Padres Editorial: How Important is Pitch Framing?

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Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In recent years much has been made about pitch framing and it’s importance to both a catcher’s value and the pitching staff’s performance. With every year comes more and more advanced statistics that measure the performance of all sorts of players in all sorts of scenarios. With the advent of Pitch F/X in 2006, there is now more data about pitchers and pitch location/velocity/movement than ever before. With this influx of data has come new measurements of the values of catchers. More than ever before, defense has been the focus of catcher’s value to both an individual pitching staff as well as to a team as a whole.

Pitch framing is still a relatively new phenomenon and many still do not understand its intricacies or appreciate its importance. Pitch framing uses pitch f/x data to quantify how often a catcher “frames” pitches and “steals” strikes. These advanced metrics also measure how valuable these catchers are to their teams in terms of defensive runs saved or ultimate zone rating and more specifically runs above average which measures them in relation to the average similar to WAR calculations. More so than ever before, teams are making a conscious effort to find catchers that are the best at “stealing” strikes and the best at their positions in terms of RAA relative to other catchers.

There are several categories of advanced pitch framing metrics and I will delve into them a little deeper. Probably the most clear measure, and the easiest one to use to compare different catchers values to their teams defensively, is RAA which stands for Runs Above Average. Basically runs above average quantifies how many runs a catcher is saving for their team (a positive value) or even how many runs a catcher is costing their team (negative value) based on their total defense.

Beyond RAA, advanced technology also allows us to keep track of plus calls, which are basically stolen strikes or pitches that were outside the strike zone that the catcher tricked the umpire into thinking were strikes. These are measured both in total for the season and also in a rate per game. Finally these advanced stats keep track of both zBall% and oStr%. zBall% is a measure of the percentage of balls caught within the traditional strike zone that were called balls while oStr% is a measure of the percentage of balls caught outside of the traditional strike zone that were called strikes. Using these numbers for evaluation obviously a lower zBall% is a good thing while a higher oStr% is also a good thing. A catcher wants to get more balls called as strikes and less strikes called as balls.

For the Padres, pitch framing was an essential part of the team’s season and a critical part of the pitching staff’s great success. Last year the Padres had two catchers in the top ten of RAA with both Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal putting up excellent pitch framing numbers. They were both also top ten in plus calls at catcher and oStr%. It is clear that in 2015 some of the Padres great pitching success can certainly be attributed to the great pitch framing skill of both Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera.

Mandatory Credit: MetsWorld
Mandatory Credit: SNYMets

Last year the Padres pitching staff was in the top ten or near the top ten in almost every major pitching-related category. The Padres were 3rd best in FIP in the entire league, 6th best in xFIP, as well as 4th in ERA. On top of that, the Padres were also near the top of the league in K/9 (9th), LOB% (8th), and HR/FB ratio (10th). Obviously the Padres staff had a lot of talent as a whole but given its youth and inexperience, it is clear that both Rivera and Grandal had a big impact on the pitching staff’s overall great performance last year.

Going into the 2015 season, the Padres had dealt away both Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera to acquire more offensive help in Matt Kemp and Derek Norris respectively and also boosted an already strong starting pitching staff as well as bullpen. The Padres last year had a top of the staff of Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and Ian Kennedy with Odrisamer Despaigne, Jesse Hahn, Eric Stults and Robbie Erlin all pitching significant innings as well. In comparison this year the Padres seemed to have an even better rotation with James Shields on the top along with Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Brandon Morrow with Odrisamer Despaigne providing innings when needed. Despite the seemingly deeper pitching staff, the results have been much different for the Padres staff as a whole.


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