14 June 2011

Cup of jO's: Evaluating catchers' ability to frame pitches

Game Wrap
No game last tonight. Tonight Baltimore kicks-off a series in Toronto.

Of interest...
Of interest to me this morning is an article from last week, found over at the Hardball Times. Max Marchi put together an interesting attempt at evaluating a catcher's ability to frame pitches. It is an interesting read tackling an interesting question -- exactly how important is a catcher's ability to frame a pitch? Entering the piece, I admit I was dubious that 1) a study on the matter would be of any utility, and 2) the ultimate impact of having a "good" versus an "average" pitch framer would be negligable. While I'm not sold on some of the conclusions, I do think Marchi put together an interesting argument with solid support and at minimum a nifty little framework through which to view the skill:

"[P]laying with a receiver who is good at framing pitches is the equivalent of having a pitcher friendly umpire calling the game."

Without delving into the deep and dirties here (you should absolutely check out the piece), Marchi essentially concludes that a catcher can positively impact a pitcher's ability to get a called strike on a pitch out of the zone, and the catchers most adept at this skill can be worth up to two extra wins a year. While intuitively this seems excessive to me, I would not go so far as to say it is unbelievable. In particular, this particular skill amounts to an ability to manifest an out in two-strike counts or shift counts to pitcher friendly, where batter outcome expectency tends to favor the defending team. In any event, provided you buy into this skill as having a non-negligable impact on a team's win probability, Baltimore fans should be pleased to have a quiet and steady receiver in Wieters.

Finally, Marchi suggests his valuations may even be conservative:

The number could even be a conservative estimate. In fact, as soon as a pitcher realizes his catcher gives him an edge on borderline pitches, he should immediately begin to exploit the advantage.

This is a stretch, assuming pitchers can generally place the ball with enough precision to hit specific "off the plate windows" required to get a strike call while missing the zone. I am also unsure as to why Marchi would believe that pitchers aren't already trying to hit these "just off the plate" spots as is. Of course I believe the receiving skill to be valuable, and I can even buy into the skill's contributions to win probability being something north of negligible. But I don't personally see this as the next overlooked and undervalued area for GM's to farm.

Maybe Jon will have some thoughts as to how reliable he believes the "added wins" calculations to be...

1 comment:

Jon Shepherd said...

It certainly is an interesting idea. Matt Wieters comes in as the 96th best catcher out of 112 catchers who have qualified with the existance ofpitch f/x (2007-2011). If accurate, Wieters (if his value behind the plate is a constant and is not improved) would cost the Orioles about 0.75 wins a year.

Balls and strikes are definitely valuable commodities and if catchers are able of turning more pitches into strikes in areas hard for the batter to reach, it certainty would greatly benefit a team. A difference of 2-3 games from the worst to the best catcher is reasonable, if this truly is a real skill.

Catcher's defense is certainly ripe for readjustment. Based on the rankings, I don't find that any team has figured this out. That makes it difficult to assume the author is correct.

I'd like to see more studies on this, but it is definitely interesting.