Jason Castro on Catcher Framing

Most of the time, pictures do more justice than talking. So when Jason Castro said a few words about catcher framing, I immediately wanted to run to a computer to look at what he was talking about. Maybe next time we’ll take a look at some video together and tease out what he meant a little further. But this time, just a few words were worth a lot of thinking, and the pictures filled in the blanks.

There weren’t many words spent on this subject. When I asked Jason Castro about his catching instructor and if they worked on framing together, Castro answered that “I don’t think framing in the traditional sense is something that is really taught in any more, the emphasis is shifting to being as quiet as you can about receiving the ball and giving the umpire the best view of the pitch that you can.”

Though that felt like a letdown at first, it of course squares with what we know about the best framers in the game. Watch Jose Molina do his thing, courtesy of Jeff Sullivan, and you see calm hands, not moving much. There’s no way you’re going to fool the umpire by trying to bring the pitch back to the zone.

But when I asked Castro to talk a little more about giving the umpire the best view, Castro agreed: “That’s part of what I’ve integrated into my catching this year is thinking about the angles in which I set up, and I actually have noticed a difference in the rising number of called strikes we’ve gotten this year, in just a non-scientific approach to it.”

Courtesy Jeff Sullivan, a slightly more scientific approach:

Astros 2012, whole team: 3 expected strikes above average per 1,000 called pitches
Astros 2013, whole team: 5 expected strikes above average per 1,000 called pitches

Of course, there are multiple catchers in each year, and non-Castro catchers got significant playing time last season. There’s a tiny sample size this year, only about 1,000 called pitches in all. But it does sound like the catcher in the organization that hired the guy that once wrote this about catcher framing is doing some work on his framing. We shouldn’t be surprised.

After all, in that Molina piece, Sullivan did give us this:

There might also be something to be said about Molina’s body angle versus Lobaton’s. In a Clubhouse Confidential segment, Dave Valle talked about the importance of setting your body such that the umpire gets a good look at the ball all the way through. It appears that Molina has his body at an angle, while Lobaton is a little more square to the pitcher. That could be some factor; when it comes to receiving, Molina is outstanding across the board.

But it’s also hard to talk about these things in a locker room before a game. If we did, he might have said something about butt waggle. And asked Chris Carter to come over and pretend to be the umpire behind him. And it might have gotten complicated when the guys around Carter couldn’t agree on who should be the batter.

So let’s just use real life. Up first are two GIFs from last year, in April. On the left, Castro was catching righty Bud Norris on April 8th. On the right, he was catching lefty J.A. Happ on April 9th.


Now let’s compare to his work this year. On the left, Castro catching Norris again, this April 6th. On the right, lefty Wesley Wright on April 5th. Pay close attention to Castro’s butt when receiving Wright.


Did you see it? Watch his butt waggle. Or, alternatively, look at these still images of his final stance against lefties, and look how much of the white of his pants you can see behind his catcher gear in each (2013 is on the right):


Against righties, Castro does much of the same but it’s harder to see because the batter is in the way. And it’s less obvious what he’s trying to do. Against lefties, you can see it pretty easily: by waggling his butt a little, he creates an angle for the umpire behind him to see the pitch better. And so far, even in a small sample, it looks like it’s working.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

18 Responses to “Jason Castro on Catcher Framing”

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  1. So is that possibly why some pitchers get more called 3rd strikes, and it can be sustainable.

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  2. Caleb says:

    “And that my son” he said, closing the book and setting it aside, “is how ‘Butt Waggle’ became a sabremetric term”. He smiled down at his son who stared back at him, wide-eyed. “But I asked for a fairy tale…”

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  3. gorillakilla34 says:

    “Pay close attention to Castro’s butt when receiving Wright.”

    uuuuuhhhhh huh huh huh… uuuuhhhhhh huh huh huh…

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  4. Steve C says:

    Looks like his left foot is closer to the plate / right shoulder dropped back a little; opening up a viewing tunnel for the unpire.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I think this is the result of pushing his butt out to the side, yeah. You can see his feet are at more of an angle to the plate, and that does allow the umpire more room to see.

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  5. Mark Sanchez says:

    Butt waggle > butt fumble

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  6. Pete says:

    I don’t think you can compare a catcher’s setup with runners on against bases empty. Castro is probably more concerned with the runner on first rather than framing on the second gif.

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  7. CB says:

    It’s a crime that “butt waggle” isn’t in the title of this post… A crime of Internet hits. “Jason Castro’s new-look butt waggle” would have raced up the google…

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  8. asaw780 says:

    This article should be labeled NSFW.

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  9. blackoutrestrictions says:

    Looks like its working, that is, until an ump reads this article and starts to think twice about Castro. Seriously though, saber analysis about framing is unique in that it is trying to incorporate and rationalize human bias and error, which is never a constant variable and is liable to change and correct as a umps react to an increase in analysis on framing, which frangraphs seem so be leading the charge in. I’m surprised Castro opened his mouth about this at all. If I were his coach or Bud Norris, I’d rather he had not. Anyone else thought about this?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I did think about this wrt to the framing bit at the beginning. If he said that he was concentrating on trying to bring the ball back to the zone, absolutely the refs would see that and try to correct for it. That already happened though. What Castro said here – he’s just trying to give the umpire a better look at the ball – isn’t something you can adjust for as easily. “Oh I saw that real well, and Castro moved to give me a good luck, must not have been a strike?” Not sure that Castro gave away the goods here.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I’m going to guess that a major league ump noticed that Castro was sitting at an angle at least one time during the ~250 pitches during the game.

        Let’s not act like umpires don;t notice a lot of little things like that.

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        • blackoutrestrictions says:

          You would think so, but isn’t the whole concept of “framing” a pitch a “skill” that good catchers are able to use to make umps call strikes that would not be called such by a catcher without that skill? Isn’t the whole idea of factoring framing ability into defensive WAR predicated on the ability to manipulate and influence the umpire’s strike calls? If the position of a catcher’s rear end is influencing called strikes, as this article suggests, this pretty clearly means that major league umpires are in fact not noticing it and are being duped a bit. Whether we are talking about moving your glove, butt, or whatever, let’s call catcher framing what it is – an effort to influence the subject art of calling balls and strikes. Computers would not be fooled. Is anyone seriously buying Castro’s euphemistic bs about “giving the ump a better look?” What do you think he’s going to tell a reporter – “This is how I frame pitches to deceive the umpires.” That this was so obviously a euphemism for a deceptive practice is what made me so surprised that he said anything at all to Eno.

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        • CircleChange11 says:

          What we don;t know is whether a “ball called a strike” was the result of the catcher doing *something* to make the ball look like a strike, the batter reacting in such a way that influenced the umpire to think it was a strike, or if it as the initial research suggested the ball was called a strike because the pitcher hit the catcher’s target even though the catcher was setup slightly out of the zone.

          I don;t doubt that there are some catchers better at framing than others. I would consider this a fact of baseball. But, I would also consider this to be like trying to quantify “pitcher command”, where we’d have to know (1) original location, (2) final location, (3) expected movement, etc.

          I plan on reading all of the article associated with the framing research, because it is interesting, because so much of it does seem to be “how do they know that?” and “How do they prove that?” type of instances.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    This is the kind of stuff that really bothers me …


    This article is on catcher framing and provides tons of good data and images. However, we try to explain too much using simple gifs.

    Scroll down to the Doumit-Molina comparisons.

    The author presents that it’s the head-movement that is the difference. Yet, look at the video of umpire setup. On the pitch called a ball the umps midline is lined up with the batters box line for a LHB. In the pitch called a strike, the umps midline is the center of the plate. In other words, the “strike call” occurred by the ump that was further from the outside corner. The other ump had a “better look” and not because of the catcher, but because he chooses to setup in the center of the plate. I think that is far more significant than ANYTHING either catcher did.

    The author then shows some correlation between catcher head movement and balls called strikes. But when Veritek did not have any head movement, yet balls were still called balls, well then, his glove movement screwed that up. That’s not very scientific.

    I think the author is correct in that the “quietness” of the catcher is a factor. But, I also feel that is incredibly obvious. The catcher needs to present the image of him not having to “work” at all to receive the pitch because it was such a good pitch. We’ve all seen pitches that were “in the zone” but called balls because they did not hit the target. I think you could see 2-3 of these per game during any Edwin Jackson start. *grin*

    I would LOVE to see data plotting umpire set up location versus outside corner pitches called strikes.

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    • blackoutrestrictions says:

      I’m a former catcher so I am likely much more interested in this than most (i.e. – butt jokes), but I agree that if we are going to go about quantifying framing, which is what Eno is doing here, umpire location is just as important to track as catcher location. I’ve read a few of fangraphs articles on catcher framing, but it still seems like it is rather clumsy and a ways off from being factored into their defensive WAR calculations. If it is currently being factored, and they are not taking into account something like umpire position – it seems like they are missing something big. I think this is just one aspect of how defensive WAR is essentially problematic and a real dark art that is developed with non-public statistics. I’d like to know more.

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  11. JIM says:

    Great Article…..BRRRRRRRRRRTT(That’s me farting)

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