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Catcher framing and Blocking the Ball.

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#1 absintheofmalaise

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 07:27 PM

There was an excellent article in BP today by Mike Fast on how good or bad a catcher is at framing pitches does matter. Based on the study he did, it matters quite a bit over the course of a season.

The best at saving runs in a season based on runs per 120 games is Jose Molina at 35 followed by Jonathan Lucroy at 24.

Interesting read.

#2 absintheofmalaise

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 07:25 PM

One of the complaints with UZR, and other defensive metric systems has always been that the way they judged catcher defense was sorely lacking. In addition to Mike Fast's work in the post above, Bojan Koprivica, from THT, has gotten together with Mr. Fast to develop a modeling system to help evaluate how good, bad or indifferent catchers are at blocking balls in the dirt.

He went on to combine Fast's data on pitch framing, Fangraph's data on preventing stolen bases and his own data on blocking balls to come up with an adjusted WAR ranking for 2011. The usual warnings about small sample size apply. For those that can turn their lonely eyes away from the gran facenda that is Red Sox baseball these days, Salty ranked 11th out of 36* catchers with at least 500 innings in 2011 and had an adjusted WAR of 3.3. FG had him at 2.5.

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*thanks Jon Abbey

#3 jon abbey

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 08:39 PM

Thanks for both those posts, abs, I find this area of study fascinating. I remember arguing here in 2008 about what an asset I thought Jose Molina and his .576 OPS was for NY (although he ended up having to play too much that year and wore down), so it's interesting to see some numbers in that direction.

Looking at the above listing, I'm struck by how much Carlos Santana evidently hurts his team defensively, I had no idea. Now I wonder if he'll stick there long-term.

One thing is that there were actually 36 catchers with 500+ innings caught this year, that table just lists the top 15 in adjusted WAR, so Saltamacchia comes off a lot better than 11th out of 15, actually 11th out of 36. The full list is linked on the original article, and is DLable here:


Varitek is 32nd out of 36 with a -0.5 adjusted WAR (down from 0.5), JP Arencibia is right above him at -0.2, all the way down from 1.5.

#4 absintheofmalaise

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 08:54 PM

Thanks Jon. I read that wrong. I'll correct it in the post

#5 Sprowl

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 09:14 PM

Lots of good material in Koprivica's article. He breaks down catching skills into framing, blocking pitches and the running game. The methodology for pitch-blocking shows knuckleballs as a disaster field for all catchers, but especially Saltalamacchia. Salty looks like a very good defensive catcher without Wakefield. Varitek used to block pitches very well, which helped him with Beckett and Matsuzaka, who throw a lot of breaking pitches in the dirt. Whether he is still so effective isn't so clear, and Fast's numbers suggest that Varitek is quite poor at framing pitches. That's the opposite of conventional wisdom from 2009, when using a different strike zone definition Varitek seemed to be quite effective at stealing strikes, so it bears some further examination.

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#6 Kevin Jewkilis

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 09:39 PM

The bad news/good news is that apparently Satly is particularly bad at catching knuckleballs:

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I wish he showed the numbers for Salty when he's catching everyone else, just so we could find out exactly how much Wakefield depressed his value. I suppose it's reasonably likely we'll find out next year, and his numbers should improve accordingly.


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Posted 18 October 2011 - 09:49 PM

I'd like to see how catching the Knuckler affected Josh Bard, but that would have been a really small sample size anyway...

#8 absintheofmalaise

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Posted 30 November 2011 - 10:17 PM

There is some really good discussion over at BBTF on catcher framing that came about with the signing of Molina. Thought y'all might be interested in it.

#9 OttoC

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Posted 01 December 2011 - 07:57 AM

This is an excellent thread but I think there is at least one more piece that needs to be added. A pitch that bounces before it gets to the catcher will be scored a wild pitch if the catcher does not block it (if runners advance/batter gets to first on a strikeout or walk). A fair number of wild pitches could/should be blocked. I'm not sure how to quantify this except for watching the play but I'd be leery of saying a certain catcher is good at blocking pitches based solely on number of passed balls recorded against him.

#10 KiltedFool

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Posted 05 December 2011 - 04:58 PM

I was having deja vu about this article until I looked at it and saw it was originally posted in September. I read it back then and much of it's observation rings true from my time as a catcher when I was a kid. Catching mechanics is one of my few strong suits of baseball knowledge and a significant chunk of what got me my membership, a discussion of Kottaras' struggles with framing pitches and catching the knuckler here was my first post as a member.

I'll reiterate a piece of my previous post

Framing pitches, as noted above, mostly consists of minimizing how much movement the umpire senses (not sees, senses, as he crouches in proximity/contact with the catcher's back).

Because the umpire can't perfectly see both corners at the same time without parallax issues, he has to use judgement. If the catcher in front of him sets up and receives the pitch and barely moves his body or his glove, that must mean the pitcher hit the glove, and of course the catcher set up with his glove in the strike zone right? The two pieces of the catcher that the ump will be most aware of are his glove and his head, since the glove is out front and the catcher's head occupies the majority of the umpire's peripheral vision on one side. On a pitch low in the zone, the umpire's view is occluded, but the catcher's head moving in his peripheral vision is almost a billboard yelling "it's low!".

Minimal movement felt or perceived by the umpire is the key, which can sometimes lead to a ball lipping off the edge of the mitt or trickling away. A ball tailing in on a right handed batter, at some point rather than move the glove laterally you should rotate the glove from palm down to palm up to make the catch. But rotating the glove like that looks like a lot more movement and much less likely to get the call, and it's not a decision you have a lot of time to make in real time. Similar situation with pitches that are low and the catcher has to decide how low a pitch he can catch the ball normally rather than flop his mitt over the other way.

And one thing I noticed when I played as a kid that I didn't think would carry through to higher levels of competition but it seems like it does:
When you catch the ball, stop the mitt in place. The BP article references the Art of Catching book about stopping the mitt when you catch the ball, and it's true. Moving the mitt any further than needed to make the catch is asking for it to be called a ball. Catching the ball and moving the mitt back in to the strike zone is asking to get it called a ball and runs the chance of ticking the ump off ("You think I didn't notice that?" How dumb do you think I am?"). I wouldn't think major league catchers would still make both of those errors but they do. The only time moving the mitt back into the zone seems to help is the low pitch, like a curve caught clean right above the dirt, you can sometimes snatch it.

Hell I still see pros pound the mitt behind the inside corner so the batter can hear it and set up outside, that didn't even work in junior high ball.

There's also an exact length of time to hold the mitt still after the catch. Too short and it's like rolling through a stop sign. Too long and you're trying too hard to convince the ump it was a strike. Catch it firmly, pause a moment, throw the ball back.

Another factor that just occurred to me regarding quiet catchers who don't move much. A catcher who isn't moving around as much the umpire can get in much closer and be more confident in not interfering with him. Wasn't uncommon back then for the ump to be in contact with the back of my shoulder, similar may pertain in the majors.