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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Clubhouse Confidential: Examining Pitch Framing

Clubhouse Confidential sits down with Baseball Prospectus’ Ben Lindbergh to examine the best pitch framing catchers and then talks to ex-catcher Dave Valle about the art of pitch-framing.

Xander Posted: February 02, 2013 at 01:42 PM | 50 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: clubhouse confidential, framing pitches

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   1. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 02, 2013 at 07:11 PM (#4360847)
It's nice that we're able to take time away from all the discussions about cheating in baseball the last week to talk about this.
   2. beer on a stick Posted: February 02, 2013 at 07:25 PM (#4360851)
Sorry, I'm too busy listening to the underground rock station. On the beach. With beer. Baseball can wait for another month.
   3. SoSH U at work Posted: February 02, 2013 at 07:30 PM (#4360855)
I think pitch-framing is kind of a misleading description for what's really at work. It's about effective receiving (Valle explains it quite well). It's a skill, and one that I'm glad exists to allow the better catchers to separate themselves from the weaker ones.

That was good stuff.
   4. The District Attorney Posted: February 02, 2013 at 07:48 PM (#4360859)
If Jose Molina's pitch-framing is seriously worth 50 runs a year, that potentially changes a lot of things. Even if he is a big outlier.
   5. tfbg9 Posted: February 02, 2013 at 07:57 PM (#4360866)
Nice segment. Montero comes out of it looking kinda bad.
   6. Transmission Posted: February 02, 2013 at 08:07 PM (#4360868)
First time I've seen someone demonstrate the importance of shifting the body to give an umpire better sight lines. Excellent piece.
   7. Bhaakon Posted: February 02, 2013 at 08:20 PM (#4360872)

If Jose Molina's pitch-framing is seriously worth 50 runs a year, that potentially changes a lot of things. Even if he is a big outlier.


It really depends on how much of it is teachable technique vs. inherent skill. If it's 90% technique that most catchers just haven't bothered to learn, then one would expect the league to catch up quickly and that gap to mostly disappear (though it might mean that catchers spend more time in the minors).
   8. John Northey Posted: February 02, 2013 at 08:20 PM (#4360874)
I wonder what the next big breakthrough will be? Pitch framing was a very big one. Being able to measure effectiveness of pitch sequencing would be enormous. Wonder how you could measure it? First thoughts are being able to see which pitches are most effective for a pitcher (speed, movement) then seeing if a catcher adapts the sequence throughout the game to make more use of what is working that day while cutting down use of that which is not working. Some of that would be the pitchers choice though, and for some pitchers there wouldn't be a lot of choice (ie: a guy with one ace pitch and one 1/2 decent while the rest are garbage) not to mention that some managers do it from the bench thus taking it out of the catchers hands entirely. The noise for that would be sky high so I'm not sure how you'd cut it back.

Another interesting one would be how often a pitcher shakes off a catcher - some catchers seem to have pitchers shake them off on every plate appearance, others rarely. That would be a good way to tell if a catcher is 'in-sync' with his pitchers or if he has their confidence. What are the results when a pitcher shakes off a catcher vs when they don't? Are pitchers more effective if they agree on pitch selection instantly? Does it change when it is all-together for a series of pitches? How many times is a pitcher shaking off the call from a catcher per plate appearance - do effective pitchers do it more or less than non-effective ones?
   9. Bhaakon Posted: February 02, 2013 at 08:28 PM (#4360876)
Being able to measure effectiveness of pitch sequencing would be enormous.


I wonder about that. It might very well be that recognizing and popularizing the most effective pitch sequencing negates the advantage. It's a real game theory type of problem, if the batter knows that what the most effective pitch in a given situation is, then he can look for the pitch and make it less effective. So then the pitcher knows that the batter knows that the pitcher knows, ad infinitum.
   10. PreservedFish Posted: February 02, 2013 at 08:54 PM (#4360891)
So, here's what I'm wondering. What happens now that the cat is out of the bag?

I assume that a number of organizations are coming to spring training armed with video packages of Jose Molina and are walking all of their catchers through this stuff. It's also possible that umpires are talking about this and will focus on not being bamboozled by good pitch framers. People have talked about pitch framing for decades, but suddenly it seems REAL, and I think that everything might change.
   11. PreservedFish Posted: February 02, 2013 at 08:55 PM (#4360893)
That would be a good way to tell if a catcher is 'in-sync' with his pitchers or if he has their confidence. What are the results when a pitcher shakes off a catcher vs when they don't?


I'd love to see the numbers, just because I'm a curious guy, but you start it off with a big assumption.
   12. Hecubot Posted: February 02, 2013 at 09:08 PM (#4360899)
So, here's what I'm wondering. What happens now that the cat is out of the bag?


As Valle notes, it's not so much about stealing strikes, as not giving them away. You're not fooling the umpire, you're just not making a close strike look like a ball.
   13. John Northey Posted: February 02, 2013 at 09:17 PM (#4360904)
PreservedFish - good point about the assumption but that is what science is all about, you start with an assumption and see if it is true or false. Are cases when a catcher & pitcher agree on the pitch more likely to result in a 'good' result or a 'poor' result? You'd need to break it down by a few factors - quality of pitcher, quality of hitter, etc. For example, no matter how good a game plan a pitcher/catcher combo come up with Barry Bonds 2001-2004 will pound them and John McDonald (anytime) will not. Still, an overall result would be interesting - do you get more or less swing and miss, do you get more or less called strikes, what are the offensive stats on 'final pitches' that are no shake off? If the end results show nothing really different I'd be surprised, but it is possible. Sadly I have no idea where I'd go to get those stats or if it is tracked (someone must track it you'd think).
   14. Walt Davis Posted: February 02, 2013 at 09:26 PM (#4360908)
If Jose Molina really is worth 50 runs a year, why didn't the Devil Rays give him more than 80 starts including just 13 of the last 30 as they battled for a playoff spot?
   15. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 02, 2013 at 09:34 PM (#4360910)
Pretty good, but I wonder if they could have picked a clip of Valle that didn't show him picking his nose.
   16. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 02, 2013 at 09:35 PM (#4360911)
If Jose Molina really is worth 50 runs a year, why didn't the Devil Rays give him more than 80 starts including just 13 of the last 30 as they battled for a playoff spot?


I thought Maddon was saying that they just came up with these numbers.
   17. McCoy Posted: February 02, 2013 at 10:06 PM (#4360918)
If Jose is really saving the Rays 50 runs I'll eat my hat. 50 runs saved against the average catcher? Come on. Just imagine how many runs he would have saved if he got into more than 100 games as a catcher.

Lindbergh doesn't even really do a good job defending BPro's numbers either. He simply says that the Rays overall numbers show that they got better and thus serve as indication that Molina could in fact be saving 50 runs.
   18. John Northey Posted: February 02, 2013 at 10:13 PM (#4360921)
There were studies done the past few years that showed Molina was amazing at pitch framing and his estimated value was sky-high (3-5 wins on defense alone). But I suspect he wears down due to age and mileage (only so many games a catcher can do before their back and knees are gone) thus the Rays rested him to make sure he was still valuable. No point in using him everyday if you lose him 10-15 games in.
   19. 'Spos stares out the window, waits for spring Posted: February 02, 2013 at 10:31 PM (#4360926)
Sorry, I'm too busy listening to the underground rock station. On the beach. With beer. Baseball can wait for another month.


What, not listening to the new MBV?
   20. base ball chick Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:28 AM (#4360952)
first

ben lindbergh is CUTE!!!!! it's about freaking time they have some good lookin stat geek on the show - at least the only one i've seen so far ( i would say sean forman but that stupid beard makes him a no)

second

i really REALLY don't understand why this has not been mentioned real too much before. i got spoilt by brad ausmus i guess, but humberto quintero and jason castro are absolutely TERRIBLE at framing pitches and it has been really ROLL EYES!!!! to watch them screw their pitchers out of strikes. the astros have had a lot of pitchers who lived on the edge and way too many times they didn't get any calls on pitches not down the *()%T&@! middle because the catchers' framing sucks
   21. Forsch 10 From Navarone (Dayn) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:41 AM (#4360955)
If Jose Molina really is worth 50 runs a year, why didn't the Devil Rays give him more than 80 starts including just 13 of the last 30 as they battled for a playoff spot?

I'm guessing durability concerns/unreported nagging injuries.
   22. Forsch 10 From Navarone (Dayn) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:42 AM (#4360956)
Or what John Northey said 2.5 hours ago.
   23. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:54 AM (#4360969)
Maybe the next breakthrough will be spiking the umpire's coffee before the game, or shining a light in his eyes just as the pitch comes to home plate. Maybe have the manager distract the umpires while the first baseman hits the guy in the on-deck circle with a folding chair.
   24. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:21 AM (#4360972)
jonathan lucroy is very good at framing pitches. that i know. all the brewer fans who follow the games regularly have to recognize that he has a real gift in helping his pitchers get a few extra strikes a game
   25. OsunaSakata Posted: February 03, 2013 at 07:23 AM (#4360974)
I also seem to remember the pitch framing study showing that managers and batters ejected also seemed to be disproportionately Rays opponents with Jose Molina behind the plate.

Pitchers shaking off may not be a sign of being out of sync. Some pitchers shake off because the catcher tells them to, to confuse the batter.
   26. The kids disappeared, now Der-K has too much candy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 07:30 AM (#4360976)
15 - I was surprised they included but didn't (unnecessarily) comment on it.

I wish we had more data on this topic - not just for its own sake, but to model aging curves, develop better y-t-y persistence estimates, and so on.as of now, I'm convinced that Molina adds a lot of value w framing, but the range in that estimate is huge.

Clubhouse confidential hadn't gotten to this topic before now? That surprises me...
   27. AJMcCringleberry Posted: February 03, 2013 at 08:57 AM (#4360985)
Heh, I knew Voros would be in here. I'm with him, time to get ball and strikes called by a robot.
   28. SoSH U at work Posted: February 03, 2013 at 09:07 AM (#4360986)
Heh, I knew Voros would be in here. I'm with him, time to get ball and strikes called by a robot.


I'm the opposite, and find Voros's comparisons in 23 to be pretty ludicrous. Jose Molina simply catches better than Jesus Montero, and thus doesn't cost his pitcher as many strikes. To me it's clearly a skill, and rewarding skill in the game is a very good thing that we shouldn't try to rub out.
   29. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:50 AM (#4361013)
To me it's clearly a skill

So is distracting the umpire so you can blindside your opponent.

But neither of them is a baseball skill. The point of the strike zone is to allow the batter the opportunity to get a pitch to hit. How the catcher chooses to catch the ball has _zero_ effect on that. It doesn't affect how the ball crosses the strike zone in any way, shape or form. The only thing it changes is the umpire's ability to perceive it. The catcher is there so you don't have to go retrieve the ball after every pitch.

If Molina really saves 50 runs a season, that should be the end of any pretense that humans can actually call the strike zone with any level of accuracy. Bring in the computers and let the umps take care of the rest. The computers must be good enough to do the job, after all they're the ones being used to claim Molina is saving 50 runs in the first place.
   30. pyrite Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:54 AM (#4361014)
I'm with Voros. Ball-strike arguments detract from my enjoyment of baseball. The endless acrimony between umpires, players, and managers is a distraction and breaks up the flow of the game. Why is fun that 20% of pitches end with glaring, eye-rolling, and bickering? Why is that a human element that deserves preservation?
   31. SoSH U at work Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:57 AM (#4361015)
But neither of them is a baseball skill.


One has been a part of baseball since the very beginning. So yeah, it's a skill.

I get the argument you're making. I think it would lead to a far less interesting game than the one that's been played for 100-plus years. And for Christ sake's, it's not cheating.

I'm with Voros. Ball-strike arguments detract from my enjoyment of baseball. The endless acrimony between umpires, players, and managers is a distraction and breaks up the flow of the game. Why is fun that 20% of pitches end with glaring, eye-rolling, and bickering? Why is that a human element that deserves preservation?


You do realize you've never known the game any other way, right? The umps calling balls and strikes, the pitchers and catchers trying to get pitches called strikes, the batters trying to get them called balls, is the way the game has always been played. This isn't a new phenomenon.
   32. Juilin Sandar to Conkling Speedwell (Arjun) Posted: February 03, 2013 at 10:59 AM (#4361017)
I like that it can depart from 100% accuracy - I find that it's part of the fun of sports. But, then again, I don't really mind/am basically a proponent of of "diving" and "flopping" as well, so what do I know.
   33. AJMcCringleberry Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:18 AM (#4361028)
There is a rule book definition of the strike zone. If umpires randomly called other rules however they saw fit there would be an uproar.
   34. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:19 AM (#4361029)
You do realize you've never known the game any other way, right?

Sure I have. I played "fast pitch" all the time, and the chalk on the wall didn't move around and shift based on where the ball was pitched. Just as fun and in some ways more so, because you no longer had to worry about being railroaded by bad ball and strike calls.

It's called the "strike zone," not the "clever catching of the ball zone." My only concern with the computers would be delays, and that shouldn't be any issue for automated balls and strikes.

There's a massive difference to me between fooling the other team and fooling the umpire, and yeah the latter is "cheating" if done deliberately for that purpose. If you don't believe me, ask an Angels fan how they feel about A.J. Pierzynski. That's why they give out yellow cards for it in soccer.
   35. SoSH U at work Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:28 AM (#4361033)
There is a rule book definition of the strike zone. If umpires randomly called other rules however they saw fit there would be an uproar.


Umpires have always had different zones when it comes to calling balls and strikes. Why people think this is new is a mystery. Hell, 35 years ago it was well established that the two different leagues had different zones.


Sure I have. I played "fast pitch" all the time, and the chalk on the wall didn't move around and shift based on where the ball was pitched. Just as fun and in some ways more so, because you no longer had to worry about being railroaded by bad ball and strike calls.


We called that stickball. It was a hell of a lot of fun. We never kidded ourselves we were playing the game of baseball though.

There's a massive difference to me between fooling the other team and fooling the umpire, and yeah the latter is "cheating" if done deliberately for that purpose. If you don't believe me, ask an Angels fan how they feel about A.J. Pierzynski. That's why they give out yellow cards for it in soccer.


And Angel fans are morons when they moan about A.J. Pierzynski. They can ##### about Eddings, but complaints about A.J. are idiotic (for this anyway. There are always legit reasons to ##### about A.J.)

And guys try to fool the umpire all the time (such as holding up the glove on a trap or pretending you got hit by a pitch that hit your bat. But that's not even happening here. He's not trying to fool the umpire. He's just catching the ball.

You can say Jesus Montero is cheating his pitcher out of strikes because he's not a skilled receiver. Jose Molina is doing nothing but catching the ball quietly. The idea that's cheating is absurd (and I'm not one who has a narrow definition of cheating).


   36. Dan Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:34 AM (#4361040)
But neither of them is a baseball skill. The point of the strike zone is to allow the batter the opportunity to get a pitch to hit. How the catcher chooses to catch the ball has _zero_ effect on that. It doesn't affect how the ball crosses the strike zone in any way, shape or form. The only thing it changes is the umpire's ability to perceive it. The catcher is there so you don't have to go retrieve the ball after every pitch.

If Molina really saves 50 runs a season, that should be the end of any pretense that humans can actually call the strike zone with any level of accuracy. Bring in the computers and let the umps take care of the rest. The computers must be good enough to do the job, after all they're the ones being used to claim Molina is saving 50 runs in the first place.


I'm with Voros on this one. I think it's awesome and cool that a few guys have derived statistics to track the effect of pitch framing, but the size of the effect really emphasizes how subjective umpires are with the strike zone. In this age of technology, the game would undoubtedly be improved by going to an automated strike zone with the home plate umpire consulting a smartphone or tablet or whatever to get the realtime calls and relay them to the field.
   37. McCoy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:34 AM (#4361041)
If we want to talk about tradition or purity or whatever you want to call it then you have to realize that the creators of the game and the people who made the rules of the game and modified them for decades never intended for the catcher to be able to manipulate the strike zone. That is a rather modern occurrence brought about by the creation of better safety equipment and putting more umpires on the field.
   38. SoSH U at work Posted: February 03, 2013 at 11:43 AM (#4361052)
In this age of technology, the game would undoubtedly be improved by going to an automated strike zone with the home plate umpire consulting a smartphone or tablet or whatever to get the realtime calls and relay them to the field.


I question the idea that it would undoubtedly be improved, since we don't know that game.

Moreover, such a change creates a further distinction between MLB and the game people grow up playing the first 15 years of their life, which I don't like. We're not instituting automated strike zones anywhere but the big league level (I suppose it could happen in the minors somewhere down the road, but that's probably a ways off). Changing a fundamental way the game when the players get to the highest level is worrisome to me.

If we want to talk about tradition or purity or whatever you want to call it then you have to realize that the creators of the game and the people who made the rules of the game and modified them for decades never intended for the catcher to be able to manipulate the strike zone. That is a rather modern occurrence brought about by the creation of better safety equipment and putting more umpires on the field.


And the proof of this is?

Jose Molina didn't start catching the way he has because modern technology told him he could get extra strikes that way. Modern technology demonstrated that Jose Molina's quiet catching style resulted in more strikes. There's no reason to think that Jose was the first catcher to benefit from this phenomenon.





   39. McCoy Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:11 PM (#4361082)
And the proof of this is?

Really? For the first 50 years or so of professional baseball you didn't have catchers squatting where they squat now and you had one umpire who depending on the situation could either be behind the plate, a good deal behind the plate, or behind the box/mound. Furthermore the game was built on the belief that the hitter puts the ball in play and the fielders try to get him out. That is why initially batters got to call high or low pitches, why pitchers had to throw underarm, why there was no strike zone, and why balls and strikes were called differently and in different amounts for the first handful of decades.

There's no reason to think that Jose was the first catcher to benefit from this phenomenon.

Who is making that argument?
   40. villageidiom Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:50 PM (#4361128)
If Molina really saves 50 runs a season, that should be the end of any pretense that humans can actually call the strike zone with any level of accuracy. Bring in the computers and let the umps take care of the rest. The computers must be good enough to do the job, after all they're the ones being used to claim Molina is saving 50 runs in the first place.
If I understand it correctly it's the computers, plus the PITCHF/X operators, plus the cross-checkers, who are good at it. You're advocating replacing one person on the field, with technology plus two or more people off the field. That should result in more accurate results in general, but I don't have a sense of how soon after a pitch a cross-checked result can be given. AFAIK the cross-checkers verify and modify strike zone boundaries for PITCHF/X after the plate appearance, maybe even after the inning or after the game. It does no good if a more accurate result can be had, but not in real time.

(I'm not against your overall point.)
   41. pyrite Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:54 PM (#4361131)
You do realize you've never known the game any other way, right?


And I've never liked it. I've been yearning for automated ball/strike calls since I became a baseball fan, long before Questec existed.

I love baseball despite inaccurate ball-strike calls and endless ball-strike call arguments. I love it despite the 3+ hour games, the endless mid-inning pitching changes, too many strikeouts, too much Joe Buck, and not enough competitive balance. I don't expect any of these things to change, but I would certainly enjoy baseball more if they did.

I can understand the sentiment that pitch framing is a skill that's been part of baseball for eons and that we should preserve it, but it's not part of the essential core of what makes me love baseball, so I wouldn't miss it.
   42. Avoid running at all times.-S. Paige Posted: February 03, 2013 at 12:58 PM (#4361137)
The line call thing in tennis points to the future of sports umpiring. It's going to be automated and nobody's going to complain when it happens.
   43. PreservedFish Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:03 PM (#4361175)
I'm calling BS on #18 and #21. If the Rays really believed that Jose Molina saves 50 runs a year on defense, they wouldn't baby him with a light schedule to preserve his health - they would have run him out as often as he could possibly play.
   44. DJS and the Infinite Sadness Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:06 PM (#4361177)
The line call thing in tennis points to the future of sports umpiring. It's going to be automated and nobody's going to complain when it happens.

That's my position.

If a catcher is really saving 50 runs a year by affecting the strike/ball calls of umpires, then that's an argument for purely electronic pitch location monitoring. Not 10 years, not 20 years, but as soon as the technology can be installed in every park. You would still have a home plate umpire there for other things, like checked swings and the like, but if umpires really are *that* susceptible to catcher influence in determining pitch location, they need to get them out of that business as quickly as possible.
   45. with Glavinesque control and Madduxian poise Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:11 PM (#4361181)
And I dont' know how much people have followed Hawkeye in tennis, but basically, it is awesome, everyone loves it, and it is seen as nothing but good.
   46. PreservedFish Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:15 PM (#4361185)
I like the tennis robot judge, but I hate the implementation. The robot should just make the calls.

I don't care much either way about robots vs human umpires, but IMO the worst possible solution is a human umpire making most of the calls and then a contrived challenge or appeal system that refers to the robot.
   47. AJMcCringleberry Posted: February 03, 2013 at 02:47 PM (#4361205)
Umpires have always had different zones when it comes to calling balls and strikes. Why people think this is new is a mystery.

Who said it was new? What is your point? That umpires suck, but they have always sucked so it's ok?
   48. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: February 03, 2013 at 04:25 PM (#4361280)
If Molina really saves 50 runs a season, that should be the end of any pretense that humans can actually call the strike zone with any level of accuracy. Bring in the computers and let the umps take care of the rest. The computers must be good enough to do the job, after all they're the ones being used to claim Molina is saving 50 runs in the first place.


This is eminently sensible. I find it ridiculous that pennants can be won or lost based on how a catcher holds his glove, where the effect is one of mere appearance. It introduces an absurd level of subjectivity into the game. It's not what I want baseball to be about.
   49. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:22 PM (#4361352)
never intended for the catcher to be able to manipulate the strike zone

If anything, they expressly tried to avoid it:

The CATCHER’S BOX is that area within which the catcher shall stand until the
pitcher delivers the ball.


Although 4.03(a) seems to contradict that:

The catcher shall station himself directly back of the plate. He may leave his
position at any time to catch a pitch or make a play except that when the batter is
being given an intentional base on balls, the catcher must stand with both feet
within the lines of the catcher’s box until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.


I'm guessing 4.03(a) is a somewhat later addition but don't really know. I recall a brief kerfuffle over Braves' Cs setting up "illegally" sometime in the 90s. Of course "stand" is vague since it doesn't specify with both feet.

And of course this doesn't mean you can't obey these rules and still frame pitches.

I'll add cricket to the sports that seem to have accepted instant replay with no issues. The idea that a different method of calling balls and strikes would fundamentally change the game in some fashion that fans would miss strikes me as kinda silly. But to each their own.

The catcher is there so you don't have to go retrieve the ball after every pitch.

Well, Mike Piazza aside, they are occasionally useful for throwing out base-stealers.

   50. Walt Davis Posted: February 03, 2013 at 06:23 PM (#4361353)
The best solution of course is the Hank Aaron Pitchback.

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