Monday, January 13, 2014

Dodgers need A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz to improve pitch-framing

Pitch framing is all the rage these days, thanks to advanced statistics and guys like Ben Lindbergh (Baseball Prospectus) and Jeff Sullivan (FanGraphs).

I remember being taught a little about the art whilst playing baseball growing up. It's not as easy as some may think, but it's something that should be learned and catchers should at least attempt to improve as their careers progress.

Enter A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz. While they're both really good at throwing runners out, their pitch framing leaves a lot to be desired.

From Grantland (May 15):
"'We can make you better if you have an open mind and you're willing to work and willing to try certain things,' says (Steve) Yeager, who mentions Russell Martin, A.J. Ellis, and Tim Federowicz as some of his best students. '(You've) got to want to get back there and take the time of squatting and blocking balls, transferring balls, throwing balls, receiving balls, getting your hands beat up, getting foul tips into you. You've got to realize that you're going to get beat up physically back there.'"
There was also a footnote to accompany this quote:
"(Max) Marchi's stats suggest that Ellis still has more work to do: He's more than 30 runs below average since the start of his career, though he's shown some positive progression. Between Ellis and backup Ramon Hernandez, who rates below everyone but (Ryan) Doumit, the Dodgers are costing themselves a lot of extra strikes."
Overall, Ellis is a not great at framing, despite learning from a former Dodger in Steve Yeager. He was good at pitch framing, and it showed with former Dodger Russell Martin. Martin is one of the game's finest pitch-framers.

As of June 11, Ellis was 58 runs worse than average when it came to stealing strikes, making him the seventh-worst framer in the game at the time.

Here's an example of some shoddy pitch-framing by Ellis during the 2013 season.

And an explanation from Lindbergh:
"The bulk of Ellis’ body doesn’t move much while the pitch is in flight, but seemingly on every pitch, he initially lowers his glove, then brings it back up, which has to distract the umpire. He also catches this one awkwardly, rolling the glove over instead of just shifting it toward the inside part of the plate without changing its orientation. (Zack) Greinke didn’t miss the target by that much."
Despite his shortcomings, Ellis "clutched up" his framing. He was the seventh-best pitch-framer last season with runners in scoring position. He got 9 percent of called strikes when it mattered most. Odd, but that means there's hope.

Federowicz was the sixth-worst framer overall, getting just 7.6 percent of called strikes in 2013. He's good at blocking pitches, but his framing needs a lot of work.

An example:

And a brief, yet apt, analysis from Lindbergh:
"Similar to (Chris) Stewart's, but even stabbier."
I bring all this up because Sullivan did some framing projections (admittedly, on his part, they weren't terribly logical) over at FanGraphs on Thursday, and they weren't pretty for the Dodgers. They're projected to not get 0.67 strikes per game due to framing, which would be a 0.12 decline from 2013. The -0.67 is good for fifth-worst in baseball. At least the change from 2013 to 2014 is almost stagnant.

Luckily, the Dodgers have the pitchers to make up for this framing deficiency. Still, if the Dodger backstops could help the hurlers, it'd be best for all involved.

Photo credit: EephusBlue, Paint the Corners

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with the notion that advanced statistics guys are the reason for an emphasis on pitch framing. That's just false. The art of pitch framing has always been a key skill taught to catchers-particularly in the Dodgers organization. It's just that stats guys are getting better at quantifying it. As for our catchers needing to get better at it, I couldn't agree more.