More and more, we are learning the importance of catcher defense. Lately, there has been a great deal of research about the influence catchers can have over ball and strike calls. Recently, the most balanced, definitive study to date came out from Baseball Prospectus. Now, no one – No One – is yet claiming that these studies are perfect. There is a lot of noise. But we have reached the point where some facts are becoming evident. Two such facts are listed below:

  1. Ryan Hanigan is really good at framing pitches.
  2. Ramon Hernandez is not.

The study linked above isn’t the first to show a wide differential between the two. You can find another here. What it all boils down to is that even if you decide there is a ton of noise and the results need to be heavily regressed, Hanigan starts with a one WAR advantage per 120 games over Hernandez based purely on his ability to sit still and frame pitches well for the umpire. Realistically, however, it’s probably closer to two wins.

Think about that for a minute.

According to Fangraphs, Hernandez was worth 2.0 WAR this year. Hanigan was worth 1.8. They each played almost exactly half a season, which makes that a wash. But, if we adjust for pitch framing (Hanigan was +7 runs, Hernandex was -8), suddenly Hanigan was worth 2.5 WAR and Hernandez was only worth 1.2. That, to say the least is a substantial difference.

I don’t want to seem like I’m dumping on Ramon, however. He had a fine season. Even with the pitch framing adjustments, he projects to an above average player over a full season. Rather, I want to point out how very, very good Hanigan has been. He’s going to be a backup next year, but given that he projects to something like a 4 win player over a “normal” catcher season of about 120 games, he probably deserves more time than that.

The real question here is what do we expect from Mesoraco. Rather than look at the Pitchfx data for Mesoraco, I tried my best to mimic the scouting done in the study linked at the top of this post. The hypothesis put forth in that article was the importance of being a “still” target. Mesoraco, as far as my eyes can tell, does this. His head is still and his glove isn’t busier than it has to be. According to the analysis at BP this means he is likely to get a few extra strike calls. I certainly hope that’s the case, but, in the end, we’ll really need more data and someone who is better an sorting through it than I am before we know where Mesoraco lands on the pitch framing spectrum.

I’d love to hear from people who watched Mesoraco closely. What are your feelings on his ability to receive pitches? Does he provide a good, stationary target, or did I look at the wrong video?

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.

Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. Mez presents a nice quiet target and gets as low or lower than Hanigan. If he has a fault, it’s that he is a bit late in showing the mitt—the pitcher is generally picking up his leg before Mez shows. He should do it sooner (when the bases are empty).
    I think in general the data provides a decent snapshot of a catcher’s pitch framing abilities, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to ascribe win values to those skills. I’ll be content to say Ramon is the worst framer of pitches I’ve ever seen. The proper technique for framing is to bend the wrist inward—it gives you ~3 inches, which is the most you should attempt unless you want to delegitimize yourself in the eyes of the umpire. Ramon moves his entire arm…..sooo stupid.

  2. Do these studies acknowledge that Ramon and Ryan have, for the most part, basically caught different sets of pitchers (starting pitchers)? Could the fact that Ramon almost exclusively catches for Volquez, who isn’t very apt to throwing strikes, maybe skew the data? I don’t know.

    I’m not able to read the studies, as I’m at work right now. So maybe the answer to my question is in the links.

    Nice post.

  3. @PeterNincompoop: The different studies (especially the BP study) do try account for/normalize for the pitchers the catchers primarily catch. It’s acknowledged as a tricky thing to pull off and that’s why I say there’s a lot of noise. So, yes, they do account for it, but everyone acknowledges that the accounting is imperfect.

  4. Here is by negative point about Hanigan that I hope Meso can avoid. I feel like Hanigan often wastes too many pitches and that his style is too passive and indirect. I think this was part of what Leake was referring too after he had that bad game late in the season caught by Hanigan and commented later that he had not been “himself” and that he needed to get back to pitching his game and going after hitters. Or as Chris Welch said a time or two, that too many of the “waste” pitches thrown by the Reds pitchers were truly wasted and that was bad because in his mind every pitch should be thrown with the purpose of hoping to induce a swinging strike by stretching the zone/ fooling the batter or to get a called strike by nipping the black at a vertical margin of the zone. Another way Chris expressed it was that every pitch needs to look like it has a chance to be a strike and too many of the Reds pitches appear to by design not be planned that way.

  5. Exactly “whom” on the Reds calls the games?

    • Exactly “whom” on the Reds calls the games?

      My belief is that the pitcher or catcher “calls” the specific pitches based on pregame discussion with the pitching coach as to the pitching game plan in general and for specific hitters. When the catcher is looking over to the bench during the game that is virtually always to pick up calls for throws to first or pitchouts, not the next sequence of pitches.

      In looking at the Reds staff, both starters and relievers, it would seem to me that the catcher is probably the primary pitch caller except for Arroyo, Cordero, and perhaps Willis. Of course in the end, the pitcher will decide what he throws or doesn’t throw..

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About Jason Linden

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.

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2011 Reds, 2012 Reds

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