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.