If this were any other stat, it wouldn’t be worth a post. If this were instead “All-Star Break Home-Run Update,” it’d be a waste of your time, because you could simply just look up the stat on the FanGraphs leaderboards. They’re right up there! But, at the moment, FanGraphs doesn’t house and update any pitch-framing statistics, and while that could change in time, that’s the way things are today, meaning this post could have some substance. Most people can’t look this stuff up on their own, so I’m here to provide for you while crossing something off my weekly quota. Everybody wins.
FanGraphs is pretty selective for the intellectually curious. And, of course, baseball fans, and intellectually curious baseball fans have generally been interested in pitch-framing research. It’s just another thing that players can be good or bad at, so fans want to know where their catchers rank. Right now, we have a little break in regular-season action, so it seemed like a good time to post the latest numbers, through the middle of July. It was either this or a .gif post about Yasiel Puig and no there weren’t any other options. I’ll give a quick explanation, before the data.
You can skip this part if you’ve read this part before. This is about a stat I’ve called Diff/1000 because whatever. It’s the difference, per 1,000 pitches, between actual strikes and expected strikes, based on plate-discipline statistics. Those stats are available here on FanGraphs, and you can calculate these numbers yourselves, whenever you like. This isn’t as rigorous as a PITCHf/x analysis, but what this has going for it is simplicity, and it’s all approximately correct. There’s good agreement between the numbers generated by this method and the numbers generated by more detailed methods. So I prefer this, because I can calculate the numbers I want in a minute, and I don’t have my own PITCHf/x database. Anyway, Diff/1000. A positive number means more strikes than you’d expect. A negative number means fewer strikes, and so a smaller strike zone. The average team throws several thousand pitches in a regular season, which I probably didn’t need to write.
In the table below, you’ll find data for all the teams. They’re ranked in descending order of Diff/1000, but what you’ll also find is 2012 Diff/1000, and the year-to-year difference between the two. Which teams are doing well? Which teams are doing poorly? Which teams are doing differently from how they did a season ago?
If you’ve read about this research before, you won’t be surprised to see the Brewers at the top of the list. Jonathan Lucroy appears to be one of the game’s premier receivers, and when you combine that with his offense, he seems like a borderline star player. Yadier Molina‘s good, Chris Stewart‘s good, Russell Martin‘s good, Ryan Doumit‘s bad. This isn’t a strength of the Marlins — few things are — and the Mets haven’t gotten a lot from John Buck. Most teams are within 10 of league average.
It’s interesting when you look at the final column. The second-most-improved team is the Tigers, at plus-eight. Then the Pirates are all the way up there at plus-21, having signed Martin away from the Yankees in free agency even though the Yankees didn’t have a sound backup plan. Martin has singlehandedly turned this from a weakness into a strength. At the other end, the Mets bring up the rear at minus-13. The Braves are at minus-12, a consequence of missing Brian McCann and playing Gerald Laird. Atlanta also lost David Ross. The Reds are at minus-11, and that does it for the double-digits. You’re free to explore to your heart’s content.
Moving on, let’s look at some individual pitchers. So far, 136 pitchers have thrown at least 1,000 pitches, and below, the top 10 and the bottom 10 in Diff/1000.
Top Ten, Diff/1000
Bottom Ten, Diff/1000
This should be a link to a spreadsheet for all 136. Unsurprisingly, a Brewer’s in the lead; unsurprisingly, a Marlin is in last. If it makes you feel any better, or worse, Koehler has a better ERA than does Estrada; the Marlins have a better ERA than do the Brewers. Everything doesn’t come down to pitch-receiving, but some stuff comes down to pitch-receiving. It’s possible that without the catchers, the Marlins would look even better, and the Brewers would look even worse. It’s all very complicated and we can’t speak to a Lucroy-less Milwaukee pitching staff.
For fun, Estrada’s most generous called strike:
For fun, Koehler’s most stingy called ball:
And another stingy Koehler ball from the previous plate appearance that I found hysterical because of the catcher’s reaction:
That was in a 3-and-0 count, too, when umpires tend to be at their most charitable. Koehler nailed his spot. It wasn’t a tricky pitch. The catcher didn’t do anything particularly distracting. Ball four. All right. Now you know this about Tom Koehler.
Above, you can see how Lucroy helped get the outside strike by making sure his body momentum was leaning in toward the plate. Then you can see Rob Brantly catch a curveball all sloppy-like, driving the ball into the ground even though it crossed the front plane in the strike zone. Granted, curveballs aren’t easy to catch, but they should be easier than that.
What you can’t do with these numbers — which you can do with PITCHf/x — is split them up by catcher. So simply based on this, we don’t know how much credit should go to Lucroy or how much should go to Martin Maldonado. But you can get good ideas, especially if you’re already familiar with catcher-framing reputations that’ve developed in the past couple years. As always, it’s hard to say how much all this matters, and it’s hard to isolate the various contributing factors. But, still, it stands to reason you’d rather have positive numbers than negative ones. For all the things the Brewers have done wrong, they’ve done this right. And for all the things the Marlins have done wrong, this is apparently among them.
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