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May 18, 2013

Overthinking It

This Week in Catcher Framing, 5/18

by Ben Lindbergh

Framing-related links of the week
It’s been an eventful week for framing on the internet. If you're here because you’re interested in catcher receiving skills, you might also want to take a look at these three articles:

Estimated historical framing: More great work by Max Marchi, who used Retrosheet pitch-by-pitch data to estimate framing performance going back to 1988. He also took a look at how receiving skills age. Next on his to-do list: estimated framing for minor leaguers, and the quantification of game-calling.

How teams are embracing framing: I did a feature for Grantland on what teams are doing to target and cultivate good receiving skills. After some background on the importance of framing, much of which would be familiar to BP readers, I got into how the Astros are focusing on framing thanks to our old friend Mike Fast, how the Yankees have made it a priority, and the degree to which it can be taught. Maybe the most interesting quote, courtesy of Yankees catcher Chris Stewart:

"Within the last two or three years it's taken over as one of the highly sought-after skill sets for a defensive catcher," he says. "The sabermetrics stuff coming out, they put a value on it. We actually have a number for it. It's not a 'This guy's good' or 'This guy's bad,' it's like, 'This guy's this good' and 'This guy's this bad.'"

Q&A on framing with Russell Martin: I sat down with Pirates catcher and fine framer Russell Martin and showed him video of borderline pitches he’s caught over the past few seasons. He walked me through how he helped make them strikes.

I have another meaty Q&A with Ryan Hanigan coming on Monday at Grantland, plus several interesting framing-related interview excerpts at BP throughout the coming week, so stay tuned for those.

***

League Leaders

The Best (min. 50 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Jonathan Lucroy

168

94

1.79

Hank Conger

52

32

1.63

Martin Maldonado

51

35

1.46

Brian McCann

32

23

1.39

Yadier Molina

160

117

1.37

Jose Molina

105

80

1.31

Evan Gattis

93

72

1.29

Carlos Corporan

67

56

1.20

David Ross

66

56

1.18

Francisco Cervelli

73

62

1.18

 

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Jonathan Lucroy

168

94

9.6

Yadier Molina

160

117

5.6

Jose Molina

105

80

3.3

Evan Gattis

93

72

2.7

Hank Conger

52

32

2.6

Martin Maldonado

51

35

2.1

Carlos Corporan

67

56

1.4

Francisco Cervelli

73

62

1.4

David Ross

66

56

1.3

Brian McCann

32

23

1.2

Erik Kratz

77

68

1.2

  • It didn’t take Brian McCann long to make his presence felt on the framing leaderboards. Even if he weren’t hitting the way he is, his receiving skills would make him worth playing. According to Max Marchi’s model, McCann’s framing skill has saved the Braves almost 125 runs over the past five seasons. That’s with over twice as many called pitches caught as Jose Molina, of course, but still.
     
  • Evan Gattis’ framing performance continues to rate well, too. The less Gerald Laird, the better for the Braves.
     
  • Hank Conger continues to look like a skilled receiver in the Mike Scioscia mold.
     
  • Two Molinas and a Lucroy in the top 10. Sometimes the world makes sense.

The Worst (min. 50 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Ryan Doumit

23

73

0.32

Jesus Montero

43

133

0.32

John Buck

71

159

0.45

Wilin Rosario

71

157

0.45

Yan Gomes

29

63

0.46

Rob Brantly

73

156

0.47

Kelly Shoppach

39

82

0.48

Henry Blanco

27

55

0.49

A.J. Pierzynski

55

109

0.50

Gerald Laird

34

66

0.52

Matt Wieters

107

206

0.52

 

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Matt Wieters

107

206

-12.9

Jesus Montero

43

133

-11.7

John Buck

71

159

-11.4

Wilin Rosario

71

157

-11.2

Rob Brantly

73

156

-10.8

Chris Iannetta

83

151

-8.8

Carlos Santana

83

150

-8.7

Nick Hundley

100

159

-7.7

A.J. Pierzynski

55

109

-7.0

Ryan Doumit

23

73

-6.5

Kurt Suzuki

71

119

-6.2

 
  • Going to give Henry Blanco a pass for appearing on this list. Being R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher is a difficult job.
     
  • As I noted in the Grantland feature I linked above, Kevin Towers told me that Nick Hundley “stood up so high he would block the umpire from a lot of the low strikes, and it was just frustrating.” Hundley’s framing rated particularly poorly during Towers’ last two seasons in San Diego.

This Week in Jose Molina, 5/09-5/15

Weekly Net Strikes: 4
Weekly Net Runs: 0.52
Weekly Playing Time: 4 G, 4 GS, 34.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 28 G, 23 GS, 197.3 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 25
Yearly Net Runs: 3.3

An unremarkable week for Molina, albeit with a few pretty performances.

3. Date: 5/9
Batter: Jose Bautista
Pitcher: David Price
Umpire: Tim Welke
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 84-mph Changeup
Distance from strike zone: 0.301 feet

Another reason for Bautista to be angry at umpires.

2. Date: 5/12
Batter: Alexi Amarista
Pitcher: Jake McGee
Umpire: Bill Welke
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 87-mph slider
Distance from strike zone: 0.383 feet

Molina sets up way on the outside corner here so that the pitch off the edge is centered in his body. He also angles himself to give the umpire a good look. Ryan Hanigan uses this technique to great effect, as he explains in great detail in the Q&A coming Monday. Other people I spoke to pointed out that while this method this might work well, not every catcher is comfortable catching this way.

1. Date: 5/12
Batter: Chase Headley
Pitcher: Roberto Hernandez
Umpire: Bill Welke
Count: 2-0
Pitch type: 91-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from strike zone: 0.393 feet

This isn’t a swinging strike, but I would guess that the check swing influences the umpire’s decision. Here’s how this Headley plate appearance ended:

Another check swing, and this time a high strike. Hard to isolate Molina’s influence here. The check swing might have the same effect as a good frame. (Check swings are one of the next topics I plan to tackle.)

This Week in Jonathan Lucroy, 5/09-5/15

Weekly Net Strikes: 0
Weekly Net Runs: 0.00
Weekly Playing Time: 4 G, 4 GS, 36.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 31 G, 29 GS, 258.0 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 74
Yearly Net Runs: 9.6

An even more unremarkable week for Lucroy, who broke even. But he did manage to make Starling Marte’s week a little worse.

3. Date: 5/13
Batter: Starling Marte
Pitcher: Marco Estrada
Umpire: Adrian Johnson
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 88-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from strike zone: 0.267 feet

Far from the lowest pitch we've seen Lucroy frame this season, but nicely timed nonetheless.

2. Date: 5/13
Batter: Gaby Sanchez
Pitcher: Marco Estrada
Umpire: Adrian Johnson
Count: 3-1
Pitch type: 90-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from strike zone: 0.294 feet


Not so fast, Mr. Sanchez.

1. Date: 5/13
Batter: Starling Marte
Pitcher: Marco Estrada
Umpire: Adrian Johnson
Count: 2-0
Pitch type: 88-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from strike zone: 0.341 feet

The 2-0 count helped a bit here.

Best Frames of the Week

5. Date: 5/12
Catcher: Brian McCann
Batter: Hunter Pence
Pitcher: Kris Medlen
Umpire: Wally Bell
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 89-mph fastball
Distance from strike zone: 0.448 feet

Welcome back, Brian. Ryan Hanigan told me that he makes a point of setting up low so that he can always get under the ball and bring it back up. McCann’s crouch is similar.

4. Date: 5/10
Catcher: Chris Stewart
Batter: Eric Hosmer
Pitcher: Phil Hughes
Umpire: Mike Winters
Count: 2-0
Pitch type: 91-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from strike zone: 0.450 feet

Stewart up to his usual tricks. In the Q&A with him I’ll be publishing at BP in the coming week, the 6’4” catcher talks a bit about the difficulty of framing low pitches. Stewart suffered a groin pull on Thursday, but his MRI came up clean, so he seems to have avoided the disabled list.

3. Date: 5/12
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz
Batter: Paul Goldschmidt
Pitcher: Justin De Fratus
Umpire: Kerwin Danley
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 93-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from strike zone: 0.458 feet

The reception looked a little tentative, and visibly clenching the non-glove hand while catching the ball is something I’ve seen Ryan Doumit do. But Ruiz does prevent the ball from moving any farther inside after he catches it, which is the crucial thing.

2. Date: 5/14
Catcher: Kelly Shoppach
Batter: Jayson Nix
Pitcher: Carter Capps
Umpire: Jerry Layne
Count: 0-2
Pitch type: 84-mph slider
Distance from strike zone: 0.561 feet

Shoppach caught that one as far forward as he could to prevent it from sinking too far to get the strike, and he did a good job of sticking it. That’s a difficult call to get on 0-2, when the strike zone shrinks.

1. Date: 5/14
Catcher: Austin Romine
Batter: Michael Morse
Pitcher: Mariano Rivera
Umpire: Jerry Layne
Count: 2-2
Pitch type: 90-mph cutter
Distance from strike zone: 0.582 feet

This one was inside all the way, and it ended the game. Jerry Layne is fairly generous with his strike calls outside to lefties, which could help explain the previous pitch from Capps to Nix, but he doesn’t seem to have any particular tendency to call strikes inside to righties. Mariano Rivera lives on the edges and gets a wider zone than the typical pitcher, so that’s probably part of it, but Romine did a good job of getting inside the ball and catching it with his glove already moving back toward the plate. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees replaced the injured Francisco Cervelli with another strong framer. Maybe we’ll have a better idea of Romine’s capabilities when Max finishes working on his estimated framing stats for minor leaguers.

Worst Frames of the Week

5. Date: 5/12
Catcher: Brayan Pena
Batter: Nick Swisher
Pitcher: Rick Porcello
Umpire: Bill Miller
Count: 0-2
Pitch type: 92-mph two-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.535 feet

Pena was so sure he was going to get this strike that he immediately popped up to whip the ball to third. Maybe that cost him. The 0-2 count didn’t help.

4. Date: 5/10
Catcher: Michael McKenry
Batter: Ike Davis
Pitcher: Wandy Rodriguez
Umpire: Sam Holbrook
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: 77-mph curveball
Distance from Center: 0.516 feet

Rodriguez wanted the call, but didn’t get it. McKenry has historically rated poorly as a receiver, but it doesn’t appear that he did anything awful here. Maybe he set up too far outside, so that the pitch didn't appear centered.

3. Date: 5/11
Catcher: Matt Wieters
Batter: Joe Mauer
Pitcher: Pedro Strop
Umpire: Gary Darling
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 96-mph two-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.496 feet

Wieters moved his glove quite a bit while that one was on the way.

2. Date: 5/11
Catcher: Tyler Flowers
Batter: Albert Pujols
Pitcher: Jose Quintana
Umpire: Jeff Nelson
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 91-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.39 feet

See how Flowers reorients his glove at the last second and kind of cradles or scoops the ball? Hanigan told me how costly that can be. He tries to keep the glove from making any extreme movements, shifting his arm instead if he has to.

1. Date: 5/15
Catcher: Tony Cruz
Batter: Mike Baxter
Pitcher: Shelby Miller
Umpire: Mark Wegner
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: 95-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.373

Is there a lesser known backup catcher on a contending team than Tony Cruz? A couple weeks ago, I did a guest post at McCovey Chronicles when Grant Brisbee was on paternity leave. The post was about how the Giants were carrying three catchers, and how one of them never played. I included some data on the players with the least playing time to that point who had been on a big-league roster since Opening Day, and Cruz was at the top of the list. One of Yadier Molina’s many skills is the ability to stay healthy and productive despite almost never taking an inning off. Poor Tony Cruz.

In the small sample that we have, Cruz rates as a below-average receiver, according to Max’s stats, but Miller missed his spot on this one. Baxter still took a strike toward the dugout, expecting to be rung up.

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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