The Most Improved Pitch Framers

February 21, 2016

When Baseball Info Solutions developed its pitch-framing component Strike Zone Runs Saved, we discovered that it was one of the most consistent and important aspects of catcher defense. Catchers who are good at drawing extra strike calls because of their framing tend to stay good from year to year. For example, Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey, two of the games’ best framers, have each saved their teams runs with framing every year since 2010, the first year BIS calculated the statistic.

With examples like Lucroy and Posey, it’s tempting to assume that framing is an ability that some players are born with and others are not. However, perhaps in part because we and others have recently been able to put numbers to the skill for the first time, several players made substantial improvements to their framing from 2014 to 2015. Here are the biggest improvers among catchers who caught 500 or more innings in both seasons.

Increase in Extra Strikes per 1,000 Pitches, 2014 to 2015
Player 2014 2015 Improvement
Chris Iannetta -7 10 17
Tyler Flowers 7 17 10
Kurt Suzuki -16 -8 8
Yadier Molina -7 1 8
Welington Castillo -9 -5 4
Yasmani Grandal 7 11 4
Jason Castro 4 8 4


Chris Iannetta was the inspiration of this post, and he easily leads the list. Prior to the 2015 season, he gave an interview where he explained that after discovering he was a poor framer thanks to newer framing metrics, he worked on improving it in the offseason. That hard work clearly paid off. After costing the Angels 38 runs due to poor framing from 2010 to 2014, the third worst total among catchers, Iannetta saved the team seven framing runs in 2015, the eighth best total.

Tyler Flowers was already an excellent framer, but in 2015, he became the best in baseball among full-timers. His 17 extra strikes per 1,000 pitches were five more than the No. 2 framer, Miguel Montero. Yadier Molina was a positive framing contributor every season between 2010 and 2013, so his bad season in 2014 was clearly an outlier and likely impacted by his hand injury. Kurt Suzuki, Welington Castillo, Yasmani Grandal, and Jason Castro round out the list of framing improvers.


COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)

tango, apologies for the slow response but where does the .12 runs per pitch come from? The other question I would ask is how much of the variance year over year is real versus random variance. We would not say a player who get 4 more hits over 600 AB in a year than the prior year had a noticeably better year. That would be equivalent of 7-8 framed pitches per thousand.
7:21 PM Feb 25th
(Fletch: I just realized why you mistook that earlier post of mine.
"That seems like a lot" can mean two pretty opposite things.)
12:45 AM Feb 24th
Agree with you again, Maris. In one of Roger Angells books he gets into the early days of teams having standard ways of playing - cutoffs, positioning, situational responses - being taught to all of an organizations teams, from A to AA to AAA to the MLB club. Part of it had to do with pitch framing for catchers and it was emphasized that the goal was to do everything possible to make it easier for the umpire to make the correct call, that improper technique would have the effect of stealing good pitches away from your own team.
7:32 PM Feb 23rd
I have doubts about that factor -- because I think "pitch framing," by and large, is a subtle thing, at least the kind of 'pitch framing' that can affect umpire's calls.

Announcers (as well as actual people) :-) sometimes talk about a catcher "pulling a ball back into the strike zone," and we see catchers doing that. I've doubted that this ever influences an umpire; they're not that stupid or that blind. If a pitch is out there or up there, pulling it back isn't going to affect how the ump sees it.

Real pitch framing, on the other hand.....I think mostly it's more like an avoidance of awkwardly making a pitch look bad -- isn't it? I once heard Bob Boone interviewed about it (while he was still playing), about how he was good at getting strikes called, and that's basically how he put it: "You just don't want to lunge at it...."
I thought that of course he was putting it that way in part to avoid the kind of thing you're talking about -- to avoid making it seem like he was getting the best of the umpires, to avoid making the umps tilt the other way, not just to 'correct' for this factor but out of being upset that he was showing them up (if he had put it any more strongly). BUT ALSO, it seemed to me that in fact that's usually just what it is. "You don't want to lunge at it" and make a good pitch seem bad.

Cliff's Notes: I'm saying that pitch framing doesn't much involve getting bad balls called strikes; it's the avoidance of the opposite.
7:05 PM Feb 23rd
Scott's comment, the first in the thread, is worth thinking about. The umpires don't spend the off-season hermetically sealed away from the world--and they have a union that, if it's doing its job, is very much aware of this discussion.

They know something else (and apologies in advance for harping on this theme again): they know that they are being judged by a system based on a two-dimensional strike zone whose top and bottom are being defined by some guy in front of a monitor.

If I were an umpire, all of this would mess with my mind. Which I suppose could be a significant difference between an umpire and me.
5:24 PM Feb 23rd
Another thing that was a little like that: The media trying to figure out the first Supreme Court decision on Obamacare.

It was interesting as hell to watch them scrambling with those pages, leafing through the whole thing, thinking out loud. From what I saw, at first most of them thought the law had been struck down. I didn't know right away that it was wrong, but it didn't sound to me like they necessarily had it right yet.
11:26 AM Feb 23rd
By the way, Maris...I completely misread your first reaction to Tango's comment. I thought you were questioning whether the effect could be all that large, whereas you were really just accepting it (with appreciation). Oddly enough, our comments back and forth wouldn't have changed even if I had understood you in the first place.

I damn near got into a fight (an actual physical altercation in a bar) with a friend when we thought we were disagreeing, but were in fact agreeing. We misunderstood what one of us had said and the followup back and forth escalated and seemed to make sense. Life is funny sometimes, at least until somebody loses an eye or something.
11:16 AM Feb 23rd
.....and in general, a difference of ~ 9 runs = 1 game!
(That's what I based my "1.5 games" figure on. I didn't explain it because I thought this was pretty common knowledge here.)

Actually I don't know what the current figure is. :-)
It varies from era to era, and to some extent from year to year. I think in recent decades it's generally been 8 to 10; now actually it might be closer to 8, because of offensive numbers having been down.

I'm sure some of our readers know what the recent amount has been (probably to the decimal) :-) or can look it up. I don't know where the exact figures can be found or how to easily derive them.

2:29 AM Feb 23rd
Well...sure...because any pitch can affect a game, and does to one degree or another. Again, it's a question of just how much influence this particular measure has.
1:07 AM Feb 23rd
Sure it can, because once in a while it can turn a game.

And, more basically, anything that affects "runs" can affect given games.
11:40 PM Feb 22nd
He said low impact number, meaning number of pitches in a game, but significant over the course of a full least that's the way I took it.

Makes me wonder, though, if something of extremely low impact during the course of a whole game, (negligible impact, really) can possibly have any impact no matter how much volume is gathered over the course of many games.

It's like an extremely safe dose of arsenic. You can collect enough of them to make a lethal dose, but in this case you can't really gather all of these little events and use them in one game...thinking of it that way, maybe this stuff has no real significance.
10:28 PM Feb 22nd
(The only reason I commented was that Tango called it "low impact." Of course it's vague what 'low impact' means, but it looked to me like an understating. That's all.) :-)
10:08 PM Feb 22nd
Maris, I don't know if it's a lot, or not, but even if it what? Many years ago most fans didn't think walks meant very much, right? I'm not criticizing your thought; it seems a lot to me, too, but because of John's article, and Tiger's and your comments, I feel like I've learned something.
9:30 PM Feb 22nd
Tango: Actually that seems like a lot, doesn't it? (It's more than I would have ever thought, at least.)

That's about 1.5 games difference, right there, from that factor alone. Which I'd say is a lot for a thing that we're wondering if it's sort of negligible. For example, it's just about equal to the maximum difference that a great base stealer can make (am I right about that?), and about equal to the maximum difference that a given outfielder's "baserunner kills" can ever make.

As per my prior post, I do think this is but a small portion of the usually-umeasured defensive contribution of a catcher -- but that seems pretty big.
7:37 PM Feb 22nd
willi: there's about 75 "callable" pitches per game, so figure about 10,000 pitches per full-time season for a catcher, which is the better standard to show as a rate.

Let's say a great catcher is worth +100 pitches per season (less than 1 per game). A pitch is worth around .12 to .14 runs. So, we're talking about 13 runs.

It's a low impact number, but they make it up in volume.
7:00 PM Feb 22nd
(ooops, pardon -- John's article.)
1:54 PM Feb 22nd
.....and what I think is that "pitch framing" is an overemphasized thing for a different reason: It's a relatively small part of a catcher's "intangible" contribution but the conversation seems to have evolved to a point where it's thought of as the main thing, maybe almost the only thing.

BTW this isn't at all a complaint about Dave's article, only about how I think the subject is often seen.
1:53 PM Feb 22nd
Is it just me or is this much ado about nothing. Given 140-150 pitches per game. 7 pitchers per thousand is one pitch per game. Seems like a very small impact. Obviously could be a critical pitch but still.
6:55 AM Feb 22nd
I have wondered, and will continue to wonder, the extend to which umpires see this data and are influenced by it in their pitch calling. And therefore, I wonder whether pitch framing will continue to be a consistent skill. If I were an umpire, and I knew that based on some new metric that say, Yadier Molina was good at making me look bad, I would certainly take that into consideration when assessing my own skill and perception, and I would probably at least be aware of it when he is catching.
6:27 AM Feb 22nd
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