batter: Eliot Johnson
Pitcher: Cesar Ramos
Umpire: Dan Bellino
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 91-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.277 feet

All of the batters were similarly sad that those were strikes.

This Week in Jonathan Lucroy, 4/25-5/01

Weekly Net Strikes: 4
Weekly Net Runs: 0.52
Weekly Playing Time: 5 G, 5 GS, 36.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 23 G, 21 GS, 192.0 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 67
Yearly Net Runs: 8.7

Lucroy padded his league-leading runs saved total with another week in the black. A few weeks ago, I called Lucroy the king of framing low pitches. This is why:

3. Date: 4/26
Batter: Juan Uribe
Pitcher: Hiram Burgos
Umpire: Angel Hernandez
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 83-mph slider
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.212 feet


2. Date: 4/26
Batter: Andre Ethier
Pitcher: Hiram Burgos
Umpire: Angel Hernandez
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: 87-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.265 feet

1. Date: 4/30
Batter: James McDonald
Pitcher: Marco Estrada
Umpire: Scott Barry
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 90-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.302 feet

It doesn’t seem fair to do that to James McDonald. Pitcher plate appearances should all be caught by Ryan Doumit.

Best Frames of the Week

5. Date: 4/30
Catcher: Chris Stewart
Batter: Brandon Barnes
Pitcher: Shawn Kelley
Umpire: Jim Wolf
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 91-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.407 feet


The Yankees lost Francisco Cervelli to a fractured hand last Friday, but they replaced him with another receiver who's at least as skilled. Stewart is 6'4", and he told me he has a harder time getting to low pitches, but he handled this one well. He has a wide crouch that helps him get down, and he sets the target low. He had the sixth-best frame of the week earlier in the same game, on a very similar pitch:

And he also recorded the 10th- and 11th-best frames of the week later in the same series. He's not much of a hitter, but the Yankees will survive his offense as long as he keeps catching pitches like that.

4. Date: 5/01
Catcher: John Baker
Batter: Dioner Navarro
Pitcher: Andrew Cashner
Umpire: Brian Knight
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 95-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.429 feet


Just slightly on the stabby side, but good enough to get the call.

3. Date: 4/30
Catcher: Alex Avila
Batter: Justin Morneau
Pitcher: Justin Verlander
Umpire: Chad Fairchild
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: 95-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.433 feet


Just as it's not fair to have Lucroy framing a pitcher at the plate, it's not fair to pair Verlander with a solid receiver. The Tigers ace is already painting the corner with 95-mph heat; the least the Tigers could do is replace Avila with someone who might make that pitch look more like a ball, just to be sporting. I kept Morneau's reaction in the clip. He wasn't upset just about that pitch, but also about the previous pitch:

Not hittable.

2. Date: 4/26
Catcher: John Buck
Batter: Domonic Brown
Pitcher: Dillon Gee
Umpire: Adrian Johnson
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 75-mph curveball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.438 feet

1. Date: 4/29
Catcher: Carlos Corporan
Batter: Travis Hafner
Pitcher: Lucas Harrell     
Umpire: Ed Hickox
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 92-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.455 feet

That's an interesting setup. Molina has a tendency to drop to one knee with a low pitch coming and no one on base, and Corporan does something similar here, getting the call on a low pitch on the outside corner. Corporan is also hitting .360, which is totally sustainable.

Worst Frames of the Week

5. Date: 4/26
Catcher: David Ross
Batter: Jose Altuve
Pitcher: Alex Wilson
Umpire: Jerry Meals
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 85-mph slider
Distance from Center: 0.416 feet

Ross is a good receiver, and it doesn't look like he did anything wrong here. He just had the bad fortune to be catching a batter who is roughly half his height. The PITCHf/x operator notes the top and bottom of the strike zone before each at-bat, depending on the hitter's height, so our strike zone data should correct for the fact that Altuve stands only one Altuve in height. Maybe the operator underestimated Altuve's diminutiveness and set the borders too high, which would explain why it shows up as one of the worst frames. Regardless, it's a borderline pitch that didn't go Ross' way. It would be interesting to see whether Altuve gets ball calls often on high pitches that are technically inside his zone.

4. Date: 4/29
Catcher: Chris Iannetta
Batter: Nathan Freiman
Pitcher: Jerome Williams
Umpire: Kerwin Danley
Count: 0-2
Pitch type: 89-mph cutter
Distance from Center: 0.403 feet

Before you frame a pitch, it has to go into your glove.

3. Date: 4/28
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
Batter: Jean Segura
Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw
Umpire: John Tumpane
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 93-mph four-seam fastball 
Distance from Center: 0.368 feet

Between Hernandez and A.J. Ellis, the Dodgers just aren't getting any extra strikes. Kershaw misses his target, but Hernandez didn't do a great job of adapting (which isn't to say that a better receiver would have gotten that call).

2. Date: 5/01
Catcher: Wilin Rosario
Batter: Matt Kemp
Pitcher: Josh Outman
Umpire: Larry Vanover
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 94-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.339 feet

Our old pal Wilin Rosario, gloving a ball and nudging it outside of the strike zone again. Again, Outman didn't nail the target—it's not a coincidence that there are more missed targets in the worst frames section, than the best frames section—but a better receiver could have made that pitch look a bit better than that.

1. Date: 4/28
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez
Batter: Martin Maldonado
Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw
Umpire: John Tumpane
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 94-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.306 feet

Hernandez brings up the rear with another off-balance stab on a pitch over the plate. A season of that is going to get old in Los Angeles.

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

10 comments have been left for this article.

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