Mitch Garver’s Other Big Improvement
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsDuring 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
Mitch Garver 2019
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.
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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