Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher Framing, and the NL MVP

Three years ago, the BBWAA opened their doors to FanGraphs; currently, four of our writers are members, including David Laurila, Eno Sarris, Carson Cistulli, and myself. Having that access has allowed David and Eno to do really interesting work in combining data with comments from the players, including Eno’s piece on Jacob deGrom from this morning, but being in the BBWAA also comes with other privileges, including voting on postseason awards. For the first time this year, I’ve been selected to represent the Atlanta chapter in the NL voting, and I’ll be casting a ballot for both Manager of the Year and Most Valuable Player.

As part of the conditions of being invited to participate, this means that I won’t be able to talk about who I’m planning on voting for until after the ballot is announced in November. However, I can talk about the questions I’m going to have to answer for myself when deciding how to vote, and no player is going to force me to come to a decision on what I feel is an unanswered question more so than Jonathan Lucroy.

As you probably know, Jonathan Lucroy is something like an adopted Molina brother when it comes to catcher framing. By nearly every public measure of strikes stolen, Lucroy is one of the very best in the game at getting umpires to call pitches out of the zone in his favor. He’s talked extensively about this with both Eno and Ben Lindbergh, and it is pretty clear that this is something he has worked hard to perfect. Giving his pitchers a larger-than-average strike zone to work with is certainly adding value and helping his team win games, and Lucroy should get credit for this part of his defensive value.

But how much credit? This is the issue with defensive statistics in general, as even if people accept that Andrelton Simmons or Alex Gordon are good defenders, the range of values estimated by the defensive systems are still difficult to accept for many, including the Major League teams themselves. And nowhere is this divide more clear than when it comes to the value of catcher framing.

By StatCorner’s estimates, the elite framers — of which Lucroy is certainly one — are usually worth 20 to 30 runs per season. In 2011, StatCorner estimated Lucroy’s framing value at +41 runs, and Brian McCann was rated as +44 runs in both 2008 and 2009. If this high-end range of framing value is correct, then Lucroy is the best player in baseball this year, McCann had a peak worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, and Jose Molina is worth roughly $20 million per year.

I don’t know anyone that actually thinks Lucroy is the best player in baseball, that McCann has put himself on track for induction to Cooperstown, or that Molina adds as much value to a pitching staff as Jeff Samardzija. Even though nearly every framing model comes out with similar estimates, and framing has been shown to be correlated strongly from year to year — suggesting there is real skill here and not just random noise — it’s difficult to wrap our minds around the range of value that the numbers suggest.

Even the most analytically progressive Major League teams don’t buy really buy into the numbers. The Astros were so impressed by Mike Fast’s work, which included launching the current obsession with catcher framing, that they hired him and made him a key member of their front office. And in the winter that saw three of the very best framing catchers — McCann, Molina, and Ryan Hanigan — hit the open market, the Astros instead spent $30 million on Scott Feldman, $6 million on Chad Qualls, and a combined $8 million on Jesse Crain, Matt Albers, and Jerome Williams.

McCann was probably out of their price range, and maybe he didn’t want to play for a last place team, but Molina signed for less than $2 million per year on a two year deal, and Hanigan was traded essentially for $5 million in cash, as the Rays took Heath Bell in the deal and surrendered a minor leaguer who retired before spring training started. None of these player’s acquisition prices reflected anything close to the value suggesting by the framing metrics. Sure, Molina’s probably still employed because the Rays value his ability to steal strikes, but they value it so highly that they’ve only let him play in 70 games this year. If any team in baseball really believed that Molina was worth 30 runs per season in framing value, he wouldn’t be making $1.8 million to play every other day in Tampa Bay.

Of course, the market value of a player isn’t a perfect way of evaluating the actual value of a player. We can find all kinds of examples of teams making irrational decisions about how they spend their money and even how they allocate playing time, so the fact that the market isn’t yet factoring framing values into free agent contracts isn’t evidence that the framing models are wrong. But I do wonder whether or not we are giving too much credit to the catcher for a framed strike.

For instance, let’s talk about how framing metrics work. The most thorough explanation comes from Harry Pavlidis, in working through the RPM model that he developed with Dan Brooks. In their model, they created a continuous function estimating the chances of a pitch being called a strike based on a number of variables, including location, count, and batter handedness, and then they credit to the catcher the difference between the estimated probability of a strike in that location and the actual call. So, if a pitch was thrown that had a 30% chance of being called a strike, and it was called a strike, the catcher would get credit for 70% of the run value change of that pitch being called a strike. This is basically the same principle as how UZR and DRS work in measuring fielding value at other positions, though obviously it’s an entirely different data set.

But here’s the implication of that calculation; when a pitcher throws a pitch in a location that has a low estimated strike rate, we are implicitly blaming him for throwing a bad pitch, and then giving the catcher credit for erasing the pitcher’s mistake. But pitchers are not stupid, and I guarantee you that the Brewers’ pitchers know that Lucroy gets more called strikes on pitches out of the zone than other catchers, so they have a personal expected strike rate on an out-of-zone location higher than pitchers throwing to other catchers. And they know this before they choose where to throw the pitch.

Let’s say you’re Kyle Lohse, and you have pretty good command, but you know that Lucroy is going to be able to steal strikes for you at the bottom of the zone. So, instead of throwing a pitch in the zone, where you are more likely to give up contact, you decide to pound the area just south of the strike zone, and particularly, down-and-away from left-handers, since that’s the area where umpires are most generous out of the zone. If you did that, your pitch location heat map might look something like this.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 12.26.32 PM

If you compare that image to the league average location heat map, you’ll see that Lohse’s numbers on pitches down and on the left side of this image are far higher than most pitchers; in fact, in the lower left-hand boxes, we’re talking rates of pitches two or three times higher than the league average this year. Kyle Lohse is a guy who can throw the ball where he wants, and yet, he’s decided to live down and out of the strike zone this year.

This is very likely because he knows that Lucroy can get him strikes there, reducing the cost of pitching out of the zone. And that’s exactly what the data shows. In the three boxes that surround the lower left corner of the strike zone, Lohse has gotten strikes about 50% of the time this year, compared to a league average of about 30%. In the areas over the plate but just low, Lohse is getting strikes over 70% of the time, compared to a league average of around 55%.

This is the Lucroy effect; it is real, and it is getting Lohse extra strikes. But do we really want to give Lucroy the entire difference in a stolen strike at the bottom of the zone when Lohse threw it there knowing that Lucroy was the one behind the plate? After all, if we’re going to accept the range of framing values, then we have to subtract out the value of the strike from Lohse’s tally in order to balance the books. Are we comfortable concluding that, on a pitch called a strike, we should actually count it as a negative pitch for Lohse because he put the ball in an area where we estimate an average catcher would have made it a likely called ball?

Or, is it more likely that Lucroy’s framing skill is incentivizing Lohse to pitch out of the zone, so the credit for a framed strike should be shared between the pitcher and the hitter? After all, the question we’re trying to ask is how much value Lucroy adds to the Brewers pitching staff, and how much worse they would be if he was taken out of the equation. Perhaps if the Brewers pitchers had a worse framer to throw to, they would simply adjust by throwing more strikes. The distribution of locations is not an independent factor from the identity of the catcher.

Now, Dan and Harry are very smart guys and have also thought about these issues, so they performed with-or-without-you calculations to attempt to remove the impact of a pitcher with good command on inflating a catcher’s framed pitches total. I’m not saying that this issue invalidates the concept of framing or that Lucroy doesn’t actually add value with his work behind the plate. Clearly, he does.

But as of mid-August, I remain somewhat unconvinced that the catcher should be assigned the entire difference between the actual call and an expected strike based on an estimate that includes all the performance of all catchers, because the pitcher is not throwing to all catchers, and his chosen location is influenced by the identity of the guy behind the plate. Certainly, giving a pitcher confidence to avoid the middle of the zone has value in and of itself, but I’m not sure I’m quite there yet in agreeing with the idea that a pitcher who throws an out-of-zone pitch to Jonathan Lucroy should be penalized for that decision.

And if you’re building an accounting system that assigns a significant credit to the catcher for a stolen strike, you necessarily have to hold that pitch against the pitcher, even though the result was positive. That’s a tough bridge for me to cross right now.

Now, I am open to being convinced. Part of my hope in having access to a very smart audience is that you guys can help me wade through a difficult process. I don’t guarantee that I’ll vote the way you think I should, but I’m open to hearing the case not just for Lucroy, but for any player with a realistic argument for the NL MVP award this year. If you can talk me into buying into the published range of framing values, then Lucroy is going to be a very strong contender for the award, but at this point, I am unsure how much weight to give the framing estimates, and I am unsure of just how valuable Lucroy is relative to the other great candidates.

It’s a privilege to have a vote, but this isn’t going to be an easy one.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


152 Responses to “Jonathan Lucroy, Catcher Framing, and the NL MVP”

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  1. Aaron (UK) says:

    At least Fredi Gonzalez is making your other decision easier, Dave.

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    • Grumpy Ole Bass Turd says:

      Seriously. No other manager in baseball would have come up with the idea of warming LHRP James Russell the other night as the go-to matchup guy against the other team’s best *righty*, based on his reverse split this season. Such outside-the-box thinking deserves to be recognized.

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  2. LHPSU says:

    If we believe that these pitch-framing runs are fully correct AND use them directly against runs generated/prevented at other positions, we might as well remove anybody that isn’t a catcher from the MVP ballot.

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    • Aaron (UK) says:

      Is this so implausible? The catcher is involved with every single pitch on defense, for the whole 9 innings, along with his share of offensive contribution, for 5 out of every 6 games or so. No-one else is involved in as much baseball.

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      • AK7007 says:

        This part is what makes me really feel that framing numbers really are going to be this extreme – the pure volume of opportunities in comparison to any other position. These are really tiny credits that the catcher is getting for each pitch he “brings back” – but it’s being multiplied by thousands of pitches.

        If that means that say, five runs of Kyle Lohse’s value is credited to his catcher this year, I’m ok with that.

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      • e says:

        It would be like the NFL where 7 of last 10 MVPs have been quarterbacks simply because they touch the ball on every offensive play.

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        • munchtime says:

          Only in the NFL, the QB is the guy who has to diagnose the defense and throw the ball to the proper location. In MLB, the pitcher is the one tasked with throwing the ball to the proper location, even if strategy is shared with the catcher.

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      • Jonathan Lucroy Fanboy says:

        This. This. This. I may possibly be a little biased, since I’ve played catcher most of my life, but yes. Catcher is the most demanding and engaging position, outside of pitchers; and unlike pitchers, catchers play most of a team’s games. Additionally, a catcher spends the whole game inches away from the home plate umpire, and since umpires are still human beings, they can be affected by this person squatting and struggling/succeeding a hands length away. Thus, a catcher’s effect on his staff and the umpire is vastly underrated by common fans and players, and likewise that effect is not yet understood by current defensive metrics. This discrepancy might explain why the career WARs of elite catchers pale in comparison to elite outfielders, for example.

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    • Go Nats says:

      If that happened once then most every team would start to draft and build great pitch framers. Players would get drafted based on this skill more. The average ability to frame would improve, and then the great framers would start to not look as great compared to the average framer. So overtime the credit for great pitch framing would decline and other positions would start to look good again for MVP. in other words, if every catcher framed as well as Jose Molina does now, then Jose molina would not be considered special and the extra runs would not be credited to him for being much better than average.

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      • Niko says:

        Being good at framing is just being good at fooling the umpire. If the a specific ball location was constantly being called a strike, the umps would adjust. There would still be good and bad framers, but they’d all be better. Just like all hitters are stronger now than 50 years ago. And all pitchers throw harder. That’s not hard to see.

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  3. tz says:

    Please read the whole of Dave’s post. He frames the issue of framing value very well.

    Maybe someone like David Laurila can interview Lohse to see how valuable framing has been to him in his last two stops, and what that allows him to do in his approach.

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  4. Lefty says:

    Sounds like we need Command f/x data to make that determination.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Knowing the initial starting position of the glove might help a little bit, but it still doesn’t answer the most pressing question. If Lucroy sets up down and away, and Lohse hits the spot, how do you diyide the credit for the stolen strike? Does it all go Lucroy? 50/50? 70/30? I don’t know. I don’t know that anyone else does either.

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      • Lefty says:

        I think you have to first determine the probabilities in a best case scenario that you just described, where starting and finishing point of the catcher mitt are essentially equal, against the league average for that x-y coordinate. In other words, if Lucroy sets up in a spot no other catcher would get a called strike, then you use that as a baseline credit for Lucroy and add/subtract based on the vector of movement required to catch Lohse’s delivery.

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      • Lefty says:

        I dunno. Smarter minds than me would need to figure that out. But it would be an answerable question I believe, if the data were released of course.

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      • Carl Pavano says:

        The really tough part is how static that ratio is. Could it be that Hellickson/Jose Molina is 50/50 and Garza/Lucroy is 30/70 on Sundays and and 40/60 on Tuesdays that Garza’s pinky toe feels good? And then we have those dang home plate umps.

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      • Costanza says:

        Pitch framing is also interesting because it is a cumulative value stat, and the opportunities are based on something controllable. In other words, Lucroy’s teammate can choose to increase the # of opportunities available to Lucroy.

        Are there any other stats out there like that? I don’t believe there are; usually, the opportunities are created / presented by an opponent, whose objective is to minimize situations to allow the other team to accrue positive outcomes.

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      • Go Nats says:

        I think you give most if not all the credit to Lucroy. Once a catcher wins the MVP with his value strong tied to framing, then more teams will realize how powerful framing is and they would draft and train for it more. thus, eliminating how much better the few framers are compared to the average. The wins added for framing above the average would decline.

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      • Nivra says:

        For a moment, let’s consider the case where we don’t give Lucroy any of the extra credit for that strike. Rather, let’s think about it in terms of zone shifting.

        Let’s say that Lohse wants to pitch at the edge of the zone where he has a 70% chance of getting a called strike. It’s the area of the zone where if the hitter takes, it will usually be in Lohse’s favor, and if the hitter swings, it will likely result in a foul or weak contact, also in Lohse’s favor.

        Let’s use the Gameday zone coordinates with left/right going from -1 to +1, and down up going from 1.5 to 3.5. With an average framer, Lohse’s spot might be at -0.8, 1.6 to hit that 70% number. With Lucroy, that spot might be -1.1, 1.4. So the pitch gets the same 70% strike probability, but it’s 0.3 feet further outside and 0.2 feet lower.

        When the batter takes the pitch, Lucroy gets no extra credit. The 70% chance of strike is the exact same. However, when the batter swings, his expected run value is lower, since the pitch is further out of the strike zone. This difference in expected run value on a batter swing is what we should attribute to Lucroy.

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        • Nivra says:

          I expanded this analysis on McCoveyChronicles, so figure I’d repost here:

          Imagine a case where a pitcher has perfect command. Call this pitcher Kercliffux.
          Not every pitch by Kercliffux will be in the strike zone. In fact, most of them will be right along that edge where there’s a 60-90% chance of it getting a called strike just within the edge of the strike zone. Let’s take one such pitch, low and outside at 70% probability of getting a called strike. (the rest of this, I’ll crib from my Fangraphs comment)

          It’s the area of the zone where if the hitter takes, it will usually be in Kercliffux favor, and if the hitter swings, it will likely result in a foul or weak contact, also in Kercliffux’s favor.

          Let’s use the Gameday zone coordinates with left/right going from -1 to +1, and down up going from 1.5 to 3.5. With an average framer, Kercliffux’s spot might be at -0.8, 1.6 to hit that 70% number. With Lucroy, that spot might be -1.1, 1.4. So the pitch gets the same 70% strike probability, but it’s 0.3 feet further outside and 0.2 feet lower.

          When the batter takes the pitch, Lucroy gets no extra credit. The 70% chance of strike is the exact same. However, when the batter swings, his expected run value is lower, since the pitch is further out of the strike zone. This difference in expected run value on a batter swing is what we should attribute to Lucroy.

          So what is that difference in expected run value by moving the pitch from low and outside another 4″ low and outside? Then apply that the 20% of those pitches where the batter will actually swing. That feels like a pretty small number to me. Maybe it’s 20 points of wOBA? For a single PA, that’s around .0166 runs. 20% of that is 0.0033 runs. That’s nowhere near the 0.1 runs that most framing calculations will assign to it.

          To get anywhere near 0.05 runs, or 50% of the currently calculated framing value, you’d have to assume the batter will swing at a way low and outside pitch 50% of the time, and that the 4″ of difference will change the batted ball outcome by 120 points of wOBA. I’m not buying it.

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  5. Aaron (UK) says:

    I think the corollary Dave finds uncomfortable is actually correct. Why should Lohse get the full value of a strike when it’s the skill of Lucroy that makes it a strike?

    In the WAR framework, Lohse gets all the benefits that ultimately ensue from that strike (a K, a weak grounder, whatever) credited to him.

    Doubtless, without Lucroy, Lohse would pitch closer to the rule-book zone. But then he wouldn’t get as many strikeouts, he’d concede more HRs, and his stats would look worse.

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    • Bip says:

      But he would still be better than if he pitched as he does now, but to an average framer. So you’re right that he would be worse with a worse framer, but that doesn’t mean he’d be his current self just with certain strikes changed to balls. That’s what you would have to assume to just give 100% credit of stolen strikes to Lucroy.

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      • Aaron (UK) says:

        True, nicely put. Put another way, I suppose we have to give Lohse some credit for enabling Lucroy to steal the strikes in the first place.

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        • Bip says:

          The way I think about it is that Lohse has an ideal way of pitching for each framer. Lucroy allows Lohse to pitch in a way that is more effective, as opposed to just handing him some extra strikes.

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      • Fark Pactors says:

        So let’s just do what I see people do all the time in engineering: assume 50%– no one ever seems to question that for some reason.

        50% to the catcher, 50% to the pitcher. Until you can prove that it’s NOT 50%, it’s what I’m going with.

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        • The Foils says:

          It’s not the silliest thing in the world. Hell, that’s pretty much how single-season defensive stats without a wealth of historical data should be regressed (for entirely unrelated reasons), so why not do it here?

          It’s simple and probably no less accurate, even if it’s less intellectually defensible.

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    • Plucky says:

      What makes that corrollary uncomfortable to Dave is not just the negative implications about the pitcher but also like he said, that actual behavior of MLB franchises, including ones renowned for being smart, data-centric, and forward-thinking. The Yankees are no dummies about framing (http://grantland.com/features/studying-art-pitch-framing-catchers-such-francisco-cervelli-chris-stewart-jose-molina-others/) and yet they let Russell Martin go rather than pay him 2-win money.

      It’s not just backward organizations that don’t value (with $) framers like the numbers say but all of them. Dave mentioned the Astros and Rays, but it’s not just them. the A’s have a bat-first catcher whose defense is estimated by BP as -10 runs. The Tigers operate with little spending limits and yet accumulate pitchers who pitch to Alex Avila, who is a mediocre framer (acc to BP) getting 2nd-year arb money. The Cardinals didn’t sign Yadier Molina to 3-win money until he started posting wRC+’s north of 125.

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      • Bip says:

        A conspiracist might say that they are refusing to pay good framers better than the established market rate to keep the price down, and operating on the assumption that they can possibly teach framing to their internal catching prospects.

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  6. Nick says:

    Really interesting point Dave! What if you measured the location where Lucroy first sets his glove then measure where the ball actually ends up then compare and see the called strike % he gets on such balls. Then see if he gets a significantly higher percent of strikes than an average catcher. I don’t know if that would really reveal a whole lot and It would be difficult to measure precisely, but maybe something like that would be useful information!

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  7. Nick says:

    Apologizes for the poor wording, used my phone while at work.

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    • Nick's Boss says:

      This will never do. I have noticed your productivity plummets whenever there is a new meaty article up on FanGraphs and its sister sites. Step into my office young man.

      One more instance and I’m afraid I will be forced to note such in your permanent file.

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  8. KCDaveInLA says:

    Would Lucroy’s developing reputation eventually affect (probably negatively for the Brewers) how home plate umpires would call games? I also wonder if this wasn’t a factor in Molina’s reduced playing time, as umpires got wise to him and his hitting wasn’t enough to keep him in the lineup.

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    • Matt says:

      I think this article illustrates the more general point regarding the difficulty of quantifying catcher defensive value. As commenters above have stated, catchers are involved on every pitch in nearly every game of a season – but exactly how much influence do they have? Moreover, how do we quantify the value in ‘shutting down the running game’ when teams simply decide not to run against a catcher with a reputation or further yet, how much credit do we give the pitcher in shutting down (or failing to shut down) the opponents’ running game? Also, it’s difficult to accurately compare the value of blocking pitches – some are much more difficult than others and simply measuring ‘passed balls’ or ‘wild pitches’ fails to capture the reality of the situation. There are difficulties with quantifying defensive value at other positions as well, but it seems a whole lot easier to isolate the individual contribution to a ‘range’ he should cover and the probability that he would make that play – then parsing out how many runs are saved.

      I’m not exactly how the sabermetric community addresses these issues going forward, but so far the ‘framing’ research looks promising. It seems from the early indications that conventional valuation of catchers is drastically lower than it should be – I wouldn’t be shocked if guys like Molina and Lucroy are in reality worth about 10+ WAR to their team, based mostly off their defensive contributions.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        I would absolutely be shocked if they were worth 10+ WAR to their team. Pitch framing or not, I’d take a peak Bonds season over Molina or Lucroy if I’m starting a team.

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        • Matt says:

          Yeah that’s fair – although Bonds’ peak seasons where historically great. I guess what I’m getting at is that, aside from all-time great offensive seasons from non-catchers, having a truly great defensive catcher can really make or break a team – especially if that catcher is also a decent hitter.

          I just don’t think catchers get enough credit for how much they actually impact the game, and I’m not convinced that the current WAR formulas adequately capture that value.

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        • Go Nats says:

          agree with Matt

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  9. DNA+ says:

    If you were to take strikes called out of the strike zone away from Mariano Rivera, you’d basically erase his entire career.

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  10. Dan Brooks says:

    Regarding the point about assigning player attribution, here is the relevant excerpt from our article, which is linked in the piece:

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22934


    Player Attribution

    Because catching necessarily involves pitching, and because pitching talent is not equally distributed across the league, it can be difficult to correctly assign credit for each catcher’s contribution to a framing total. For example, if Mariano Rivera, Brian Wilson, or Derek Lowe is your batterymate, you are likely to get more favorable calls than if your batterymate is Andrew Miller, Brandon League, or Micah Owings.

    We empirically determined each pitcher’s value—to isolate it from each catcher’s value—by performing a WOWY (“With or Without You”) analysis. We note that we also compared these values to a linear regression model that included pitcher and catcher as separate factors; the high correlation between these measures suggested a good degree of ability to correctly assign credit (or blame) to individual players. The WOWY adjustments provide a viable and modular means of assessing the impact of pitchers on framing.

    The adjustments derived from the WOWY analysis reflect two aspects of our approach. First, pitchers who throw a pitch that may not fit the norm for a given pitch group may show some difference in the WOWY results (such as hard cutters in the slider/cutter group). Second, pitchers with better command of a pitch than their peers (or the unqualified respect of the umpire) will seem easier to frame.

    The WOWY analysis created adjustments ranging from +/- .1 called strikes per opportunity and from +/- .01 runs per opportunity. The largest gross beneficiary of easy-to-frame pitchers was—Yadier Molina. The perennial gold glove winner started the analysis with 127 runs added before giving 60 back to his pitchers. This reflects the command contributions of teammates of the class of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and is no knock on Molina, who still ranks high overall.

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    • Not Bono says:

      Oh Dan Brooks, I can’t live with or without you (or your wonderful website)

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    • Dillon says:

      If I’m understanding this correctly it accounts for some pitchers being easier to frame than others, but does it account for how pitchers might choose to pitch when throwing to elite framers? You say Molina had to give strikes back, but does that account for how those pitchers choose to pitch knowing Molina’s back there?

      Dave’s point seems plausible, that pitchers with good command will actually choose to throw in the zone less than they’re capable of because they trust the catcher to frame it up, thereby increasing the opportunities for a good framing catcher to add value by framing borderline pitches that might have been thrown in the zone to a lesser framer.

      That being said, in terms of something like MVP voting is that not still value added by Lucroy? Lohse has to execute the borderline pitches, but it’s having Lucroy back there that gives him the confidence to pitch that way.

      There are all sorts of situations where a teammate’s talent level can impact a player’s defensive value. Infielders and outfielders can position themselves differently when playing next to a great defender, allowing them to get to balls they wouldn’t have had they been positioned as if they were playing beside an average defender, thereby inflating their own defensive value. For example, a SS playing beside a 3B with great range might shade more to the middle than usual, allowing him to get to more balls up the middle than the average SS. As far as I know the defensive metrics wouldn’t penalize the SS for the fact that it’s actually the third baseman that is allowing him to position himself optimally. He still gets full credit for getting to those balls up the middle. Should the 3B get shared credit for a fielded ball if it was his range that allowed the SS to position himself optimally?

      Somewhat similarly, we don’t penalize a base stealer for having patient hitters behind him, even though them seeing more pitches gives him more opportunities to steal a bag than he would have with a hacker who sees less pitches/PA. They still get credit for their steals, even though their opportunities are somewhat impacted by teammates. How much credit for the steal do you give the batter for taking the pitch that he runs on?

      Obviously these are smaller effects, but that again just speaks to the cumulative value of pitch framing over several thousand opportunities.

      Anyways, I’m open to being told I’m completely full of it on any of these points, and I realize they aren’t perfectly analogous. My overall point is that we assign individual credit for a lot of things that are impacted to one degree or another by a player’s teammates and don’t think twice about it, probably because the opportunities aren’t frequent enough or the impact great enough to add up to much of an effect. However, this could just as easily be seen as confirmation of the cumulative value of pitch framing as an indictment of it.

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  11. SamF says:

    even if you only give lucroy half of the framing value statcorner suggests he’s worth, that would still make him the most valuable player in the NL by WAR

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    • Steven says:

      Even 1/3 or 1/4! If he gets 20-30 runs as a framer, the giving him 1/4th of the credit would put him at 5-7.5 runs. Add half a win to his total and he is the best player in the NL. 1/4th the credit seems low to me, and that still gives him the MVP!

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      • Nick's Boss says:

        Whoa, whoa, remember the MVP shouldn’t be decided solely by a ranking of WAR from highest to lowest. WAR should inform, rather than decide, that discussion.

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        • Dustin Rucinski says:

          But in this case shouldn’t it inform us Lucroy is the best choice? Best player on one of the best team who is the same or better than everyone else in the same league = mvp historically speaking.

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        • Nick's Boss says:

          That’s fair enough. You just don’t want to have the discussion devolve into “X has 8.2 WAR, Y and Z have 8.1, X is clearly the MVP, end of discussion!”

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  12. Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

    I’m not sure that Lohse is a good example. Looking at his heat maps pre-Brewers/Lucroy, he had virtually the exact same map. From 2007-2012, the zones in question here (low and away) really only have a difference of about 0.1% per zone. It’s also tough to see a real difference because he went from one elite pitch framer to another.

    Garza’s 2014 heat map clearly moves down and away from his 2007-2013 map. He’s throwing a good bit more just beneath the zone, but also a lot more well below the zone. His strike% has gone up in virtually every zone, especially the ones just below the strike zone and just outside to righties. Obviously, he’s making an effort to pitch low and away with more regularity, but it would be really interesting to hear if he’s aiming out of the zone with more regularity. Guys like Lohse pretty much always pitch low and away with their sinker, but seeing Garza’s change is almost conclusive in regards to what the Brewers are trying to do.

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  13. SimonSays says:

    Can we change the word framing to receiving? Framing makes me imagine a Little Leaguer pulling a pitch across his body back to the middle of the zone. Lucroy, Molina, and the other strike-getters have a much more subtle approach. The goal of a framer is to make every pitch look like a strike. The goal of a receiver is to make every pitch look a little bit more like a strike than it really is.

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  14. Brian says:

    Here’s my argument for Lucroy:

    Clearly the pitch framing adds some positive value (which is difficult to quantify), but it isn’t the only part of his game that has added value to the Brewers.

    Looking at the NL leaders in wRC+, Jonathan Lucroy currently sits in a tie for 9th in the league with a whopping 138. No player ahead of Lucroy on that list has added positive defensive value (looking at the WAR components on the FG leaderboard). Of the top 20 NL bats by wRC+, only 3 have added positive defensive value: Lucroy (6.2), Carlos Gomez (4.1), and Josh Harrison (1.1).

    If you consider the added value of being an elite pitch framer (which Lucroy certainly adds positive value with his pitch framing) along with the fact that he’s a top 10 offensive player in the NL and the best defensive player among the NL’s top 20 offensive players, it’s fairly clear that Lucroy has played the best all-around baseball in the National League this season.

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    • archibaldcrane says:

      And for whatever weight you give to how the team is doing, the Brewers have been 1st in the Central for nearly the entire season and are likely to make the playoffs, no small thanks to Lucroy’s efforts.

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  15. SamF says:

    What are your thoughts on Jason Heyward for MVP? Seems like a similar situation to Alex Gordan where doesn’t receive as much consideration as he should because most of his value is rapped up in defense.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      Right! So glad you brought this up because of how it relates so strongly to what Dave is talking about!

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      And then there’s the fact that he hasn’t been particularly close to either Stanton or Lucroy this season, even accounting for his defense!

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  16. Uecker? Hardly Know Her. says:

    What about a shared responsibility for called strikes. A pitch with a 30% strike outcome could be allocated 65% to the pitcher and 35% to the catcher, if it is called a strike. A pitch with a 10% strike outcome could be allocated 55% pitcher and 45% catcher.

    I think that there are pitchers like Lohse/Maddux, who get additional calls based on their control and they should get more of the credit than in the current pitch framing stats.

    I have not run the data but this seems like it might allocate the credit in a more reasonable fashion.

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  17. Immanuel Kant says:

    I think I’m missing something. We give Lucroy credit for turning a 30% strike into a 100% strike. That Lohse chose to throw a 30% strike seems irrelevant. Good decision, but irrelevant to attributing the gaining of the strike to Lucroy. Like I said, I think I’m missing something. Can anyone explain it to me?

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    • Bradsbeard says:

      It seems to me that the share of credit is already being split when Lucroy is only given credit for the increase in probability (70%). There’s a 30% probability of a strike left on the table (presumably given to Lohse, but see below). I think Dave is simply saying that a pitcher with Lucroy’s command would not willingly throw the 30% strike pitch if Lucroy weren’t back there, so he’s not making a bad pitch per se and only being bailed out by Lucroy. Rather, he’s pitching smartly in executing the plan and taking advantage of the game conditions which afford him essentially a larger strike zone.

      The issue to me, is that pitcher value isn’t estimated on a per pitch basis anyway. So I don’t know how you would begin to factor that credit into the WAR framework for pitchers. I know we have estimated run values for pitches, but has anyone tried to convert those to wins? Would such a framework make more or less sense then the RA/FIP frameworks?

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  18. TKDC says:

    Does any of the research consider the effect pitch framing has on pitches that are swung at? Does having a good pitch framer cause hitters to swing at more balls to the advantage of the defense?

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    • lewish says:

      Boy! Wouldn’t you think so? Even if the batter isn’t analyzing the catcher if the umpire is calling a wider zone for whatever reason and here due to the catcher the batter pretty much has to respond to that…at least when he starts running out of strikes…right?

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  19. cass says:

    Has anyone tried calculating the difference in expected run value based on where a pitcher is able to pitch because of a good framer vs. an average framer? I.e., if Lohse had to pitch in the zone more because he had a catcher worse at framing, how many more runs would he give up pitching to those locations in the zone rather than below the zone?

    We should have the data to calculate this, right?

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  20. Snooty Babitt says:

    What about the pitcher that throws sinkers in order to induce grounders in front of an elite infield? Isn’t there credit to divvy there as well?

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  21. Sean says:

    Should pitch framing really be a skill though? Isn’t it really just showing how bad umps are?

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  22. pags140 says:

    Congratulations Dave,
    I know you will appreciate the honor that is the voting process. You have worked hard and few writers deserve this more than you. I am sure you will make a great choice.

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  23. Danny says:

    Does this mean we should be giving guys like Kershaw even more credit for pitching to horible pitch framers?

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    • lewish says:

      Yeah, or Felix pre Zunino!

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      • Colonel Obvious says:

        Is it a coincidence that we’re seeing peak Felix since the callup of Zunino?

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        • Nathaniel Dawson says:

          There could definitely be a link there. Jeff Sullivan (at least I think it was Jeff) wrote a piece earlier in the year that highlighted a trend for Felix this year of pitching lower in the zone than previous years. Something like 25% of his pitches end up in the lowest part of the strike zone or below. The idea being that Felix feels more comfortable throwing low in the zone with Zunino back there because of Zunino’s skill in blocking pitches. This may (or may not be) influenced by Zunino’s above average framing ability as well. There is of course the possibility that it has nothing to do with the catcher and is just part of the natural evolution of a pitcher. Maybe Felix would have been throwing lower in the zone this year whether he had Zunino of some other catcher.

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    • Zak says:

      Kershaw shouldn’t be allowed to pitch with a good framer, that sounds a bit unfair.

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  24. Darkstone42 says:

    It’s kind of like the NHL MVP argument. A mediocre NHL goalie adds more value to his team by merit of having the most direct control of a game’s outcome and being on the ice by far the most often than even the most prolific scorers. However, a goalie only wins the Hart if he stood far and away above the rest of the goalies in the league.

    If we just deal with true value added, involvement in and control over the results of a game, the best goalie in the league every year would be the default most valuable player. But we scale them against each other, not just against the skaters, and treat their value that way.

    Likewise, catchers are involved more directly in the majority of pitches than any other player, and they stand to add the most value to their teams in an absolute sense than any other player. But everyone has a catcher, and probably about 10 teams will have a really good receiver, but that kind of evens the playing field in terms of relative value added. Even though the absolute value they add is greater than any other position, it’s tough to award a catcher with an MVP unless they’re having a far-and-away better season than anyone else when there are probably 5-10 other guys adding similar defensive value around the league.

    Lucroy actually might be having one of those far-and-away better seasons, though, because he has simply been so good at everything. I think you have to worry a bit about pitch framing, Dave, but I don’t think it has to be a make-or-break argument when you’re casting your vote.

    Anyway, I think the solution is more in assigning a sliding-scale relative value system for framing to kind of shrink those numbers and put the whole roster on a relatively even playing field. Catchers get an offensive boost in WAR, so using receiving for a relative defensive boost in WAR, without using the absolute runs-saved value (they’ll still be huge for some guys even if you halve those numbers by giving credit to the pitcher) may be where the solution to your conundrum lies.

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    • TKDC says:

      It kind of makes you wonder if most teams are just doing it wrong. If an NHL goalie had to skate out as a regular player for like 5 minutes of the game, they’d still be chosen based solely on how they perform as goalies. Similar to pitchers, who must hit, but those contributions are generally disregarded. Catchers’ offense is very much considered. Should it be?

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    • Matt says:

      Yeah, it’s an interesting consideration – personally, I think that WAR doesn’t account for exactly how much value catchers bring to their teams. Not only are they involved in framing every pitch that reaches their glove, but they are responsible for calling a game, blocking pitches in the dirt, controlling a running game (throwing out sb attempts and pickoff attempts), fielding bunts, receiving throws home for plays at the plate, etc. These responsibilities of a catcher seem to be more influential on a game than the responsibilities of any other position (other than the pitcher).

      Also more to your point – it’s difficult to measure exactly who the best blockers of pitches in the dirt are, or who is the best at shutting down a running game (runners being afraid to even challenge them). Yes, can look at throw out % or the number of sb attempts, but I’m not convinced that truly captures the value that elite defensive catchers bring to the table.

      So, even if we agree that catchers are much more valuable than anyone else on the field, do we know exactly how to quantify the differences among catchers in regards to their defensive value? I’m not convinced we are that close to doing an accurate job of this – as it involves more ‘moving parts’ and is thus more difficult to isolate the single player’s contribution like we do with other positions.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      So offensive linemen should be given equal consideration as a quarterback in MVP voting, right?

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  25. The Ancient Mariner says:

    It seems to me, as a Q&D approach to the matter, that if you give the catcher 50% of the credit for each stolen strike — assuming an equal partnership between catcher and pitcher — that you can probably feel pretty safe that you’re not drastically overestimating the value of a good framer behind the plate. (After all, if BP found that Yadier Molina was the greatest beneficiary of easy-to-frame pitchers, and even that benefit amounted to less than half of the runs saved via framing, a 50% baseline would clearly be overly conservative.)

    There’s a flip side to this, though, as Danny said: if you’re going to make this sort of adjustment in the case of the good framers and their pitchers, then logically you need to do the same for the bad ones and their unfortunate pitchers. Why should they be penalized for throwing strikes and having those strikes called balls? (You can’t, after all, just say they should adjust by moving to the middle of the plate; they’d get hammered, and with a guy like Ryan Doumit, some of those would end up getting called balls anyway.)

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    • Darkstone42 says:

      That’s a really good consideration, too. It would really help us understand the pitching market and the true value and projected performance of some of the less “sure thing” starters, too.

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  26. anon says:

    It seems to me like a lot of this points to the fact that Lucroy buys Lohse an inch (or so) in terms of how far from the centre of the zone he can throw the pitch. Sure, in some cases a pitch that simply misses out is still called a strike and that would be all Lucroy, but a lot of the time the pitch misses in and gets what would have been the zone for that umpire in the first place. But if Lucroy isn’t behind the plate, this does not mean a given pitch “would have been a ball otherwise”, because the choice of location would likely change for the pitcher, and he may well still get his strike down and away, just slightly closer to the centre of the zone.

    In other words, you can’t ever accept that any given pitch would have been called differently with a different catcher, because it’s simply the nature of comparison of different scenarios in which there is only one event that actually occurs — you change one factor, you change them all.

    Lucroy, then, appears to earn the extra space but doesn’t necessarily earn the call. The pitcher has to make use of the extra space in order for it to have any significant value. This would suggest that the best means of assessing is to get some reasonably stable measure of how much larger proportionally (or some other spatial form, whatever seems most appropriate) Lucroy makes the zone, and further whether that space differs in any significant manner depending on the pitcher. The next issue is how much each pitcher is able to take advantage of that additional space. From this you might be able to approximate the effectiveness of different pitchers to both create and use that space when Lucroy is catching, and presumably come up with a weight to determine how much Lucroy is a factor in the end result.

    Lacking that information though, I should think 50/50 is very reasonable given all the considerations at play. As has already been pointed out, this would still be a huge value to the catcher in MVP voting.

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  27. The Other Brooks says:

    “After all, if we’re going to accept the range of framing values, then we have to subtract out the value of the strike from Lohse’s tally in order to balance the books.”

    But the books aren’t balanced, because pitcher and catcher framing value models don’t use the same inputs. We don’t tally the VALUE of pitcher balls and strikes (we just tally the balls and strikes) – pitcher value components are made up of completed pitcher-batter interactions. So except in the case where the stolen strike is strike 3 or the lost strike is ball 4, it really doesn’t impact how we measure pitcher value.

    Nor should it, since throwing a ball out of the zone is a legitimate tactic for getting a batter out (setting up with the slider low and outside followed by the 4-seamer on the inner half to induce weak contact).

    As for Lucroy’s value? When in doubt, regress the value 50% to the mean.

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    • indyralph says:

      This is an interesting point. Do we believe the a pitch-based version of FIP would produce different results than the current at-bat-based FIP? My guess is that they would be pretty darn close, but I don’t know.

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      • The Other Brooks says:

        Maybe. The correlation between strike % and FIP is about -0.5 (higher strike % correlated to lower ERA). That’s only a moderate correlation, and lower than I would have guessed since K’s and BB’s have so much leverage in the FIP model.

        The real question is, would a pitch-based FIP even be worth doing?

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    • Bip says:

      That’s a good point, we definitely don’t calculate pitcher value based on the value of individual pitch outcomes. However, there is still the general problem of assigning double-credit. While the result of every pitch isn’t credited to the pitcher, every positive effect on the outcome of the at bat is. The reason stealing strike 2 is good is because is makes the pitcher more likely to get a strikeout, or other positive outcome. So, when we give a catcher credit for stealing strike 2, we’re doing by estimating the marginal impact that has on the outcome of the at bat.

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      • The Other Brooks says:

        Yeah, on the one hand you have double counting, and on the other hand you have counting a nothing. A stolen strike that leads to a 1-2 count has PROBABILISTIC value, but if the next pitch is a gopher ball, then how can we legitimately claim that stolen strike has any actual value at all? Or the stolen strike on a 3-0 count to a batter who walks anyway, or the lost strike to a hitter who strikes out anyway (I am intentionally using FIP inputs, obviously there are a myriad of other possible outcomes).

        Then we go down the slippery slope of only assigning value (positive or negative) to the framed pitches that eventuates in an outcome of the same sign (positive or negative). Which only seems like a reasonable idea for about ten seconds.

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        • indyralph says:

          “A stolen strike that leads to a 1-2 count has PROBABILISTIC value, but if the next pitch is a gopher ball, then how can we legitimately claim that stolen strike has any actual value at all?”

          This is basically the same as a leadoff triple that is stranded at third – it still counts the same in wOBA. The reconciliation of pitch values to at bat values is still a fair point.

          I do wonder, and maybe this is what you are getting at, if sequencing is more important once the the probabalistic improvement of the event is very small. Especially since the pitcher will behave differently as a result of the extra strike and potentially reach the same outcome. Maybe the Brooks model accounts for this – I’m not up to speed.

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        • Bip says:

          A stolen strike that leads to a 1-2 count has PROBABILISTIC value, but if the next pitch is a gopher ball, then how can we legitimately claim that stolen strike has any actual value at all?

          But the intent of the value we put on stealing a particular strike is precisely there to reflect the overall effect this has.

          The reason that stealing a strike in a 1-1 count is good that batters, over a large enough sample, hit worse after 1-2 than they do after 2-1. To find out how much value a framer is adding, you want to find the linear value of that change. Over a large enough sample, the runs saved from all the actual outcomes of the times a catcher makes it 1-2 instead of 2-1 will be mostly consistent with the run values we assign to framing in those instances because the run values of stolen strikes are chosen for that reason. Since we credit pitching outcomes to pitchers, you’ll have both pitchers and catcher getting credit for those outcomes.

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  28. Andy says:

    Assuming that a value for pitch framing does eventually become widely accepted, can it be used to re-evaluate catchers of the past? I’m guessing we don’t have the data for this.

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  29. Bip says:

    Jeff Sullivan (I think) asked one time if we liked that framing was a thing. Do we like that there is another type of skill through which catchers can distinguish themselves? Or, does it bother us that catchers are essentially influences umpires to introduce more subjective error to what is supposed to be an objective task? Is the human error being accentuated by framing a charming and interesting part of the game, or do we demand robot umps?

    I was somewhat ambivalent at the time. I guess I like it, but I certainly would be ok with perfectly called strike zone (which may change the game much more than we think). It’s kind of fun to watch a really good framer.

    However, if the best framers are really adding 4 wins through framing alone, that is too much for me. The idea that creating what is essentially an optical illusion to the ump can cause a swing of more than 4 games doesn’t sit well with me. I also don’t like the idea that the most valuable player every year is almost always a catcher. It doesn’t seem realistic anyway, so I hope it’s not really that big an effect.

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  30. blaurhg says:

    Do pitch framing calculations treat umpires equally?

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    • Dan Brooks says:

      No. But, because umpires are randomly distributed throughout baseball, their effect is relatively removable in the aggregate.

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  31. haishan says:

    One possible sanity check for the magnitude of pitch framing stats: How many more strikes per 100 pitches do pitchers get when they pitch to a really good framer (McCann, Lucroy, a Molina) vs. when they pitch to a really bad framer (Ryan Doumit, Carlos Santana)? Of course, actually answering this question would be tough, because nobody pitches to Lucroy and Doumit in the same season, but it might be possible to control for pitcher skill somehow. (Or construct a large enough sample based on teams with catchers with wide skill gaps — Gerald Laird and McCann for the 2013 Braves, for instance.)

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  32. Hurtlocker says:

    Congrats on your votes, that’s just awesome. Maybe start with picking the best player on each team (team MVP) and then compare them as to relative value to thier own team.

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  33. William says:

    I feel like a study should be done on looking at teams with real good pitch-framing catchers, then looking at the W-L totals of the catcher’s teams to see if there is a pattern where the team outperforms it’s WAR total consistently (given that pitch framing doesn’t show up in WAR). As I understand, over a long period of time team WAR is accurate enough to predict W-L totals, so if you gathered a big enough sample of teams with excellent pitch-framers perhaps we’d see if the teams outperform their Team WAR totals on the basis of their catchers.

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    • William says:

      although after thinking about it I guess that theoretically all the catchers’ pitch framing value directly translates to the pitcher, so it’s pitch framing is still accounted for in WAR but in a different way. Then the question becomes do you take all the value a catcher gets from framing away from (or to) the pitcher

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    • haishan says:

      Framing will affect opposing hitters’ outcomes, and thus pitchers’ FIP, and thus pitcher WAR. So I don’t know that this will work.

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  34. IceHawk-181 says:

    Anyone else find it interesting that a good deal of the skepticism directed at pitch framing values is being expressed in the terms of “not comfortable with” the idea or “don’t like the idea” that catchers may really be the most valuable players on the team.

    Determining the amount of value attributed to the catcher is a legitimate concern.

    But for a site that has both a FIP-based and a RA9-based valuation statistic for pitchers excluding framing from catcher valuations, even if it is a unique Framing-Based WAR, is unacceptable.

    We know that framing exists just like we know that pitchers influence balls in play.

    Avoiding integrating clear statistical evidence into a valuation model because some of us are uncomfortable with the implications is, I thought, antithetical to the points of sites like this.

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    • BDF says:

      Exactly. The premise is basically that the framing values don’t pass the eye test, and Fangraphs’ very raison d’etre is to kill the eye test.

      Still some legitimate analytical quandaries, though. But Dave seems to be leaning toward discarding framing from the MVP consideration entirely, rather than discounting it, which I don’t understand.

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      • indyralph says:

        “I remain somewhat unconvinced that the catcher should be assigned the entire difference between the actual call and an expected strike based on an estimate that includes all the performance of all catchers, because the pitcher is not throwing to all catchers, and his chosen location is influenced by the identity of the guy behind the plate.”

        “I’m not saying that this issue invalidates the concept of framing or that Lucroy doesn’t actually add value with his work behind the plate. Clearly, he does.”

        I don’t see how you can read those two sentences and think that Dave’s conclusion is “It doesn’t pass the eye test, so I am going to discard it.”

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        • BDF says:

          Not his conclusion but (like I said) a lean:

          “And if you’re building an accounting system that assigns a significant credit to the catcher for a stolen strike, you necessarily have to hold that pitch against the pitcher, even though the result was positive. That’s a tough bridge for me to cross right now.” – makes it sound like he prima facie rules out assigning much value to framing.

          “If you can talk me into buying into the published range of framing values, then Lucroy is going to be a very strong contender for the award” – makes it sound like it’s the published range or nothing.

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        • indyralph says:

          And again, “I’m not saying that this issue invalidates the concept of framing or that Lucroy doesn’t actually add value with his work behind the plate. Clearly, he does.”

          He literally said, word for word, that he is not ruling out prima facie.

          If a guy is on the fence on something, and it’s clear to me that is the case here, naturally he’s going to make comments to both sides. You can’t just pick the comments that lean toward one view and conclude that is the way he is leaning.

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    • indyralph says:

      I think that the part that he’s “not comfortable with” is the “clear statistical evidence”. If he thought the evidence was clear, it would be accounted for on this site in some fashion. At least that’s how I read it. It’s ok to wait to implement a change until there is a good comfort level with the necessary change. Not sure that is the same as avoiding it.

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  35. Athletics89to14 says:

    I wonder if a general factor could be created after the season, going game by game and tracking the % of pitches called a strike for one catcher and not the other during the same game. So Ump A calls a strike for catcher A in the top half and then the pitch in the exact same location is called a ball in the bottom half for catcher B. Then using that factor across catchers over the entire season, you would be able to get a +/- for each catcher and then apply that to every pitch caught on the exterior of the zone, converting it to runs.

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  36. Josh TC says:

    This thought just occurred to me and might be totally wrong or impossible to determine, but if catchers influence so much of the game, especially through their framing skills, shouldn’t we see major swings in W-L record when catchers switch teams or have great swings in their framing performance? If we could find a team where very little changes in personnel or performance from one season to the next, except for the framing performance of a catcher, we might be able to isolate the change that framing has on a W-L record. I recognize that a million different affect W-L record of course, but it seems to me that there could be some way to mostly isolate the difference that framing can make in a team’s record.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      That would actually depend on what the replacement level is and/or the framing abilities of the guy replaced are in.

      For example, maybe even with +40, you’re only replacing a +30 guy with him, so it isn’t as huge of a swing as you’d expect.

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  37. Mack says:

    Can someone direct me to a technical explanation of how a WOWY analysis works? All my searches bring me to hockey articles; I’m looking for something more theory-based.

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  38. db says:

    If Lucroy really were so valuable for pitch framing, you would expect to see that his catcher ERA was better than the team’s overall ERA. I decided to look. Below is for the past five years

    Lucroy’s CERA – Brewers ERA
    4.40 4.58
    3.63 3.63
    4.25 4.22
    4.06 3.84
    3.66 3.62

    Thue numbers don’t really bear that out. Now Maldonado might also be a great pitch framer (I have no idea, not a brewers fan and couldn’t have named their backup catcher 10 minutes ago), but Kottaras, who had a pretty poor defensive reputation, was the primary backup the first two years. I know people don’t love CERA as a stat, but if Lucroy were truly elite at making his pitchers so much better, you would expect to see that show up in the ERA. The fact that you don’t seems to indicate that the value of pitch framing isn’t quite as high as some have argued (even if it is important)

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    • Chito Martinez says:

      To me, this is the biggest conundrum about the framing estimates: Why would this value not show up in CERA? My cursory understanding of CERA studies was that they didn’t really show any measurable value-added by the catcher. Can someone explain how/why a catcher’s framing skill could be worth 40 runs in a season but not show up in CERA?

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    • Darkstone42 says:

      Maldonado is a really good pitch framer, if I remember correctly.

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    • Lex Logan says:

      This has been my feeling all along — how could such a large effect not show up in CERA? And if the Brewers happen to have two good framers, there should be plenty of other examples where a team plays a good and poor framer on a regular basis. Devin Mesoraco appears to be a better defensive catcher this year, but he seemed very poor previously, and Ryan Hanigan was top-notch. Some side notes: catcher offense is way up, so rather than valuing defense teams seem to be going for offense; and historically low catcher offense can be explained as easily by the unwillingness of teams to risk injury to a good hitter with a good arm — move him to third or right field — rather than any great defensive value to the position.

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    • Bip says:

      Well it should go without saying that we need to be a little more nuanced than just CERA. Is Lucroy catching more starters and the backup catching more relievers? Does the backup tend to pair with a certain starter, so they are not catching all starters equally? Has there been any sort of park effect?

      The obvious way to test framing is have a good framer and a bad framer, have everything else equal, and look at the difference in runs produced. However, that doesn’t mean we can just compare catcher ERA and draw conclusions.

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    • Zak says:

      Maldonaldo actually might be better at pitch framing than Lucroy. Defensively overall, Maldonaldo might be on par with Molina (unlike Lucroy, Maldonaldo has an absolute cannon for arm).

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  39. grant says:

    Most of the discussion here is how to allocate framing value between the pitcher and the catcher.

    Isn’t there a separate question, though, as to whether we truly accept the framing value as it has been calculated? Not to say that there isn’t some value, but I think it’s still fair to question whether the quantification, the degree of the value, is as much as some of the studies suggest. As Dave notes, teams buy into framing as a thing, but not at the same level.

    The data that this is founded upon is still relatively new, and still shows fairly substantial fluctuation. How trustworthy is it? Yes, we can accept that Lucroy and the Molinas are better framers than Doumit and Gattis, and that there are some runs saved on account of this. I’m not so sure we can accept that it quantifies at 30 – 40 runs per year, as a catcher skill.

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  40. archibaldcrane says:

    The fact that Lucroy is currently on pace to be the first catcher in baseball history to lead the league (or all of MLB in this case) in doubles doesn’t hurt either.

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  41. Joe Durant says:

    Checked out that StatCorner site – has the guy in charge updated his framing methodology at all? I read the explanation page and it says “There’s no attempt to control for the pitchers, the umpires, the counts, or anything other than which side the hitter stood on.”

    So those numbers are garbage, basically?

    I feel like no one can even agree on what’s considered the strike zone, let alone quantify between the pitcher, catcher, umpire, and hitter who gets credit for strike/ball calls.

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  42. Crumpled Stiltskin says:

    If pitch framing is as important as the numbers suggest, shouldn’t we be able to detect that value by looking at how the values of pitchers change when pitchers and/or catchers switch teams? Especially if we were to look at these values against the expected values of aging curves? At the very least shouldn’t there be a large correlation?

    Just based on a quick glimpse of the consistency of some pitchers numbers, it doesn’t seem to be THAT important. Not 40+ runs important. Wouldn’t such a catcher be consistently adding half a win or more to each starting pitchers value year after year? (Though perhaps I just looked at a small subgroup of pitchers that seem to pitch the same no matter who they throw to.) Even with the noise and lack of stability in pitchers numbers, it would seem that would have to be detectable.

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  43. Dave says:

    Are those run figures value over a replacement level catcher?

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    • 21_22 says:

      for the RPM described above, they use average run values by count, so no, the run values are above or below average and not replacement.

      Dave was careful to not add up WAR and the framing runs, because they are not the same units.

      to get the framing run values to be a WAR component, the positional adjustment would need to be re-worked.

      perhaps the spread in major league catcher value in total is not as large as the spread in catcher framing value…

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  44. FIP'n good says:

    I believe that right now the great pitch framing catchers do make more of the difference in a teams success than other players, and have for years, but I do not believe that will persist. Teams are just beginning to realize how much the great framers matter and will start to draft and train framing skill more. As farming becomes more and more of a sought after skill the average catcher will get better at it. As the average catcher gets better the best get relatively less good. Once they are relatively less good, the baseline goes up, then it will matter to a good catchers WAR less.

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    • FIP'n good says:

      not farming but framing sorry!

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    • lewish says:

      I don’t think this is accurate. Our trying to put accurate value on it may be new, and sort of us lay people recognizing it may be new, but in pro ball they were teaching and therefore aware of pitch framing 30 years ago at least. I think it is fair to say, I would hope, trying and evolving a new more accurate way to value framing that could lead to differences in value from team to team, but value was recognized and sought after back then at the very least.

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  45. Dan Mellen says:

    I guess my question would be how many runs does an average catcher save with pitch framing? The charts makes it look like there are a lot more catchers helping their pitch staff than hurting them and that the good ones tend to save WAY more runs than the bad ones. If that’s the case, Lucroy shouldn’t be given a bonus at that level.

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    • Nathaniel Dawson says:

      The runs saved/lost are calculated as above/below league average rates, so necessarily, the “average” catcher will be at +O runs. Of course, more skilled players are going to be playing more, so that’s going to be weighted more heavily in league average rates. The result is that more catchers will be below the average than above.

      I’m not sure what charts you’re referring to — one of the links that Dave put into the article? If they are showing more catchers that appear to be above the average, it’s likely that there’s a pitch number threshold a catcher has to cross to be included in the chart, which would tend to favor catchers who played more, which tend to be better overall at any one specific skill.

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  46. Jon L. says:

    The end result of the arguments presented in the article is that players with Lucroy’s framing ability add even more value than the system estimates. If pitchers like Lohse can safely expand the zone they target, then Lucroy et al. deserve credit for the outs generated by those pitches that would have been hits had they been thrown in the zone.

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  47. Detroit Michael says:

    On the more general topic of casting a MVP ballot, I would encourage Dave to:
    – Be independent. There is too much herd thinking in the balloting. We’ll get a better result if the voters think more independently of each other.
    – Don’t forgot to consider the timing of player performances. Much of the Fangraphs’ metrics evaluate players in a context neutral manner, disregarding timing or sequencing effects. However, when evaluating the worth of past performance, I would give players credit / demerits for some of the timing of their past performance. (For example, in 2013, Mike Trout had a terrible “clutch” score on this website, which is not reflected in his WAR rating, but (in my view) ought to be reflecting in one’s MVP ballot ranking.

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    • indyralph says:

      Mike Trout was 5th in the AL in WPA in 2013. His clutch score is negative because his baseline is insanely high.

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  48. Mr Punch says:

    It seems to me that there’s one big problem with framing – basically, it’s cheating. I’m not saying that it hasn’t always been part of the game to some extent, or that Lucroy and others are consciously breaking the rules; but they are certainly stretching the rules, and at some point there will be breakage. To put it starkly: playing the officials (umpires) rather than the opposition is not considered acceptable in American sports. That’s why we deride soccer players for flopping, and why Rick Barry wasn’t NBA MVP in 1975.

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    • munchtime says:

      I think the problem is that you don’t understand what “framing” is. Lucroy is good at “framing” because he doesn’t move his body or glove while receiving a pitch. The only way for him to stop “framing” is to start moving body parts randomly mid-pitch.

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  49. Benjamin says:

    Just thought I would bring up this article:
    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/livan-hernandez-who-made-his-own-strike-zone/

    “Hernandez is proof, big shiny proof, that there’s a pitcher component to pitch-framing, and sometimes it can be enormous.”

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  50. Dead Serious says:

    What I find amusing, is that if you’re going to include framing in a discussion on player value, Russell Martin has been better this year than Lucroy on a per game basis. I’m using current fWAR data + Zips RoS projection + StatCorners RAA (both current and Per Game measures) to come to that conclusion. So you have to ask yourself. If you support Lucroy as the NL MVP, then you also have to support Martin as more important than the CURRENT NL MVP, at least, according to fWAR.

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  51. goatmeal says:

    I think you are on to something here, but the math to deal with it might get well beyond what anyone is comfortable with. Not because the people who do the math aren’t able to handle differential equations, but because it might require some sort of projections that are beyond the comfort level of dealing with things that actually happened vis a vis things that might have happened if things had gone differently.
    Let’s start with the example of the perfect Lohse who always throws the ball exactly where he wants to. Let’s assume he’s throwing the ball differently because he knows Lucroy is more likely to get strikes called a little outside. In order to measure the value added in this case, we would have to know two things: 1) where he would have thrown it otherwise, and 2) how successful that would have been. 1) could be rather easily guesstimated as the closest location that a league average framer would get called as a strike.
    2) is where things start to get sticky. Do you use the league average hitting stats against the perfect Lohse for a pitch in a given location? But if he can locate perfectly and knows anything about the hitter, he might be selecting different locations accordingly. Obviously there wouldn’t be enough data to do anything meaningful with the perfect Lohse pitch location to a specific hitter. But maybe it’s best to look at the given hitter’s performance against pitches of a similar profile? Maybe it’s best to have a model that can somehow contain all of this? That’s sounding to me like some sort of system of differential equations, and it would likely necessitate changing the way we measure offensive stats, too.
    And all of that is just for the perfect Lohse. Obviously not every pitcher is perfect, and some of those stolen strikes actually are stolen strikes. Balls that were not intended to be balls but ended up there because they were not thrown by the perfect Lohse.
    I think the final equation will look something like this:
    Framing value = [Current Framing model] – [some measure of how often the pitcher throws outside in order to get a better call]*[some measure of how throwing outside improves the success of the pitch]
    Those last two are dynamic variables that will be hard to come by.
    Also to consider is that there might be a reverse effect on poor framers: pitchers not going for the outside corner of the “true” strike zone because they don’t think they can get it called.

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  52. munchtime says:

    The really interesting question would be if you had a pitcher known for expanding the strike zone due to impeccable control (Maddox) throwing to a catcher known for expanding the strike zone due to impeccable receiving (Lucroy).

    By selecting a pitcher with good control, like Lohse, Dave is directing the conversation in that direction. I wish he would have used someone who isn’t a pitcher with good control.

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  53. PackBob says:

    Hitters often say they don’t mind so much if an umpire is calling inside or outside strikes as long as the umpire is doing it consistently. This implies that hitters are very aware of the strike zone, even when it shifts, and can adjust. Left handed hitters certainly adjust to the lefty strike zone. I wouldn’t be surprised if hitters know when the strike zone expands due to a pitcher/catcher pitch framing combination, and similarly adjust.

    If an expanded strike zone is recognized, then the value of a pitched ball within the expanded zone is how much harder that may be to recognize and hit, not that it is simply there. How much more value does a pitch 1 inch both low and outside have than a pitch exactly on the low outside corner of the standard strike zone?

    I’m not convinced that hitters don’t recognize the presence and effect of good framing. If *stealing* a strike is not really stealing a strike, but just a ball a little bit harder to hit or recognize, then its value is not as much as the pitch framing metric makes it out to be. The value should be similar to whatever value is attached to the extra inch or so of the lefty strike zone.

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  54. jessef says:

    i think you’re dancing around what seems to me to be an important factor in a good-command pitcher’s ability to get more strikes, which is that he’s hitting the spot the catcher sets up in. if the catcher sets up middle-in and the pitch ends up three inches off the plate on the outside, he’s much less likely to get the call. i suppose the “with-you without-you” analyses identify this as a non-issue but, since i haven’t looked into the methodology at all, i’m not sure

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  55. Brad Johnson says:

    I’m sure this will get lost in the shuffle with 143 comments already. I think you can have it both ways. Deciding where to assign the value of catcher framing is tough, but the overall effect is somewhat easy to observe. We don’t have to say that Lucroy is a +40 run framer and add that to his WAR. We can just observe that the Brewers are +40 runs better when he catches.

    WAR as we conceptualize it can give all of the credit to the pitcher – presumably, he’s the one who hit the target. However, we should also consider the other interpretation. With a replacement level catcher, those 40+ runs of framing value disappear. So in a very real sense, Lucroy is “worth” the entirety of those 40 runs. How we divvy that up in WAR is just semantics.

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  56. Eric M. Van says:

    There’s a way to objectively normalize for this effect.

    Dan and Harry count as a “framing chance” any pitch that’s not nearly always a strike or ball. A catcher whose pitchers are consciously working just outside the zone (like Lucroy with Lohse) is going to have the same number of framing chances, but a lower total of expected strikes.

    Dan and Harry have been tweaking their algorithm during this season, but the data I grabbed on July 10 showed a hugely significant inverse correlation between framing skill and expected strikes per framing chance (ES/FC). In fact, it struck me as too strong; of the 20 catchers with the lowest ES/FC, 19 were above average framers, while 16 of the 17 catchers with the highest ES/FC were below average. You might expect a higher contribution from the pitching staff to ES/FC.

    Regressing ES based on the observed relationship (for this data set, to .496 * ES + .163 * FC) removed the correlation and hence any bias based on pitcher strategy. It also produced evaluations that seemed to better match scouting impressions (e.g., Ryan Lavarnway going from 14 runs per 120 games better than Jason Varitek to 7 runs worse), and created an inverse correlation between ES/FC and the variance of framing skill, which is what you’d expect. But, as I’ve said, that’s based on data that’s been tweaked, and I’m waiting until season’s end to redo the analysis.

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  57. Eric M. Van says:

    There’s also the question of clutch. I’m a firm believer in including it in MVP voting; we are not voting for the average MVP if we re-played the season a thousand times, or replayed it once with “luck” magically controlled for — we’re voting for the MVP of the actual season just played.

    I think you’ll find that even if you ignore pitch-framing, simply substituting (WPA * 9.0) for the position-neutral offensive component of WAR in RAA will show Lucroy to be the MVP. With any credit for framing, he’s a slam dunk.

    Pitch-framing, too, has its clutch component, in that Dan and Harry are measuring both “runs added by count” (situationally sensitive) and “runs added by call” (situationally neutral). The difference between them can be regarded as clutch framing, and (at least in the July 10 data) has a robust Y2Y correlation. If you want a measure of framing skill that factors the non-predictive part of clutch framing out (e.g., for prospective measures of framing skill), you can use .715 * Added by Call + .285 * Added by Count. That proportion may of course be tweaked slightly once their algorithm settles down.

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  58. Cool Lester Smooth says:

    Hell, he doesn’t even need framing at this point. He’s only .2 WAR behind Stanton in the NL, well within the error bar, further, the Brewers are a playoff team (which really does matter for voting, whether we like it or not), and he’s been their best player, by far, while playing catcher.

    Unless Cutch wills the Pirates into the second wild card slot, Lucroy should be the prohibitive favorite.

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