Pitch Framing – Which is it Gonna Be, Atlanta?

January 26, 2017

Last week, the Atlanta Braves added Kurt Suzuki as their backup catcher behind Tyler Flowers. With this new addition, let’s examine how the Braves stack up defensively at the catcher position. There are five different components of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) for catchers: Stolen Base Runs Saved, Bunts Runs Saved, Good Play/Misplay Runs Saved, Adjusted Earned Runs Saved, and Strike Zone Runs Saved.

Strike Zone Runs Saved gives the number of runs a catcher saves or costs his team due to his ability or inability to draw extra strike calls. Here are the leaders in Strike Zone Runs Saved from 2014 to 2016:

Catcher Strike Zone Runs Saved
Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves 38
Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs 32
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants 30
Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners 29
Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers 28
Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays 25
Jonathan Lucroy, Texas Rangers 22
Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates 19

 

Here are the trailers in Strike Zone Runs Saved from 2014 to 2016:

Catcher Strike Zone Runs Saved
Kurt Suzuki, Atlanta Braves -29
Dioner Navarro, Free Agent -29
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Free Agent -23
Nick Hundley, San Francisco Giants -18
Wellington Castillo, Baltimore Orioles -18
A.J. Ellis, Miami Marlins -17
Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics -16
Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals -16

 

We can see that the Braves now have the best and worst pitch framers in baseball. Over the last three seasons, Tyler Flowers has saved his teams, the White Sox and Braves, more runs (38) due to his pitch framing than any other catcher. He led the league in both 2015 and 2016 with 16 and 14 runs saved, respectively, due to his ability to draw extra strike calls. Conversely, Kurt Suzuki was the worst pitch framing catcher over the last three seasons, costing the Twins 29 runs.

Suzuki ranks as the worst catcher from 2014-16 in overall DRS, costing his team a total of 38 runs. He has not only had difficulty framing, but he also ranked as the worst catcher in Stolen Base Runs Saved for two of the last three seasons. Both Flowers and Suzuki have been very poor at preventing stolen bases. They cost their teams a combined 24 stolen base runs over the past three seasons—10 from Flowers and 14 from Suzuki. In 2016, they had a combined 127 stolen base attempts against them and only 15 of the runners were caught stealing. This gives them a combined caught stealing percentage of only 12 percent. The overall caught stealing percentage for catchers was 28 percent.

 
 
 

COMMENTS (8 Comments, most recent shown first)

terrific
OldBackstop
At one point I looked at how catchers who were splitting time with a team were ranking....which might speak to nurture rather than nature. Or something. It seems to me that catchers were grouped a lot.....or at least more were both upper half or lower half rather than split. It could be that a tiered look would be more appropriate.

This could mean a heck of a lot of things. But it would be interesting to see if Suzuki suddenly hops up into the leaders with the Braves in 2017....


That's a good point. I bet Suzuki performs better
9:05 PM Jan 30th
 
OldBackstop
At one point I looked at how catchers who were splitting time with a team were ranking....which might speak to nurture rather than nature. Or something. It seems to me that catchers were grouped a lot.....or at least more were both upper half or lower half rather than split. It could be that a tiered look would be more appropriate.

This could mean a heck of a lot of things. But it would be interesting to see if Suzuki suddenly hops up into the leaders with the Braves in 2017.....
12:38 PM Jan 28th
 
steve161
It'll be interesting, come the end of the season, to see how Atlanta's pitchers have fared throwing to each catcher. Assuming, of course, that they're both with the team all season...
5:49 AM Jan 28th
 
flyingfish
seems to me that evidence is available. Almost every ML broadcast--maybe every one--that I've watched in the past couple years has that electronic strike zone in it. I do recognize that the electronic strike zone isn't perfect but it does seem to be better on average than live umpires. Even if it isn't, the data are available to compare how often Suzuki and Flowers (and any other catcher) disagree with it and how often they both differ from the umpire. If the difference in their framing ability is as big as John Dewan's numbers indicate, this comparison should show it.
9:13 PM Jan 27th
 
sansho1
Unlike some other defensive metrics (corner OF runs saved, for instance), these numbers pass the smell test to me. It's not a matter of umpire gullibility IMO, but the inherent optical challenge of making a three-dimensional spatial determination, and doing so instantaneously. The catcher's glove positioning and overall catching form can't be excluded from the mass of visual evidence in that short amount of time. Not to say it is determinative, but it must be a factor -- how can it not?
4:56 PM Jan 27th
 
steve161
The methodology, at least as it was at the time, is in The Fielding Bible Volume IV. My intuition is the same as yours, astros: the numbers are not plausible. But this is true of all DRS numbers.

Your point that umpires are not that gullible deserves greater emphasis. It would be absurd to believe that they are not aware of the recent emphasis on framing and the implication that they can be fooled by a skillful catcher.

I've asked these questions before and never had a satisfactory answer: how many sources are there for pitch location data? How are the raw data analyzed? It's obvious that what we see--pitch tracking boxes on telecasts--is inconsistent. What is Brooks Baseball using? What are MLB's evaluators of umpires using?
10:26 AM Jan 27th
 
astros34
So the difference in runs saved between the best and worst catchers is 67 runs or about 22 per year, and most of these guys aren't full-time (Suzuki and Flowers averaged 110 games caught over those years, a "full-time" catcher would get around 130-140 IMO).

That's a big difference and is hard for me to believe that intuitively, or that the umpires are that gullible. Is there any place that explains how these numbers are derived?
9:39 AM Jan 27th
 
OldBackstop
Flowers has been the better offensive player the past two years, so that makes it easy....but he has only caught more than 112 games once in his career. It is nice having a 2014 All Star taking some starts behind im.
8:54 PM Jan 26th
 
 
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