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Front Page: Who is the Twins Team MVP?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:04 AM
2019 has been a bit of a Hollywood season for the Minnesota Twins. After finishing 2018 with a record below .500, and losing a player who...
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VOTE NOW: Team captain nominations

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:04 AM
Surprised to discover that the Twins have not had a team captain since Harmon Killebrew. Leadership counts when a club is playing for the...
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Front Page: Twins Game Recap (9/15): Bad Defense Costs Tw...

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 02:04 AM
The Twins lost the series finale to the Indians 7-5 after taking both games of the doubleheader the day before. Leaving Cleveland with a...
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Front Page: Will Minnesota Get Raided This Off-Season?

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 12:39 AM
It can’t be argued that Minnesota is having one of their best seasons in the Target Field era. Rocco Baldelli and his coaching staff have...
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Are we done with Gibson? Once and for all

Minnesota Twins Talk Yesterday, 11:55 PM
I'm hoping this is one of last times we see Gibson. He has had one good year and every other year has been above 4 ERA. He actually broke...
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Mitch Garver’s Other Big Improvement

In a season full of pleasant surprises for the Minnesota Twins, there are perhaps none more so than the play of third-year catcher Mitch Garver. After being thrust into a bigger role than expected in 2018, thanks to Jason Castro going down with a season-ending knee injury, Garver has settled back in this season, splitting time, almost 50/50, with Castro. As a result, the Twins have been able to keep Garver fresh, and leverage him in the best way possible, to maximize his abilities. Among the 29 catchers with at least 250 plate appearances this season, Garver’s 140 wRC+ is in a distant first place. This is helped, in large part, by the 23 home runs he has belted, which is second among all MLB catchers. However, Garver’s improvement at the plate isn’t the only step forward he has taken this year, as he has improved dramatically behind the plate, as well.
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
During the offseason, and into spring training, we heard a lot about the work Twins Catching Coordinator Tanner Swanson, was putting in with Twins catchers to improve their defense behind the plate, specifically with regard to framing pitches in the strike zone. Mitch Garver was the main point of emphasis, as he was known for being a poor pitch framer as he was coming up through the minor leagues. This was apparent in his first full season in the bigs. Among the 60 qualified catchers in 2018 (who received at least six called pitches per team game), Garver ranked 58th, with a strike called rate of just 42 percent. However, Garver has made quite the improvement in 2019, as his strike called rate has jumped up to 47.7 percent, which ranks 34th, among the 59 catchers who qualify. While you still wouldn’t confuse Garver for one of the best pitch framers in the game, a jump from the bottom of the pack, all the way up to around league average, is a drastic improvement. Note, only pitches on or near the edge of the strike zone were included in this sample, as those are the ones where catcher framing is most evident.

So, what changes has Mitch Garver made to improve his pitch framing abilities so much from one season to the next? The most apparent change is with Garver’s stance behind the plate. Here are a couple of clips, comparing Garver’s stance from last year to this year.

Mitch Garver 2018

Attached Image: Jose Berrios GIF-downsized_large.gif

Mitch Garver 2019

Attached Image: Jose Berrios GIF-downsized_large (1).gif

From these clips, it is apparent that Garver has taken the new approach of going down to one knee, which allows him to get lower, as he receives the pitch. This helps Garver when he is trying to frame a low pitch, as the pitch appears to be higher to the umpire that it actually is, because Garver is catching pitches at the bottom of the strike zone at chest level, as opposed to stabbing down at the ball with his glove. That is, at least in theory, how it is supposed to work, but is this actually helping Garver better frame those lower pitches? Let’s go to the data, available on Baseball Savant, to find out.

In the diagram below, there are three charts, illustrating three different areas surrounding the strike zone. The strike zone itself is represented by the green dotted rectangle, so the three zones are made up of areas that are half in, and half out, of the strike zone.

Attached Image: Bottom of the strike zone charts.PNG

In theory, the percentage of the called strikes, on non-swings, should be equivalent to the percentage of the area of the zone that is inside of the strike zone. For reference, among pitches that were not swung at, so far in 2019, 34 percent of pitches in Zone 17 have been called a strike, 50 percent of pitches in Zone 18 have been called a strike, and 26 percent of the pitches in Zone 19 have been called a strike.

In 2018, Mitch Garver checked in well below average, as a pitch framer in each of these three zones, as he had a called strike percentage of just 28.4%, 33.7% and 15.2%, in zones 17, 18 and 19, respectively. Compared to other catchers in those zones, Garver ranked 47th in Zone 17, 59th in Zone 18, and 57th in Zone 19, among the 60 catchers who received enough pitches to qualify, in 2018. Clearly, Garver needed to improve his pitch framing abilities in the bottom part of the zone. Fast forward to 2019, and he has done exactly that. Garver’s called strike rate in Zone 17 is up to 36.8%, in Zone 18 it is up to 54.8%, and in Zone 19 it is up to 29.3%. Those percentages have Garver ranking 20th, 15th, and 21st, among the 59 qualified catchers, this season, in those three zones respectively. That is a remarkable improvement from one of the worst pitch framers at the bottom of the zone, to being well above-average after just one offseason’s worth of work. You really need to tip your cap to Garver, Tanner Swanson, and anyone else that played a part in improving his pitch framing abilities.

With the looming reality that umpires may soon be no longer calling balls and strikes in major league baseball games, pitch framing might become a moot point in the not too distant future, but for now, it is still a very important part of the game, and one that can have a lot of impact on a pitching staff’s overall numbers. As Tanner Swanson and company continue to work with Mitch Garver, we might see even more improvements in his pitch framing abilities.

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3 Comments

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diehardtwinsfan
Aug 18 2019 02:25 PM

I love pieces like this. 

    • Sconnie and tarheeltwinsfan like this
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Patrick Wozniak
Aug 18 2019 06:58 PM

This is great! Love the analysis of the called strike zone percentages.

I pray that umps stop calling balls & strikes. That will make this excellent analysis moot.:)


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