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cubs catcherRuh roh.

Although we’re just a handful of games into the season, we’re already seeing one of our preseason fears realized. The fear? That Welington Castillo is among the worst pitch-framers in baseball, which could be costing the Cubs runs in ways that aren’t easy to see over the course of a game. Back-up catcher John Baker is believed to be a neutral framer, so the fear was pretty much tied to Castillo, even if we were looking at overall team performance.

We know that pitch-framing was one of the big things that Castillo – who is otherwise pretty great defensively – worked on this offseason, but, so far, the early returns are bad. Like, worst in baseball bad, according to FanGraphs. As of yesterday, over 614 pitches, the Cubs have logged 19 fewer strikes than they should have, based on the number of strikes you would have expected to have been called given the pitch location.

It takes about seven strikes in one direction or the other to add up to a run, so the Cubs have arguably lost nearly three additional runs this year because of poor framing. With three of the Cubs’ five losses so far being of the one-run variety, you don’t need me to tell you the potential impact of these lost runs.

Anecdotally, poor framing results thus far sounds about right. There’s so much to like about Castillo, but, watching him so far this year, and he still seems very stabby when receiving pitches that aren’t right in his wheelhouse. There’s no reason to believe Castillo can’t improve as the season goes on, and, to be sure, even the statistical sample is still very small, relatively speaking. I’m sure the Cubs are aware, and they’re working on it. Pitch-framing, by its very nature, is more art than science, even as we come up with new ways to quantify it.

For now, though, this is one preseason fear that is, so far, justifying itself, and it’s something we’ll track all season long. Read up on what this is all about in the FanGraphs piece. The following charts from the article should entice you to give it a look (and to be sad, if you see all of the blue inside the Cubs’ box, and all the red outside the Yankees’ box):

  • BenW

    Which makes the fact our pitching has been generally awesome even more incredible.

  • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

    One thing I’ve always wondered about pitch framing data is how does it factor in the umpires?? Obviously, the zone fluctuates among umpires, with some being more generous than others, so can we just expect that there is enough randomness over the course of a season for it to be considered statistically insignificant? Just thinking through my keyboard

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That’s what folks used to think. But now that we can study where pitches go, what they are called, and which catcher/pitcher combo was involved, we can see that some catchers get way more strike calls than other catchers. There has to be a reason.

      • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

        O ya I definitely buy in that certain catchers get more called strikes, it’s pretty clear when the same guys year after year are at the top of the leaderboard in extra strikes. I guess I would just be interested in knowing the process of how they calculate this kind of thing, it’s very interesting and is obviously very important

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I think we’re about to enter a really enormous wave of interest in framing – I don’t think folks really realized how potentially important it was (in terms of run prevention) until this year.*

          *Well, outside observers anyway. Hopefully smart teams have known this for a long time. But maybe not.

          • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

            Well, we are finally getting actual data behind pitch framing. PITCH F/X helps a lot.

            I am eagerly awaiting what smart folks do with the FIELD F/X data.

            • MattM

              It was bad enough yesterday that the Pirates broadcasters (Bob Wall/Walk can’t remember) actually mention one ball that should easily have been a strike on the inside part of the plate. Castillo caught it and his glove when way down out of the strike zone.

              Some of the ways in which he catches the ball really make no sense….

              • Fishin Phil

                That would be Bob Walk. Used to pitch for the Pirates back in the day. Always that was about the worst name possible for a pitcher.

                • WGNstatic

                  I’d say Homer Bailey is worse. ;)

                  • dsgn1

                    then there’s Grant Balfour

          • JasonP

            Has much thought been given to whether or not the pitchers are pitching to the umpire’s strikezone? If Castillo just happens to be catching for pitchers that don’t work those edges that happen to be extended by that umpire, then that could account for the horrible numbers. Dioner Navarro’s averageness tends to not support that, but if I remember right he was catching pretty regularly for Travis Wood. So if Wood is good at picking the right corner to work, then that could explain why Navarro was doing better. I’m not saying that this is certainly the case, but there are a lot of assumptions that have to be made about defining the process of pitch framing to gain or lose strikes. All of those assumptions need to be vetted if we’re going to take the pitch framing statistics as being very informative

            I think this early it’s hard to take much stock in these numbers, as the umpire could be having a huge effect on this and the n for umpire’s is very small. Over the season that should even out though.

      • Funn Dave

        Yes, it does correlate to the catcher, but the ump must have a role as well. For instance, maybe the umps that call AL East games are more generous than those that call NL Central games. That wouldn’t mean we should ignore the Fangraphs article, but it is another variable to think about.

        • JacqueJones

          compare the pirates to the cubs though. Same umps in 5 out of 8 games, but the pirates are getting way more strikes than us

          • E

            Maybe the umps give successful teams benefit of the doubt?

            • Edwin

              If that was the case, we’d expect to see catchers who play for successful teams consistently end up getting more strike calls. That’s not what we are seeing though. The Yankees lead the league in “pitch framing”, but are 4-5 to start the season. The Dodgers are 6-4, but are close to last.

          • Funn Dave

            Good point.

    • Rebuilding

      There definitely could be some fluctuation early in the season due to the identity of umpires, but once you get about 10 games in it becomes statistically insignificant.

      This is a big issue moving forward and by all indications the FO is keenly aware of it (Baker over Kottaras). A good example of how much it really hurts was Jackson’s start the other night. He started off a little wild, but in the McCutcheon at-bat he had two obvious strikes that were called balls because of Castillo stabbing at the baseball low in the zone. Now an out wasn’t guaranteed, but the eventual walk likely cost the Cubs 2 runs in that inning

      • WGNstatic

        I am not sure that 10 games in is anywhere near enough to have averaged things out across the league. If there are particular umps that have particularly big strike zones, those umps will only have 2 or 3 games behind the plate at this point in the season. I’d say that is hardly enough to have averaged out league wide.

        I am not minimizing the importance of this issue, or burying my head in the sand on Castillo here.

    • JacqueJones

      Also consider that the pirates and Cubs have had the same umpires for 5 out of 8 games aand the pirates are +7 strikes and Cubs are -19 strikes. this is indeed a problem.

  • E

    This particular subset of data is not one I’ve ever really bought into. There is no evidence that umpires even look at, or care where the catcher’s mitt is once the ball is caught.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      Then why do certain catchers consistently do well or poor in getting extra strikes called?

      • E

        But aren’t you assuming that the glove is what the umpire is basing the call on? Couldn’t we also say that catchers who consistently have a good attitude with the home plate umpire get more strikes called? This is an exercise in false correlation.

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          The discussion around pitch framing doesn’t just boil down to where the mitt is. Many times the ump can’t see the mitt and most of the time the ump has a terrible perspective as to where the mitt is in relation to the strike zone.

          If the umpire were using the mitt location as a determinant factor in calling the pitch, we would see a lot of low strikes called as balls and high balls called as strikes. That isn’t happening.

          It certainly is possible that Castillo isn’t as adept at creating a positive rapport with the home plate umpire but Brian McCann/Yadier Molina/Jonathon Lucroy are. And that the best catchers in baseball are able to build this rapport with a significantly higher percentage of umpires than Castillo.

          It is possible that through 7 games this year, the Cubs and Pirates have played each other in more than half of their games and had a dramatic split in called strikes for that reason.

          Over that season a catcher will probably have 40-50 different umpires behind the plate. Either Castillo has such a bad personallity that he can’t get along with a respectable number of those umpires while other guys are really good at it or, the relationship isn’t a significant factor or is a factor that will cancel itself out. With that large of a population, you should have a wide range (at least wide in terms of the personallity types that could hack it as an MLB umpire) of personallities.

          They have also looked at pitcher performances with Catcher A vs. Catcher B and found that the same pitcher can have changes in their performance based on who is behind the plate.

          We aren’t talking about one-off scenarios or anything. This is all information that is being reviewed and tested across A LOT of pitches.

          • E

            Thanks for your reply. Very well put. I’m going to give it some more thought.

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              Even with that said, the science of determining the value of pitch framing is in it’s infancy.

              More studies will be done and the metrics will be continuously revised.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      There is no evidence … except for all of the evidence?

      The charts like the ones above exists for catchers throughout baseball, too – and, over periods of years and years, guys like Jonathan Lucroy and Yadier Molina consistently get more non-strikes called as strikes for them than other catchers. That’s pretty strong evidence.

      • E

        “Catcher A gets more non strikes called so it must be that he’s better at pitch framing than Catcher B.”

        What is missing is the evidence that umpires consider mitt location to begin with.

        • Edwin

          it’s a conclusion inferred from the data. Maybe it’s not mitt location exactly, but at the very least it seems that catchers can have a positive or negative influence in getting borderline calls.

          • E

            I guess my point is, you can’t infer that from the data without making one pretty big assumption.

            I do agree that the catcher does SEEM to have an influence on the calls, but there isn’t any evidence to suggest its pitch framing. It could be the ballpark lighting, the fans, the temperature, the specific umpire, it could be the relationship between the umpire and the catcher. Any number of things really.

            • CubFan Paul

              “the catcher does SEEM to have an influence on the calls, but there isn’t any evidence to suggest its pitch framing”

              Do you not watch Cubs games?

            • roz

              Over a large enough sample size, all of those other factors should eventually cancel out, leaving the catcher as the sole remaining factor. You’re right, it is an inference, but I don’t think it’s as big of an inference as you do.

              • roz

                Although I suppose it’s possible that every umpire in the league tends to give an actual team better calls. Of course, you could then look at the data for all of the catchers that have played for that team in the time frame, and if their strike zone charts are significantly different from each other, that pretty much nullifies that theory.

            • Edwin

              If was just simply things like temperature, fans, ballpark lighting, individual umpires, all of those things should basically even out over a large enough sample size. A cathcer like Lucroy is going to play in all kinds of weather, lighting, different fans, temperatures, and for different umpires. And many other catchers are going to play under similar situations. If the relationship was purely variable, then you’d expect performance to vary widely from one season to the next.

              The fact that year after year certain catchers are at the top and certain catches are always towards the bottom indicates that this is a repeatable skill, and not simply due to things like ballpark lighting, temperature, or the others you mentioned.

              • E

                I’d like to see this broken down umpire by umpire. They are the variable, not the catcher.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  Those are two entirely different studies.

                • Spoda17

                  I agree with E on this one… I am trying to give it some credibility, but I just can’t. There are too many factors that have nothing to do with the catcher.

                  • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

                    And all of those factors are proven statistically insignificant over the course of a season. There is a reason that the same guys are at the top of the leaderboard for extra strikes year after year, and it’s not luck

                  • E

                    Yeah until I see more data on this, I’m thinking this is just an answer to a question that isn’t being asked.

            • Picklenose

              Or, you conclude that pitch framing may include some aspects of the catcher’s interaction with the umpires and how the catcher appears as he catches the ball – not just the rigid definition of the position of his mitt.
              All the perception literature suggests that humans perceive and process more information than we consciously acknowledge. It is more likely that the umpires subconsciously clue in on little movements that catchers make on borderline pitches rather than actually looking at final mitt placement. So a catcher moving the mitt down and back up slightly might indicate a borderline pitch is low when the catcher is simply trying to make the final position look more like a strike.

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              Eh, there is A LOT of data that spans just about any possible variable that could influence it.

              The article above isn’t just using this year’s data to make a conclusion. Pitch F/X has been around for about 5 years. That is A LOT of data points.

        • JacqueJones

          Russell Martin has had many of the exact same umps as Welington Castillo and has gotten 26 more strikes that would be balls for Castillo. This is probably not a coincidence.

          • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

            This.

  • ari gold

    so 3 additional runs is about -0.5 WAR? Given that pitch framing is fairly new, I wonder how many of the GM’s value this type of data? If Castillo is really that bad at pitch framing, does it make sense to trade him? I have no idea but throwing it out for a discussion topic.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You can’t quite do runs and WAR like that along the same plane, but 10 runs are about one win.

  • Eternal Pessimist

    I would bet the yankees pitcher is better at framing…I would also bet the yankees get more calls because they are the Yankees. Time to turn balls/strikes over to the robots.

    • Rebuilding

      McCann has been shown to be an excellent pitch framer over many seasons

      • Eternal Pessimist

        …but he pitched for ‘merica’s team’ and may have been gifted some calls from Atlanta and NYY umpires (in addition to his good framing calls)

  • JulioZuleta

    The lack of low strikes is most telling. He makes borderline-low pitches look way low. Also, this might be a stupid question but, are these ALL strikes, or just taken-strikes. I would have thought taken-strikes, but the outside strikes on both charts make me think they might be swinging as well…or umps are very generous on the corners.

    • JulioZuleta

      It has to be taken-strikes, but man, umps have wide corners.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        It is. That was a great question.

        The wide corners happen because the ump chooses one shoulder to sit overtop, and it looks like they’re generous with that other corner. Something to keep in mind for pitchers and catchers.

  • ssckelley

    I am wondering exactly where did Castillo cost the Cubs 3 runs. It disturbs me that major league umpires are watching the catchers glove to determine strikes instead of where the ball is as it crosses the plate. I would think this data would make a difference in the umpire along with the type of pitchers the Cubs have, power pitchers or control pitchers. To me it would seem the more power pitchers you have who are trying to get batters out with strikes are more impacted by this than control pitchers who are trying to make hitters make bad contact.

    I would like to see Castillo create a better target though, it seems like his gloves moves around a lot when the pitch is being delivered. That alone could dramatically improve the pitch framing flaws.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I don’t think it’s a conscious thing by the umpires – “oh wait, I thought that was a strike, but his glove is now outside the zone, so I’ll call ball.”

      It’s just that it happens so fast, and it all kind of blends together into what the umpire “saw.”

      • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

        I’m guessing it’s this.

        The umpire is trying to determine if a tiny white object travels through an imaginary box after seeing it travel at 132 feet per second. The ball travels the 60′ in about half a second and is crossing the plate in fractions of a fraction of a second.

        A baseball is roughly 3″ in diameter. Assuming that, at the plate, it is travelling at 80 MPH, that means the entire baseball crosses the front of the plate in not quite 2 thousandths of a second.

        Now, tell me that anyone, EVER is going to be able to accurately gauge what happens in those 2 thousandths of a second and not let outside information influence their decision.

        • ssckelley

          Then automate the calls. They have the technology to do it. About the only reason you need someone behind the plate is if the ball makes contact with anything.

          • TWC

            I would gladly trade this silly in-field replay nonsense for an automated ball/strike system. Keep the ump behind the plate for fair/foul, balks, plays at the plate, etc., but stop allowing them to call balls & strikes.

            I’d much rather have an ump blow a play at 1st than deal with an arbitrary strike zone all game long.

          • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

            Ya. After doing that exercise I came around on automating balls/strikes. Hell, umps routinely blow the easy calls. An extra $.75 a ball and another $60,000 for the technology in each stadium. Relays in the umps mask to tell him B/S.

    • Rebuilding

      I will add to that. Have you ever sat behind a catcher where a guy is throwing 90-95 or has a big breaking curve/slider? The human eye just isn’t equipped to process exactly where the ball is when it crosses the plate (that’s why guys who can do it get paid millions of dollars and don’t become umpires). To some degree umpires are given an impossible job once you get to the MLB. Guys are throwing so hard and the ball is darting around so much that they just have to do the best they can – which someone equates to the ball hit right where the mitt was positioned so it’s a strike

    • Edwin

      Actually, some initial studies have shown that control pitchers, or pitchers who are most able to hit that zone directly out of the strike zone, benefit the most from good pitch framing. Which makes sense, if you think about it.

  • Darth Ivy

    Ricketts is about to go on CNBC. I think he’ll be talking about funding the renovation / selling interest in the team

    • Darth Ivy

      I’ll link to the video when it’s posted on cnbc.com later today

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Thanks, and yes please.

  • itzscott

    >> over 614 pitches, the Cubs have logged 19 fewer strikes than they should have <<

    How do we know if this is a result of pitch framing and not a bad call by the home plate umpire?

    • Rebuilding

      Because bad calls happen to every team and over the course of thousands of pitches they even out statistically.

      • itzscott

        True.

        But if we knew on average what percent of pitches umpires get wrong, can we then not determine how many of those 614 pitches were likely to be umpire error?

      • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

        This. We may have some issue with bias from umpiring crews this early; however, based on the article, it appears that pitch framing normalizes earlier than most stats.

  • Action

    I am a math and statistics guy and I don’t really see this as good data…………..reason being as there are too many variables in this “experiment”. unless the same umpire was used for each team for the same amount of pitches then it is hard to say this “data” is accurate. Some umpires might squeeze the strike zone or open up the strike zone based on personal preference (though he shouldn’t) ie: who is at bat, who is pitching, what player or manager or team the umpire argued with two innings ago. There is just too many variables to say this data is accurate. The umpires call balls and strikes NOT a catcher, The better data would be what umpires missed balls and strikes while they were behind the plate not whether or not a catcher framed a ball that was already a strike to begin with.

    • Edwin

      We’re talking about fairly large samples, though. Things like favorable/unfavorable umpires and those other random variables should wash out in a large enough sample.

    • itzscott

      +1

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      If you are a math and stats guy, I’m guessing you didn’t read the article. The author gives the r values of pitch framing and many other stats at this point in the season.

    • JulioZuleta

      It’s definitely a little early in the season to draw strong conclusions off this data, but it’s mostly troubling because it puts real data to what most already suspected was the case.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      “The umpires call balls and strikes NOT a catcher”

      And why is it that certain catchers are consistently (even this early in the year) at the top of the list and other catchers are consistently at the bottom of the list.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That’s like saying we can’t determine how good of a hitter Anthony Rizzo is unless he’s facing the same pitcher in the same ballpark the whole season.

      • E

        But what you’re doing is basically examining how well Rizzo hits curveballs without considering who’s throwing them. No two umpires are alike just like no two pitchers are alike. Far too many variables to settle in and say that pitch framing is a real thing that is considered by umpires. I’d love to be proven wrong on this-just because I think my boy Castillo gets a bad rap for no reason.

        • CubFan Paul

          “I think my boy Castillo gets a bad rap for no reason.”

          This answers my earlier question.

        • Edwin

          That’s what regression analysis is for. On a large enough sample size, they can control for variables, and test to see if any correlations form.

    • The Nefi Perez Plan

      These things all normalize over the course of a season. Things never happen in a vacuum and in your case the only data that would be valuable in life would have to come from controlled lab tests.

      That said there is a pitcher reputation bias and my guess is that the Tigers catchers look statistically better than they are because Verlander and Scherzer are more likely to get their pitches just off the plate called favorably, just as the Braves catchers in the Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz times would have looked better than they actually were at framing.

  • cubsluver22

    Good morning all, it has always been my opinion that Castillo’s problem is…. He doesn’t like to move his glove wrist. When he should be turning his glove over and receiving a low ball he likes to crouch even more and receive it over the top. Same way with outside pitches. He doesn’t seem to like to backhand balls either opting instead To move his entire body to receive it normally. Majority of the time he can get by with it but on those close or “frame eligible” pitches he so used to getting his body squared up to receive the pitch normally that he doesn’t look natural. I guess I would call it a herky jerky type path to receiving the ball.

    I think it can be fixed over time and I do think it’s getting better as time passes. Hope that all makes sense.

    • Ron

      Pitch framing. This is the best response yet. The umpire “usually” cannot see the catcher’s glove position. It is all about the movement of your shoulders, head and back. An awkward catch is “felt” by the umpire and therefore the must not be where it was intended and is a ball. …..Now I have not watched many games this year but….it appears the Cubs as a whole have been getting squeezed and it is not Castillo’s fault. Some of the games have been brutal.

  • CubChymyst

    I read through the article the other day, and the other factor is pitchers. If a pitchers control is poor, and the catcher doesn’t know where the pitch is going then he will look more stabby because he will be more stabby at the ball. The bad control from a few pitchers this year is probably part of the factor.

    • 1060Ivy

      Agreed that pitcher and specifically the pitcher’s reputation have determining factor in called balls and strikes.

      Wellington may not be good at framing but Cubs starters and bullpen reputations factor into calls.

      Following article refers to a recent study identified by a couple associate business school professors of over 700,000 pitches during 2008 and 2009 seasons found MLB umpires called balls and strikes were in error 14% of time.

      The findings were based on MLB cameras that are also used to evaluate umpire performance.

      A few tidbits were mentioned including reviewing effects of pitcher’s: race, reputation, All Star credentials and specific situation such as 3-0 or 3-2 counts and 9th inning.

      http://mobile.nytime….html?referrer=

  • itzscott

    Another thing could be the bias factor of an umpire(s)…. like “Eh, it’s the Cubs. They always lose, are expected to lose so my calls don’t have to be as perfect as they would with the Yankees who are expected to win”

    At the end of the season it will be interesting to see which teams get the most out/safe calls overturned. I’m guessing that the worst teams get more calls overturned simply because bad teams possibly get more bad calls than good teams due to umpire bias.

    • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

      Please tell me the first part of that is a joke

  • cubsluver22

    Every now and again I prompt myself to have a glance at the following seasons FA list. I did and cringed again. Looks like Russell Martin leads the pack for next years class and he’s in the top 3rd on that list.

    **sidenote*** even if we do have money to go get a FA, man that List is ugly.

  • candyland07

    “””potential impact of these lost runs.”””””
    Although I do agree that Castillo should perform better in the pitch frame . One can only look at Cubs 3/4/5 hitters . Those players will win or lose games in a tight game. In the last two games the Cubs hitters have improve greatly thus winning – Castillo pitch frame is about the same I would presume.

    After 9 games the Cubs have improved to :
    245/314/362/676 with a MLB ranking of 17/19/24/23

    When the Cubs win its because of the 3/4/5 hitters and lets not use Castillo as a scapegoat or a distraction of the Cubs failure early failures.

  • Eternal Pessimist

    “When the Cubs win its because of the 3/4/5 hitters and lets not use Castillo as a scapegoat or a distraction of the Cubs failure early failures.”

    Recognizing variables that affect performance and ultimately runs scored =/ scapegoating. No one said Castillo was 100% responsible for the Cubs slow start (or even 2% for that matter).

    • Eternal Pessimist

      Supposed to be at Candyland.

  • Isaac

    Non-story.

    • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

      Castillo was bottom 3 in the MLB last year in pitch framing, and is worst in the majors early on this year, explain how this is a non-story?

      • Isaac

        Because an umpires zone has far far more to do with other factors, such as pitcher partiality, reputation, etc than it does with how a catcher catches a ball. I’ve said it 100x on here, umpires decisions are made on a pitch well before it hits the mitt. They often don’t even notice how it’s caught. The pitch framing bonanza is an example of advanced statistics (and I am an advance metrics freak) getting out of control. Umpires laugh at it.

        • Edwin

          If that’s the case, why do certain catchers like Lucroy, Molina, and others rank at the top of the league each year in extra strikes, while other catchers rank at the bottom each year?

          • Isaac

            Well, for one, reputation plays a huge part. Both on the pitchers and catchers part. I for one am a huge advocate of automated balls/strikes (and I am a long time umpire). Yes, I realize that would cost me a job.

            FCT – I get that, but I’ve argued this a bunch on here and didn’t have the patience today.

            CFP – excellent rebuttal.

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Based on your thinking, I’m not sure I can see how catcher reputation factors into where the picture throws the ball in the mind of the umpire … unless he’s already predisposed to calling balls and strikes on something other than where the pitch actually entered the zone.*

              *For example… pitch framing.

              • Isaac

                I just find that MLB umpires are incredibly predisposed to favoring “reputable” players (much like the NBA clearly favors stars).

                Why did Maddux/Glavine consistently get calls 2-4″ outside? Predisposition. (This is also why a favor a machine called balls/strikes).

                Consider for Molina, he had regularly caught outstanding staffs with excellent control. Could it be that this has aided him in getting 1-2″ more than the average catcher? I think the Braves analogy makes that a viable question.

                No offense to the Cubs staff, but it hasn’t exactly had a bunch of command kings in Welly’s tenure.

            • Edwin

              Thing is, if it was tied to pitcher reputation, you’d expect to find catchers who catch the same pitchers to have similar ball/strike results. They don’t.

        • CubFan Paul

          “umpires decisions are made on a pitch well before it hits the mitt.”

          False.

          • E

            You’ve obviously never umpired.

            • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

              If you are deciding *well* before it hits the mitt, then you are also deciding before the ball crosses the plate. There just isn’t enough time for the human brain to fully decide between the moment the ball crosses the plate and the time the ball hits the mitt.

              I’ll give you that on many of the obvious calls, the umpire’s brain will decide probably sometime after the batter decides to swing/not swing.

              • CubFan Paul

                “There just isn’t enough time for the human brain to fully decide between the moment the ball crosses the plate and the time the ball hits the mitt.”

                True.

        • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

          You couldn’t start with that? While I disagree with you, it would have been much more impactful if you would have explained yourself first.

          Pitch framing isn’t all about how a catcher catches a pitch. It is about body position first and foremost, which happens before a pitch is caught. There are reasons that the same players show up year after year at the top of the list, and it’s not because the umpires like them better.

          • CubFan Paul

            “It is about body position first and foremost”

            People that are dismissing this or need more data, just don’t know what pitch framing is.

            • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

              Agree Paul, if we had half a year of data, then sure, ask for more, but when we have years of data that all produce the same results, there is obviously something there.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t hang your hat on the “umpires laugh at it” part. Surely you can see why they would have an interest in poo-poo’ing this kind of data.

          • Isaac

            That’s fair, but consider that I am an umpire, I laugh at it, and I ALSO support automated balls/strikes. I’ll simply rest on “those that don’t umpire don’t have a clue.” It’s totally and utterly different than the average fan may think it is.

        • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

          “Because an umpires zone has far far more to do with other factors, such as pitcher partiality, reputation, etc than it does with how a catcher catches a ball. ”

          Did you actually look at the list? There are teams with awesome pitchers, at the bottom and teams with not-awesome pitchers at the top and vice-versa.

          Even if MLB Umps factor in the guy standing 60′ away, what happens on calls that are on the grey area of their expanded zone?

          You are arguing that all of these random, non-pitch related factors play into the call but the way the catcher handles the pitch is not one of those factors.

          It’s like asking an addict why they are addicted to something and they give you a hundred reasons relating to everything other than the fact they enjoy using what they are addicted to. Then when folks tell him “Hey, I bet it is that you enjoy using that item”, he scoffs at the idea.

          You’ve missed the part where they have looked at pitchers with Catcher A vs. Catcher B and they have found differences in the results of those scenarios.

          • Isaac

            No no no, I am arguing that the catcher is just one small part of the variance, and the insinuation that Welly’s ability to catch the ball has already cost us a game is absolutely ludicrous.

            • CubFan Paul

              “and the insinuation that Welly’s ability to catch the ball has already cost us a game is absolutely ludicrous”

              You didn’t see Welly catch EJax the other day obviously…

    • TWC

      Very insightful.

  • Hee Seop Chode

    Let’s all be honest, unless there are quant guys here that I’ve been missing we’re all spitballing. I agree with E here. Based upon the fangraphs article, we know:

    A) There is a variance in strike zones amongst teams
    B) The variance is material and signifigant

    There’s a ton here we don’t know, that I’d love to dig into. I wonder how much pitcher’s reputation plays into called strikes. Think Greg Maddux in the 90s. The Yankees have more established veterain pitchers than the Cubs – this could explain all of the variance. Also, ballpark and umpires almost certainly play a roll here. A meaningful stat for catchers should take out these variances (ump, ballpark, and to the extent possible pitcher). I wish I knew how to run these figures, because I’d create xFrame. One easy number that could plug into WAR calculations.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      “The Yankees have more established veterain pitchers than the Cubs – this could explain all of the variance.”

      Then why are the Dodgers, Phillies, Nationals, Giants and Tigers all below average?

      • Hee Seop Chode

        Great question. Maybe due to umpires. Maybe due to ballparks. Maybe who they played early in the season. I’d love to understand it better.

  • blublud

    I think this whole pitch framing thing has some credibility, but not as much as people give it. I also thing, like Hansman discussed earlier, that reputation, not personality, has a lot to do with it. Molina and castillo have reputations, and as a referee in football and basketball, I will admit reputation has a lot to do with calls. If a play is 50/50, and I can’t make a determination off what I see, then unfortunately with a second at the most to decide, I have no choice but to lean towards reputation. That goes from a block/charge in basket to a late hit in football. From deciding when whether to call a tech to whether to throw a flag for personal foul. I think reputation has a big influence in this game.

    I also think the one game where that official called about 50 strikes balls, 50 balls strikes had something to do with it. :-D

  • LEO L

    do we hope balls and strikes are called by a computer in the future? Or do we hope it stays the same (an art/skill set of catchers) and hope the cubs get better at it? Do we hope umpires get better too?

  • Bull Durham

    One interesting point worth noting is that it appears that it’s less that Cubs catchers are worse at getting balls called strikes, and more that pitches in the zone are being called balls. So rather than Castillo getting better at smoothly catching low pitches, he really needs to focus on improving his receiving skills of actual strikes.

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