Must-click link: catchers framing pitches have a huge impact on ball/strike calls

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This is something that we’ve always suspected intuitively, but Mike Fast has a major piece up over at Baseball Prospectus today exploring (a) how much of an influence a catcher has on ball/strike calls for borderline pitches; (b) the techniques they use to do this; and (c) who, among active catchers is the best at it.  The upshot: the effect is way greater than you’d think for such a seemingly minor thing.

There’s pitch plot evidence to show who gets the calls and where and animated gifs showing the differences between the good catchers and the bad catchers in terms of how glove movement and head movement can impact whether a pitch is a ball or a stike. There is also, it should be noted, an unquantifiable piece to all of this which may depend on a catcher’s reputation, relationships with the umpires and that sort of thing.  But there are clear trends in the data.  And Jose Molina as a friggin’ boss.

Keith Law just read it and tweeted the same first observation I had: “The biggest impact of that … piece should be on umpires. It’s hard proof they are bad at calling borderline balls/strikes.”  Yes, the human element, for lack of a better term, is going to be present when men call balls and strikes. But the borderline calls are bad and no catcher should have this much of an ability to impact the calls. Robots anyone?  Or, short of that, maybe your team’s GM should give Jose Molina’s agent a call.

This is a major study that people who care about such things should bookmark.

Once again, Cy Young votes from the Tampa Bay chapter were interesting

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In 2016, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello narrowly and controversially eked ahead of then-Tigers starter Justin Verlander in Cy Young Award balloting, winning on points 137 to 132. Verlander was not included at all in the top-five of two ballots, both coincidentally belonging to writers from the Tampa Bay chapter, MLB.com’s Bill Chastain and Fred Goodall of the Associated Press. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello, but being left out of the top-five on two ballots was the difference maker.

In the aftermath, Verlander’s then-fiancée Kate Upton fired off some angry tweets, as did Justin’s brother Ben.

Verlander was again in the running for the 2018 AL Cy Young Award. He again finished in second place, this time behind Blake Snell of the Rays. Snell had 17 first-place votes and 169 total points to Verlander’s 13 and 154. There weren’t any ballots that made a big difference like in 2016, but there were two odd ballots from the Tampa Bay chapter again.

If a chapter doesn’t have enough eligible voters, a voter from another chapter is chosen to represent that city. This year, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News was a replacement voter along with Mark Didtler, a freelancer for the Associated Press. Both writers voted for Snell in first place, reasonably. But neither writer put Verlander second, less reasonably, putting Corey Kluber there instead. Madden actually had Verlander fourth behind Athletics reliever Blake Treinen. Didtler had Treinen in fifth place. Two other writers had Verlander in third place: George A. King III of the New York Post and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. The other 26 had Verlander in first or second place.

Voting Kluber ahead of Verlander doesn’t make any sense, especially we finally live in a world where a pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t valued highly. Kluber had 20 wins to Verlander’s 16 and pitched one more inning. In every other area, Verlander was better. ERA? Verlander led 2.52 to 2.89. Strikeouts? Verlander led 290 to 222. Strikeout rate? Verlander led 34.8% to 26.4%. Opponent batting average? Verlander led .198 to .222. FIP and xFIP? Verlander led both 2.78 and 3.03 to 3.12 and 3.08, respectively. And while Treinen had an excellent year, Verlander pitched 134 more innings, which is significant.

Upton had another tweet for the occasion: