Max Marchi of THT posted a fantastic bit of research this week that could go a long way towards quantifying one of the more difficult to measure elements of catcher defense:
According to this analysis the top catchers can win a ballgame per season (even playing fewer than 100 games) only with the skill of framing pitches.
If you think that’s a lot, I’m with you.
Anyway, let’s look at that from a different perspective. Please re-read the last sentence of the previous section. The fact that umpires and catchers have a similar range of variation implies that playing with a receiver who is good at framing pitches is the equivalent of having a pitcher friendly umpire calling the game. Now, suppose you are allowed to have every game called by an average umpire when your team is at the plate and by the most pitcher-riendly umpire when your team is pitching. Does an extra win per season seem an acceptable effect of having such an advantage?
According to the analysis presented here, the best catchers at framing pitches can add something like one or two wins per season, which is the equivalent of trading Alex Rodriguez‘s 2010 bat (.270/.341/.506, 30 HR, 125 RBI, 19 runs above replacement) with Alex Rios’ lumber in the same year (.284/.334/.457, 11 HR, 45 RBI, nine runs above replacement).
The number could even be a conservative estimate. In fact, as soon as a pitcher realizes his catcher gives him an edge on borderline pitches, he should immediately begin to exploit the advantage.
If the magnitude of the framing effect measured in this study is confirmed, major league teams should not neglect this factor when they go hunting for a catcher in the market, especially those with pitching staffs that make their living on the black.
Marchi includes a spreadsheet that shows Russell Martin to be one of the best catchers in baseball at framing pitches, while Frankie Cervelli comes in at above average and Jorge Posada sits at about the average line.
I really do not have a ton to add here, but I will note that the sizable nature of the effect illustrates that any analysis of catcher defense at this point is, at best, a rough estimate. If something such as framing pitches can create a value gap of 2-3 wins between two catchers, how can we really evaluate relative value without measuring every element that goes into the catching position? The best we can do is measure those skills that are more easily quantifiable and roughly estimate the rest based on scouting reports, while waiting for people like Marchi to help read the tea leaves that the data provides us in the murkier areas.
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