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May 25, 2013

Overthinking It

This Week in Catcher Framing, 5/25

by Ben Lindbergh

Framing-related links
As promised last time, I put up several BP excerpts from interviews I conducted while working on my feature on framing for Grantland. If you missed any of them, the links are here:

Six coaches and catching instructors
Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy
Former MLB umpire Jim McKean
Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers
An American League scout
Chris Stewart and Miguel Montero

As commenter Nathan pointed out here—and as I noticed myself l as I kept cornering all of these catchers—catchers conceive of what they do (or at least tell me how they conceive of what they do) in dramatically different ways. Russell Martin told me, “I feel like it’s dangerous to be called a ‘strike stealer.’ I want to be more of a ‘strike getter’ or a ‘strike keeper.’” And then there’s Chris Stewart: “I call it stealing strikes.” Different strokes for different framers.

***

League Leaders (Out-of-zone strikes and in-zone balls, not adjusted for other factors)

The Best (min. 60 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Hank Conger

62

35

1.77

Martin Maldonado

61

38

1.61

Jonathan Lucroy

184

127

1.45

Yadier Molina

200

142

1.41

Jose Molina

121

86

1.41

Brian McCann

53

40

1.33

Evan Gattis

97

79

1.23

David Ross

65

54

1.20

Carlos Corporan

74

62

1.19

Francisco Cervelli

73

63

1.16

 

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Yadier Molina

200

142

7.5

Jonathan Lucroy

184

127

7.4

Jose Molina

121

86

4.6

Hank Conger

62

35

3.5

Martin Maldonado

61

38

3.0

Evan Gattis

97

79

2.3

Brian McCann

53

40

1.7

Carlos Corporan

74

62

1.6

Erik Kratz

93

81

1.6

David Ross

65

54

1.4

  • We have a new name at the top of the runs leaderboard, as Yadier Molina narrowly edges out Lucroy. More on that below.
     
  • Lucroy and Maldonado both rate among the best receivers, and they’re both at their best at the bottom of the zone. A few weeks ago, I wondered whether the Brewers staff tries to exploit this by pitching low in the zone, so I asked Ryan Lind to look up each team’s percentage of pitches thrown below the vertical center of the zone. Here are the teams with the five-highest percentages of low pitches:

Team

Low Pitch Percentage

GB%

Rockies

66.6

48.8 (4th)

Padres

65.9

47.9 (7th)

Brewers

65.5

46.3 (13th)

Pirates

65.1

51.8 (2nd)

Mariners

64.6

44.9 (21st)

    Although they’re not really a groundball-getting staff, the Brewers throw the third-most low pitches (65.6 percent to Lucroy, and 65.5 percent to Maldonado). Wily Peralta, who is a groundball guy, might benefit the most from pitching low (71.0 percent to Maldonado, 72.4 percent to Lucroy).

    I don’t know whether this has anything to do with pitchers trying to pitch to the strengths of their receivers. You can see why the Rockies would want to pitch low to keep the ball out of the air at Coors, and Brewers pitchers might have the same goal: Miller Park inflates home runs even more than Coors, according to our park factors. (Padres pitchers don’t need to worry as much about fly balls doing damage, but by pitching low, they can benefit from Petco Park’s BABIP-suppressing infield.) It’s also possible that part of the reason that Lucroy and Maldonado rate so well on low pitches is that the Brewers’ pitchers are constantly pitching on that edge of the zone, slightly expanding it as a result.
     
  • The Cardinals’ staff had the lowest pitch location when Mike Fast checked a couple years ago, but as Derrick Goold reported in April, they’re more open to elevating now. They still rank sixth in percentage of low pitches, and they lead the majors in groundball rate.
     
  • In case you were wondering, the five staffs with the highest percentages of pitches above the center of the strike zone: Cleveland, San Francisco, Baltimore, Minnesota, Los Angeles (Dodgers).

The Worst (min. 60 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Ryan Doumit

27

90

0.30

Jesus Montero

50

149

0.34

Wilin Rosario

83

138

0.45

John Buck

90

192

0.47

Gerald Laird

37

77

0.48

Kelly Shoppach

51

106

0.48

Rob Brantly

85

175

0.49

Matt Wieters

120

246

0.49

Chris Iannetta

91

186

0.49

Henry Blanco

31

59

0.53

 

Runs

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Runs

Matt Wieters

120

246

-16.4

John Buck

90

192

-13.3

Wilin Rosario

83

183

-13.0

Jesus Montero

50

149

-12.9

Chris Iannetta

91

186

-12.4

Rob Brantly

85

175

-11.7

Carlos Santana

94

173

-10.3

Nick Hundley

113

179

-8.6

Ryan Doumit

27

90

-8.2

Kurt Suzuki

91

154

-8.2

 
  • It looks like Montero’s days as a catcher are over. But Doumit’s catching career won’t die.
     
  • Matt Wieters continues to rate poorly, with most of his struggles to get strikes coming on pitches on the sides of the strike zone. Mike Ferrin asked him about framing and reported back on episode six of Fringe Average that Wieters thinks the size of his body might be blocking the umpire’s view of the ball when a pitcher misses his spot, forcing Wieters to move to receive a pitch that might be a strike based on its location.

    When I asked the AL scout whose interview I linked to above whether there’s an age at which receiving skills peak, this is how he responded:
    I think the experience definitely is the deciding factor. The experience. A lot of that has to do with your pitching staffs also. Really look at the guys, some of these better catchers, look at their pitching staffs. Like Wieters, what he did last year with those guys is unbelievable, because they were just rolling in pitchers from Norfolk like it was going out of style. Come up and pitch, make a spot start, and Wieters was able to call the game and because he knew the league he could get them through six or seven. To me that’s—I mean, what he did last year as far as just how to control of the game and receive was pretty good with what he had. Just imagine what Wieters would do with a staff that has some stuff, and can pitch like Tampa Bay has in the past. Look at the guy in KC now, he’s going have a better staff, he’s really going start to get noticed even more now. A lot of it depends on the pitcher, too. Because if you don’t know where that ball’s going, ooph.
    There’s some statistical support for the idea that Wieters’ staff is costing the Orioles strikes more so than he is. I have two versions of Max Marchi’s framing stats, one with adjustments made to control for the pitcher and one without that adjustment. For most catchers, there’s not much of a difference between the two versions, presumably because most pitching staffs aren’t significantly above or below average in their ability to pitch to targets. For Wieters, though, there is a difference: the non-pitcher-adjusted version has him about 19 runs below average from 2009-12, while the pitcher-adjusted version has him at about 3.6 runs below average.

    And as Mike Fast (who also controlled for pitcher, and who rated Wieters as slightly above average) noted:
    One concern I have with my method is the extent to which catchers are compared either to themselves or to the very limited number of catchers who played on the same team. I attempted to minimize this by comparing catchers to pitcher baselines established over a five-year period, in order to encourage pitcher and catcher switching between teams. Nonetheless, some teams have maintained the same starting catcher for the whole period under investigation. If a team has also tended to promote the bulk of their pitchers from within their own farm system, the degree of pitcher and catcher cross-pollination may be limited.
    This could be a concern for Wieters, who’s caught a high percentage of the largely homegrown Orioles’ innings from 2009 on. (Aside from Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore’s 2008 staff turned over almost entirely before 2009.) In short: Wieters might not be great at getting extra strikes, but he’s probably a good deal better than the leaderboard above makes him look.
***

This Week in Jose Molina, 5/16-5/22

Weekly Net Strikes: 11
Weekly Net Runs: 1.4
Weekly Playing Time: 3 G, 2 GS, 16.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 30 G, 25 GS, 211 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 35
Yearly Net Runs: 4.6

Molina caught only 16 innings, but he made the most of them, gaining 11 net strikes. That’s some serious receiving.

Watch the end of each of these GIFs for the great reactions.

3. Date: 5/18
Batter: Chris Dickerson
Pitcher: Roberto Hernandez
Umpire: Gerry Davis
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 81-mph slider
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.256 feet

Nothing Dickerson could do about that but spit.

2. Date: 5/22
Batter: Adam Lind
Pitcher: Fernando Rodney
Umpire: C.B. Bucknor
Count: 3-0
Pitch type: 97-mph two-seamer
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.323 feet

Lind thinks it's ball four, but Bucknor makes him bow to the master.

1. Date: 5/22
Batter: Munenori Kawasaki
Pitcher: Cesar Ramos
Umpire: C.B. Bucknor
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 93-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.358 feet

Kawasaki's new strategy—take everything!—didn't work that time.

It's worth paying attention to how the Rays have maximized Molina's value while trying to keep him fresh. Molina has come in to catch five games he didn't start. In all five instances, Molina replaced Jose Lobaton in either the eighth or the ninth inning, with the Rays up by one or two runs. On three of those occasions, Lobaton had been replaced by a pinch hitter in the inning before; on the other two, he wasn't, but Molina came in anyway. (On both of the latter occasions, Fernando Rodney was pitching. His control has been shaky, so he needs all the receiving assistance he can get.) It's partially an attempt to maximize offense by sending a better bat than Lobaton's to the plate, but it doesn't hurt to have Molina framing in high-leverage situations as a kind of "pinch catcher." (Question for further study: Is there a pinch-catching penalty?)

***

This Week in Jonathan Lucroy, 5/16-5/22

Weekly Net Strikes: -16
Weekly Net Runs: -2.1
Weekly Playing Time: 5 G, 5 GS, 46.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 35 G, 33 GS, 295.0 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 57
Yearly Net Runs: 7.4

Lucroy’s week was as bad as Molina’s was good. Maybe Molina had a few games where his pitchers all hit their spots, and Lucroy had a few where they all missed them. Then again, there’s no reason to think that catchers don’t go through receiving slumps and hot streaks. If so, this was Lucroy’s biggest slump of the season. But we can still pick out a few strong receptions:

3. Date: 5/21
Batter: Nick Punto
Pitcher: Brandon Kintzler
Umpire: Wally Bell
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 92-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.335 feet


The glove movement here is almost imperceptible.

2. Date: 5/20
Batter: Adrian Gonzalez
Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo
Umpire: Dan Bellino
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 91-mph two-seamer
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.351 feet

Lucroy sets up inside here, which helps. Gonzalez can only stare at the scene of the crime.

1. Date: 5/21
Batter: Dee Gordon
Pitcher: Brandon Kintzler
Umpire: Wally Bell
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 91-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.388 feet

Same pitcher, pitch, umpire, and count as the first Lucroy reception above, just a bit farther from the center of the plate. If catchers can tell that they're getting a pitch, they'll try to get it again.

***

Best Frames of the Week

1. Date: 5/17
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz
Batter: Brandon Phillips
Pitcher: Cliff Lee
Umpire: Marty Foster
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 90-mph two-seamer
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.466 feet

Marty Foster, meet the Brandon Phillips Death Stare.

4. Date: 5/19
Catcher: Chris Snyder
Batter: Sam Fuld
Pitcher: T.J. McFarland 
Umpire: Brian Knight
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 79-mph slider
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.474 feet

Snyder, like Wieters, is 6'4", so he runs as much risk of blocking umpires as Wieters does. The Orioles definitely don't have a bias against tall catchers.

3. Date: 5/21
Catcher: Brian McCann
Batter: Jamey Carroll
Pitcher: Tim Hudson
Umpire: Paul Nauert
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 89-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.525 feet

We welcomed McCann back to this space last week, and it looks like he's going to be a fixture of the best frames section.

2. Date: 5/21
Catcher: Brian McCann
Batter: Pedro Florimon
Pitcher: Tim Hudson
Umpire: Paul Nauert
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 84-mph cutter
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.544 feet

As I was saying. The pulled-back bunt might have helped here.

1. Date: 5/19
Catcher: Yadier Molina
Batter: Carlos Gomez
Pitcher: Seth Maness
Umpire: Ted Barrett
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 87-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.617 feet

Molina had to go get this one, then bring it back up. The best frames don't always involve a pitcher who hits his spot. Carlos Gomez almost moonwalks.

***

Worst Frames of the Week

5. Date: 5/16
Catcher: Chris Stewart
Batter: Dustin Ackley
Pitcher: Andy Pettitte
Umpire: Greg Gibson
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 90-mph two-seamer
Distance from Center: 0.574 feet

Stewart seemed surprised by this one, and didn't catch it cleanly. Maybe he was distracted by a baserunner. Note to self: compare framing performance with the bases empty and runners on.

4. Date: 5/17
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz
Batter: Todd Frazier
Pitcher: Cliff Lee
Umpire: Marty Foster
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 89-mph four-seamer
Distance from Center: 0.482 feet

Lee doesn't miss by that much here (Does he ever?), but Ruiz makes it look like he did. Earlier I mentioned that comparing pitcher-adjusted and non-pitcher adjusted versions of Max Marchi's framing model reveals that the Orioles' staff might be making Matt Wieters look worse than he is. The opposite is the case for Ruiz, who benefits more from removing the pitcher adjustment than any other catcher. That's what comes of catching Lee, Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, Oswalt, Moyer and the rest of the Phillies recent good-command guys.

3. Date: 5/17
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz
Batter: Todd Frazier
Pitcher: Justin De Fratus
Umpire: Marty Foster
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 93-mph four-seamer
Distance from Center: 0.469 feet

Almost a carbon copy of the pitch above. (I've never made an actual carbon copy, but it's so satisfying to say.)

2. Date: 5/19
Catcher: Derek Norris
Batter: George Kottaras
Pitcher: A.J. Griffin
Umpire: Cory Blaser
Count: 1-2
Pitch type: 81-mph slider
Distance from Center: 0.447 feet

First step to better framing: don't let the ball go to the backstop.

1. Date: 5/20
Catcher: Austin Romine
Batter: Nick Markakis
Pitcher: Boone Logan
Umpire: Jeff Kellogg
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 92-mph two-seamer
Distance from Center: 0.345 feet

Romine had the best reception last week, and this week he has the worst.

Last month, I wrote about the worst called ball of the PITCHf/x era (near the end of this article). It was a pretty similar pitch in a pretty similar location, also thrown by Boone Logan. Maybe Logan's sweeping movement makes him hard to catch.

Bonus Worst Ryan Doumit Frame of the Week
Date: 5/17
Batter: Daniel Nava
Pitcher: Vance Worley
Umpire: Eric Cooper
Count: 1-1
Pitch type: 90-mph four-seamer
Distance from Center: 0.619 feet

This was the 13th-worst of the week overall. To be fair, Molina had the 12th-worst overall:

(And he couldn't believe it. Notice how he looks back, as if to tell Bucknor, "You know I'm Jose Molina, right?")

The worst 10 this week also featured other good receivers: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, and Lucroy (twice). It happens to the best of them! (But Doumit isn’t the best of them.)

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

2 comments have been left for this article.

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