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Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Infuriating Jose Molina

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.

Dan Posted: May 17, 2012 at 11:33 AM | 41 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: highway robbery, molina, pitch framing, rays

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   1. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: May 17, 2012 at 01:22 PM (#4133982)
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.

I had the opposite reaction. In many of the GIFs he appears to catch the pitch and move it slightly towards the strike zone all in one fluid motion, rather than catching it and then moving it, which I assume would be more obvious to the ump. Maybe to the ump it looks like the ball just has a lot of movement and he's catching it as it veers back to the zone.

Regardless, many of those calls are completely ridiculous. If that's due to Molina, then more power to him I guess.

And nice work with the GIFs.
   2. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: May 17, 2012 at 01:24 PM (#4133984)
Watching Molina and Saltalamacchia last night was a study in contrast. Molina is so ridiculously still while Saltalamacchia costs the Sox a few pitches a night by jabbing at the ball. Even without the contrast of Molina it takes very little time to watch Saltalamacchia and come away convinced that he is not a particularly gifted catcher.
   3. Randy Jones Posted: May 17, 2012 at 01:49 PM (#4134014)
If this is really happening and having as large an effect as Fast's research suggests, it's stupid as hell. Another reason to automate ball/strike calls.
   4. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: May 17, 2012 at 01:50 PM (#4134015)
Saltalamacchia costs the Sox a few pitches a night by jabbing at the ball.

That's a good point. In those clips molina never stabs at the ball by moving his glove away from the center of the strike zone as he's catching it. That probably makes a pretty big difference to the ump.
   5. DiPoto Cabengo Posted: May 17, 2012 at 01:53 PM (#4134020)
I thought the title meant he strikes out a lot.
   6. Mattbert Posted: May 17, 2012 at 02:13 PM (#4134038)
Smooth like the butter.

Some of those pitches were like 8 inches off the plate.
   7. rlc Posted: May 17, 2012 at 02:46 PM (#4134069)
Molina is so ridiculously still


Agree, that's what stands out to me - Molina almost never moves his body on these pitches. He reaches with the glove and moves it slightly towards the strike zone, but the impression the ump gets is probably Catcher didn't move; pitcher must have hit the target.
   8. RJ in TO Posted: May 17, 2012 at 02:47 PM (#4134072)
If this is really happening and having as large an effect as Fast's research suggests, it's stupid as hell. Another reason to automate ball/strike calls.

As a supporter of a team that no longer has Jose Molina, I thoroughly agree.
   9. Golbez Posted: May 17, 2012 at 03:41 PM (#4134135)
RJ, don't you wish the Jays kept Molina instead of signing Mathis? :) I'm hoping some of Molina's framing talent was taught to JP last season.

Jeff Sullivan's post was well done, and gave many examples of how smooth Molina is with his framing and how well it worked. A lot of those pitches looked like obvious balls, yet Molina barely had to move his glove much to bring it back into the zone. He seems quite good at getting his glove to where the ball will be well before the pitch crosses the plate.

Now, do umpires look more at where the ball lands than where it crosses the plate? You'd figure that where the catcher catches the ball should not have anything to do with the call, but the split-second nature of having to make a decision is probably influenced strongly by the 'end result'. It looks like Molina is showing how umps can 'cheat' their calls.
   10. mike f 2 Posted: May 17, 2012 at 04:44 PM (#4134199)
Those GIFs are awesome. This one has so much going on, it's almost hypnotic.
   11. AJMcCringleberry Posted: May 17, 2012 at 05:05 PM (#4134215)
If this is really happening and having as large an effect as Fast's research suggests, it's stupid as hell. Another reason to automate ball/strike calls.

That was exactly my thought.
   12. base ball chick Posted: May 17, 2012 at 06:18 PM (#4134272)
Mike fast is now with my astros.

If he's looking at catchers framing/receiving pitches and evaluating that skill, i get why they got rid of humberto quintero. but what i do NOT get is the massive LUUUUVVVVV for jason castro, who is one of the worst pitch receivers I have EVER seem - bad at framing, bad at blocking, allowing waaaaaaayyy too many WP/PB.

   13. Big fan Posted: May 17, 2012 at 06:31 PM (#4134282)
I am as much a fan of the new fangled stats as the next guy...but how is it possible that the Yankees, with the worst fielding SS ever, a terrible defensive catcher who not only usualy led the league in WP/PB but it turns out also can't frame pitches, a carcass in CF for a few seasons, etc etc always seemed to win abut 100 games a year? My current thinking is that offense is worth so much more than defense that these litle extra defensive tidbits make no difference. I guess WAR would show that???
   14. RJ in TO Posted: May 17, 2012 at 06:42 PM (#4134289)
RJ, don't you wish the Jays kept Molina instead of signing Mathis?

The Jays didn't sign him. The Jays traded for him, which is even worse.
   15. Perry Posted: May 17, 2012 at 07:41 PM (#4134353)
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.


Pulling pitches doesn't work; ump just figures (and will say to the C), hey, YOU must have thought it was a ball, otherwise you wouldn't have pulled it, and that's good enough for me. That should make the C knock it off.

But framing a pitch, i.e. being very still and smooth, will help an ump call a strike a strike. Jabbing at the ball and taking it out of the zone will cost some calls.

And I disagree that this is a reason to go automated; it rewards a legitimate baseball skill. We're not talking about calling obvious balls strikes or vice versa; we're talking about the coin-flip calls at the margins.
   16. McCoy Posted: May 17, 2012 at 07:45 PM (#4134359)
It is only a "baseball skill" because the guy deciding balls and strikes is a human being. Catching a ball as still as possible is not a real baseball skill.
   17. Randy Jones Posted: May 17, 2012 at 08:03 PM (#4134378)
What McCoy said. Using tactics to fool your opponent? Great. That should be rewarded. Using tactics to fool the officials? Lame. That should not be rewarded and should in fact be punished.

we're talking about the coin-flip calls at the margins.


They are only "coin-flip" calls because human perception is limited. We have the technology to accurately make ball/strike calls, we should be using it.
   18. catomi01 Posted: May 17, 2012 at 10:06 PM (#4134502)
Agree completely with 15...this has been a part of baseball for decades, and is most definitely a skill....as a catcher myself it was probably the only reason I was able to keep playing despite a so-so arm and non-existent bat.
   19. Monty Predicts a Padres-Mariners WS in 2016 Posted: May 17, 2012 at 10:51 PM (#4134549)
But is Jose really "using tactics to fool the officials" if he's just catching everything smoothly? It's all the other dummies with their flailing around that seem to be trying something.
   20.   Posted: May 17, 2012 at 10:56 PM (#4134552)
The Jays didn't sign him. The Jays traded for him, which is even worse.


For some reason, I too, always confused NApoli with Mathis when they were in LA; in terms of which one was good and which one was shite.

I assume that's true of the Jays
   21. McCoy Posted: May 17, 2012 at 11:06 PM (#4134559)
But is Jose really "using tactics to fool the officials" if he's just catching everything smoothly? It's all the other dummies with their flailing around that seem to be trying something.

Even if we look at it that way it still isn't a real baseball skill. Player A is doing something that affects an umpire and that shouldn't be a trait that we need to have developed.
   22. SouthSideRyan Posted: May 18, 2012 at 12:24 AM (#4134589)
Those Seth Smith calls at the end are hilarious.
   23. Tripon Posted: May 18, 2012 at 12:29 AM (#4134591)
I don't know, Jose Molina is considered a good defensive catcher overall. The fact that he doesn't move much might be a skill that helps pitchers.
   24. BWV 1129 Posted: May 18, 2012 at 02:01 AM (#4134609)
Hold on -- people are trying to blame a catcher because he's good at catching the ball? How many looking glasses do we have to go through to get to that conclusion?
   25. McCoy Posted: May 18, 2012 at 02:09 AM (#4134613)
Blame a catcher for what?
   26. McCoy Posted: May 18, 2012 at 02:12 AM (#4134615)
At one point in time baseball had only one umpire and if a player was sneaky enough they could get cut bases while the umpire was busy doing his job. So back in that era it could be considered a skill, and it probably was, to be sneaky. Should baseball have not added more umpires? Why did baseball add more umpires? My opinion is because they understood the need to get the call right and have the game of baseball be about the players on the field competing against each other and not be about who can pull the best trick on the umpire.
   27. BWV 1129 Posted: May 18, 2012 at 02:16 AM (#4134617)
Randy Jones said: "Using tactics to fool the officials? Lame. That should not be rewarded and should in fact be punished."

He wants to punish Jose Molina for being good at catching a pitched baseball.
   28. McCoy Posted: May 18, 2012 at 09:03 AM (#4134706)
No he doesn't. He wants to remove a reward that has nothing to do with the competition between team X and team Y.
   29. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Griffin (Vlad) Posted: May 18, 2012 at 09:14 AM (#4134712)
He wants to remove a reward that has nothing to do with the competition between team X and team Y.


Don't the extra called strikes help Molina's team win? And if so, how does that "have nothing to do with the competition"?
   30. Rants Mulliniks Posted: May 18, 2012 at 09:26 AM (#4134723)
I think its a perfectly legitimate skill, but if awareness of it precipitates a ball/strike machine, that would be awesome.
   31. Randy Jones Posted: May 18, 2012 at 09:29 AM (#4134725)
He wants to punish Jose Molina for being good at catching a pitched baseball.


Actively attempting to fool the officials or interfering with their ability to call the game should be punished. That isn't what Molina(or any other catcher) is doing really. However, in the act of catching, they are interfering with the officials. The simple solution is to automate ball/strike calls.

Don't the extra called strikes help Molina's team win? And if so, how does that "have nothing to do with the competition"?


The "extra strikes" are caused by the fallibility of the officials, nothing to do with the competition between the two teams. They need to go.
   32. Nasty Nate Posted: May 18, 2012 at 09:46 AM (#4134750)
The skills that should be rewarded are the batter not swinging at a ball, and in other cases the pitcher throwing a strike that nowadays gets called a ball because the catcher hadn't set up where the ball ended up, the batter faked a bunt, the catcher dropped the ball, or their was a guy trying to steal a base etc....
   33. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: May 18, 2012 at 09:55 AM (#4134764)
It's a skill, and given the way the rules are currently enforced, Molina is entitled to use that skill to benefit his team. But I have to agree that it detracts from the game overall and should be eliminated through the automation of calls.
   34. DanG Posted: May 18, 2012 at 10:10 AM (#4134783)
A smart player is always seeking to subvert the rules of the game in order to gain an advantage. If the Lords of the Game determine this modification of the rules improves the game it is allowed to continue. The classic case is the evolution of the "traveling" rule in pro basketball.

Skillfully and brilliantly, Molina has found a way around the defined strike zone. Does this make baseball better? Or is it making a mockery of the rules? If that answer is yes, what is the remedy? I suspect that now that this ruse has been exposed the umpires will be more wary of being tricked when Molina is catching.
   35. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: May 18, 2012 at 10:17 AM (#4134787)
Skillfully and brilliantly, Molina has found a way around the defined strike zone.


Actually, considering Molina's main trait seems to be catching the ball quietly, I'd say it's less a case of him finding a way around the rules as much as inferior catchers haven't fully taken advantage of what's there for the taking. But I'm in the group that think it's a skill, and one that makes baseball better. I also like personalized strike zones*, on the belief that being able to adapt to the way the strike zone is being called on a game by game basis is a skill for pitchers and batters alike.

* In theory. They have to be reasonable (a few inches in any direction). And the zone should be consistent from the first inning to the last, which isn't always the case.


   36. Nasty Nate Posted: May 18, 2012 at 10:41 AM (#4134818)
I also like personalized strike zones*, on the belief that being able to adapt to the way the strike zone is being called on a game by game basis is a skill for pitchers and batters alike.


I think it's just a matter of taste, because adapting to the umpires on a game by game basis would be a skill no matter what rules the umps were ignoring/changing.
   37. base ball chick Posted: May 18, 2012 at 11:28 AM (#4134887)
count me in as someone who doesn't like the personalized strike zone, especially as the strike zone apperas to vary from pitcher to pitcher and batter to batter.

i would like to see some kind of computer hologram over the base computer thingy for balls and strikes. also this way, jose altuve won't be given those neck high strikes any more.

as long as there are personalized strike zones, then more power to the molinas of the world to counteract that crap
   38. Random Transaction Generator Posted: May 18, 2012 at 12:24 PM (#4134966)
i would like to see some kind of computer hologram over the base computer thingy for balls and strikes. also this way, jose altuve won't be given those neck high strikes any more.


And an RFID chip embedded in the end of every bat, so it can be determined if the batter was able to check his swing in time (based on the interaction of the chip and the hologram).

Also, put chips in every baseball, glove, shoe, and base, and we can eliminate umpires from making bang-bang calls on close plays at the bases.

Finally, thrown down some invisible lasers down each foul line and across the top of the outfield wall to provide instantaneous fair/foul/home-run calls.
   39. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: May 18, 2012 at 12:45 PM (#4134992)
I don't see this as all that different from first basemen who are good at timing their reach for the ball so that sometimes they can come off the bag a little, and still get the call.
   40.   Posted: May 18, 2012 at 01:35 PM (#4135047)
I can't even reconcile in my brain a way that those two things are similar.
   41. Rants Mulliniks Posted: May 18, 2012 at 01:37 PM (#4135052)
The folks getting wound up about how awful it is that pitch framing affects the outcome of a single pitch must come out of their seats on "neighbourhood" plays that you see all the time on DPs.

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