22 December 2016

A Closer Look At Welington Castillo's Pitch Framing

Welington Castillo is not a good pitch framer. Ryan wrote an article last week discussing how Castillo’s pitch farming has cost his team about ten runs per season. Jeff Sullivan argued that Castillo isn’t the Orioles’ best catcher due to his poor pitch framing ability. Nick Cicere wrote an interesting article for Camden Chat with some video examples showing how Castillo struggles with framing. But just because Castillo struggles with framing, does that mean he struggles evenly regardless of where a pitch is thrown? He may be bad overall, but perhaps there are certain areas where his ability to frame is acceptable.

Using ESPNs Stats and Information Trumedia Portal, I took a closer look at his pitch framing results. The TruMedia portal is relatively high on Castillo’s 2016 pitch framing results, ranking him 52th out of 76 qualified catchers and rating his framing ability at only 2.70 runs below average. StatCorner reports similar results and claims he was worth -3.2 runs. Baseball Prospectus has better algorithms to measure pitch framing ability, and ranks his framing ability considerably lower. This could mean that this dataset has a fatal flaw. Unfortunately, without access to BPs proprietary methodology, this dataset is the best available to me.

The ESPN portal is unimpressed by Castillo’s framing ability against pitches thrown up in the zone. Out of 76 qualified pitchers in 2016, Castillo is ranked 75th against pitches thrown in the top third of the zone and has a framing value of -9.13. In 2015, Castillo was ranked 63rd out 67 qualified catchers with a framing value of -6.24. In 2014, Castillo was ranked 75th out of 76 qualified catchers with a framing value of -10.06. From 2014-2016, Castillo ranks as the worst catcher out of 103 qualified catchers with a -25.43 framing value. Not only this, but he’s the worst catcher regardless of whether a pitch is thrown inside or outside. It’s safe to say that this dataset indicates that Castillo is pretty terrible when it comes to framing pitches up in the zone.

He’s not much better relatively speaking when it comes to the middle of the zone. This data portal ranks his defense from 2014-2016 as yet again the worst out of all 103 qualified catchers with a -11.75 framing value. Yet again, it makes little difference whether pitchers throw the ball inside or outside. His best year in the three year sample was in 2016, when he ranked 73rd out of 76 qualified catchers. Let me reiterate that this data portal ranks Castillo’s defense most favorably. It’s safe to say that this dataset thinks little of Castillo’s ability to frame pitches in the middle of the zone.

Castillo excels when it comes to framing pitches in the bottom of the zone. From 2014-2016, his framing ability is ranked 28th out of 103 with a 6.32 value. He has pretty poor results framing pitches in the inside part of the zone, ranking only 70th out of 103 with a -1.33 value. However, he ranks 27th out of 103 framing pitches low and away with a 3.03 pitch framing value and ranks 13th out of 103 framing pitches that are just low but in the middle of the plate with a 4.63 pitch framing value.

In addition, Castillo has shown improvement at framing pitches low in the zone each year. He ranked 12th out of 76 in 2016 (+9 runs), 29th out of 67 in 2015 (+2.1 runs) and 61st out of 76th in 2014 (-5 runs). This possibly indicates that Castillo is able to improve in this regard. Castillo told Don Connolly that he’ll be going to Puerto Rico in order to work on his receiving and pitch framing abilities. He also stated that he knows he needs to work on it. If Castillo can continue his improvement in this regard, it’s possible he won’t be the worst catcher framing pitches up in the zone.

Jon reported on Sunday that Castillo will be Jimenez and Miley’s catcher as well as possibly Gallardo’s. Unfortunately, Jimenez is typically more successful when throwing pitches up in the zone rather than below. From 2014-2016, batters have a .310 wOBA when putting pitches thrown up in the zone into play, and a .346 wOBA when putting pitches thrown low in the zone into play.

When batters don’t put the ball into play, Jimenez has some pretty ugly number whether he throws a pitch up in the zone or low in the zone. But he is able to generate considerably more foul balls, throwing a pitch up in the zone rather than down in the zone. He has a 42% chance of getting a strike or a foul on pitches thrown up in the zone, but only a 37.8% chance when throwing down in the zone. If he decides to target the bottom of the zone in response to having Castillo as his catcher, fans will be more likely to want to throw up when watching him pitch.

However, Miley has better results when throwing down in the zone than throwing up in the zone. Opposing batters have a .375 wOBA when putting pitches thrown down in the zone into play compared to a .420 wOBA when putting pitchers thrown up in the zone into play. That stated, while he has a better swinging strike rate throwing down in the zone, he has a lower called ball rate, and higher called strike rate and foul rate throwing up in the zone. Honestly, having a catcher that can do a good job framing pitches is the least of his worries.

Castillo is terrible at framing pitches up in the zone as well as in the middle of the zone, but can do an acceptable job framing pitches low in the zone. This is ideal for a reliever like Zach Britton. However, it’s unlikely that this skillset will help improve Jimenez or Miley’s performance. The right team could probably work around Castillo’s inability to frame pitches, but that team probably isn’t the Orioles.


Anonymous said...

Something that this post touches on is the inconsistency in grading pitch framing. It's a significantly harder skill to analyze than, say, batting ability. That's part of the reason why you have to take his supposed ineptitude with a grain of salt. Of course framing is an important skill, but when you can't be sure how good or bad the player is, it is logical to undervalue this skill compared to others.

Matt P said...

True. Pitch framing is something I'd look at myself if I had a physics background. The problem is that I'm worried that a number of places just look at the final location of a pitch, but a real analysis would require measuring the velocity, direction, spin and location of a pitch to determine the difficulty.

If you have the right dataset, plus a good knowledge of physics, mathematics and statistics, it shouldn't be that hard to do right. Pitch Fx provides all of these things. The fact that I don't have a strong enough physics background, nor have I spent the time analyzing the dataset doesn't mean that others couldn't. You would need to hire a few really smart people, but the cost would be peanuts for a major league club.

I don't know whether the BP dataset is good enough as I haven't looked at pitch framing in depth nor paid close attention to their methodology. But it should be plausible enough for teams to have a good understanding of how it works. And considering the larger sample sizes, they should have a stronger grasp of it then batting average.

Pip said...

Interesting article and possible a depressing one as well.
"Yay! We got a bad catcher for 6 million dollars who isn't as good as the cheap fellow we already had! Let joy be unconfined....Ooops."
Anyway, how do we know Castillo is going to catch Gallardo/Jiminez/Miley? Did Buck say that or is this a prediction based on something?
Wouldn't the guys with the worst control( i.e. All the above) benefit most from having Joseph?

Anonymous said...

At least he won't ever be referred to as "switch-hitting Jesus", a definite step in the right direction!

Matt Perez said...

Jon said he was told that. I'd think pitchers with good control would benefit the most. They're the ones who can throw pitches near the edge of the zone most often. Pitchers with bad control can't do that. Maybe.

Roger said...

I agree with MAtt P. That's why I suggested that Tillman would most benefit from Joseph. Tillman is most effective when he is sneaky but not walking folks. The more marginal strikes he gets the better pitcher he will be. Probably true of Gausman and Bundy, too, although they have the "stuff" to overcome poor framing. Seems to me like the O's are taking the better path especially if Jimenez is not really in the SP plans and if they can trade out either Gallardo or Jimenez. And, if the article is correct about him being good for Britton, he might make a good late game PH if Joseph is not hitting.

Jon Shepherd said...

What one guy wants another might change. See Hyun Soo Kim.

Anonymous said...

Pitch framing is a bunch of horsecrap, donn't sweat it! Also, HOW can you bat 131!!! times, and NOT get an RBI?!?!

Jon Shepherd said...

Regarding BP, data is similar but difference is methodology. They use a mixed model approach which is capable of associating importance to factors like the ump, pitcher, and batter.

You can see how MLB clubs highly value it now vs five years ago. You use to see middling bats with solid pitch framing last til late in free agency. Now, those players rarely reach FA and those that do get picked up quickly.