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June 4, 2014

Overthinking It

May in Catcher Framing

by Ben Lindbergh


Earlier this year, I brought back my weekly catcher framing series from 2013 in a new, monthly form. I mentioned this then, but as a refresher, here's where you can find receiving stats at Baseball Prospectus:

We now offer three framing-related reports on our statistical sortables page (as well as historical framing stats for each catcher on his player card):

Advanced Catching Metrics: Complete pitch framing (and pitch blocking) stats for individual catchers
Catcher Framing – Team Totals: Total strikes/framing runs added or subtracted for each team
Framing Data by Battery: Strikes/framing runs added or subtracted for each pitcher-batter combination

All three of those reports are updated daily and based on the “Regressed Probabilistic Model” (RPM) of framing that Dan Brooks and Harry Pavlidis published at BP earlier this year.

Just like last time, the Padres are in first place on the team totals leaderboard. In fact, they've widened their lead, jettisoning their worst defensive catcher (Nick Hundley) and nearly doubling the tallies of the second-place Giants and third-place Astros (neither of which was one of the three top teams last month). The Yankees and Red Sox round out the top five, with the Jon Lester-David Ross pairing taking the top spot in the "Framing Data by Battery" report. The Twins, at -19.4 runs, trail the other 29 teams. Both Brian McCann and David Ross have leapfrogged Mike Zunino on the individual leaderboard, and McCann sets the pace with 10.8 runs added. Ross' placement is particularly impressive, given that he's played in only 19 games.Rene Rivera and Jose Molina rank right after Zunino; the last and longest name on the list is Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

In the first edition, I covered all the action through April. Today, we'll take a spin through the best and worst frames of the month of May, sorted by strike probability, which is based on park-adjusted pitch location, handedness, count, and pitch type. (Although the RPM values you see on our stats pages also account for umpire and pitcher, those adjustments are applied in aggregate, not on a per-pitch level.)

At the top of each section, you’ll find five pitches plotted on a diagram of the strike zone; mouse over the plotted points to see a pop-up GIF of the catch. Below, you’ll see the pitch details and strike probabilities, a zoomed-in video of each reception (mouse over to play), and a graph of the pitch location that includes three rings representing the zones in which 3–7 percent of pitches are called strikes (red); 45–55 percent of pitches are called strikes (black); and 93–97 percent of pitches are called strikes (green). One more note: we're excluding steal attempts, which often seem to sneak on to the list of worst frames because the catcher is focusing more on the transfer than on giving the umpire a good look at the ball.

Best Frames of May

5. Catcher: Yadier Molina
Strike Probability: 0.4%
Date: 5/31
Batter: Michael Morse
Pitcher: Michael Wacha
Umpire: Marcus Pattillo
Count: 1-0‚Äč
Pitch type: Four-seamer

We waste little time getting to today's first Molina. Yadier sets up outside, so that his target is both off the corner and centered between his shoulders, and Wacha doesn't make him move. Molina's glove barely budges; the ball simply approaches its event horizon and then vanishes inside. Worth mentioning, maybe: umpire Marcus Pattillo made his major-league debut in late April.

4. Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy
Strike Probability: 0.4%
Date: 5/9
Batter: Brian McCann
Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo
Umpire: Jerry Meals
Count: 2-1
Pitch type: Sinker

Gallardo couldn't have come any closer to hitting his target; a Lucroy mannequin might have caught that pitch. However, Lucroy does his part by setting up on the outside corner and remaining motionless after the ball arrives. McCann is usually on the other end of this kind of crime, so he takes the call in stride.

3. Catcher: Carlos Santana
Strike Probability: 0.3%
Date: 5/21
Batter: Nick Castellanos
Pitcher: Josh Tomlin
Umpire: Tim Timmons
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: Curveball

Even though he's spent the bulk of his 2014 time playing other positions, Santana is near the bottom of the framing runs leaderboard, as he has been before. You can't call him quiet here, as he sinks to one knee while the pitch is en route, but he does a decent job of bringing the ball back down. Even so, he was probably fortunate that this call went his way. Castellanos certainly seems to think so.

2. Catcher: Dioner Navarro
Strike Probability: 0.3%
Date: 5/28
Batter: Desmond Jennings
Pitcher: Aaron Loup
Umpire: Brian O'Nora
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: Sinker

Navarro completely no-sells this reception, staring straight ahead as if his arm is acting independently of his body when it jerks this pitch slightly back toward the center. Jennings' body language says he's seen better calls.

1. Catcher: Jose Molina
Strike Probability: 0.2%
Date: 5/17
Batter: Grant Green
Pitcher: Cesar Ramos
Umpire: Jim Reynolds
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: Four-seamer

No, I didn't tamper with the results so that a Molina would end up on top. It's just the way of the world. Jose is hitting .133/.172/.133 on the season; catches like this are his substitute for extra-base hits.

Worst Frames of May

5. Catcher: Chris Stewart
Strike Probability: 99.1%
Date: 5/1
Batter: J.J. Hardy
Pitcher: Bryan Morris
Umpire: Tom Hallion
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: Sinker

Next time, Stewart (who's generally an excellent receiver) should secure the strike, then check the runner.

4. Catcher: Brett Hayes
Strike Probability: 99.2%
Date: 5/2
Batter: Miguel Cabrera
Pitcher: Kelvin Herrera
Umpire: Tim Welke
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: Sinker

Fastballs from Herrera don't leave catchers with a lot of time to adjust, but a better backstop might have gotten the glove to this pitch without pushing it out of the zone. In slightly more than a full season's worth of playing time from 2010 through today, Hayes' receiving rates 27 runs below average.

3. Catcher: Hector Sanchez
Strike Probability: 99.2
Date: 5/10
Batter: Chone Figgins
Pitcher: Matt Cain
Umpire: Mark Carlson
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: Four-seamer

Early last season, Sam Miller wrote a whole article about Sanchez' receiving. Since then, he's actually saved seven strikes, but he doesn't look a lot better here than he did then—his head-jerk is still extreme. Umpire Mark Carlson looks disappointed that Sanchez didn't do better.

2. Catcher: Juan Centeno
Strike Probability: 99.3
Date: 5/18
Batter: Zach Walters
Pitcher: Jeurys Familia
Umpire: Jon Byrne
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: Four-seamer

This clip comes from Centeno's second major-league game, which was also (first-ever Australian) umpire Jon Byrne's second major-league game (and first behind the plate). It looks a lot like the Stewart catch, but with the threatening runner on third instead of first. Umpires evidently don't do well when the catcher pops up, even on a pitch that's very clearly in the strike zone.

1. Catcher: Kurt Suzuki
Strike Probability: 99.7
Date: 5/23
Batter: Hunter Pence
Pitcher: Matt Guerrier
Umpire: Angel Campos
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: Sinker

Suzuki's receiving rates nearly 80 runs below average since 2008, and he's the driving force behind Minnesota's last-place showing thus far this season. His inelegant glovework didn't hurt as much when he was hitting, but he's batting .212 without an extra-base hit over his last 10 games, so that unexpected offense may be behind him.

Thanks to Nick Wheatley-Schaller for image-making assistance.

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

Related Content:  Defense,  Framing,  Catcher Framing

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