Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Your 2018 Giants: Posey's Framing Decline

I was wondering about whether a catcher's framing ability had any effect on Watson, so I dug into the pitch framing numbers on StatCorner.  Below was what I found.

ogc thoughts

Watson had great seasons from 2013 to 2015, but then had declines in 2016-2017, so I wondered if there was any connection with his catchers, since his K/9 was roughly the same, but his BB/9 jumped between him being great and being merely good.

Watson did his best/great with catchers who had per game averages of at least 0.8 per game.  His catchers included Russell Martin, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Yasmani Grandal, Elias Diaz, Austin Barnes.  When Martin, Steward, Cervelli, Grandal, and Barnes caught him, he did really well with a low ERA in his seasonal catcher's results when they had at least 0.8 extra strikes per game.  He was great from 2013-2016 with Martin and Cervelli behind the plate and doing great; Cervelli wasn't so great in 2017, in fact, he was pretty bad, losing over a call each game.  When the per game average was lower, it was generally not good.

Posey's Down Season

That would seem to mean that Watson should do pretty well now with Posey behind the plate, as he's been the reported king of pitch framers over the years, but for whatever reason, Posey did not get as many calls as he had in previous years, and his per game average fell from 1.75 in 2016 to 0.14 in 2017.  Overall, the runs saved declined by roughly two wins.  So our pitching decline was strongly influenced by Posey's poor season in 2017 framing pitches.

Posey will need to find that magic again in 2018 for the Giants pitching staff, but my quick research on the leaders in pitch framing since 2013 found that catchers go from elite to near zero around the time they turned 30-32.  Cervelli had a huge decline at age 30, Yadier Molina at 31, Russell Martin at 32.  Posey was 30 last season.  Russell never recovered, declining further.  Yadier and Cervelli had their first negative year in 2017, but Yadier had his big decline in 2014, was slightly better in 2015-2016, but fell under zero in 2017.  Tyler Flowers is still great at age 31 (but he's only been catching full time for four seasons, Posey for 7 mostly full seasons).  Grandal was 28 last season, Barnes 27.  Posey was basically at zero in 2017, at 1.6 RAA.  Just anecdotal, plus there's only 11 years worth of data, though I could go back further than 2013, if I had the time.

We did not hear about any injury or anything like that affecting Posey.  Other than Father Time ticking him over to 30 YO.  Plus, Hundley was pretty bad at it in 2017 and during his career, so it is not like he could pick up the slack, like Chris Stewart did in Pittsburgh, as backup.

Catchers have up and down seasons, much like BABIP, so it is possible that Posey could bounce back upward, much like how Molina did, but it looks like Posey has stopped being an elite catcher at pitch framing, and hopefully he don't keep going down, but instead stabilizes or improve slightly, like Yadier did in his early 30's. 

Possible Other Factors:  Umpires Better?  Or Just Trend?

Another factor: somehow the framing has been becoming less and less effective.  Could the umpires be catching on, given all the publicity about it?

In 2013, 8 were at 14.9+, 10 at 10+. In 2014, 7 were at 15+, 14 at 10+. In 2015, 3 were at 15+, 11 at 10+. In 2016, 3 were at 15+, 5 were at 10+. In 2017, 3 were at 15+ and 10+ (i.e. nobody 10-15).   So it seems like catchers are not as good at it as they used to be, as the best ones were getting lower and lower. 

Or could this just be an ebb and flow situation?  Looking at the per game numbers, seem like there are a lot of catchers still get the strike calls, but most were not playing full-time.  Using 0.80 as a threshold, there were 18 at 0.80 and above in 2017, 20 in 2016, 32 in 2015, so it looks like a definite downtrend in terms of quality catching.  Things are not stabilizing or getting better.

Now, the above trend was for every catcher.  Using 5,000 samples as a minimum, so we are looking at catchers who still caught a lot of the time, then there were only 4 above 0.80 in 2017, 6 above 0.50 (appears to be the threshold for at least 10 RAA, which is worth roughly one win).  6 above 0.80 in 2016, 9 above 0.50 (Posey actually let all with 1.75 average calls per game).  9 above 0.80 in 2015, 13 above 0.50 (Posey was at 1.22, 5th in the majors).   And 11 above 0.80 in 2014, 14 above 0.50 (Posey was 1.41, 7th).  By all of these measures, catchers have been getting worse and worse, overall, at stealing extra strikes with pitch framing. 

That's all I got.  Anyone got better ideas and/or theories? 

5 comments:

  1. Interesting topic. Year-to-year framing stats for individual catchers can be quite volatile. There are always 3 people who impact framing- catcher, pitcher and umpire which may account for much of this volatility. Let's break it down one at a time.

    We now have enough data to know that some catchers get more strikes out of exactly the same pitch locations than others although I dispute that we know exactly why. If we did, all catchers would be doing it by now. Maybe more of them are?

    It is likely much easier to "frame" a pitcher with good command than bad command. Say the catcher sets on one corner of the plate but the pitch goes to the other corner and the catcher has to reach to catch it. It's a strike, but from the reach the ump knows he missed his target. If it's borderline, much more likely to be called a ball.

    Some umps are undoubtedly better at ignoring or "seeing through" the framing and calling balls and strikes according to the real strike zone. In most cases, it probably balances out in the long run. In the shorter term, a catcher have a run where they get more umps who are more susceptible to framing which can create "noise" in the data. Also, if an umpire becomes aware that a certain catcher may be good at "framing" will said ump consciously or unconsciously start "squeezing" that catcher in an effort to take away that framing advantage?

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    1. Thanks for your insights, DrB! I admit I'm a total novice.

      To illustrate the volatility that you speak of, here are Posey's RAA (runs above average) and Fruns (framing runs, from BP) for the past four seasons (also showing differences in methodology:

      2014 17.7 RAA; 21.5 Fruns
      2015 15.2; 11.6
      2016 26.8; 26.5
      2017 1.6; 1.8

      One could posit that if this is like BABIP, if you look at 2016-17 as a whole, that's roughly what he did in 2014-15. So it'll interesting to see what happens in 2018.

      Yes, about the umpires trying to adjust back, that's what I was trying to get at in my post. And I agree, the better the pitchers at placing the pitches, the better the catcher will look.

      About all the catchers doing it, it is such a subtle ability to catch the ball, just enough to give the umpire the visual illusion that the ball was in the zone, when it was out, that I believe that some catchers can do it while others can't. Kind of like how some scouts say some fielders have soft hands, and others don't.

      Delete
  2. I don't know that much about framing either. I definitely don't have the time, patience, knowledge or equipment to analyze the granular data and turn it into anything meaningful. I try to look at it from a theoretical perspective and think of the elements that might go into whether a pitch is called a ball or a strike and how action and reaction might change that.

    One thing I think many fans don't get is that statistical advantages can be fleeting in baseball. Hitter selectivity is good up to a point, but if the pitcher knows a batter is likely to let certain pitches go by, he will pound the zone for a quick strike or two and all of a sudden selectivity is a liability. A batter may adopt an uppercut swing to elevated sinkers, but then pitchers can elevate their pitches and suddenly the hitter is swinging under them. That's just 2 situations I can think of now.

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    Replies
    1. Well, what you laid out DrB made total sense to me, very logical and well thought out.

      That's what most sabers don't seem to understand is that there is a lot of knowledge of baseball that already existed before the analytics revolution, from the scouting viewpoint, and that just because it is old school knowledge, does not make it invalid or not useful in some way.

      And yes, very good point to bring out, advantage does not last long. Anyone with elementary knowledge of economics knows that competitive advantage can be eliminated over time with the spread of knowledge about how that advantage is achieved. Some advantages last a long time, but in baseball, most advantages are fleeting because they are based on human interactions, and as the old baseball dictum notes, every player acts and reacts with adjustments, and then the other side adjusts again, in a never ending cycle.

      Long lasting advantages only go to certain skills sets that few others have, whether it be pitching, hitting, fielding, or talent evaluation/selection.

      From my view, and this is just opinion, to be clear, so please refute what is wrong, pitch framing stealing strikes is not something that can be totally eliminated. I put this up there with stealing bases, there are techniques that can be taught, but if you don't have the key skills involved, all the technique in the world won't make you good at it. Also, umpires are human, and particularly, their need to peer over one shoulder or the other, makes one corner harder to see, and they have to do it by feel.

      I've read that some call it an illusion the catcher creates with his glove placement and movement, so that could be part of it too.

      Of course, if the MLB goes to robo-strike calls, it would totally eliminate this. Which would be great timing, as the 30's, like most baseball skills, is where skills finally decline, for sure, and Posey's, whether it happened already or not, will eventually have it happen to him at some point.

      Thanks again, always love discussing baseball with you, you have a lot of insights.

      Delete
  3. Noticed this on the StatCorner website, he linked to an explanation on how he approached this exercise, his methodology, which is a work in progress:

    http://www.statcorner.com/exp_PreliminaryCatchingFramework.php

    ReplyDelete

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