We always had some understanding that pitch-framing was a thing. There’s a technique to catching, and there are guys who do it better than others. But it wasn’t really until last summer that our understanding of pitch-framing grew up. Mike Fast did some fantastic research for Baseball Prospectus, and he identified some links between catcher behavior and consequent umpire behavior. Fast now works for a baseball team, and that baseball team is not very good. But that probably isn’t because of Mike Fast.
Fast looked at catchers who did the best and worst job of framing pitches, measured by who generated the best and worst calls on borderline pitches. The guys he identified as being pretty bad included Ryan Doumit, Jorge Posada, and Rob Johnson. Russell Martin and Jonathan Lucroy came away looking good. Jose Molina came away looking amazing.
Over Fast’s sample, no catcher generated a better zone than Jose Molina. The effect was enormous. Suddenly, we understood Jose Molina. We understood why he had floated around for so long, and we understood why the Tampa Bay Rays took a chance on him as an aging free agent. Molina has real value. He’s probably always had real value. It just took researchers years and years to find it.
Tuesday night, the Rays played the Blue Jays, and Brett Lawrie took a pair of very questionable called strikes in the bottom of the ninth. Lawrie flipped out and inadvertently hit home-plate umpire Bill Miller with his batting helmet. Lawrie was ejected and will soon be suspended, probably. The catcher behind the plate was Jose Molina.
Some pretty interesting stuff here about Molina’s pitch framing, including several animated GIFs showing it. He basically seems to just keep the glove completely motionless as he catches the ball, rather than moving it back toward the zone or turning it or anything like you might see other catchers do when they’re trying to steal a call. Molina’s glove is almost entirely stationary on several of them as he receives the pitch.