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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

BP—Spinning Yarn: The Real Strike Zone

BBTF doesn’t link to research articles too often these days, but this one is so good it deserves its own thread.

Our catcher target theory of the zone would suggest, however, that a large part of this difference may be due to the typical pitch distributions thrown by pitchers and seen by batters.  . . .
When Bill’s catcher framing numbers for 2008-2009 are normalized by pitcher, the best and worst catchers are around +/- 20 runs per season. This method could benefit from some additional fine-tuning, but at least the size of the effect is now in a range much more compatible with the size of the catcher ERA effect that Sean Smith found by studying catcher-pitcher pairs in the Hardball Times 2011 Annual.

. . . . . . . . . . Posted: February 16, 2011 at 03:13 PM | 21 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: general

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   1. . . . . . . . . . . Posted: February 16, 2011 at 07:30 PM (#3751775)
Since I submitted this, I'll throw out a few thoughts I had upon reading this article:

(a) 40 run range for framing pitches? That's very significant, much more than I would have expected 12 months ago.

(b) I thought the illustration of how pitchers "aiming" for the corner can earn them a couple of inches off the plate was very compelling. I wonder if (and how) this might interact with DIPS theory - can you control outcomes on balls in play by expanding the zone?
   2. fret Posted: February 16, 2011 at 08:01 PM (#3751810)
This is an excellent article, and free for BP non-subscribers. It also explains why Mariano Rivera has the widest strike zone in baseball (link). And with regard to DIPS, doesn't Rivera consistently outperform his peripherals?
   3. . . . . . . . . . . Posted: February 16, 2011 at 08:29 PM (#3751839)
Something which hasn't yet been summarized: with all the new pitchFX findings, what is the current thought for the range of the total value of catcher defense at the MLB level, factoring in all the various attributes?
   4. villageidiom Posted: February 16, 2011 at 08:58 PM (#3751866)
Dan found that the older (or more experienced) a pitcher was, the bigger the zone he got from the umpires. It also happens to be true that the older a pitcher is, the more he pitches to the outside edges.
Or is there a survivor bias here? A bad pitcher might not get the edge calls, but a bad pitcher is unlikely to be pitching in MLB as he gets older. I think they need to look at a particular cohort of pitchers who pitched into their 40s, then break up their performance by age.
   5. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: February 16, 2011 at 09:02 PM (#3751872)
might not be possible yet, if understand you correctly. you mean longitudinally (no data yet) or classes of pitchers that would be more likely pitch into their 40s (thus, retaining survivor bias) and looking @ differences across ages?
   6. Zach Posted: February 16, 2011 at 09:19 PM (#3751886)
Nice article. The new writers at BPro seem to be doing well. Fast was a great hire.
   7. AROM Posted: February 16, 2011 at 09:28 PM (#3751897)
Something which hasn't yet been summarized: with all the new pitchFX findings, what is the current thought for the range of the total value of catcher defense at the MLB level, factoring in all the various attributes?

Still not enough to justify Jeff Mathis.
   8. Cowboy Popup Posted: February 16, 2011 at 09:38 PM (#3751911)
Posada's HOF case is glad it got started before pitch f/x.

Also, in light of the study about some pitchers getting wider zones than others, I wonder how much of that is attributable to certain catchers and vice versa.
   9. Der Komminsk-sar Posted: February 16, 2011 at 09:40 PM (#3751913)
Fast was a great hire.
   10. Mike Fast Posted: February 16, 2011 at 10:14 PM (#3751953)
Thanks, guys.

Re the range of catcher fielding value, AROM has, in my opinion, the definitive article on this topic in the 2011 Hardball Times Annual.

Catcher framing is, of course, only a portion of the catcher fielding skills, but I'm pleased that after adjusting for pitcher differences, the catcher framing values get down within the range of what Sean found in his article for the total skill. Previously, the PITCHf/x-based research had found +/- 50 runs/season for catcher framing when not adjusting for pitcher. There definitely needs to be more refinement even of my method. I wouldn't consider it "production worthy" yet. With that huge caveat, I found the leaders from 2008-2009 as follows:

Jose Molina +31 runs
Yorvit Torrealba +22
Gregg Zaun +20
Ronny Paulino +14
Chris Coste +12
Jeff Mathis +11
Ryan Hanigan +11
Wil Nieves +10
Yadier Molina +10
Geovany Soto +9
Ramon Hernandez -8
Koyie Hill -10
Gerald Laird -11
Carlos Ruiz -12
Mike Napoli -13
Dioner Navarro -13
Nick Hundley -14
Chris Iannetta -24
Jorge Posada -24
Ryan Doumit -37

Divide by two to get the per-season value for catchers who played full time in both years. Again, please take these figures with a dash of salt. I've not yet done the work to get a list that I feel I can really stand behind, but this is hopefully close enough to be believable.

Btw, I'm using Bill Letson's data as the starting point prior to my adjustments, so credit and thanks to him for that.
   11. Mike Fast Posted: February 16, 2011 at 10:18 PM (#3751960)
Villageidiom/4, correct. Neither Dan nor I controlled for pitchers entering or leaving the sample. I wouldn't be surprised if that had some effect. I also speculated elsewhere that pitchers probably pitched more outside as their fastball velocity dropped with age. I haven't checked that theory against the data.
   12. Cris E Posted: February 16, 2011 at 10:23 PM (#3751964)
Great work Mike. Now go back and see if Pudge really only calls high fastballs when runners are on first.
   13. fret Posted: February 16, 2011 at 11:22 PM (#3751993)
Just for fun, using B-Ref WAR. AROM, am I right that your catcher defense figures are SB/CS and PB/WP based, so independent of this discussion?

Jeff Mathis 2008-2009: 600 PA, -1 RAR, +11 framing = +10 runs
Jorge Posada 2008-2009: 633 PA, +28 RAR, -24 framing = +4 runs

Granted 2008 was an injury down year for Posada, but still.
   14. . . . . . . . . . . Posted: February 16, 2011 at 11:34 PM (#3752004)
Just thinking out loud about the age/location results:

The results are odd and counterintuitive, when you think about it. We've known for a very long time that pitcher walk rates decline with age, which has generally been interpreted to indicate that pitchers improve command as they age, even as they're losing velocity. We know from other PitchFX studies that the most effective pitches are INSIDE pitches, but the reason pitchers live on the outside-black is that if a pitcher misses inside, the outcomes are much more strongly negative (for the pitcher) than if he misses outside.

But if pitcher command is improving with age (as indicated by the BB rates) wouldn't you expect pitchers to dare to sneak inside MORE often, threading the needle to that perfect spot where hitters can be jammed?

I guess you'd need to see a breakdown by pitch-type in order to really analyze this. A significant increase, for example, in the proportion of changeups thrown by older pitchers could create the appearance of an outside shift with age, even if fastballs are staying in the same spot or even inching inside.
   15. Dan Turkenkopf Posted: February 17, 2011 at 12:17 AM (#3752030)
I actually found in a follow-up to the article that Matt referenced that pitchers don't necessarily stick to the edges of the zone more as they get older. Which seems counterintuitive to me. I didn't account for the possibility that the close pitches shifted from inside to outside as they aged though.
   16. Dan Turkenkopf Posted: February 17, 2011 at 12:40 AM (#3752043)
And I'm not sure why I said Matt.. Sorry Mike. I totally know who you are.
   17. AROM Posted: February 17, 2011 at 02:40 PM (#3752264)
Really good article Mike. I assume the methodology is looking at how many extra strike and ball calls catchers get based on pitcher identity and pitch f/x location. Mine is results based - walks, homers, strikeouts given up - but your list in #10 looks similar enough to what I had in THT that it is encouraging.

I think there's plenty of place for both types of approaches - a pitch f/x method will get more reliable results with less sample size for current players, and the results based approach is what we'd need to go back and see how much Yogi Berra and Ted Simmons helped their pitchers.

How would you interpret the Mathis/Napoli difference? From what I did, it I got the numbers you have I'd have to say that Mathis was +11 runs above other catchers who worked with his pitchers, which is mostly Napoli. And vice versa. So take the average of 11/13, and say that Mathis is 12 runs better than Napoli. Maybe he's +12 vs. average, Mike is -12 runs, or some split like +6/-6. We don't know enough to rate them vs. average, just against each other. But I don't know if you've already accounted for that, made adjustments and the numbers do represent performance vs. a league average.
   18. AROM Posted: February 17, 2011 at 02:41 PM (#3752266)
Just for fun, using B-Ref WAR. AROM, am I right that your catcher defense figures are SB/CS and PB/WP based, so independent of this discussion?

That is correct. The BB-ref and Baseballprojection catcher numbers are only looking at the running and pitch blocking game.
   19. Mike Fast Posted: February 17, 2011 at 05:33 PM (#3752444)
How would you interpret the Mathis/Napoli difference?

The PITCHf/x location and adjustments that Bill did would be independent of team. But then when I introduced a pitcher adjustment, I brought a team bias back into the numbers. That's one reason I mentioned that I needed to improve the methodology. For the numbers I posted above, which I considered more of a sanity check than an actual metric, I simply baselined to the pitcher-season. In that case, Mathis is being compared to Napoli, and vice versa. It would be better to baseline to a pitcher over multiple seasons, which would dilute that effect. It would be even better to baseline to pitcher location rather than the pitcher's extra strikes--that would be more catcher independent. I also need to check whether batter adjustments are significant and/or over what scale they start to wash out. In order to develop an actual metric, all of those things need to be considered.
   20. Mike Fast Posted: February 17, 2011 at 06:39 PM (#3752529)
Dan, I'm not sure that counting the close pitches would reveal whether a pitcher was shifting more outside. If you compare Livan and Felix Hernandez, for instance, I think Felix might actually have more pitches in the "close" region, even though the center of the distribution for Livan is much closer to the edge of the zone than the center of the distribution for Felix.
   21. Something Other Posted: May 16, 2011 at 10:52 PM (#3829281)
So the difference between the best and worst catchers wrt framing only, is on the order of three to four wins a year? Remarkable.

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