Could Jonathan Lucroy Be As Good As Yadier Molina?

March 8, 2015

Yadier Molina is considered to be the best defensive catcher in baseball. He’s won six of the nine Fielding Bible Awards since we began them in 2006, and he’s won seven consecutive Gold Glove Awards.

Those accolades are well deserved because Molina is an exceptional defender in all facets of catcher defense. He has thrown out 40.8 percent of baserunners attempting to steal since he became a full-time player in 2005, which is the most of any catcher with at least 1,400 innings over that span. He’s tied for fourth among the same qualifiers with a 94.2 percent block rate of pitches in the dirt. He’s second in total Good Fielding Plays in that time, and he’s a great handler of pitchers, as evidenced by his 21 Adjusted Earned Runs Saved, the most in baseball in that time.

Jonathan Lucroy has recently started to be recognized as an elite defender. In fact, he won his first Fielding Bible Award in 2014. But prior to 2014, when he dramatically improved his pitch blocking and pitcher handling, Lucroy was actually a below-average defensive catcher except for one skill: pitch framing.

BIS has only recently started to measure the impact of framing in a component of Defensive Runs Saved called Strike Zone Runs Saved, but when we calculated it back to 2010, we found out something very interesting. Lucroy is such a good framer that that one skill is enough to make Lucroy one of the most valuable defensive catchers in baseball. Over the last five seasons, Lucroy is nearly as valuable as Molina based almost entirely on his framing:

Defensive Runs Saved, 2010-2014
Player Adj. ER Saved Stolen Base Runs Saved Bunt Runs Saved GFP/ DME Runs Saved Strike Zone Runs Saved Total Runs Saved
Yadier Molina 13 21 6 24 33 97
Jonathan Lucroy -7 -7 -1 22 85 92


In aggregate, Lucroy trails Molina by just five runs, 92 to 97. Meanwhile, 85 of Lucroy’s 92 Runs Saved are due to his elite framing.

Both the Molina vs. Lucroy example and the methodology of Strike Zone Runs Saved are fully explained in The Fielding Bible—Volume IV, which is available now. In addition, I’d like to congratulate BIS’s own Joe Rosales and Scott Spratt for their recent victory at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, where their paper on Strike Zone Runs Saved titled Who Is Responsible For A Called Strike? was named co-winner of the Research Paper Competition.


COMMENTS (11 Comments, most recent shown first)

As an even older "backstop' (and I love your input everyday OB) and recent umpiring school graduate, there's more to 'pitch framing' than the act of the catcher's mitt receiving the pitch. #1 - catcher must study and anticipate umpires work habits and tendencies. A) catcher must position self 'compactly,' if you will, for every pitch and not shift or cheat, let's say in advance of breaking balls on low corners. Understand that umpires CANNOT SEE LOW AND AWAY PITCHES WELL. (and they all have bad habits of pulling their heads). The old, old style was to provide pitcher a 4-point target: shin guards plus glove and meat hand closed as a fist and squared up. (prior to Bench snatch style. Current one handed snatch makes pitch framing much more difficult). B) catcher shifts weight in one smooth controlled motion on low outside pitches and balls in dirt SO THAT UMPIRE RETAINS BEST VIEW. C) pitchers' demeanor, intention and execution are X Factors. (Say Greg Maddux and 'backdoor strikes'). D) Catcher must earn umpires respect, meaning never show him up on close calls.
12:35 PM Mar 15th
I suppose I should reserve judgment until FB IV shows up, but this doesn't pass the smell test. 85 K-zone RS, but -7 ER saved??? This one skill makes up for Lucroy rating below average on all other measured skills? Please.

I've been aware of pitch framing since the advent of the CF camera, and particularly since watching Bob Boone catch Don Sutton in the 1986 ALCS, so no doubt that this increases our understanding of catcher defense. Serious doubts however about that old bugaboo of DRS in general: the scale factor.

I continue to argue that Molina's throwing is underrated by this (and probably any other current) methodology. Typically he has to deal with about half as many SB attempts as other catchers: this intimidation factor is not accounted for. Further, it is likely that, when a runner does attempt to steal, he thinks he has a decent chance to succeed, so he is more selective of his opportunities than he would be against another catcher. And Molina still manages to throw out more than 40%.

I could go on, but I'll wait for the book.
7:57 PM Mar 9th
Hey Rob...hey, I was getting screamed at in 1973 to frame pitches, set low targets, bring the ball back in, soft hands, don't stab. If you didn't, you were running laps in gear. It seems to me like something you do or don't, not something you do SO WELL to the impact painted here. And I think there is a halo effect, Johnny Bench gets the calls. What makes me jaded is that I'd look to other numbers first, horses not zebras. Do some of the pitchers Lucroy catches get close calls themselves, ala Koufax? Do they get crappy calls ala Jouqan (sp) Andujar? Who are the umps traveling with Milwaukee? Guys that give the corners? His backup is does he do on this stuff? It just seems odd to me that this would be an emerging issue of such weight. If you asked me who I wanted between Molina and Lucroy, I'd take the guy that threw out 50 more runners, and intimidated how many? (Although gotta like Lucroy's doubles last year). Sidenote: what the hell do I know, I learn from your books :-) )
6:05 PM Mar 9th
Dear OldBackstop, thanks for the kind words about the book. As for Questec, it's not really that catchers are (or were, before Questec and its relations) stealing strikes on pitches clearly outside the strike zone. It's always been about getting the calls on the close ones, those borderline pitches that could reasonably have been called a ball OR a strike. 50/50 pitches, you might call them. And if a catcher is getting strikes on 60 percent of those rather than 50, over the course of the season that actually becomes real runs that matter.

That's the idea, anyway. And it's been a big deal for a long time, at least within baseball. I wrote something on the subject a couple of weeks ago, might interest you:​021715
3:41 PM Mar 9th
Hi Rob I'm enjoying the blunders book right now, rereading it... lots of fun. As far as pitch framing, well, I come from a family of catchers. I look at pitch framing as something that should be notable only in its absence. And, more to the point, aren't umps getting reviewed by QuesTec data now? It's a little hard to say you called that outside ball a strike because of its attractive pastel aura.​
2:06 PM Mar 9th
I had thought that Adj. ER Saved incorporated (indirectly and with regression to league average) pitch framing abilities, but apparently BIS feels that it does not, layering a newer pitching framing ability on top of it. I look forward to reading the full explanation in Fielding Bible IV.

I very much agree with robneyer's comment.
2:59 AM Mar 9th
Dear OldBackstop and 77royals, there is a wealth of evidence behind the value of pitch-framing. We could have a large discussion about this, I suppose, but it probably wouldn't be worthwhile unless you've read some of the sophisticated work that's been done by Baseball Info Solutions, Baseball Prospectus, and others. -r
12:05 AM Mar 9th
In my opinion, "pitch framing" is a minor trick that maybe influenced umps before QuesTec. A catcher may get better calls, but it is due to things like being palsy/schmoozy with an ump, or nasty/angry, or instilling confidence in a pitcher to where they hit their spots. I realize that the next generation of Sabermetrics has to tackle the quasi- intangibles, but the numbers here belie the matter how pretty Lucroy frames, it isn't THAT much better than Molina, and doesn't wipe out a skill like throwing a runner out. Come on...
10:35 PM Mar 8th
John, who was ahead of Molina in blocking pitches in the dirt, and who is the worst at that (among regular catchers)?
8:09 PM Mar 8th
Yeah, I think you guys jumped the shark here. Don't you think QuesTec sunsetted this line of inquiry?
7:47 PM Mar 8th
No such thing as framing. When are you guys going to give up on this?

For people who demand advanced sabermetrics as proof of anything, why do you continue to support a theory without proof meaning anything?
6:04 PM Mar 8th
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