15 November 2016

Improving Pitch Framing in the Orioles Organization

As we have noted in previous posts, it is difficult to find a decent defensive catcher.  Also of note, we have mentioned how difficult it is to become a decent catcher.  Finally of note, we have delved a bit into how well catchers can frame a pitch to help their pitchers.  We have long been a champion of Caleb Joseph's ability to do this and, more recently, have also championed Francisco Pena.  Likewise, I have noted repeatedly how poor a catcher Chance Sisco has been.

Anyway, below is a table that shows estimated framing runs prevented and overall fielding runs above average.  The numbers are taken from Baseball Prospectus.

Matt Wieters
-4.4 -2.3
Caleb Joseph 30 7 7.3
Francisco Pena 26 8.2 8.4
Audrey Perez 27 -10.2 -11.5
Chance Sisco 21 -6.2 -11.3
Chris O'Brien 26 -10.6 -10.6
Austin Wynns 25 0.4 0.9
-15.8 -19.1

What we see is that the upper minors and majors has no true consistency with respect to how well catchers can frame.  Wieters is below average. Joseph and Pena are excellent.  Perez, Sisco, and O'Brien are rather poor.  I would suggest that due to the difficulty in developing defensively as a catcher that these upper level positions should be saved for players who have already displayed good catching skills or someone who the team is desperately trying to make a catcher (i.e., Sisco).

With that in mind, I compiled a list of minor league free agent catchers to consider for placement in Bowie and Norfolk.  The two names that really jump out on this list are Willians Astudillo, a short and stout catcher, and Sebastian Valle.  For me, Astudillo seems like the one to aggressively go after.  He has shown good contact skills in addition to his defense.  He also has shown enough athleticism to play third base.  He has no power to speak of, but those bat skills are as promising as free agent minor league catching bats can be.  He could be slated for his second tour of AA or given an opportunity to experience AAA.

Sebastian Valle may be 26 years old, but has 10 years of pro ball under his belt.  He is your typical minor league catch and throw guy who frames quite well.  He would be a solid, no hit option at AA or AAA as a backup.  I doubt the bat ever comes around as he has trouble with contact and plate discipline.  Tony Sanchez is a former number one pick who has had some offensive and defensive issues.  Good plate discipline and framing are his calling cards, but he needs the rest to come together.  He probably would look for more of a MLB opportunity.  Finally, Kellin Deglan is another guy who was highly regarded, but could never quite put it together.  He would be another good option for AA.

It is pretty amazing to think that if you extrapolated playing time for Joseph and Pena in Baltimore, Sisco and Astudillo in Norfolk, and Valle and Deglan in Bowie that the organization would win several more games.  Their runs prevented for those three levels would go from -15.8 runs to 54.7 runs, a difference of 70.5.  That is worth about eight wins over those three levels.  I imagine several pitchers in the organization would appreciate that.

>2000 chances
Willians Astudillo 25 12.1 13
Sebastian Valle 26 10.4 10
Tony Sanchez 28 6.8 4.6
Kellin Deglan 24 6.2 3.8
Michael  McKenry 31 5.6 4.5
Francisco Arcia 27 5 5.9
Eddy Rodriguez 30 4.6 3.8
Erik  Katz 36 4.3 3.8
Wilkin Castillo 32 4.3 4.3
Rob Brantly 27 2.8 3
Shawn Zarraga 27 2.7 2.4
Carlos Paulino 27 2 2.2 Marlins
Adrian Nieto 27 1.7 2
Ali Solis 29 1.6 2.7
David Freitas 27 1.6 1.7
Stephen McGee 25 1.6 1.6
Tim Federowicz 29 1.3 1.1
Brian Jeroloman 31 1.1 2
Jeff Arnold 28 1 0.5 Giants
Rafael Lopez 29 0.4 0.1
J.P. Arencibia 30 -0.8 0.1
Jackson Williams 30 -0.8 0.4
Jason  Hagerty 29 -0.9 -3
Jake DePew 24 -1.1 -0.1
Mike Ohlman 25 -1.1 -1.7
Roberto Pena 24 -1.2 3.3
Dan Rohlfing 27 -1.6 -0.3
Gabriel Lino 23 -2.3 -2.5
Adam Moore 32 -2.6 -4
Brett Hayes 32 -3.9 -3.8
Nevin Ashley 32 -4.5 -5.2
Dan Butler 30 -4.6 -4.7
Miguel Olivo 38 -5.1 -4.2
Ryan  Lavarnway 29 -5.7 -6.9
Bryan Anderson 29 -6 -7.3
Carson Blair 27 -7.6 -8.1
Josmil Pinto 27 -9.2 -9.8
Steve Lerud 32 -9.8 -10.7
Guillermo Quiroz 34 -10.2 -13.1
Rene Garcia 26 -11.8 -10.5
Chris Berset 28 -22.3 -24.4


vilnius b. said...

Where does this minor league data come from? They've outfitted minor league parks with the same camera/computer systems that give us PITCH/fx data?

Anyway, interesting piece. I looked up Willams Astudillo on FG and found a link to Chris Mitchell's page on projecting minor league free agents. His KATOH system likes Astudillo as much as you do, projecting 2.2 WAR from him. You're right: we should go aggressively after him. He almost never strikes out, so at least you have a backup catcher who can make contact as well as do a great job of pitch framing.

And Tony Sanchez is a pretty good second choice. As we've seen with more than a couple of ballplayers, sometimes after bouncing around in the minors you end up with a team that finds a way to fix your problems at the plate. He did manage double digit HRs twice when he was with the Pirates. There must have been a good reason that the Pirates used their #4 pick in the first round back in 2009. His BA with two different organizations last year was very low, but then again so was his BABIP and he did at least show he can draw a walk.

Thanks for the piece. In addition to looking for a good backup catcher, there may be one or two OFs we should think about signing if you're using Mitchell's KATOH system.

Jon Shepherd said...

1) Fairly certain the minor league data comes from a mixed model approach using pitch-by-pitch data. MLB teams have Trackman in MiL stadiums, but that information is not shared publicly.

2) I think KATOH misrepresents itself without showing errors bars. The translation between MiL statistics and future MLB statistics is much more variable than taking previous MLB stats and pushing it forward. I mean, do you think LJ Hoes is a 1.6 WAR player? He has shown himself pretty well not to be that. With Astudillo, no only is KATOH projecting him from the minors, it is projecting him from the low minors and half a season of AA. I think he is a good target, but I would not be planning him a locker in Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

Could we numbers on Yermin Mercedes? He also hits very well

Jon Shepherd said...

Low minors data is not available.

My scouting contacts say he is not a catcher and that his hitting will be greatly challenged up the ladder. We wrote him up a couple months ago.

vilnius b. said...

Jon: I'm not expecting him to have a locker with the Orioles soon either. After all, your column is about targeting minor league free agent catchers who have good framing skills and can fill in as backups as necessary.
And apparently Astudillo fits the bill in that regard.

I'm a person who only took a stats course once in college and that was many years ago. And my grasp of stats and metrics is greatly diminished by the neuropathy meds I must take.

So I'll gladly defer to you in evaluating how well the KATOH system works and its inherent flaws. I only referenced that article by Chris Mitchell because I just wanted to point out that there is another respected baseball voice out there who thinks that Astudillo might be able to help some team in a pinch. He did preface his rankings in that article by reminding readers that these types of players are usually the "absolute bottom of the barrel." And that they offer only a "glimmer of promise."

And yes, I think we can all agree that it's unlikely that L.J. Hoes will ever be a 1.6 WAR player. But KATOH employs its own methodology (does any projection system work most of the time?) for evaluating minor and major league players. And surprisingly, their numbers say he's another one of those "glimmer of promise" players.

I enjoyed the piece, regardless. Thanks for another interesting column!