Will Pitch Framing Help or Hurt the Cubs Next Year? And Other Bullets

welington castilloIn his version of the Bullets this morning, Jay writes about a heartbreaking – but also warming – story about a player wholly unrelated to the Bears or the Cubs. Still, it’s worth a look, if only to count your blessings.

  • Pitch framing is one the vogue statistical front lines right now, with folks working very hard to interpret, analyze, and quantify the impact of dudes who are really good at nabbing extra strikes for their pitcher by the way they receive pitches. Two years ago, we all saw firsthand how damaging poor receiving skills can be in this area, as it was clearly something Welington Castillo needed to work on. And then he did – last year, Castillo’s defense was something of a revelation. He’d always had the good arm, and was decent at blocking pitches, but, to the eye, his framing also improved dramatically. FanGraphs takes a stab – get it? – at projecting framing values on a team-by-team basis for 2014 using 2013 framing data and projected playing time for 2014, and the Cubs … come up third to last, projected to lose 1.3 strikes per game based on poor framing. It appears that Castillo was still slightly below average last year at the skill – according to the data, at least – and the change from Dioner Navarro to George Kottaras at the back-up spot must be a healthy drop-off in framing ability, because the Cubs project to be almost a half-strike worse in 2014 than in 2013. Jeff Sullivan, the author, admits that the data is extremely thin here, and it’s mostly just a fun exercise. But at least now we know that pitch framing is still an issue to watch for the Cubs in 2014.
  • The Cubs took out a full-page ad in Chicago papers to honor Greg Maddux’s election to the Hall of Fame. And this CSN piece catalogs some of the national fawning Maddux is appropriately receiving.
  • More Baez-related prospect porn to start your day off right? Why not …

  • Given the incredible crop of shortstop prospects right now, having Baez just behind Bogaerts is awesome. That said, I can’t help but wonder if Callis temporarily forgot about Francisco Lindor, who is also right up there (probably ahead of Baez to most).
  • Enrollment for Cubs summer camps is underway.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

122 responses to “Will Pitch Framing Help or Hurt the Cubs Next Year? And Other Bullets”

  1. Harry

    Brooks and I are projecting Beef at as being as bad as -19 runs if he were to catch a heavy workload. Despite the improvements he’s still one of the worst.

    Using a full-season/full-time projection, Whiteside is the only guy who is any good at framing (

    Castillo -19
    Kottaras -15
    Whiteside +18

    1. JB88

      That’s pretty insane, Harry. Out of curiosity, did you run those numbers for the playoff teams from last year? I’d be definitely curious to see if there is any correlation, whatsoever, between games won and pitch framing. Especially for those teams that are considered pitching-dominant.

      1. Norm

        I think I remember seeing something positive about Tampa Bay’s catching tandem…but can’t recall.
        So, good info from me here.

        1. Harry

          Jose Molina +33 (stud, elite)
          Jose Lobaton +13 (very good)

          So if they split time 50/50 it’s more than 2 wins

          1. JB88

            Good god.

            I never really was one who favored trading Castillo, but, if he can’t improve his framing, he might be a sell-high candidate for the Cubs. A nearly 50 run differential between Molina and Castillo is just mind boggling.

            1. blublud

              I don’t believe that. That’s a lot. I’m not saying Molina is not better, but 50 runs better on 1.3 pitches a game. 1.3 pitches per game would equal like 210 pitches per season. When the last time you seen 50 runs scored over 210 pitches.

              1. hansman

                I dunno, the Cubs offered up some pretty bad pitchers in May 2011.

      2. Harry

        Framing is a two-way street. For example, if you look at Yadi without considering his pitchers he appears to be an elite framer. Reality is he benefited a great deal from pitchers who out perform the model. So I don’t look by team per se, but by pitcher.

        Let me back up, and work on a draft of an article here :) … “the model” is something Dan and I have hammered out takes each pitch location at each ball/strike count, split up by batter hand and pitcher hand, pitches split out by “type” and, for each season since 2009, figured out the odds of a given pitch being called a strike, given the context described. You get credited (or debited) for how you perform against the odds.

        From there I analyzed batteries, using a WOWY technique (Tom Tango’s with or without you) to isolate the impact of the pitcher. Guys like Carp and Waino are really good pitchers, with plus command, so no surprise they help Yadi.

        The last adjustment is based on the umpires tendencies, and is a smaller impact than the pitcher at this point.

        Then there’s some regression (two phases) and voila, numbers pop out. Then, based on the stability of these things over time and a lack of an apparent aging curve, the projection is a simple 3-2-1 weighting for the past three seasons, as available. Players with less years and smaller samples have bigger error bars … always keep that in mind, despite the regression techniques.

        So, the playoffs. Haven’t broken it down by team, actually. But I will when Dan and I publish our article at BP. We’ll have some tools on Brooksbaseball.net to explore these things, including visualizations of the framing performance (think heat maps for catchers).

        1. Edwin

          You sir, are a delight. Love your work.

        2. ClevelandCubsFan

          Harry, without knowing all the details there just seems like there’s a ton of entropy in this. My gut tells me there’s more randomness than skill involved here. (Admittedly, statistics eat guts for breakfast on a routine basis.) But I can’t shake the feeling that this sort of projection is still skating on very thin ice and that we need to the winter to get colder and deeper before we venture out. That is, we need more time and data.

          I’m intrigued, but skeptical I guess……

          1. Harry

            that’s where regression comes in, to account for both talent and “random” variation.

    2. Kyle

      There’s a sniff-test problem with those numbers, big time.

      1. hansman

        This is scary that we agree on something. Something isn’t right with them.

        Or framing pitches is the biggest market inefficiency out there right now.

        1. CubFan Paul

          “Or framing pitches is the biggest market inefficiency out there right now”

          Ding. Ding. Ding.

          1. hansman

            I agree with you. I think catcher defense is the single most underrated aspect of the game right now.

            There is still something wrong with those numbers.

            I agree with you that Castillo is terrible at receiving the pitch. He stabs at the ball, his head jerks around and he generally looks like a guy who is getting a pitch that completely missed the spot.

            Now is that really only costing him 1.3 pitches (from average) a game and are those 210 pitches each year costing the Cubs 20 runs (from average)?

            I think what Harry is telling us is generally right, but (and as he admits) there is a lot of tweaking that needs to be done.

            The question for me is, does this actually

  2. Harry

    btw Navarro projects to +1 — he’s basically league average

    All these #s control for the impact of the pitcher and the umpire, so they’re “team” neutral.

  3. JacqueJones

    As much as I love Baez I think hes probably behind Lindor. A guy that will definitely stick at SS combined with a guy that walks at the same rate he strikes out at 19 is hard to beat.

    1. blublud

      Lindor is good. But Baez is better. Their hit sticks are about the same. Lindor has considerably more patience, and is also a better defender. But Baez has much more power, and that ability to produce runs outweighs Lindors better attributes. I don’t expect Lindor to be a .400 OBP guy in the Majors.

    2. Rebuilding

      No doubt most prospect lists will have Baez behind both Lindor and Correa which I think is a crime. It weights way too much to positional value. Neither of those guys projects to have half of the power Baez does so even if he moves to 2b or 3b and hits 35 HRs he’ll be more valuable. If he actually does stick at SS it’s not even close. Just my humble opinion

      1. terencemann

        Baez would be far more valuable as a shortstop who hits 30 HR even if his defense isn’t that good. Look at Hanley Ramriez vs. the rest of MLB when he was in his best years. Also, if he has good enough range and his arm is as advertised, he may be able to mask the errors for a while.

        1. Jr 25

          No way does Baez stick at SS- above average arm but glove will kill you. Everyone is all over Castro for 20 to 25errors and mental mistakes what’s going to happen if Baez brings his 40 plus errors to the MLB Field? Imagine how many games that could cost. I see Baez moving and sticking to 3B and Bryant moving to left (kinda Braunish w/ hopefully out the Roids)!

          1. JB88

            You really can’t go off error totals in the minor league. It just isn’t a good measuring stick for the value of a defender. That isn’t to say that you aren’t right and Baez isn’t a SS long term, just that using error totals as the basis for that statement is not a particularly effective measuring stick.

            1. Blackhawks1963

              Baez is not a polished shortstop. Lindor on the other hand is a natural at the position. It definitely remains to be seen where Baez winds up playing on the field. I’m cynical of his ability to stick at shortstop. And while it’s outstanding to have a prospect like Baez, I am concerned about the nature of his hitting. He’s been a guy who has dominated lower level pitching and hasn’t needed yet to learn the art of hitting…or how to hit the breaking ball. He’s been a man-child in the lower minors. Hence why I really hope the Cubs stay patient with Baez and do not rush him to the big leagues. He needs polish as a hitter…and he needs to settle in defensively at some position on the field.

              1. JB88

                I know you have a position—and it is clear that when you have a position you don’t move off of it—but few people would call AA pitching “low minors”.

            2. blublud

              Correct. Jeter had 60 errors in a season playing minor league ball in my home town. He rebounded enough to win several GG, no matter how fraudulent they were. I don’t think Baez will ever make 40 errors in a major league season.

          2. JDB

            Gotta agree with JB88 and blublud here…quite a few MLB shortstops that would be considered above average or even gold glove infielders now had awful minor league fielding numbers. Could be a lot of reasons for that…game is moving faster compared to high school and college and takes time to adjust, below average defenders elsewhere around the infield, players focusing more on offense than defense, low quality fields that these guys are playing on which may sound like a stretch to some but as a groundskeeper who has worked in the Midwest league the past three years, it is most definitely a factor for some guys.

            Also like JB88 said, AA is far from being low minors and is considered by a lot of scouts and experts to be the toughest level. You would struggle to find players that had numbers similar to Baez’s season in the entire history of minor league baseball let alone a guy that has been playing SS. It may not even be his play that ultimately determines where he’s at on the field anyways…maybe Castro returns to his offensive form and improves his defense, maybe Alcantara proves to be a legit 2B (Watkins too?), maybe Bryant is able to stick at 3rd (Olt? Villanueva? Candelario?). Its going to depend on what other players do as well and as it is right now, the Cubs are going to potentially have some tough decisions to make around the infield in the next couple years.

      2. Norm

        Rebuliding: “It weights way too much to positional value. Neither of those guys projects to have half of the power Baez does”

        Maybe you weigh power too much and position not enough?

        I’ll take Boegarts over Baez without a second thought.
        Correa, Baez, Russell, and Lindor are all pretty close and I’d lump them all in the same tier.

        1. JDB

          “I’ll take Boegarts over Baez without a second thought.”

          Not trying to rip on you or anything but what’s your reasoning for this?

          1. blublud

            I’d take Bogart also

            1. blublud

              Meant Baez

          2. Norm

            “Not trying to rip on you or anything but what’s your reasoning for this?”
            Power is the only area Baez beats Boegarts.
            Xander is a better pure hitter, he’s got better plate discipline, he’ll have much higher AVG/OBP numbers and he’s the same age as Baez and has performed at AAA and debuted in the majors.
            I think he’ll be a SS that will hit .300/380/450 year in and year out.
            Baez I think will be more like 260/330/500 at 3B.

            1. CubFan Paul

              …you project them both to be .830OPS guys

              1. ari gold

                OBP is much more important than slugging.

                1. CubFan Paul

                  Oh, no you didn’t.

                  1. ari gold

                    Yeah I did

              2. Norm

                an 830 OPS using a 380 OBP is better than an OPS using a 330 OBP.
                Then the position difference…

            2. DocPeterWimsey

              Baez is not susceptible to “Ridikulus!”

              (Seriously, though, I think that you are being way to optimistic on Baez’s isoD and probably his BA: guys with his miLB K rates K over 30% of the time in MLB, and it is really, really tough to maintain an average BA with only 70% of your BAs.)

              1. hansman

                It all depends on which 2013 Baez was the real one. The one who had a 4% BB rate with a 30% K rate (poor batting eye and contact skills) or the 12% BB rate with an 18% K rate (really good but has an iffy approach).

                If it’s the former, he’s going to be lucky to make an ASG. If it’s the later, he’s going to be lucky to make the HoF.

                1. DocPeterWimsey

                  Statistically, they were indistinguishable. Here are his K rats by month:

                  Here are the BB rates:

                  The support bars dont’ quite overlap, but given that month-to-month competition varies (and other factors), they fit a very simple (log)normal distribution of rates without that much (log)variance.

                  1. hansman

                    God, I need to learn MOAR about stats.

              2. Norm

                “Seriously, though, I think that you are being way to optimistic on Baez’s isoD”
                I most certainly am….I think that’s “best case” and even at best case, I’d rather have Boegarts.

        2. Rebuilding

          I don’t think you can overvalue power in today’s game. And 2b and 3b are now almost as weak offensively as SS

          1. DocPeterWimsey

            The single biggest correlate with winning over the last 52 seasons has been how much you out-homer the opposition. How much you out-walk the opposition is 2nd, but a close 3rd is how much you out double+triple the opposition. (Out-singling the opposition has been the biggest correlate with winning 3 times in the last 52 seasons!)

            So, power/preventing power and selectivity/control combined are where it is at. Or, what Earl Weaver (heck, Casey Stengel) always said!

            1. CubFan Paul

              There’s a Tim Taylor “More Power” joke in there somewhere

    3. Blackhawks1963

      Based on everything I’ve seen and interpreted Lindor is the complete package at shortstop. Baez on the other hand is a big bat (potentially) trying to make it work at shortstop. I can definitely understand why Lindor “ranks” ahead of Baez. Correa? I don’t know enough about his overall skill package at shortstop.

  4. Spoda17

    Frank Thomas had more walks than strikeouts… I can’t even do that on a video game…

    1. Edwin

      Is the video game MLB the Show? Seriously, I can’t draw a walk in that game.

      1. hansman

        I once drew 2 walks in a game. But that gave me 2 on the season…in September.

        1. Spoda17

          hahaha… yes it is MLB 13… I liked MLB 12 much better…

          1. hansman

            I have MLB 12. I’m still not a huge fan of their RTTS points distributions (wait, so I get more points for a 10 pitch strikeout than I do for a 1 pitch groundout to 1st?) but overall the game is very slick.

            1. CubFan Paul

              I’m still playing ’12 too. I’ll upgrade to ’14 this year so that I can have Baez and hopefully Bryant

              1. hansman

                I probably will as well if only because it will probably be the last time they make it for PS3 (if they even do that)

                1. CubFan Paul

                  I just want Baez. It’ll be a birthday present to me. Prospect porn at my fingertips…

                2. blublud

                  Yes. This is why standing in Wal-Mart for 5 hours to be the first one I know to have a PS4 was worth it.

            2. Noah_I

              I stopped playing the Show after 11. My issue with it is that they don’t adjust the points for what level you are at. Your player just sucks until he doesn’t, and then he can perform at all levels. And I agree, the point distributions are insane. Why does my 19 year old position player run out of stamina (and thus can’t hit the ball out of the infield) after 3 or 4 starts in a row? How the heck does someone improve from having D or F speed to A speed through their 20s?

              I think RTTS would be so much better if they used a plus/average/minus system. So if you play as a hitter and looking at the five traditional tools (hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, defense, arm), you get to choose to be plus on up to 2 of them, average on up to 2 of them and minus on whatever is left. If you play as a pitcher, I’d say you’d have velocity, movement, control, command. You get to be plus on one, average on two, minus on one. If they can’t figure out a way to differentiate in the engine between control and command, you’re plus on one, average on one, minus on one.

              Also, the fact that they have minor league AI pitchers who can throw 5 pitches for strikes is infuriating.

              1. CubFan Paul

                Yeah, this is why I only play ‘season’ mode now.

              2. hansman

                My biggest gripe is the slumps/hot streaks.

                You go from mashing 10 homers in 3 games to not getting an extra base hit for 3 weeks and then back to 10 homers in 3 games and then no XBH for a month.

                My second biggest is how selective opposing batters are. 0-2 count and you laid off a slider that moved across the zone and missed by a hair on the low inside corner?

                It’s a great game compared to the others out there, but I much prefer OOTP to get my baseball gaming fix.

                1. CubFan Paul

                  “0-2 count and you laid off a slider that moved across the zone and missed by a hair on the low inside corner?”

                  ..I thought it was just me. I’ve never thought so much about pitch sequencing before in my life since i’ve had this game

                  1. hansman

                    Ha, ya, I’m lucky if I throw 50% FB in a game and generally I have three or 4 pitches that I will have thrown about equally.

                    And don’t get me started as to why my 99 control pitcher barely ever hits his spot.

                    Damn, I am getting worked up enough to drive home, pick up my controller and throw it.

    2. Blackhawks1963

      Frank Thomas was among the most amazing hitters I’ve ever seen play this game in 40 years of following it. In his prime what he was able to do offensively was mind blowing. Average, on-base, power, low strikeout total for such a beastly run producer. Seriously, he produced a 10 year stretch that rivals what Jimmy Foxx did in his era. Which is unbelievable.

  5. cooter

    I was an ump for about 5 years a while back ( only high school ball). But this framing blows my mind. You’re taught to watch the ball cross the plate along with the batters strike zone. So watching all three batter, plate,and glove would be damn near impossible especially at 95 miles an hour. Depending on where the pitch is, a lot of times you can’t even see the glove. I guess after umping for 25 plus years either they get lazy or just form bad habits. I don’t know. But we all know it’s where the ball crosses the plate. Instant replay might eventually be for balls and strikes as well which would wipe the cockiness right off the umps face.

  6. Jon

    Slick fielding, slap hitting, no power infielders are a dime a dozen in the game. I’ll take Baez and his elite, raw power at the position.

    1. Norm

      Well, when you ignore one of Lindor’s most important offensive assets it’s pretty easy to make the case for Baez.

      1. blublud

        What walks. Why would you want a guy who walks and clog the bases. ;)

        1. Jon

          If he doesn’t develop more power, I think he’s going to have a tough time sustaining that walk rate at the major league level. Pitchers are really going to attack him.

          1. blublud

            Yeah. I feel the same. That’s why I said he won`t be a .400 obp guy. Pitchers will not be scared to challenge him.

            1. DocPeterWimsey

              It doesn’t work that way. Guys with good batting eyes and poor power put up high OBP simply by not swinging at bad pitches. Pitchers will never “challenge” a guy: they’ll always be throwing for the individual batters blue zone.

              I think people get confused because you get guys like Tony Campana who had nothing but a blue zone: MLB pitchers could just blow the bat out of his hand. However, guys like Butler, Lofton, etc., had definite red zones, and even in their days, pitchers were aiming for the blue. When they missed the blue, either the batter in question made good contact or they took the pitch for a ball.

          2. Norm

            Hard to find a batting comp, but Marco Scutaro type?
            He puts up about 2.5 fWAR per year. As a below average 2B. Throw in GG SS defense and you’re looking at 4+ fWAR so long as the batting line is about 360/380

            1. Noah_I

              And at 21 Lindor has plenty of time to at least add more doubles power at the least. Being a 10 HR a year guy is not out of the question for Lindor by the time he’s in his mid-20s.

              1. bbmoney

                20* for all of 2014.

                1. Noah_I

                  Holy crap you’re right. Jeez is he young for the way he has performed at the levels he has. He’s more than a full year younger than Baez. That’s crazy.

                  1. bbmoney

                    He’s a great prospect. So is Baez. That’s what’s exciting. Two totally different types of prospect at SS that are probably viewed in near equal lights by most prospect evaluators (I mean if we’re talking about them both being in the top 10, let’s not quibble about 1 or 2 spots).

                    I’m personally glad the Cubs have Baez because I’m a sucker for offensive upside. But I can understand the argument for Lindor and his defense and approach.

                    1. Noah_I

                      I agree. This is the way I’d put it overall:

                      If I were an Indians fan, I’d be thinking to myself, “We have the player who will be our shortstop for the next ten seasons. He should win multiple gold gloves over that time period and put up better than league average OBPs against all position players over that time period.”

                      As a Cubs fan, this is what I think about Baez: “We might have a Giancarlo Stanton type bat who can play shortstop. But there’s also at least a meaningful chance that we have a third baseman with too much swing and miss in his game to make use of his power.”

                      Wholly a question of floor versus ceiling.

          3. Noah_I

            This has been looked into many times and it’s repeatedly been found that pitchers don’t have the ability to control their pitches to that extent. The ability of a player to walk or not is much more dependent on their mastery of the strike zone than a pitcher’s ability to “pound the strike zone”.

            Let me put it this way: Elvis Andrus is not a dime a dozen. Francisco Lindor’s ceiling could be Elvis Andrus with a .380 OBP instead of a .340-.350 OBP. Plus, with Lindor just turning 21, he’s got plenty of time to become a guy who hits 10 home runs a season. That’s a hugely valuable player.

            Now, if you’re ranking the big four by offensive ceiling, I’d probably go Baez, Bogaerts, Correa, Lindor (which is essentially ranking them on power potential). If you’re ranking by defensive ability at shortstop, I’d probably go Lindor, big gap, Correa, Bogaerts, Baez. If you’re ranking by floor, Lindor probably has the highest floor as well.

            I would not be at all shocked if Lindor ends up being the most valuable of any those prospects, spending a decade or more in the Majors as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game while putting up .350+ OBPs and stealing 20-30 bases a year.

            Lindor will almost certainly never be an MVP candidate (power is essentially a necessity for that), and I love Baez and his ceiling, but if you go with floor more than ceiling, Lindor has about the highest floor of any prospect in baseball.

            1. DocPeterWimsey

              The other important factor is that a young guy with good pitch recogntion and low power has a decent probability of turning into a guy with good pitch recognition AND moderate (or better) power. Part will be physical, but Lindor could also simply start swinging harder: it would increase his K’s (and also pull up his walks a little by prolong PAs due to substituting swinging strikes for balls hit into play).

              On the other hand, a young guy with poor pitch recognition and good power is going to remain a guy with poor pitch recognition later: nobody’s discovered a way to improve that tool.

    2. blublud

      Once again, I think defense is overrated. Its definitely important, don’t get me wrong. But important and overvalued is two different things. A lot of these great defensive, slap hitting SS get cycled in and out the league all the time. They are highly touted prospects, and all of a sudden out the league. If Baez can hit 35 HR at SS, hell be in the league for a long time.

      1. Spoda17

        If it was the 90s he would… its the 20-teens so if he hits 15-20 hrs with 75+ RIBs he will be in the league a long time.

      2. Noah_I

        Jon Daniels would like introduce you to a gentleman named Elvis Andrus.

        The number of shortstops in the MLB in 2013 who were worth more than 2 WAR, which is essentially the cutoff for league average regular: 11

        The number of those 11 shortstops who hit less than 10 home runs in 2013: 4

        The number of those 11 shortstops who hit more than 17 home runs: 3

        The number of those shortstops who did not, according to FanGraphs, add at least one win of value on defense: 2

        The number of those shortstops who walked in at least 10% of their plate appearances: 1

        Here’s the thing: I think the people everyone looks at for their guys for the all field/no hit shortstops are Adam Everett, Brendan Ryan and Rey Ordonez. But those guys were not anywhere near the offensive prospect that Lindor is, and all STILL had fairly lengthy MLB careers.

  7. woody

    Now that we have the ability to track pitches and to collect all of this data on catchers, I think it is time to set some standards for umpires. Sure every umpire is going to differ to some extent with the strike zone, but some of the calls I saw last year bordered on the absurd. I remember reading an article this past year that identified the worst calls of the year and if I’m not mistaken Edwin Jackson was victimized in that capacity. I think that really good catchers can identify the particular strike zone that an umpire is calling that day and exploit it if they have a pitcher capable of exercising that level of control. I would think that being among the best at blocking pitches would neutralize defects Castillo has with framing. But with a pitcher like Travis Wood it becomes a fairly significant factor. A guy that lives on the edges of the zone like he does can suffer if he doesn’t get a good percentage of those borderline calls. Maybe someday they will track the number of borderline calls made by umpires and have a scouting report and game plan to suit that umpire. In fact I am sure they probably alredy do.

    1. Harry

      there are standards, and they use the same data source we used to evaluate the umpires.

  8. CubFan Paul

    “Pitch framing is one the vogue statistical front lines right now”

    I’ve been on an island since May/June-ish of 2012 on this issue (because of Castillo’s suckiness).

  9. Lou Brown

    I would think they would know which umps are susceptible to framing. I would normally say if one of them is behind the plate, it might be a good day to give Beef a day off. However, it doesn’t seem like Kottaras is much better.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “which umps are susceptible to framing”

      The NL umps pretty much ALL suck. They’re suckers to the glove and not the strikezone.

      1. Noah_I

        There’s no such thing as NL umps anymore.

        1. CubFan Paul

          Oh, sorry. I meant the out of shape jackasses behind the plate

          1. Noah_I

            Well, yes, they are awful. If I had my way, they’d be replaced by more technologically sound means of officiating the game.

            1. CubFan Paul

              “replaced by more technologically sound means of officiating the game”

              I expect that to happen when the Umps current labor/union agreement ends.

              Instant replay is now all things except balls&strikes, I expect that to change for sure or the umps will have to take less money or something.

              1. Noah_I

                Well, I’d say that the MLB has two options that would result in a better on field product. One is to essentially do away with on field umpires, or at least completely neuter their power. So you’d still have umps, technically, but their power would be neutered. Your home plate ump would only be relaying what someone in a booth looking at Questec and video of check swings says. Your umps at the bases would make initial calls, but could be overturned at any time by the booth. Things like that.

                Your other option, if they want to retain the “human element” (as though the players being human isn’t enough of that) is to pay minor league umpires more. Minor league umpires are, and always have been, paid peanuts. A rookie ball and short season A ball umpire makes $1,900 to $2,100 per month, or essentially $8,000 over the short season if they umpire the playoffs. Full season A ball is $2,000 to $2,400 per month, or a max of $14,400 over a season lasting 6 months if I’m umpiring the playoffs. At Double A you get $2300 to $2600 a month, for a max of $15,600, and $2600 to $3500 a month at Triple A, for a max of $21,000.

                Now, once you reach full season ball at the least, these are essentially full time jobs that prevent you from having or starting an additional career.

                So let’s say I’m a young, talented college graduate. I love baseball, but don’t have the computer skills necessary to even have a shot at having a resume looked at by a front office these days. I’d love to work in the sport, though. Well, I could legitimately say that I’ll spend 3 or 4 months a year doing rookie ball and short season ball for 2 or 3 years, wait tables or do something similar for the remainder of the year, and if I’m 25 and I’m not progressing I’ll move on and go to grad school with some incredible stories, if I have the possibility of making some decent money if I make it to full season ball.

                But that possibility doesn’t exist right now, because you’re paid so little in full season ball. I have to reach the Majors before I make enough in umpiring alone to not be in poverty levels of income. I could make a very good living if I become an MLB umpire ($84,000 to $300,000 a year), but that’s years and years away, and I just can’t wait that long to make ANY money.

                If minor league umpires were paid $40,000 a year in A Ball, $50,000 per year in Double A, and $60,000 per year Triple A, your talent pool of umpires would increase greatly.

                But that would be significantly more expensive than just switching everything to technology based umpiring, and still not as accurate as technology based umpiring.

                1. hansman

                  You realize that you just described the path for 99% of all prospects in the minor leagues, right?

                  1. Noah_I

                    There’s a significant difference between being a professional ballplayer and an umpire, which is evidenced by the difference in talent in professional ballplayers (a massive proportion of the most talented baseball players in the western hemisphere are playing professional baseball in the United Stated) and umpires, many of whom just aren’t that good at their jobs at even the highest levels.

  10. Isaac

    As a long time umpire, I find this stat and line of thinking utterly ridiculous. legitimate umpires make up their mind well before the ball hits the mitt. The only way pitch framing affects us is the mild annoyance (usually at lower levels) of an unskilled catcher making strikes look like balls (diving, dropping the ball, glove dropping). The idea that a Major League catcher could cost a team two wins by poor framing is laughable.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “legitimate umpires make up their mind well before the ball hits the mitt”

      This is false (by a mile). The naked eye can tell you that umps are looking at the mitt and not the strikezone for calls. Now there’s some data to go along with it.

      1. Isaac

        Ever umpired? You are basing your statement on a belief, and mine is based on experience. The reception of the ball *should* have no effect on the call. Do certain umpires get influenced, perhaps…but they should not. I genuinely believe this is by FAR the most over-emphasized progressive stat.

        1. CubFan Paul

          “Ever umpired?”

          Nope. Doesn’t matter.

          “You are basing your statement on a belief”

          No, i’m not. My opinion is based on HUNDREDS of hours of video evidence.

          “The reception of the ball *should* have no effect…but they should not”

          Add another should, why don’t you.

    2. Jason P

      “Legitimate umpires make up their mind well before the ball hits the mitt”… Research has shown that is false. I don’t like it either that pitch framing is a skill that catchers have to possess, but until we start calling balls and strikes automatically, it is what it is.

    3. hansman

      Fangraphs has a WHOLE LOT of articles and gifs that show how a poor receiving job can grossly impact the call.

      It’s not a matter of an ump actively deciding based on how the catcher receives the ball but the brain will always look for supporting evidence to what it saw. If the ball possibly looked like a strike and the catcher handled it well, the brain will believe it saw a strike.

      If the ball possibly looked like a ball and the catcher acted like the pitcher threw him a hand grenade 10′ from where he was expecting it, the brain will believe it saw a ball.

    4. Harry

      I would suggest your timing was too fast if you were making up your mind that early.

  11. Fastball

    This is a really cool conversation. Having been a pitcher for a long time I was extremely critical of who my catcher was for this very reason. I also know that pitches getting called strikes that are off the black is based on reputation of the pitcher and some longevity of making those pitches over time. By this I mean.. if my catcher sets up to receive the pitch 3 inches outside and I hit his glove all the time and the umpire knows I am gonna hit his glove everytime. That pitch is a strike regardless of whether its over the plate or not. That’s how Gregg Maddux and Tom Glavine made a living as pitchers. I can tell you that when a pitcher misses his target badly even if the pitch ends up in the strike zone its not getting called a strike. Example catcher is set up inside corner and the pitcher throws the ball outer third and perfectly the in the strike zone. He isn’t getting that call. Only time a pitcher gets that call is if has demonstrated over his career he can put the ball wherever he wants whenever he wants. Just this past season I watched this happen to Jackson many times.
    So when you have a catcher who can make a pitcher who already has excellent control look even better that’s just a huge difference maker in the course of a game. I think there ought to be a way to measure how many pitches don’t get called strikes that are strikes as well as how many a catcher gets called strikes because he can frame really well. My opinion is framing is an art and some catchers just don’t have that as a skill set in their craft as a catcher. Most of the time it’s because they have been taught how to do it at an early age. I can say that everytime I threw warmup pitches and the ump was behind the plate getting a look at me I made certain we were painting the corners to my advantage and that the ump could see I was putting the ball where I wanted. I got those calls almost always. Now there are umpires who are just assholes in my opinion and they don’t call a damn thing if its not in their pre-conceived strike zone. Then as a pitcher and catcher you have to quickly make the adjustment to where the strike zone is on that given day. A lot of pitchers don’t have good enough control to do that so catcher framing becomes critical. This leads me another topic which is hitter pitch recognition based on a given umpires strike zone. Believe me the strike zone in the rule book is not the strike zone in the mind of an umpire. They all have their own strike zone. A lot of the conversations on BN about hitters taking walks is flawed in my mind. If you had the same umpire behind home plate for every game as a hitter you would know definitively whats a strike everytime you come up to bat througout the season. Thats simply not the case at any level. So with your batters eye you recognize a pitch and where its going to be located almost instantly. You make that nano second decision to take or swing. If you could make that decision everyday because you knew the strikezone was going to be the same. You would see guys have much higher walk rates. This is one of the reasons a kid like Castro can go up to the plate and make contact with a pitch located within his bats reach. This I think is a learned reaction to never knowing what the umpires strikezone is on a daily basis. So rather than go up there and strike out which no hitter wants to do. He is going up there knowing he has to hit the ball and that he is going to swing at whatever he thinks he can handle in that nano second it takes to decide. As a pitcher once I know I got a guy like that at the plate the advantage is all mine and I’m going to make him look bad most of the time if I know how to pitch and can put the ball where ever I want.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “hitter pitch recognition based on a given umpires strike zone”

      Castro struggled with this big time last year, pretty much all year. And it eventually wore on him mentally (he visibly, constantly showed frustration at the plate to the Umps).

      I hope he’s cleared his head of it all or it’s going to be a long 2014

    2. woody

      Good job Fastball.

  12. Fastball

    Sorry to be so windy on the subject. It’s my favorite subject I suppose because I have coached pitching for a long time.

  13. Harry

    For the record, the framing #s we produce reflect a more narrow range of runs than most. That’s because we use a probalistic model, adjust for the pitcher and umpire impacts, and the changing size of the zone from count to count
    But mostly because of regression to account for the variance.
    Turns out it’s a stable skill, in the MLB population. In a week we know a lot about a catcher’s framing skills
    Now, runs. How do those add up? Well we know the value of going from one count to another. In run expectancy, so you credit the catcher with a portion of that run value saved/lost by framing a pitch more/less often than predicted.
    If it’s 90% likely to be a strike, you get 1/10th of the improvement in run value when you frame it.
    So, yes, the #s are eye popping. But when you consider a catcher my have 7000 chances to influence the call a season (full work load) and, on average, a frame is worth .133 runs (if you get full credit, as noted above you don’t) and you make 200 pitches strikes more than the league average, that really is just 1 pitch out of 35 (wow) but it adds up to 26.6 runs.
    As noted, our numbers tend to be _more_ conservative than most. And I’ve seen #s from various analysts, public and private, in and out of teams.
    Teams are paying for the skill, and they have skin in the game. So the sniff test remark, eh, not so much. I understand and like the skepticism, but this isn’t a new field of research anymore.

    1. CubFan Paul

      “I understand and like the skepticism, but this isn’t a new field of research anymore”

      I appreciate your efforts. Eventually (soon, maybe) it’ll make baseball better or players/coaching better (and that’ll be one less thing that turns my hair gray)

    2. Kyle

      I don’t necessarily think you are wrong. If the studies are out there that prove it, then they’re out there and my skepticism is irrelevant. But you have to admit, that’s a pretty big dose of counterintuitiveness to be dealing with.

      How does this square with the “no effect from game-calling” studies that Baseball Prospectus dealt with back in the day? If a catcher’s presence made that big of a difference, that study should have detected it, right?

      1. Harry

        I can’t speak to that study, but in general the answer is no. Just because you fail to detect something doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

        And skepticism on your part isn’t irrelevant. Everyone reacts this way.

        When Max Marchi first published his #s he had trouble believing them, but he continued to study and use other methods and they all converged to the same answer.

        Frankly, the most skeptical people are the analysts doing the work. Dan and I pound on this stuff and each other’s code to make sure we creating a product we believe in. I talk to other analysts to ask them how they handle various challenges.

        This is version 0.9.1 (or thereabouts) … we keep revising, studying adjusting. And we’ll continue to do so, and remain conservative in our estimates as a result.

        Also, we are not talking about game calling here. In reality, this is part of the path to studying that.

        To understand game calling you need to understand framing. And passed ball/wild pitch prevention (a skill with 1/10th the runs impact of framing). And the running game.

        Then you can get closer to quantifying game calling. Having PITCHf/x helps in all of these (except base running stuff).

  14. woody

    Remember the Bob Seger song “I’m not a number”? It’s crazy but actuarial science has been one of the top carreers for that past 5 years or so. My friend is a math teacher here in Indiana and he told me that there is a shortage of math teachers because so many have left to become actuaries. All of the statistical data mining and analysis make my head spin. I wonder just how many people are involved on a daily basis with coming up with a game plan? I’ll bet it is a lot more than most of us realize. So yes I feel like a number anymore.

  15. Diehardthefirst

    Angels Ramirez would be nice addition as backup catcher once he served 100 game suspension as history shows that contrite players make major comebacks eg Byrd

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