So Who’ve Been the Victims — and Non-Victims — of Framing?

There’s absolutely no denying that pitch-framing is a thing. Different people call it different things, but it’s real and it matters and it’s going to continue to matter until or unless everyone’s the same or there’s an automated strike zone. Pitch-framing is normally associated with catchers, because it’s the catchers who’re doing the framing. Borderline pitchers are in large part up to them, and given that we have pretty good data, a lot of people ask us here at FanGraphs when we’ll incorporate pitch-framing into catcher WAR. It’s something we’d like to do, but it’s also something that’s a lot more complicated than you might think.

Framing data affects pitchers. Those are the next people to be considered when the subject comes up. Catchers receive pitches, but catchers receive pitches thrown by pitchers, and good or bad framing value already shows up in the data. It just doesn’t show up next to the catchers’ names, being instead woven into the pitching statistics. So if we’re going to give catchers WAR credit for framing, we have to figure out a way to strip the same amount of credit from pitchers. Framing affects, among other things, walks and strikeouts, and right now those are pitcher-only.

So when people talk about framing, they talk primarily about catchers. Sometimes, they’ll talk about pitchers, often talking about specific batteries. Barely ever do people talk about the hitters. You know, the other people dealing with balls and strikes. The victims, as it were, in the case of good receiving. Or the non-victims, in the other case.

It does make a little sense, if you just think about talent. Catchers have the most control over how well they receive. Pitchers have some control over how well they’re received. Hitters have very little control over how well the pitches they take are received. It’s presumably not a true talent, to any meaningful extent. Sure, maybe there’s something going on with really tall guys or really short guys, but that’s not so much framing as it is umpires trying to deal with particularly unusual zone heights.

So there’s no easy explanation for why hitters might get more or less strikes called on them than usual. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen; that doesn’t mean everything evens out. I mean, for one thing, players deal with unbalanced schedules, and some guys might hit in front of higher- or lower-quality catchers. And even if something is mostly unsustainable noise, what happens happens. A team that does really well in the clutch in April probably won’t do very well in the clutch in May, but April took place. So.

It’s of some interest to look at which hitters have benefited or been hurt by pitch-receiving. We’ll look first at the team level for 2014, using the same homemade metric I’ve written about here countless times before. It’s the one that compares actual strikes to expected strikes, based on our plate-discipline statistics. It matches up pretty well with more advanced framing statistics on the pitching side. For example, it shows the three best framing teams so far are the Brewers, Padres, and Diamondbacks. It shows the three worst framing teams so far are the Twins, Marlins, and Braves. If it works all right for pitchers, it should work all right for hitters. Here, then, is a table.

It’s a very simple table. You see a team, and you see a number. That’s the number of actual strikes minus expected strikes. So, a positive number means the team has been something of a victim. A negative number means the team has benefited to some extent. The run value of a strike, on average, is something like 0.13 – 0.14.

Team Extra Strikes
Padres 111
Royals 105
Rockies 104
Blue Jays 97
Reds 83
Diamondbacks 53
Mariners 34
Nationals 34
Pirates 29
Astros 26
Marlins 23
Yankees 6
Braves 4
Rays 1
Angels -8
Cardinals -9
Cubs -10
Twins -18
Giants -26
Orioles -26
Brewers -29
Indians -34
White Sox -37
Athletics -38
Tigers -45
Rangers -53
Red Sox -63
Phillies -82
Dodgers -111
Mets -119

The Padres, by this measure, have been the biggest victims, which is cruel since they also suck. Simple multiplication suggests framing has cost them about 15 runs over the first roughly four months. The Mets are at the other end, having benefited by something like 16 runs. So that’s a 31-run spread between first and last place and we’re just out of the All-Star break. Obviously, this isn’t a huge factor — this isn’t why the Padres are bad, and God knows the Mets aren’t good — but this isn’t entirely insignificant across the board. You see the Dodgers right behind the Mets, in terms of benefiting, and the Padres are joined by the Royals and Rockies.

Going forward, I suspect this is the kind of thing you have to regress very heavily to the mean. That is, the Padres might be on pace to be 25-run victims, but they’re more likely to finish around where they are today. Because, as mentioned, this shouldn’t have too much to do with the hitters, but what’s done is already in the books and it’s something to think about, along with things like situational hitting and sequencing and whatever.

And now let’s quickly look at the top and bottom tens, for individual hitters. I decided to keep it as a counting stat, rather than convert it to a rate basis. I think rate stats suggest ability, and I’m more interested simply in what’s happened.

Name Extra Strikes Name Extra Strikes
Ian Kinsler 29 Miguel Montero -50
Alexei Ramirez 29 Jed Lowrie -45
Gerardo Parra 27 Dustin Pedroia -44
Paul Goldschmidt 24 David Wright -39
Billy Hamilton 23 Ruben Tejada -37
James Jones 22 Jonathan Lucroy -34
Drew Stubbs 21 Adrian Gonzalez -34
Junior Lake 20 Yadier Molina -33
Chris Owings 20 Jimmy Rollins -31
Domonic Brown 19 Pablo Sandoval -30

Kinsler and Ramirez have had the most extra strikes called on them. Interestingly, the ten biggest victims include three Diamondbacks, but a Diamondback has also benefited more than anyone else. Some quick numbers from StatCorner:

Ball% on pitches taken in strike zone

  • Parra: 7%
  • Goldschmidt: 8%
  • Owings: 10%
  • Montero: 21%

Strike% on pitches taken out of strike zone

  • Parra: 7%
  • Goldschmidt: 9%
  • Owings: 9%
  • Montero: 5%

Montero is a catcher, and an excellent-receiving one. In Molina and Lucroy, the list includes another two excellent-receiving catchers. It’s more of a curiosity than a finding, but it’s enough to make you wonder.

Pitch-framing: it affects everybody. It’s mostly the fault of the pitcher and catcher, but, if I shoot off a rocket, while that’s clearly my own fault, the rocket’s going to eventually come down in someone else’s yard.

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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.

28 Responses to “So Who’ve Been the Victims — and Non-Victims — of Framing?”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Today I learned there is a baseball player named James Jones.

    Then I looked at his stats page and contemplated un-learning it.

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  2. Roger Rabbit says:

    Do you really have to ask?

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  3. I actually wrote about something similar a while back too. Being able to get extra balls appears to be at least somewhat of a repeatable skill. But unfortunately, so does getting extra strikes. Can you imagine Paul Goldschmidt if he got an average number of strikes called on him?

    One thing I meant to do but never did was to go to the most extreme examples to see if there’s something the hitters are doing. Adam Dunn, for instance, seems to have gotten some extra balls by doing a little mini-check swing. Does Adrian Gonzalez do something similar? Does Goldschmidt do something clearly wrong? Maybe I’ll finally do that, unless someone better at gif-making wants to.

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  4. Michael Woods says:

    Would the rankings of the teams on the first table look the same if the number of extra strikes were divided by total plate appearances?

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  5. tz says:

    Is there any way to see which hitters were the victims of the most/least defensive plays? (or beneficiaries of the most/least poor defensive plays)

    Do they even have UZR by plate appearance?

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    • AK7007 says:

      Just use BABIP/Def Efficiency, then compare to the expected BABIP calculator for a rough estimate. Or look at Inside Edge data, I bet they correlate pretty well to BABIP. What you really are interested are team statistics, which UZR is kind of unnecessary for defense-wise.

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  6. Jim says:

    Looking at the individual hitters who are victims of extra strike calls, 6/10 are listed at 6’2 or taller. It seems possible that the pitch tracking system isn’t fully adjusting for the larger strike zone of taller players, so a pitch might register as a ball in the system but actually be a strike to 6’5 Domonic Brown.

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    • Mr Baseball says:

      6 out of 10 is not intresting at all. Esp 6’2″ which is probably the average height in MLB for hitters.

      I would guess that the catchers are really leveraging their acute knowledge of the zone and esp umpires for their at bats. Makes total sense. As a catcher you get to see quickly what part of the zone and types of pitches umps are calling.

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      • Bad Bill says:

        He didn’t give the other part of the story, which is that not one of the hitters who benefited from an unusually low number of strikes is taller than 6’2″, and Adrian Gonzalez is the only one significantly taller than 6 feet even. SSS, obviously, but there may be more to this than meets the eye.

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      • Jim says:

        Yeah you’re probably right. I thought it would be closer to 6′ flat, but it looks like 6’2 is about average. And since we’re looking at the 20 most extreme outliers in this sample, the effect should be more pronounced if there is actually something there.

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  7. Chippchipp says:

    Haha, I guess whenever Sandoval takes a pitch, the umpires figure that it must have been WAY out of the strike zone :)

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  8. Name says:

    I’ve heard stories that with Bonds, umpires would give him the benefit of doubt. “Mr.Bonds will tell you when it’s a strike”
    So maybe players known for elite eyes at the plate get less called strikes. Three catchers show up on the list of negative strikes too, and I would assume they have good reputations with many of the umpires.

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    • shthar says:

      I think that started as ‘Mr. Williams will tell you when it’s a strike’.

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      • Bad Bill says:

        Hornsby before Williams, actually. The meme may well go back to the beginning of baseball, for that matter; it’s just that the Hornsby incident is fairly well documented.

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        • Clipper Flynn of the 1871 Haymakers says:

          Yeah, I got that a lot too.

          (Note: that’s totally a guy!)

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    • james says:

      Boggs got this same benefit. I think a few of the guys get more/less calls due to reputation.

      umps also have a tendency to call looser games in early blow outs. Why would you call a lot of balls when the game is 10-0. So that may also have an effect. I see a lot of unlucky guys on terrible teams, but Wright, Tejada and a few others really mess that up being on the other extreem

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  9. DD says:

    Would be useful to see the correlation of this with BB and swing or K rates.

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  10. boomer says:

    I thought I have seen this before on fangraphs, but it has more to do with each umpires zone. Their individual zone will vary greatly and have more to say regarding pitch framers and who is the best and worst catchers.

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  11. everdiso says:

    an interesting add-on study to this would be to check on which teams perennially get especially screwed or favored, if there are any, and then check whether catchers get better pitch framing numbers on certain teams than they do on others. catchers move around a lot so there should be plenty of data.

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  12. Ben says:

    Just going in blind I was expecting to see catchers benefit most at the plate. Seems to be logical that if the umpires were to err, it would be on the side of the catcher with whom they might have a rapport in the other halves of innings. I have long suspected this is true in amateur games that I have played in, one would assume that the MLB quality umpires would not be as susceptible. Molina would have been my first guess as to who’d be on the list though, Lucroy not far behind. Would be interesting to see if there is a strong correlation by position- if catchers benefit more than any other position on average.

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    • Nick says:

      I totally expected that too. Makes sense

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    • dls says:

      My blind feeling was it would go like this…

      benefit of the doubt:
      older, known good-eye, “gamer/hustle”, “good attitude”, white, short

      get screwed:
      younger, known hacker, “lackadaisical”, “poor attitude”, non-white, tall

      And I think some of that is seen in the lists.

      They are all just prejudices, leaking through… consciously, or unconsciously.

      The only way they will be truly eliminated, is by automating balls and strikes. Which is an idea whose time has come.

      And while we’re on it, tall and short players should have the same exact strike zone. The rules creating larger strike zone for taller (or more upright stance) players are nonsense… as exemplified by Bill Veeck’s experiment with Eddie Gaedel.

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  13. Cicero says:

    Every time I looked at a Brooks Baseball Dashboard I felt like the Rockies were getting jobbed this kind of confirms that. I would suspect that the Rockies have the among the worst pitching expected strikes vs called strikes as well or very near

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  14. Isaic says:

    I would be curious if there is a pronounced effect for people with ‘legendarily’ good eyes. (Think Tony Gwynn, possibly Bonds in the modern era, and Williams or Hornsby historically). Would there be any way to check that without Pitchfx data? If not, is there any current player that would be considered to have a ‘famously good eye’?

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  15. MobiusKlein says:

    Does this measure favor batters who are free swingers, or that are otherwise inclined to foul off close pitches? If you tend to swing a little bit more at the closest of the close pitches, your count of bad strike calls will be lower.

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