MLB Catcher Framing in 2016

Catcher framing has become fairly well established as a bona fide skill. A catcher with elite framing skills can add several wins to a team’s season, compared to an average or below average framer. By catching pitches that are slightly outside the strike zone in such a way that the umpire thinks they’re actually strikes, a good receiver can gain two or more strikes per game for his pitchers. Over the season, that can add up to 200 or more extra strikes, and extra strikes translate to runs saved.

How well did catchers frame pitches in 2016?

I used a cutoff of 400 innings, which leaves 45 catchers in 2016, and calculated “Extra strikes per game” for each one. (See below for the methods.) Here are the five best and worst framing catchers in 2016 (the full table is here):

Extra strikes per game
Yasmani Grandal 2.06
Buster Posey 1.79
Tyler Flowers 1.57
Christian Vazquez 1.54
Jason Castro 1.46
Carlos Ruiz -1.1
Stephen Vogt -1.11
Chris Iannetta -1.25
Dioner Navarro -1.83
Juan Centeno -2.17

The best framer in baseball in 2016 was Yasmani Grandal, who gained around 212 extra strikes over the season for his pitchers. Assuming that each switched call is worth about 0.13 runs on average, Grandal gained the Dodgers the equivalent of nearly 28 extra runs – or about 3 extra wins – from his framing alone, not even counting his above-average offense. Buster Posey, in second place, also contributes strong offense to go with his elite framing. Tyler Flowers and Jason Castro are about average batters, so in 2016, only Christian Vazquez didn’t do enough with his bat to make his elite framing earn him regular playing time.

On the negative side, Juan Centeno is barely an average batter, which isn’t enough to carry his terrible framing. However, he started just 47 games at catcher for the Twins, limiting the damage he could inflict. Dioner Navarro has never been a good framer, and has been declining year after year. He was bad in 2015, but as a backup catcher he didn’t make the 400-inning cutoff for my analysis. In 2016, his chance to start in Chicago didn’t help his framing or his offense; at 33 years old, he is at best a fringe backup catcher.

Framing is a genuine skill that carries over from one season to the next, not simply luck or chance. Thirty-four catchers had enough innings in 2015 and 2016 to compare them; overall, the correlation is quite strong:


Not all the catchers were completely consistent. The biggest changes from 2015 to 2016 are displayed here:

Extra strikes per game (2015) Extra strikes per game (2016) Difference
Chris Iannetta 0.67 -1.25 -1.92
Francisco Cervelli 1.76 0.77 -1.00
Jonathan Lucroy 0.41 -0.16 -0.56
Brian McCann -0.36 0.67 1.04
James McCann -1.15 -0.06 1.09
A.J. Ellis -1.67 -0.17 1.49

Chris Iannetta in 2015 was a good, though not elite, framing catcher. In 2016, he fell off a cliff, becoming the third worst-framing regular catcher in baseball. With his bat following a similar trajectory, Seattle didn’t exercise their option on Iannetta, making him a 33-year-old free agent who will be lucky to get much attention in 2017. Francisco Cervelli also lost a significant amount of framing value, but in 2015 he ranked as the best framer in baseball, so his decline still left him as a solidly positive framer. Jonathan Lucroy continued his framing slide, falling from elite in 2014, to moderately above average in 2015, and slightly worse than average in 2016.

On the plus side, Brian McCann, who had consistently been an above-average framer until 2015, bounced back to his usual levels. James McCann and A.J. Ellis both improved even more, but started as very bad framers in 2015, so they only managed to bring themselves back up to average or slightly worse.

Overall, relatively few of these 45 catchers had very bad framing skills, with the distribution being skewed over to the better-framing side. Presumably, that’s because the catchers included here are all good enough to be fairly regular players, and framing ability is considered along with their other skills; the very worst framers might be expected to be mainly backup players who wouldn’t make my 400-inning cutoff. That may have changed since framing became a measurable skill, with poor framers losing their starting jobs:

Methodology

I calculated extra strikes per game by dividing the area around the strike zone into 64 3-inch-square regions, considering left-handed and right-handed batters separately. In each region, I calculated the average catcher’s chance of getting a strike call. (The “average catcher” includes all catchers except for the one we’re specifically looking at.) I then asked how many pitches in that region our catcher of interest saw, and how many of them were strikes. The average catcher’s strike probability in that region tells us how many we would expect to be strikes. Subtracting the expected number of strikes from the actual number of strikes gives us the extra strikes our catcher saw in that region. I summed all the regions up, and divided by the number of games, to get the “Extra strikes per game” figure. To make my life easier, I only looked at games in which our catcher of interest caught at least eight innings (the vast majority of them); otherwise, I’d struggle with identifying which innings our catcher was actually responsible for. Reassuringly, my numbers are very similar to StatCorner’s (Pearson R value of 0.94). They aren’t identical, though; for example, by my analysis, Christian Vazquez gains an elite 1.54 extra strikes per game, ranking fourth in baseball, whereas StatCorner gives him 0.56 extra strikes per game – good, but far from elite.

You can see the full rankings from 2016 here and from 2015 here.


Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork

Featured image courtesy of Darron Cummings, Associated Press.

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