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July 29, 2013

Overthinking It

This Week in Catcher Framing, 7/26

by Ben Lindbergh

We were off last week because of the All-Star break, so this edition will cover the two weeks since last time.

Framing-related link
I did a guest spot on the Blue Jays Plus podcast to talk about J.P. Arencibia's receiving skills. As you'll probably recall from his previous appearances at BP, Arencibia rated very poorly over the past two seasons, and at the beginning of this season. But in mid-June, he worked with Blue Jays roving catching instructor Sal Fasano, and since then he's rated quite well. Small sample, of course, but the statistical improvement seems to be backed up by mechanical improvements. I might write more about this soon, but for now you can hear me talk about it if you're so inclined. The moral of the story is that Sal Fasano is still the best possible person.

As luck would have/not have it, Arencibia shows up in both this week's best and this week's worst frames, so while he may be better, he hasn't perfected his new technique.

2013 League Leaders (Out-of-zone strikes and in-zone balls, not adjusted for other factors)

The Best (min. 180 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Hank Conger

163

100

1.63

Yasmani Grandal

130

80

1.63

Jonathan Lucroy

429

276

1.55

Martin Maldonado

138

104

1.33

David Ross

102

78

1.31

Erik Kratz

163

139

1.17

Yadier Molina

366

322

1.14

Evan Gattis

122

113

1.08

Brian McCann

217

203

1.07

Jose Molina

231

218

1.06


The Worst (min. 180 OZoneStrikes+ZoneBalls)

Ratio

Catcher

OZoneStrikes

ZoneBalls

Ratio

Ryan Doumit

46

205

0.22

Jesus Montero

54

146

0.37

Kelly Shoppach

79

181

0.44

Rob Brantly

147

336

0.44

Carlos Santana

178

382

0.47

John Jaso

111

219

0.51

Chris Iannetta

203

388

0.52

Kurt Suzuki

192

357

0.54

A.J. Pierzynski

197

353

0.56

Joe Mauer

192

340

0.56

***

This Week in Jose Molina, 7/11-7/24

Net Strikes: -14
Playing Time: 6 G, 6 GS, 53.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 63 G, 56 GS, 479.0 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 13

Over the last month, Molina has hit .152/.245/.261, spoiling what was until that point a pretty productive season at the plate. Maybe he's wearing down, or maybe it's just a slump, but either way, it raises some conflicting feelings. We don't talk much about Molina's offense in this space, since "This Week in Molina Hits Groundballs and Fails to Beat Them Out" wouldn't have the same appeal, but I'm always torn between two wishes. On the one hand, I want him to hit well, both because I want him to keep catching and because once you've watched one man catch baseballs and move them slightly up or down or to the side enough times, you start to feel a certain fondness for him. On the other hand, I want to know how bad he'd have to be for the Rays to stop starting him, because that would tell us where they think the breakeven point is for a great framer who can't hit (and by extension, what they think the skill is worth). Sure, one of those options involves Molina losing his livelihood, but either way, we learn something!

3. Date: 7/20
Batter: Adam Lind
Pitcher: Jeremy Hellickson
Umpire: David Rackley
Count: 3-1
Pitch type: 83-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.238 feet

Borderline low and borderline outside, but Molina sets up low and outside himself, which helps him get the strike.

2. Date: 7/20
Batter: Colby Rasmus
Pitcher: Jeremy Hellickson
Umpire: David Rackley
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 91-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.245 feet

Second verse, same as the first (except on the inside corner this time).

1. Date: 7/24
Batter: Shane Victorino
Pitcher: David Price
Umpire: Larry Vanover
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 85-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.390 feet

Price misses his spot by quite a bit here. Molina seems to be expecting something on the outside corner, but the pitch cuts across the plate and ends up inside. Some catchers would react late and stab at the ball, drawing the umpire's attention to the pitch's distance from the target, but Molina keeps his glove loose and makes it look like a minor adjustment. "It just seems like every pitch you throw, he's able to catch it clean, frame it, and make it look like a strike," Price said recently. "We love him for it." This is why.

***

This Week in Jonathan Lucroy, 7/11-7/24

Net Strikes: 14
Playing Time: 8 G, 8 GS, 69.0 innings
Yearly Playing Time: 79 G, 76 GS, 671.1 innings
Yearly Net Strikes: 153

You're about to see some of the best moments of Jonathan Lucroy's last couple weeks. But first, one of the worst:

He looked like that for a minute or two more. And according to Yahoo! Answers, this wasn't the first time.

3. Date: 7/20
Batter: Adeiny Hechavarria
Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo
Umpire: Larry Vanover
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 91-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.326 feet

The low Lucroy specialty, with the traditional token of appreciation from Hechavarria.

2. Date: 7/12
Batter: Cliff Pennington
Pitcher: Tom Gorzelanny
Umpire: Phil Cuzzi
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 85-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.331 feet

Even lower, and Pennington's look back might be a top-10 framed batter reaction of 2013.

1. Date: 7/23
Batter: Will Venable
Pitcher: Donovan Hand
Umpire: Jim Reynolds
Count: 3-0
Pitch type: 89-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.410 feet

Trying to catch Lucroy's glove closing is like trying to watch a hummingbird's wings beat once.

***

Best Frames of the Week

5. Date: 7/19
Catcher: John Buck
Batter: Domonic Brown
Pitcher: Greg Burke
Umpire: Tim Timmons
Count: 2-0
Pitch type: 81-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.506 feet

Buck rates pretty poorly as a receiver, but he does a nice job with this low offering from Burke.

4. Date: 7/21
Catcher: Josh Thole
Batter: Desmond Jennings
Pitcher: Aaron Loup
Umpire: Jim Joyce
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 82-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.523 feet

Once you've caught R.A. Dickey, Aaron Loup is easy. Thole's glove almost seems to circle toward the ball, but he holds it steady after he catches the pitch.

3. Date: 7/13
Catcher: Tyler Flowers
Batter: Darin Ruf
Pitcher: Hector Santiago
Umpire: Fieldin Culbreth
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 80-mph changeup
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.529 feet

Flowers rates well as a receiver, and a Chicago radio host told me that he's focused on his receiving skills even more since coming across online analysis of its value. This is the way to do it.

2. Date: 7/13
Catcher: J.P. Arencibia
Batter: Adam Jones
Pitcher: Todd Redmond
Umpire: Angel Hernandez
Count: 2-1
Pitch type: 84-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.534 feet

Here's the new Arencibia, showing very little pre- or post-pitch body or glove movement. Impressive, right? One of the questions I tried to answer in my feature on framing at Grantland was whether a bad framer could become a good framer, and if so, how long it might take. The consensus was that it was possible, but that it's generally not something that happens overnight. Arencibia might be an exception.

1. Date: 7/19
Catcher: Yan Gomes
Batter: Trevor Plouffe
Pitcher: Joe Smith
Umpire: Chris Conroy
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 89-mph sinker
Distance from Strike Zone: 0.545 feet

Is it just me, or is the camera at Target Field a little on the high side? I like a direct center-field angle as much as the next guy, but this one makes me think every pitch is low. Gomes does a good job here of making the umpire think the opposite.

***

Worst Frames of the Week

5. Date: 7/12
Catcher: Wilson Ramos
Batter: Ed Lucas
Pitcher: Stephen Strasburg
Umpire: Jerry Layne
Count: 0-1
Pitch type: 94-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.440 feet

Ramos has historically rated well, and Strasburg's fastball is far from straight, but this one likely clipped the outside corner.

4. Date: 7/19
Catcher: Wilin Rosario
Batter: Cole Gillespie
Pitcher: Rex Brothers
Umpire: Adrian Johnson
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 95-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.430 feet

Compare this reception to the Price pitch to Molina above. It doesn't miss the target by more, but Rosario makes it look like it does, stabbing at the last second rather than smoothly shifting the glove to meet the ball. Then he holds the ball in place for a beat until he remembers, "Riiight, I'm Wilin Rosario, and I'm not going to get this call."

3. Date: 7/20
Catcher: Nick Hundley
Batter: Matt Carpenter
Pitcher: Edinson Volquez
Umpire: Clint Fagan
Count: 1-0
Pitch type: 78-mph curveball
Distance from Center: 0.396 feet

A lot of excess movement here. Hundley never stops sliding toward the outside corner.

2. Date: 7/22
Catcher: J.P. Arencibia
Batter: Carl Crawford
Pitcher: Aaron Loup
Umpire: Dan Bellino
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 92-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.297 feet

Okay, so Arencibia is still a work in progress.

1. Date: 7/21
Catcher: John Buck
Batter: Michael Young
Pitcher: Matt Harvey
Umpire: Mike Winters
Count: 0-2
Pitch type: 98-mph four-seam fastball
Distance from Center: 0.281 feet

This is Harvey's "I would've preferred to get that call" face.

***

Bonus Worst Ryan Doumit Frame of the Week
Date: 7/13
Batter: Brett Gardner
Pitcher: Samuel Deduno
Umpire: Vic Carapazza
Count: 0-0
Pitch type: 82-mph curveball
Distance from Center: 0.686 feet

I can't think of another catcher who clenches his throwing hand directly between the ball and the umpire while receiving the pitch. On the bright side, Doumit has perfected his staredown of the runner on third.

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

6 comments have been left for this article.

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