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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Baseball Prospectus | Overthinking It: The 50-Run Receiver

It’s significant, really significant. It’s sufficiently significantly significant that my jaw dropped when I read it. That’s five wins in 709.2 innings (or about 79 games). Color me skeptical. In an article from July, Molina ranked 11th overall and Marchi’s method credited him with 15 runs saved to that point. That means in a few weeks in July and the months of August and September Molina saved 35 runs by framing pitches. Compare the 50 runs figure to the totals contained in Marchi’s introductory article on Baseball Prospectus (which estimated that Molina had saved 62.8 runs *in the previous four years*) and the numbers just don’t look right. I guess it’s not impossible but I’d need to read a more detailed breakdown of the figures before I accept it at face value.

Maddon: Well, I could reveal to you a stat that I just got today that I think would really blow some people’s minds up. I don’t know exactly how it’s calculated or formulated, but it was concluded that he saved us 50 runs this year. And that’s highly significant. You could break down—you know, people just notice once well, maybe he does not block a baseball. I agree with that, although when he has to, he has blocked the ball well. Early in the season, he was not throwing well, but by the end of the year, he was one of the best throwers in the American League. Also by the end of the year, he started hitting the ball and impacting it a lot better. But we did not—whatever we get from his bat was always going to be a bonus. It was primarily based on defense. So if you get a catcher that’s saving you 50 runs on an annual basis, that is highly significant. So, again, without—I don’t have all the information in front of me, but that’s a highly significant number. So, at the end of the day, people are going to look at the superficial part of all this, but we can’t do that. We do have to look under the hood, and actually, Jose was very, very prominent in our success this year.

Jim Furtado Posted: November 14, 2012 at 03:51 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Walt Davis Posted: November 14, 2012 at 04:44 PM (#4302744)
Not only does it seem impossible that he could save 50 runs in a season, he in fact had only 80 starts and caught only 710 innings so it's 50 runs in about 2/3 of a full C season.

And that may be the strongest argument against the notion that he saved 50 runs -- why then did the Rays give him only 80 starts? He seems to have been healthy the whole year and he didn't hit any worse than Lobaton or Gimenez. Barrelling down the stretch, he got only 13 starts in 22 games from Sept 1 to 25.

Granted, those GIFs are absurd.
   2. Dan Posted: November 14, 2012 at 04:52 PM (#4302748)
If the Rays identified the value of his framing and had him focus on doing it on every pitch instead of intermittently it could certainly explain his pitch framing going to another level this season. They certainly seem to value it given that they signed him after these numbers came out, so it wouldn't be surprising if their coaches had him working on it even more.
   3. JJ1986 Posted: November 14, 2012 at 05:17 PM (#4302791)
Obviously it's not a good measure, but his CERA was 3.22. LoBaton's was 3.24 and Gimenez's was 3.21.
   4. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: November 14, 2012 at 05:23 PM (#4302801)
As I've mentioned before, looking at those GIFs and coming away with a response of "Wow! What a great job Molina does of framing pitches!" is pure lunacy. To me the obvious response is, "there absolutely must be a better way of calling balls and strikes." If this is a valuable skill, it's one that an effort should be made to make obsolete. It's roughly the same as a wrestling manager distracting the referee, while the heel hits the face with a folding chair.
   5. Moeball Posted: November 14, 2012 at 05:53 PM (#4302842)
I've often wondered about these kinds of situations, and just how many runs can a catcher really save by "framing" or other skills?

They say that Bob Boone was about the best there was at the art of framing, but how do you measure it? Can it be a component of CERA somehow?

Finally, at what point do you just not care any more whether a catcher can hit or not? I seem to remember back in the 80s the Padres had a catcher, Gwosdz I think it was (what a name!) - at any rate, he was only a backup catcher because he couldn't hit, but it seemed like pitchers only gave up 2 runs a game whenever he caught, and if a catcher really could somehow reduce the runs allowed by pitchers up to 1 or 2 runs a game that might be enough that a manager wouldn't care what he costs the team at bat.
   6. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: November 14, 2012 at 06:24 PM (#4302882)
As I've mentioned before, looking at those GIFs and coming away with a response of "Wow! What a great job Molina does of framing pitches!" is pure lunacy. To me the obvious response is, "there absolutely must be a better way of calling balls and strikes." If this is a valuable skill, it's one that an effort should be made to make obsolete. It's roughly the same as a wrestling manager distracting the referee, while the heel hits the face with a folding chair.

Exactly my reaction. It's terrible that he and the Rays are being rewarded for that "skill." The calls in each of those GIFs was atrocious.
   7. Petunia inquires about ponies Posted: November 14, 2012 at 06:30 PM (#4302892)
Who is Percy Harvin, 2011, Alex.
   8. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: November 14, 2012 at 06:30 PM (#4302893)

As I've mentioned before, looking at those GIFs and coming away with a response of "Wow! What a great job Molina does of framing pitches!" is pure lunacy. To me the obvious response is, "there absolutely must be a better way of calling balls and strikes." If this is a valuable skill, it's one that an effort should be made to make obsolete. It's roughly the same as a wrestling manager distracting the referee, while the heel hits the face with a folding chair.


Paul Heyman would make a damn fine catcher.
   9. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: November 14, 2012 at 06:37 PM (#4302900)
I don’t know exactly how it’s calculated or formulated, but it was concluded that he saved us 50 runs this year.

Ingredients for this calculation: 1) An ass, 2) Some pulling.

Umpires make shitty calls every game, your catcher doesn't need any Jedi mind tricks to steal strikes.
   10. Bruce Markusen Posted: November 14, 2012 at 08:02 PM (#4302952)
"That's highly significant." I remember Radar saying that in an episode of M*A*S*H when he was trying to impress a nurse.
   11. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: November 14, 2012 at 08:11 PM (#4302959)
Finally, at what point do you just not care any more whether a catcher can hit or not? I seem to remember back in the 80s the Padres had a catcher, Gwosdz I think it was (what a name!) - at any rate, he was only a backup catcher because he couldn't hit, but it seemed like pitchers only gave up 2 runs a game whenever he caught, and if a catcher really could somehow reduce the runs allowed by pitchers up to 1 or 2 runs a game that might be enough that a manager wouldn't care what he costs the team at bat.

This checks out: Doug Gwosdz caught just 69 games for the Padres from 1981-84, 24 starts.
Padres pitchers allowed 2.88 runs/game when Gwosdz was in there, vs. an MLB average of 4.25.
If I'm reading this right, the Padres went 19-5 in Gwosdz's starts.

EDIT: I haven't looked to know if Gwosdz was getting a lot of starts as half a doubleheader, or against travel-day lineups, or anything like that.
   12. BDC Posted: November 14, 2012 at 08:33 PM (#4302972)
Any way of telling whether Gwosdz had a similar effect in the minors?
   13. shoewizard Posted: November 14, 2012 at 09:48 PM (#4303004)
My thought is that articles like this and publicity such as this must at some point be brought to the umpires attention, and my guess is that Molina's pitch framing runs saved numbers take a serious dip in 2013. The cat is out of the bag.

   14. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: November 14, 2012 at 10:36 PM (#4303032)
But that's what they said after the study from 2011 all about how Jose Molina was great at framing pitches.
   15. Baldrick Posted: November 14, 2012 at 10:47 PM (#4303038)
Finally, at what point do you just not care any more whether a catcher can hit or not? I seem to remember back in the 80s the Padres had a catcher, Gwosdz I think it was (what a name!) - at any rate, he was only a backup catcher because he couldn't hit, but it seemed like pitchers only gave up 2 runs a game whenever he caught, and if a catcher really could somehow reduce the runs allowed by pitchers up to 1 or 2 runs a game that might be enough that a manager wouldn't care what he costs the team at bat.

Well, yeah, if that was the actual talent level, you'd play the guy even if he hit like Bill Bergen. Saving ~150 runs over a season is peak-Bonds levels of value.
   16. Sean Forman Posted: November 14, 2012 at 11:09 PM (#4303050)
I always have a couple of questions on these sorts of things.

1) So David Price's CYA win is a farce, and
2) Are they giving him the full value of the strikeout or the value of one called strike. Giving him the full value of the strikeout seems like a bad move as you had to get 2 earlier strikes to get to that point.
   17. PreservedFish Posted: November 14, 2012 at 11:31 PM (#4303062)
The gifs are ridiculous. He's not framing the pitches so much as he's just being dishonest and pulling the dead ball back into the strike zone. Do umpires really check the glove location a half second after the pitch hits leather?
   18. something like a train wreck Posted: November 15, 2012 at 02:20 AM (#4303153)
So other catchers don't "frame" 10 absurd strikes a year? Not saying that he's not good, but who knows what is normal.
   19. Bhaakon Posted: November 15, 2012 at 02:38 AM (#4303157)
The gifs are ridiculous. He's not framing the pitches so much as he's just being dishonest and pulling the dead ball back into the strike zone. Do umpires really check the glove location a half second after the pitch hits leather?


Yeah,I've never really understood this either. If I were an umpire and saw the catcher blatantly moving his glove back towards the zone like that, my first reaction would be "even he thinks it's a ball."
   20. ellsbury my heart at wounded knee Posted: November 15, 2012 at 04:29 AM (#4303170)
Yeah,I've never really understood this either. If I were an umpire and saw the catcher blatantly moving his glove back towards the zone like that, my first reaction would be "even he thinks it's a ball."


I don't know, that's how they taught catchers how to receive when I was playing in high school, so I think people have been doing it for a long time. It's seems about as old timey as it gets. The trick was just to catch and move it towards the strike zone at the same time, in one sweeping, natural motion. It's really, really hard, but you do what you can for an edge.

I think everyone basically knew that this happened, but now that we have the technology to find the most blatant examples and play them one after another it seems crazy.
   21. shoewizard Posted: November 15, 2012 at 04:47 AM (#4303172)
Yeah,I've never really understood this either. If I were an umpire and saw the catcher blatantly moving his glove back towards the zone like that, my first reaction would be "even he thinks it's a ball."


I think what you are seeing in the GIF from behind the pitcher looks completely different from what the umpire is seeing from his partially obstructed view from behind the catcher.
   22. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: November 15, 2012 at 06:54 AM (#4303185)
It's roughly the same as a wrestling manager distracting the referee, while the heel hits the face with a folding chair.


Can we all agree that Molina's new nickname is "The Mouth of the South"?
   23. Jim Furtado Posted: November 15, 2012 at 07:10 AM (#4303186)
2) Are they giving him the full value of the strikeout or the value of one called strike. Giving him the full value of the strikeout seems like a bad move as you had to get 2 earlier strikes to get to that point.
I was wondering the same thing. How is he converting the extra strikes to runs? If he's giving the full value of an out (or converting the value from a walk to a strikeout) he is would be greatly overvaluing a stolen strike.
   24. Juilin Sandar to Conkling Speedwell (Arjun) Posted: November 15, 2012 at 08:37 AM (#4303197)
As I've mentioned before, looking at those GIFs and coming away with a response of "Wow! What a great job Molina does of framing pitches!" is pure lunacy. To me the obvious response is, "there absolutely must be a better way of calling balls and strikes." If this is a valuable skill, it's one that an effort should be made to make obsolete.

I totally disagree, but then I don't really have a problem with good dives (I mean diving that is skilled, not just flopping to the ground in every situation) in football (EDIT: soccer), either, so I guess I *do* see duping a referee as a skill.
   25. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: November 15, 2012 at 09:42 AM (#4303214)
I think what you are seeing in the GIF from behind the pitcher looks completely different from what the umpire is seeing from his partially obstructed view from behind the catcher.

I've wondered this. Can the umpire even see the catcher's mitt from where he stands? Also, for this to be true, the umpire would have to see the pitch, then look down for the catcher's mitt. This would add some delay to him calling the pitch. Do umpires call low and/or outside pitches more slowly than inside, up pitches? So that we could tell that they're using post-plate information.
   26. DKDC Posted: November 15, 2012 at 09:53 AM (#4303219)
I assume the statistic is context dependent. For example, turning a ball into a called strike when there’s a full count and the bases are loaded is worth almost 2 runs.

But Molina shouldn’t get full credit – it should be probabilistic. Maybe Molina turns a pitch that is called a strike 40% of the time into a strike 60% of the time.

You probably have to adjust for umpire and pitcher, although if Molina consistently performs at the top of an un-adjusted list across different teams, there’s probably a real “skill” there.

It’s hard to see how that would add up to 50 runs in 2/3 of a season, though.
   27. Jim Furtado Posted: November 15, 2012 at 11:01 AM (#4303263)
Although I don't have time to really dig into things, here's Marchi's original articles on HardballTimes.com:

Evaluating catchers: Framing pitches, part 1

Evaluating catchers: Framing pitches, part 2

Evaluating catchers: Framing pitches, part 3

I did find this tidbit from a quick read through the articles:

All the above said, it's not advisable to extrapolate a global framing rating from the values obtained on the outside part of the plate against right-handed batters, as was done in the previous article.

Recalculating the run contribution due to framing skills considering the separate ratings (by side of the plate and batter handedness), we get that the top catchers (Jose Molina, David Ross and, again, Russell Martin) are worth eight/nine runs per 130 games (data from 2008 to May 2011).
That's a lower value than the one estimated in the previous article, but it's still close to one win per season.

Best framing catchers
player R/130
Jose Molina 9.14
David Ross 8.39
Russell Martin 8.20
Paul Bako 6.75
Brayan Pena 5.16
Michael Barrett 5.16

I don't know how he may have changed the methodology, but this tidbit suggests that the top catchers (including Molina at the top) save about 9 runs per 130 games. Seeing Molina credited with saving 50 runs in 80 games makes me think there is an error in the calculation or a really big adjustment in how the conversion of balls into strikes is done.
   28. Nasty Nate Posted: November 15, 2012 at 11:02 AM (#4303265)
so I guess I *do* see duping a referee as a skill.


Everyone sees it as a skill, but differ on whether it should be rewarded.

In (American) football, tackling a player so fiercely that he is concussed and leaves the game is a skill, but most people don't want to see that skill rewarded on the field.

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