Jose Molina on Jose Molina

Fun fact: Jose Molina‘s FanGraphs player ID number is 25. Mike Trout‘s is 10155. All right.

According to numbers provided to me by Matthew Carruth, last year there were 78 catchers in baseball who caught at least 1,000 called pitches. Carruth defines his strike zone not by the rule book, but by an average of the strike zones big-league umpires actually call. Out of those 78 catchers, Molina posted the fifth-lowest rate of pitches in the zone called balls. Molina tied for the second-highest rate of pitches out of the zone called strikes. Overall, Molina posted the highest rate of extra strikes per game, at +2.5. The other guys over 2 were David Ross, Chris Stewart, and Jonathan Lucroy. Molina caught more than 6,000 called pitches. We’ve had an idea for some time now that Jose Molina is an expert pitch-framer.

We don’t really know what pitch-framing means. I mean, we can see when a catcher steals an extra strike, and we can see when a catcher costs an extra ball, but we don’t know how much it all actually matters. We don’t know how much is on the catcher, how much is on the pitcher, and how much is on the umpire. We don’t know how the runs add up, and framing, of course — or receiving, if you prefer — is only one part of a catcher’s game. Framing is almost entirely separate from pitch-calling, which might well be a bigger deal. This research is in its infancy, or maybe toddlerhood, and I think this is the best way to sum things up: Joe Maddon has claimed that, last year, Molina’s framing was worth about 50 runs. Opposing batters posted a .659 OPS with Molina behind the plate, versus a .640 OPS with Jose Lobaton behind the plate and a .636 OPS with Chris Gimenez behind the plate. We don’t actually have a handle on framing quite yet.

But it is pretty clear that it’s a real, sustainable skill, that it’s something at which some guys are good and other guys are bad. Which makes it fascinating, because it allows us to examine the hows and whys. Why is Ryan Doumit such a bad pitch-framer? What does he do? Why is Jose Molina such a good pitch-framer? What does he do?

I don’t intend to cover the same ground as Mike Fast, who of course has already looked at this in depth. Fast identified a few cues in the course of his research. This was inspired by a Jose Molina appearance on Monday’s Baseball Tonight podcast, with Buster Olney. One of the coolest things about framing is that everybody’s interested in it, so even major-media types ask relevant questions. Olney talked a little bit to Molina about what he does that makes him so effective at receiving pitches. Molina shows up around the 36:00 mark. Below, a few Molina response excerpts:

The rest of the stuff, I really…is when I’m catching, that adjustment that I make while the pitch is coming. A lot of people say that it’s just my hands, whatever, but it’s [the] adjustment that you gotta make when the pitch is coming.

Some more:

At the same time, with the body, you gotta know where the pitch is going. You gotta know your pitcher. Where he misses the most. He miss to the right, to the left, up, down, and we kinda cheat to those spots when they come. It’s a lot of knowing your staff.

And lastly:

I keep going to that adjustment because you can angle it but if you don’t adjust to that pitch, particular that pitch in this particular zone, no matter what angle you are it’s gonna be a ball. It’s that adjustment at that last second.

Molina is known to keep his body remarkably stable when he’s catching, such that he receives pitches as if he’s sticking a landing. It stands to reason umpires can be distracted by too much motion, and that they’ll be less likely to call a borderline pitch in the pitcher’s favor. But Molina talked a lot about this adjustment, this adjustment while the pitch is on the way, and I thought it would be helpful to see some images. It’s not just that Molina stays steady — it’s what allows him to remain so steady when the ball finally arrives.

We’re going to look at two pitches: a 2-and-1 changeup thrown by Fernando Rodney to Jose Molina with a lefty at the plate, and a 1-and-0 changeup thrown by Fernando Rodney to Jose Lobaton with a lefty at the plate. I don’t intend to pick on Lobaton; he’s not bad. He’s just not Jose Molina. Both changeups were out of the rule book strike zone, outside, but Molina got a strike and Lobaton got a ball. Molina didn’t even catch the baseball cleanly, making the call somewhat more remarkable.



Molina keeps his body stable upon catching the ball. But Lobaton also keeps his body stable upon catching the ball, and Lobaton still didn’t get it. Granted, the umpires are different, and these are borderline pitches. But let’s take a closer look.



While the pitch is on the way, Molina’s glove hardly moves. Lobaton’s glove, though, crosses virtually the entire strike zone. That presumably conveys the impression that Rodney missed by quite a bit away, leading the umpire to think ball. Now, look at the actual glove targets:



The targets aren’t identical, but they’re close. Molina set the target knee-high, over the middle. Lobaton set the target roughly knee-high, over the middle. Yet we see the differences in the .gifs above, where Molina makes it look like Rodney was almost right on. Here are some stills showing where the balls wound up, versus where the presumed targets were set:



And think again about the difference in glove motion. Molina made it look like his glove barely moved. Lobaton moved his glove from one knee to the other. Molina got the strike, while Lobaton didn’t.

And here, I think, is where we can see the adjustment that Jose Molina talked about on the podcast. Molina talked about having a familiarity with the pitchers, and knowing where they tend to miss. Lobaton set a target, and he held the target. Molina set a target, but immediately he started shifting a little to his left. He accounted for the fact that Rodney’s changeup would run away from the left-handed hitter, and he even closed his glove for an instant before re-positioning it. Molina prepared his body for a pitch around the outer edge, and now look at those bottom two stills. Molina catches the pitch in front of his chest. Lobaton catches the pitch more in front of his arm, making it seem further away.

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

What I find interesting, though, and what Molina chose to highlight is the in-pitch adjustment. Molina and Lobaton called for similar pitches, and indeed they were thrown similar pitches. Molina was better prepared to catch the pitch that Rodney actually threw, perhaps owing to his familiarity with Rodney and the usual movement on his changeup. By no means is Lobaton a lousy pitch-receiver. But by no means is Lobaton as good a pitch-receiver as Jose Molina, because Molina has it all figured out. It really is a pleasure to hear the elite self-analyze.

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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.

21 Responses to “Jose Molina on Jose Molina”

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  1. Great stuff, Jeff. Thanks for putting this together.

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  2. DQ says:

    Great use of gifs here. Maybe Jose Molina didn’t catch that ball cleanly knowing that if he moved his glove all the way over he wouldn’t have gotten the call.

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    • stopher says:

      I agree, Molina knows enough to try to catch that ball right in the heel of his glove (which is also the reason he dropped it, I’m sure). You can see that Lobaton catches his pitch in the webbing.

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      • Victorious says:

        If indeed that was done on purpose, it’s amazing how he can make the initial adjustment AND take into account the positioning of his glove vs where the ball will end up, all while the pitch is already on the way.

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  3. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Molina catches the ball with his elbow out, less movement on his arm. The other guy moved from a elbow in position and moved his arm so much it looked like the ball went way outside.

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  4. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Unrelated: you stirred up my curiosity. Player ID #1 is Alfredo Amezaga.

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    • Victorious says:

      After having seen Amezaga play numerous innings this ST, I can assure you that there’s absolutely nothing to be curious about.

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  5. Fill says:

    It’s quite amazing watching Jose Molina and his pitch framing abilities. Lobaton’s catch/location was actually pretty good, but Molina’s adjustments just make it that much more accurate (or perceived accuracy).

    Thanks for the post Jeff! This is why you get paid the big bucks.

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  6. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Can you give the pitch f/x coordinates for each pitch?

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  7. Steven says:

    Terrific stuff. I was wondering what impact the pitchrs missing location would have. But as you showed here, Rodney missed his location both times by almost the same. It is amazing how watching the 1st gifs you assume Rodney missed the second pitch by a lot more solely due to Molina’s framing.

    Also, I looked over at Mike Fast’s work and he cited Dan Turkenkopf who found that 7.5 Strikes equals 1 run. So Molina’s 86 games at 2.5 strikes per game would have saved te Rays 29 runs.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      Count matters quite a bit here. I use this: and you can see the chasm between ball and strike values dependent on count. 7.5 might make a nice rule of thumb, but we’re capable of being more precise here and we should be.

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      • Jordan says:

        Taking the count into account would give you a measure akin to WPA; not taking it into account would give you a measure more like WAR. Both have their uses, but to say that because we can take context into account we should glosses over the fact that a context-neutral measure is likely to be more indicative of true skill and also more predictive of future performance.

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  8. Adam says:

    Really fascinating post, Jeff. One thing I’d add from the perspective of a former catcher is that where you catch the ball in relation to your body makes a major difference. Molina caught the pitch near the center of his body, while Lobaton’s glove drifts outside of his body.
    A catcher’s width often sets the strike zone, esp. from an umpire’s vantage point. So if you can keep your body behind the ball as it comes in, there’s a better chance it’ll look like a strike than if you’re just reaching for it. A subtle thing, but makes a huge difference.
    Which also raises a separate question of whether catchers with broader bodies are better framers. That one, I have no answer for.

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  9. wily mo says:

    if i was jose molina i’m actually not sure how much i’d want to talk publicly about this stuff

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    • Well, at his age, one might suspect he is positioning himself to for a coaching position, so showing his ability to break down the game into its important components might actually help his value in that regard. Moreover, as a player, anything that suggests you are more valuable (going into a contract year, no less) is typically a good thing.

      Side note: He retweeted my link to this article. *squee!*

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  10. That Guy says:

    I don’t see how the glove position in each screen cap is in the same location. In the second (to Lobaton) the target is clearly set low and inside but on the plate. The pitch does not hit the target. That Lobaton has to move the glove to each make contact with the pitch is obviously playing a role in the “framing” of the pitch. In the first, Molina actually appears to not set the target until the pitch is delivered which is clearly giving him an advantage in framing. In the gif, you can clearly see that he doesn’t bring the glove up to catch the pitch until the ball is leaving Rodney’s hand.

    I’m still seeing a lot of noise on this issue and the more I see on this, the more I’m coming around to replacing the umpires with pitch f/x for balls and strikes.

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    • DagGummit says:

      After reading your post and then looking specifically at what you’re talking about, I’d have to disagree. To me, it looks like the “initial” target is set by both just as Rodney’s lifting his foot off the ground and beginning his motion. In this regard, the big difference between the two seems to be that, as Eno mentioned, Molina gave the target and then closed his glove before sliding it over as little as he needed. In comparison, however, Lobaton seems to move his whole, opened glove in a much more circular (thus larger) movement to the ball.

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  11. DagGummit says:

    You know… the more and more I look at the the GIFs and compare them, the more I get struck by the initial positioning of the two and then infer how that likely sets up Molina’s ability to make the adjustments he talks about as seamlessly as possible.

    It seems to all start from the fact that Molina’s weight is predominately (I’d say ~75/25) on his left leg — away from his initial target, but exactly where he thinks it will (and does) end up. Lobaton, however, has his weight (again, about 75/25) on his right leg and doesn’t shift his body at all while the ball is in flight.

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  12. Jason says:

    Another thing that is not at all related to framing…The batter in Molina’s gif checks his swing. The one in Lobaton’s gives up almost immediately. I’m sure that gives the benefit of the doubt to Molina’s ump.

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  13. fran says:

    i love your smile God put it in my life for a a reason. Dios te bendiga.

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