Jose Molina Misses a Pitch

It’s not right to say Fernando Rodney is back to being his old self, because right now he’s sitting on a career-high strikeout rate. But he is back to being unreliable, or at least, he has been unreliable, to this point in the 2013 season. Wednesday, in Toronto, he blew a save against the Blue Jays. He was removed after facing just three batters. The save was blown on Rodney’s sixth pitch, when Jose Bautista took him deep on an inside fastball at 98 miles per hour.

Rodney retired Edwin Encarnacion, then he walked Adam Lind. Lind didn’t score, so that walk didn’t really hurt. Lind walked on five pitches, and not on one. Certainly not on the first pitch that he saw. But I want to talk a little bit about that pitch anyway, just because. I want to talk about ball one from Fernando Rodney to Adam Lind, a 97 mile-per-hour fastball that just missed away. I know this sure seems insignificant, but baseball is insignificant, and you and I are insignificant, so let’s come together in our collective insignificance and celebrate all that ultimately doesn’t matter. Celebrate or don’t celebrate; eventually you will be dead.

Bautista is a righty, and Encarnacion is a righty, so Lind was Rodney’s first and only lefty of the appearance. Behind the plate was Jose Molina. Behind Jose Molina was C.B. Bucknor, of whom there exist opinions. Behold now a pitch .gif, followed by an approximate pitch-location screenshot:

RodneyMolina2.gif.opt

rodneymolinalind

It’s impossible to time the pause for when the baseball is right over the front plane of the strike zone. Consider that this pitch more or less hit the spot, consider it was barely off the plate according to PITCHf/x, and consider that there was a left-handed batter. By the rule book, this was probably a ball. By the way umpires actually call the zone, this was probably a strike. By the way Bucknor saw it, this was definitely a ball. According to Bucknor’s history, he’s called this pitch a strike about 70% of the time, with lefty batters in an 0-and-0 count. Tampa Bay usually gets a more favorable zone than the average.

I have only a few thoughts, which follow.

(1)
Molina, of course, is sort of the face of the new age of pitch-receiving research. You look at Jose Molina and you wouldn’t think he’d be the face of anything, but research revealed Molina to be outstanding at this, and so he’s the guy people look at most often. People have asked Molina directly about how he receives, what his thought processes are, where he first picked it up as a skill. People have identified Molina as a possible cause behind a few batter tantrums, like Brett Lawrie‘s. Molina is thought of as the model, the perfect receiver, from whom other catchers should learn. Molina didn’t get this pitch, even though it wasn’t bad. One could say it was actually quite good. It didn’t even really miss the mark. Molina was given a distinctly un-Molina result.

Why? I don’t know, but we can compare Molina to another, just-earlier called strike:

RodneyMolina1.gif.opt

RodneyMolina2.gif.opt

Molina didn’t quite “stick” the pitch to Lind, and he immediately raised his head, preparing to throw the ball back. In full motion, Molina seems to be catching and sitting straighter up at the same time, which for him is an unusual amount of motion. Maybe Molina didn’t think it was a strike himself. Maybe Molina just got somewhat sloppy. Maybe everything was normal and Bucknor blinked. Maybe everything was normal and this is just the way the probability dice were rolled. Maybe nothing at all was the matter.

But Jose Molina didn’t get a borderline pitch, that usually goes for a strike. This is a healthy reminder that pitch-receiving isn’t automatic, and even the best receivers don’t get everything. Even the worst receivers don’t lose everything. Sometimes the catchers themselves do something unusually well or unusually poorly. Sometimes the umpire just gets a better or a worse look at the baseball. It’s all a matter of probability, and the differences are slight. They just add up over time, because there are so many pitches, and therefore so many repetitions. Jose Molina might be baseball’s best receiver, I’m not sure, but more than one guy is responsible for how a pitch turns out. And people can’t act exactly the same way exactly every time.

(2)
Usually, I try to keep from reading into a player’s body language. It’s awful tempting, and a lot of people give in. Sometimes there can be meaning in there. But Cliff Lee‘s the guy that keeps me honest. Lee pitched in the 2009 World Series, and there’s a famous image out there of him very calmly fielding a comebacker. People looked at that and concluded that Lee couldn’t be shaken by anything, that he was the ultimate clutch performer. The next spring, Lee was asked about that play in a team meeting, and he admitted that at the time he wanted to “s*** his pants.” Bodies lie. People lie! People aren’t good at reading strangers on television.

But, watching Molina, something stood out to me, and I can’t not include it here.

RodneyMolina2_2.gif.opt

I don’t know exactly what happened. Research didn’t turn anything up. But, after catching the fastball, Molina hesitated with his throw back to the mound. It’s not because Rodney wasn’t looking — Rodney was looking, even if his crooked hat bill is deceptive. Lind didn’t do anything. The interpretation here is that Molina was caught off guard by the pitch being called a ball instead of a strike. That he was sufficiently surprised to kind of double-pump. Again, that might not be it at all. Such behavior would probably get on an umpire’s nerves, and Molina’s not that sort. But I don’t have any other explanation. Unless the ball didn’t feel right in Molina’s hand, at first. So.

(3)
The Lind plate appearance proceeded to a 3-and-0 count. Then Rodney came with another fastball, for a strike. This was that strike:

RodneyMolina3.gif.opt

This one, Molina stuck. This one was well out of the zone, and Lind thought he had a walk. Rays color guy Brian Anderson chimed in:

Yeah, and this, I mean, this was not anywhere near. I mean, my goodness. Get a clue.

It’s remarkable in that this was the Rays broadcast speaking up. It’s remarkable in that I am remarking on it. And it’s remarkable in that Jose Molina’s specialty is getting called strikes off the plate away against left-handed hitters. He does that better than anyone else. Somehow, Anderson isn’t used to that, and he went so far as to express…disgust? in Bucknor’s umpiring. Certainly disappointment. I don’t blame Anderson for anything. This pitch was outside. But of all the broadcasts you’d expect to be surprised by an outside strike, Tampa Bay’s would be at the bottom of the list. This is kind of their “thing.” It’s one of their things, anyway.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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derp
Guest
derp
3 years 4 months ago

Molina did nothing wrong, CB Bucknor is just a terrible umpire.

Marc
Guest
Marc
3 years 4 months ago

“Consider that this pitch more or less hit the spot, consider it was barely off the plate according to PITCHf/x, and consider that there was a left-handed batter. By the rule book, this was probably a ball.” This may need to be restated.

derp
Guest
derp
3 years 4 months ago

And then Bucknor calls an even worse pitch a strike later in the at bat.

Dude’s just horrible.

diegosanchez
Guest
diegosanchez
3 years 4 months ago

Looking through the pitch f/x data, I counted 9-11 pitches out of the strike zone horizontally that Bucknor called strikes last night. There are also 3 or 4 pitches in the zone that he called balls. So about 4-5% of the total pitches in last night’s game he called incorrectly. I wonder what the average is…

And on another note, the Staats and Anderson also noted during the game that the called strike zone was large early on, then he started squeezing it around the 7th inning, and then after that no one knew what was going to be a strike or ball. So yeah, he’s a shitty umpire. (Not to mention this safe call he made at 2nd base in the first game of the series http://bit.ly/13CbFDW)

TheMooseOfDeath
Guest
TheMooseOfDeath
3 years 4 months ago

Maybe Bucknor reads fangraphs and is tired of Molina’s smoke and mirrors

Buckj64
Member
Buckj64
3 years 4 months ago

Danny Wilson was pretty good at stealing a strike or two, Receiving is an art… Not to make this all Mariner centric but the real question is who would win a foot race Molina or Montero

Dan
Guest
Dan
3 years 4 months ago

When the question is “who would win in a foot race, Jesus Montero, or x” where x is another MLB player, the answer is always x.

derp
Guest
derp
3 years 4 months ago

I’d agree only because Benjie has retired already.

Paul Konerko
Guest
Paul Konerko
3 years 4 months ago

Not so fast, Dan.

No, seriously, I’m not so fast, Dan.

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer
3 years 4 months ago

Country Breakfast is pretty damn slow too. Must be all that gravy.

Chad DeShon
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

Percentage of time pitches in those locations are called strikes:
1: 76%
2: 0%
3: 0%
4: 4%
5: 4%

http://www.902a.com/g/2013_05_22_tbamlb_tormlb/9/bot/3

georgmi
Guest
georgmi
3 years 4 months ago

In the linked graphic, I get that the text is the call Bucknor made, and the percentage is how often a pitch in that location is called a strike (I did get that right, right?), but what is the number in between?

Thanks!

Chad DeShon
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

The website is in super beta (aka, doesn’t really work yet).

The other number is how many inches it was from the strike zone. Negative numbers for inside the strike zone, positive number for outside the strike zone.

For this, I am defining the edge of the strike zone as the line where 50% of the pitches are called strikes and 50% of pitches are called balls. This is obviously different than the rule book definition.

georgmi
Guest
georgmi
3 years 4 months ago

Cool, I’d figured it for a distance of some sort, but “from the center of the zone” didn’t line up with the video.

Thanks again!

redcyclone
Guest
redcyclone
3 years 4 months ago

wow exposed

davisnc
Member
Member
davisnc
3 years 4 months ago

So Pitch 4 was called a strike despite being 4.1 INCHES (i.e. about a quarter of a home plate) away from the spot that would get called a strike only HALF the time. That is some really, really terrible umpiring.

Guy
Guest
Guy
3 years 4 months ago

“Celebrate or don’t celebrate; eventually you will be dead.”

Who are you, Cistulli?

Guy
Guest
Guy
3 years 4 months ago

but seriously, that was a hilarious line.

Tomrigid
Guest
Tomrigid
3 years 4 months ago

If the umpire had called it a ball, the batter would have walked and Molina would have swallowed the injustice of it. But he called a strike, and Lind was gone. It little matters either way.

This, gentlemen, is the quintessence of baseball.

Blockhead
Member
Blockhead
3 years 4 months ago

Molina just clearly wasn’t feeling the frame. AFter all, we know he can freeze time if he wants to get a framed strike called bad enough.

Josh M
Guest
Josh M
3 years 4 months ago

Just throwing it out there, but could it be that Bucknor, aware of Molina’s reputation as a master framer consciously wanted to stick it to Molina only to get duped by Molina later in the AB?

Trotter76
Guest
Trotter76
3 years 4 months ago

I’m more inclined to believe this was a makeup call. He knew he botched the first pitch, so decided that the next borderline pitch would be a strike. But the 2nd and 3rd pitches were SO BAD that he couldn’t call them (As Chad DeShon pointed out above, the location of those pitches were strikes 0% of the time). When the 4th pitch was close enough for Bucknor’s purposes, he called it a strike to get the count to what it “should” have been. My $.02.

Ballfan
Guest
Ballfan
3 years 4 months ago

has anyone seen this statistical improbability?

http://blogs.thescore.com/mlb/2013/05/23/mike-trout-cycle-wpa-zero-angels/

negative WPA AND he hit for the cycle….first time ever according to the research

georgmi
Guest
georgmi
3 years 4 months ago

Leverage!

Jeff
Guest
Jeff
3 years 4 months ago

“I know this sure seems insignificant, but baseball is insignificant, and you and I are insignificant, so let’s come together in our collective insignificance and celebrate all that ultimately doesn’t matter. Celebrate or don’t celebrate; eventually you will be dead.”

That might be the best thing I’ve read from you yet, Jeff. I enjoy baseball more now than I ever did because I have learned to consider it a pleasant little diversion from the more serious and stressful things in life. Thank you for always being able to notice the little things that would otherwise very likely go completely unnoticed.

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