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In the eighth inning of Sunday night's game against the Chicago Cubs, Carl Crawford reached base on a catcher interference call against Welington Castillo. That marked the twelfth time Crawford had reached via catcher interference in the last five seasons. He easily leads the major leagues over that time frame.

The following table shows the batters who have reached at least twice by catcher's interference. I included data from spring training for the three years I have it in my database.

Batter Reg. Season 2007-11 Playoffs 2007-11 Spr. Training 2009-11
Carl Crawford 12 0 2
Hideki Matsui 7 0 2
Ryan Ludwick 6 0 1
David Murphy 5 0 3
Jacoby Ellsbury 4 1 1
Lyle Overbay 4 0 1
Edwin Encarnacion 4 0 0
Travis Hafner 3 0 0
Andre Ethier 2 0 0
Jose Guillen 2 0 0
Darin Erstad 2 0 0
Miguel Tejada 2 0 0
Ryan Freel 2 0 0
Jeff Clement 1 0 1
Andres Torres 0 0 2

Those 15 batters account for 60 percent of the 93 catcher's interference calls in the majors over the last five seasons, and they account for half of the 26 catcher's interference calls in spring training the last three years. Crawford alone accounts for 13 percent of the regular season calls.

Here are the leading catchers involved.

Catcher Reg. Season 2007-11 Playoffs 2007-11 Spr. Training 2009-11
Brian McCann 5 0 0
Gregg Zaun 5 0 0
Jeff Mathis 4 1 0
Gerald Laird 4 0 0
Jorge Posada 4 0 0
Koyie Hill 3 0 1
Mike Napoli 4 0 0
Humberto Quintero 3 0 0
Miguel Montero 3 0 0
Ronny Paulino 3 0 0
Ivan Rodriguez 2 0 1
Yorvit Torrealba 0 0 3

These 12 catchers accounted for 43 precent of the regular-season calls and 19 percent of the spring training calls. Since there are many fewer catchers than batters, we would expect individual catchers to account for a larger share of the calls than individual batters, all else being equal. The lower totals among individual catcher leaders, as compared to the batters, suggest that batters have more influence on the occurrence of catcher interference than do the catchers themselves.

Just for completeness, let's look at the leaders among pitchers.

Pitcher Reg. Season 2007-11 Playoffs 2007-11 Spr. Training 2009-11
Brian Bannister 3 0 0
Shaun Marcum 3 0 0
Ian Snell 3 0 0
Brad Penny 2 0 0
Heath Bell 2 0 0
Zack Greinke 2 0 0
Ervin Santana 2 0 0
Jered Weaver 2 0 0
John Lackey 1 1 0
Cliff Lee 1 0 1

The pitchers don't seem to have as much of an impact as the other two parties. Snell is on the list mainly because of April 11, 2010, when Adam Moore committed catcher's interference on David Murphy twice in one game. Marcum probably owes his spot on the list to Zaun, who committed two of the offenses. Bannister had the honor with three different catchers: John Buck, Miguel Olivo, and Brayan Pena.

So should we count those bases toward Crawford's on-base percentage?

(This article by Bob Timmermann is a good resource on catcher interference totals prior to 2007.)

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ScottBehson
5/23
I remember catching in my little league days, and this one team had a strategy where it had its worst hitters intentionally try to hit my (and the catchers' of other teams) mitts during their swing to get cheap CIs. It got so bad, our league had to suspend the CI rule. I doubt Crawford, et al are doing it for the same reasons, but it seems odd to reward a batter for hitting the catcher's mitt.
baserip4
5/23
I think these should be treated as if it were a walk or HBP.
zasxcdfv
5/23
I wonder what would happen if the umpires actually enforced the batter's box...
mikefast
5/23
Generally speaking, I don't know, but Crawford doesn't seem to be a particularly egregious offender: http://chris-bernacchi.photoshelter.com/image/I0000ju5Rjx8JvUc
zasxcdfv
5/23
Thanks for the reply. I just remember watching Rickey Henderson erase the back line so he could stand behind it during the second at bat.
mikefast
5/23
Now here's a fun image of Crawford starting to swing (note the back foot): http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/111995958/Diamond-Images And look at the lean here: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/112053908/Getty-Images-Sport
mikefast
5/23
We have PITCHf/x data for 72 of these catcher interference calls. Nothing particularly stands out in pitch types: 71 percent fastballs, 21 percent breaking balls, 8 percent changeups. Fastballs seem overweighted a bit, but I don't know if that's significant given the sample size. The pitch location data shows pitches at middle height across the plate, which is probably to be expected given that the batter swung at the pitch. It occurs most often with left-handed batters on pitches on the outside edge--half the sample of CI fits this criterion.
fantasyking
5/23
That last part makes a lot of sense, although it may seem counterintuitive at first. Catchers, universally, throw right-handed. With a LH batter at the plate, a RH catcher probably feels more confident reaching out to grab an outside pitch; his catching arm is as far away from the bat as it can possibly get. This false sense of security probably causes him to misjudge the risk of CI. On an inside pitch, or any pitch with a RH batter at the plate, the RH catcher will "feel" closer to the batter and exercise more caution in reaching for the pitch. As a former catcher, I can envision this feeling, even sitting at my computer.
mikefast
5/23
Thanks to you and thegeneral13 for your thoughts on this. It makes a lot of sense. I do wonder what it is about Crawford's swing that makes him particularly prone to CI. I should probably watch some video and see if he's doing something different in those instances.
drewsylvania
5/23
Makes me wonder if Carl leans backward as he starts his swing.
thegeneral13
5/23
Could be part of his regular swing (does he have a long swing? does he stand back in the box?) or could be part of his emergency hack, in which case you might find the occurrences skewed toward 2-strike counts. Just a couple thoughts.
mikefast
5/24
Here is still shot of the split second before Crawford's bat hit Castillo's glove on the catcher interference call last night. http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/crawford_catcher_interference_052211.jpg
mikefast
5/24
Here's one with Crawford from August 5, 2010, with Drew Butera's glove about to touch his bat: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/crawford_catcher_interference_080510.jpg And two views of the interference by Gerald Laird against Crawford on July 26, 2010: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/crawford_catcher_interference_072610_1.jpg http://www.baseballprospectus.com/u/images/crawford_catcher_interference_072610_2.jpg
thegeneral13
5/24
These are excellent shots - nice job grabbing the screen caps. The second one (first one in your second post) is exactly what I was thinking these might look like. It is clearly an emergency hack - he is beat on the pitch and just trying to stay back and throw his hands at the ball to foul it off. If that's not on a 2-strike count I'll eat my hat. When the ball gets that deep the arms are going to extend sooner and put the outstretched glove in the path of the swing arc. And look at the extension of Butera's arm. If that is an outside pitch to a righty he can't even reach out that far b/c he'll be reaching across his body (even if he's set up on the corner, which he would be). So that's why I'm thinking lefties are more prone to inducing catcher's interference. The other shots aren't as obvious. In the first one Crawford is beat, but it doesn't look like an outside pitch (looks down the middle, but home plate isn't visible so hard to say). Still, if you look at his back arm you can tell he is dropping the bat into the hitting zone early just to make contact. The 3rd swing looks more normal, but he is leaning back a bit and it is again an outside pitch. In general he also looks like he stands at the very back of the box, which though not unusual, would be a contributing factor.
mikefast
5/24
Thanks very much for your thoughts. That's exactly the type of insight I was hoping to get by posting these pictures. Crawford, by being a lefty who stands at the very back of the box, increases his chances. But that in and of itself is not sufficient because there must be many other such batters. I did notice that he had a very open stance. Would that contribute? As far as pitch locations and ball-strike counts in the photographs go, the first one (5/22/11) was down the middle on a 2-1 pitch. The next one (8/5/10) was on the outside edge, as you can see, and on an 0-1 pitch. The last one (7/26/10) was on a 1-1 pitch that was on the outside half of the plate.
thegeneral13
5/23
70% of the interference calls on your list are by left-handed hitters, which I think is interesting. Assuming lefties do generate more intereference calls historically (would be interesting to see), I was just theorizing on why that could be. If I think about when interference happens, it tends to be when a batter takes an unusually long swing to make contact with an outside pitch. For left-handed hitters, this would be pitches on the glove side of right-handed catchers. Catchers can reach out further to receive pitches on their glove side since they don't have to reach across their bodies. So what I'm thinking is the intersection of the glove protruding slightly further forward and the hitter taking an awkwardly long swing would cause catcher's interference, and that would be a lot more likely with a lefty at the plate than a righty. If it is a structural advantage of left-handed hitters and not a random occurrence attributable to catchers, maybe it should be included in OBP. Of course we'd have to see more data to evaluate this, but I think it would be interesting.
thegeneral13
5/23
Just saw Mike's post - maybe some supporting evidence for what I'm talking about.