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The Truth About Catchers, Framing, and Deception


Twins Daily Contributor

During Saturday night’s contest against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Minnesota Twins catcher Ryan Jeffers stole a strike against Christian Walker to get Dylan Bundy a pivotal punch out. That instance sparked conversation regarding everything from robo umps to poor play. When it comes to framing, similarly to analytics, the word is used as a blanket and largely misrepresented.

 

Ryan Jeffers has been lost at the plate for most of the season. As Matt Braun recently pointed out for Twins Daily, he’s starting to find it, but one thing that has never wavered is his defense. Minnesota has placed an emphasis on receiving for some time, and to the degree that runners largely run wild on the pitching and catching tandems. It’s of the belief by the organization that generating additional strikes over the course of a game is more impactful than nabbing the occasional base stealer.

This implementation of focus has been observed in the way Jeffers himself has developed but also is noteworthy in steps forward made by otherwise poor defensive catchers such as Gary Sanchez or Mitch Garver before him. That’s why a play like the one that happened against Walker on Saturday night was such a beautiful sight.

Immediately after Tripp Gibson rung up Walker I jumped over to Baseball Savant. The electronic strike zone on the screen indicated the slider was off the plate, and so to did Statcast’s official measurement. From there, Bally Sports North did an amazing job highlighting what had just taken place. In a slow motion replay, it was evident that Jeffers had perfectly received a baseball in an effort to frame it positively for the umpire.

It’s in this type of movement that the belief as to what framing is and the accurate understanding of the principle are inconsistent. Jeffers doesn’t move the ball or manipulate his glove at all after the point of contact. What he does is generate motion prior to making connection with the baseball in a way that draws perception back to the strike zone. He is receiving the baseball in a way that he attacks the incoming object, and then presents it within an accepted frame of reference.

This instance is a perfect representation of how to play the catcher position at an elite level. Framing a pitch is not about manipulating the landing spot following a point of contact. It’s about presenting a reference point that positively impacts the pitcher and does so without looking at anything but intended to the umpire.

Saturday night’s example was evident if you were paying attention to the exact moment, but it’s hardly an outlier for someone like Jeffers. Per Statcast, Jeffers has generated the 8th most catcher framing runs in baseball. His 48.6% strike rate is also 15th among catchers, considered strong in that category as well.

For a guy who isn’t going to throw out many runners, he’s caught just three of 27 this season, excelling in an area of focus for the organization is a worthy consolation. Minnesota has to be proud of a backstop so perfectly exhibiting what they’re intending, and until there’s an electronic strike zone, it’s something the best catchers will look to hone in on.

Sometimes advancements in baseball are viewed too much through the lens of a definition and not enough from the practicality of implementation. Numbers or quantitative data are less about removing a human element than they are trying to advance how impactful those humans can be.

 


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Nice write-up, Ted.  Having not seen the game, that's a nice look at a pretty critical spot.

The inability to throw would be base stealers out will always drive me nuts.  But, seeing as that nobody runs anymore, that's not as important these days.  May as well take advantage of pitch framing while you can. 

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I fully agree he is good at what he does, as it pertains to framing.  However, I think that skill will become obsolete sooner than later, and I think it should be obsolete.  If we stick with human umps then keep on building the skill to trick umps into thinking a pitch is a strike, but when we go to robo umps, all that training and practice will go out the window as no one will care, because the computer will decide if the ball crossed in the right area. 

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Today we don't have robo umps so framing is a legit & positive quality for a catcher to evaluate them. If the catcher does a good job framing against a batter like Walker, the result is a SO. If a catcher does a bad job framing against a batter like Walker, the pitcher have to lay in a strike, the result is a HR. As I've been saying Jeffers handles our pitchers sooooo much better than Sanchez. Sanchez has improved defensively and he can hit better than Jeffers but I'd still like Jeffers have the lion's share of the  catching duties and keep him out of DHing. Let Sanchez DH and come in to catch via PHing but limit his catching.

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How do we know that Jeffers had anything to do with it being called a strike?  The box the umps get graded on is not the same as TV or MLB game day. Maybe the ump made a bad call and it had nothing to do with Jeffers framing. I’m not saying that the way catchers receive the ball doesn’t matter but when people quantify it so precisely it’s just BS. There isn’t a way to know for sure. 

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6 hours ago, bean5302 said:

Garver was just as good as Jeffers defensively. A little better at controlling the run game, about equal at passed balls/wild pitches, error rate and a little worse at pitch framing.

This narrative of Jeffers being a plus defensive catcher in the face of evidence is just so.... homerville.

How many stolen base attempts are their in a game? 

I think blocking is important but both are pretty solid at that. Jeffers is solid, at least. 

How many pitches does a catcher catch during a game?

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Latroy Hawkins commented on that play and there was some commentary as well on the game site. The umpires watch the ball and umpires make mistakes. Poor umpiring ... framing is nonsense. This is a brief summation of LaTroy's comments.

Receiving the ball in a firm quiet manner is good catching. Moving it into the strike zone and fooling umpires sounds like a sad commentary on the umpire.

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1 hour ago, Seth Stohs said:

How many stolen base attempts are their in a game? 

I think blocking is important but both are pretty solid at that. Jeffers is solid, at least. 

How many pitches does a catcher catch during a game?

I respectfully disagree with the idea he is good at blocking balls.  If they are in front of him yes but he has no lateral movement due to his stance. Anything lateral and he is poor. 

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26 minutes ago, Linus said:

I respectfully disagree with the idea he is good at blocking balls.  If they are in front of him yes but he has no lateral movement due to his stance. Anything lateral and he is poor. 

Bravo!

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34 minutes ago, tony&rodney said:

Latroy Hawkins commented on that play and there was some commentary as well on the game site. The umpires watch the ball and umpires make mistakes. Poor umpiring ... framing is nonsense. This is a brief summation of LaTroy's comments.

Receiving the ball in a firm quiet manner is good catching. Moving it into the strike zone and fooling umpires sounds like a sad commentary on the umpire.

Bravo!

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10 hours ago, Ted Schwerzler said:

Framing a pitch is not about manipulating the landing spot following a point of contact. It’s about presenting a reference point that positively impacts the pitcher and does so without looking at anything but intended to the umpire.

 

In other words, framing is about faking out the umpire into thinking that a ball is a strike or reinforcing the umpire's thinking that a strike is a strike. In either case, framing should be part of a major league catcher's skill set until the inferior system of pitch-calling currently in use in MLB is eliminated.

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2 hours ago, Seth Stohs said:

How many stolen base attempts are their in a game? 

I think blocking is important but both are pretty solid at that. Jeffers is solid, at least. 

How many pitches does a catcher catch during a game?

This article took a cheap shot at Garver, comparing him to Sanchez as a bad catcher. Jeffers' pitch framing was similar to Garver's pitch framing, Jeffers was a little better. The combination of passed balls and wild pitches was similar to Garver. The caught stealing percentage was similar to Garver.

Jeffers is not a plus defensive catcher. He's middle of the road. That's not bad or anything, but he's no leap forward over Garver when the two are behind the plate.
 

 

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First of all, no one knows that the umpire won't call the same call regardless of the catcher moving his glove. I see Jeffers move his glove so often that it just seems stupid. If you want to get the umpire to call the close one, you shouldn't move it at all. If you move it in, it means you thought, as a catcher, that it wasn't a strike and needed help. Framing is a totally subjective stat, and not really mesureable. Soon.............. 

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The entire idea of whether framing actually makes any difference whatsoever might be enlightened by a wide survey and discussion/interviews with MLB umpires. Umpires do not see the glove, they focus on the ball. From my own limited experience (100 games or so) umpiring at a Legion baseball level, the catcher moving sharply for a pitch was noticeable and a little distracting. A catcher who was "quiet" made it easier to focus on the ball. As a baseball coach, the catcher receiving the ball with minimum movement was taught and worked on daily.

When we watch a baseball game via the centerfield camera we do not get the experience of an umpire. It would be interesting to have a camera attached to the top or side of an umpire's mask. One thing I am very cognizant of is not just the speed of the ball in MLB but particularly the break on the pitches at different speeds. If an umpire is distracted in any fashion, such as lunging stabs at a ball by the catcher, the call of ball or strike could be affected. Still, the best umpires are unfazed by anything a catcher does and are solely focused on the ball in its relationship to the strike zone.

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I hate pitch framing.  It is a joke.  Jeffers great at not moving his glove?  Come on watch the game.  Making a .175 hitting catcher trying to look good defensively to prove his worth is a joke.  He is a below average defensive catcher and a much below average major league hitter.  Framing stats is so subjective.  How many pitches that could have been strikes were called balls because of poor pitch framing?  Catchers that bring in a pitch should send a clear message to umpires that the movement of the glove indicates the catcher figures it is a ball.  This the glove movement indicates same.  The umpires that fall for this gimmick should be replaced.  I've long been against robo umps calling balls and strikes.  But seeing the terrible home plate umpiring this year and the cartoonist framing or bringing back pitches has changed my mind.  Bring on the robo ump!

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29 minutes ago, tony&rodney said:

The entire idea of whether framing actually makes any difference whatsoever might be enlightened by a wide survey and discussion/interviews with MLB umpires. Umpires do not see the glove, they focus on the ball. From my own limited experience (100 games or so) umpiring at a Legion baseball level, the catcher moving sharply for a pitch was noticeable and a little distracting. A catcher who was "quiet" made it easier to focus on the ball. As a baseball coach, the catcher receiving the ball with minimum movement was taught and worked on daily.

When we watch a baseball game via the centerfield camera we do not get the experience of an umpire. It would be interesting to have a camera attached to the top or side of an umpire's mask. One thing I am very cognizant of is not just the speed of the ball in MLB but particularly the break on the pitches at different speeds. If an umpire is distracted in any fashion, such as lunging stabs at a ball by the catcher, the call of ball or strike could be affected. Still, the best umpires are unfazed by anything a catcher does and are solely focused on the ball in its relationship to the strike zone.

My experience at umpiring agrees with you.  I don't remember ever using the catcher's glove as a point of reference.  Of course, I have to also add that I don't remember why I got up so early either.

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I have to say we need the ABS system sooner rather than later. I have been an avid baseball fan since the 60's. The biggest change I've noticed in the way the Umps are calling balls and strikes in the last few years is consistency. It used to be This Ump would give a pitcher a little more outside, that Ump would give him a little more inside, another Ump may call a high strike, but it would remain the same through the entire game for all the pitchers. Now it seems they start one way and a couple innings later they change to another, and this hitter gets the call or that pitcher gets the call. The blown calls are so common and seem to me to be getting more and more flagrant as time goes on that the ABS will be good for the game, something I never thought I would say a few years a go.

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49 minutes ago, Karbo said:

I have to say we need the ABS system sooner rather than later. I have been an avid baseball fan since the 60's. The biggest change I've noticed in the way the Umps are calling balls and strikes in the last few years is consistency. It used to be This Ump would give a pitcher a little more outside, that Ump would give him a little more inside, another Ump may call a high strike, but it would remain the same through the entire game for all the pitchers. Now it seems they start one way and a couple innings later they change to another, and this hitter gets the call or that pitcher gets the call. The blown calls are so common and seem to me to be getting more and more flagrant as time goes on that the ABS will be good for the game, something I never thought I would say a few years a go.

I prefer the human element but also wonder if a change may be best. Just from watching games it seems like some hitters are more affected than others by a poor call. Luis Arraez gets a poor call go against him and he seems to immediately adjust and accept the call; it doesn't take him out of his game. Celestino has had some bad calls go against him and then changed his approach, which seems like it left him dissatisfied and taking the at bat back to the dugout. Miguel Sano seemed like he had more bad calls than anyone else and subsequently he would go fishing, expanding his zone more than he likely would have otherwise. Of course, these are just my perceptions and every individual would react in their own fashion. I haven't watched any baseball with the automatic calls, so I have no idea how well that works. 

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We might all be able to agree (am I serious?) that when a catcher sticks his leg out to the side to get low, it has a negative effect on how well he blocks pitches and how well he can throw runners out. I believe going low is thought to improve a catchers ability to get the low strike and even more important for big catchers like Jeffers. It then follows that the organization must, as the article states, place a priority on framing since all their catchers stick their leg out. Ok I guess. I don't like watching a team run at will on my team.

 

If robo umps are instituted I'll bet the leg will promptly be moved in and we'll get to see how well Jeffer's can perform from the traditional catcher's squat. It may be that larger catchers like Jeffers are slowed the most in the run game by the framing stance. 

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It's nearly impossible to do everything well, there are tradeoffs. If you want to frame the low strike you will not be as good at blocking or throwing out baserunners.

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Catcher framing is a real stat. There's a lot of noise in it so it takes a pretty large sample size for it to be reliable (like seemingly a lot of defensive stats), but it's based on solid principles and value. It's also fairly repeatable meaning catchers who are good framers continue to be good framers for the most part.

The value of balls and strikes is obvious. Here is the median OPS for batters in fangraphs' splits tool this year through the first two pitches.
1-0 = .811
0-1 = .610

1-1 = .647
0-2 = .463
2-0 = .945

The value of the strike or ball can be quantified in terms of the likelihood runs are produced. It's boring, meticulous spreadsheet and database work, but the principles behind determining how much a stolen strike or accidental ball call is solid.

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4 minutes ago, DJL44 said:

It's nearly impossible to do everything well, there are tradeoffs. If you want to frame the low strike you will not be as good at blocking or throwing out baserunners.

I feel like that may depend on the height of the catcher. A shorter catcher won't have to lower their stance to get the lower zone calls and a tall catcher won't have as much difficulty framing the high strike. At least that's what I saw when I looked at Mauer and other catchers years ago.

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4 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

the principles behind determining how much a stolen strike or accidental ball call is solid.

Except that they directly contradict (some would say invalidate) xFIP.

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