Not so fast, Matthew Lucroy!
About a year ago, I was at the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix and got to talking about pitch-framing with Dave Cameron. While we agreed that pitch-framing’s important and does deserve a place in any serious analysis, Dave told me FanGraphs wasn’t going to include pitch-framing in FanGraphs’ WAR for catchers (and he later wrote as much here).
Why not? Because, Dave told me, he just didn’t believe that catchers are solely responsible for the observed effects. Now, if it were me, I probably would have gone ahead and given catchers … oh, half the credit. Just to do something. But I couldn’t fault Dave for taking the Burkean approach.
Well, I was at the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix again this year, and Baseball Info Solutions’ Joe Rosales and Scott Pratt gave a fascinating presentation about pitch-framing — or to be more precise, pitches mis-called by umpires — and the responsibilities thereof. And just as Cameron theorized, it’s not just about the catcher. From Baseball America’s Matt Eddy (who was there, too):
Four different parties have a hand in determining whether a pitch is called a ball or a strike: the batter, the pitcher, the catcher and the umpire. Where past efforts to quantify the value of pitch-framing have awarded all credit to the catcher, the BIS team found that, indeed, the catcher is the most influential party, but the second-most important variable in the ball/strike equation is not the pitcher or the batter. It’s the home-plate umpire.
Rosales and Spratt concluded their presentation by extolling Lucroy for his elite-level framing ability, saying it makes up most of the ground he loses to seven-time Gold Glover Yadier Molina when it comes to fielding bunts and throwing out baserunners. Furthermore, a top pitch-framing catcher can be worth up to 1.5 wins to his team based only on racking up extra called strikes, according to the Plus/Minus metric, making it one of the more undervalued assets in the game.
Now, 1.5 wins — or 15 runs, roughly — is a lot! But the observed effects have been more like THIRTY runs for the best pitch-framers … which, if true, would essentially rewrite the rules on player valuation, because suddenly a good pitch-framer who can also hit is automatically the best player in the league. If the league doesn’t include Mike Trout, anyway.
But 15 runs? Yeah, that seems pretty reasonable. You can quibble with BIS’s methodology and people have, but it’s hard to deny that umpires, pitchers, and even the hitters would play at least some role when the stri-ball comes in.
This is good stuff, friends. Oh, and by the way? Now it’s time to give Lucroy half-credit for those pitches in his WAR. Make it happen, Cameron (and other people who do these things please).