Saturday, May 18, 2013

Russell Martin and Pitch Framing

It is no secret that I have been a fan of the Russell Martin signing. At the time some people were a little bullish on the sign because Martin wasn't necessarily a great offensive catcher as he hit only .211 last year with the Yankees but in terms of his defensive reputation you can argue there aren't really too many better defensive catchers in the game.

Enter Ben Lindbergh, the editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus. He did a sit down interview with Martin about his pitch framing and if you haven't had a chance to read it then you really need to. A problem that people have with defensive metrics, which includes pitch framing, is that there really hasn't been a lot in terms of statistics to back up any argument either way. Most people use the eye test with defense and while that can be helpful it really doesn't always show you the full picture either.

In terms of catching there really isn't too much out there in terms of pitch framing and the stuff that is out there is pretty new and it usually takes at least a full year of data before you can get any kind of substantial data to make an educated opinion about a catcher and pitch framing. Besides the actual data that goes along with baseball I don't think you can really argue that pitch framing is a real thing and there are substantial differences between someone being good at it and someone being bad at it.

Right now the Pirates have had a really wide margin with the really bad end in Ryan Doumit who is one of the worst in the league to now Martin who is one of the best in the league. Even backup Michael McKenry isn't regarded as a good pitch framing catcher which you can absolutely notice when he catches games. It is really remarkable when you watch Martin catch for 30ish games this season and then going to someone like McKenry to really see how bad the Pirates have been behind the plate in this regard the past number (times ten) of seasons.

Anyways, back to why this post is here. Lindbergh had the interview with Martin which you can read here and it focuses on how Marin goes about his job in game. Here are a few of quotes I pulled from the story that are interesting:

Martin: But my goal is not to steal strikes, it’s to keep strikes strikes. I don’t want to lose strikes. The key is trying to fight against what the ball is naturally wanting you to do.

Yeah, it’s [pitch framing] definitely, it’s a skill, it’s an art. I mean, that’s what catching is all about. If you can’t make that comebacker look good for Greg Maddux while he’s with the Braves, he’s not the same pitcher. There would be a lot of a lot of curveballs that are down in the zone, don’t get called, that cross over the plate. If it was automated and that pitch would get called, it would be devastating for hitters. Because there are curveballs that cross like, right here [goes into crouch, holds glove where the bottom of the zone would be], and I’m catching down here [holds glove lower and behind where the plate would be]. It never gets called, ever.

What you get from the interview is Martin takes pitch framing extremely seriously and you get the feeling just from reading it that it is something he takes a lot of pride in and that it comes first to him, even before hitting. Martin has become one of the best in the game in these terms and he's worked hard to do it. You can have your own opinion on pitch framing but you can't deny that Martin has done an amazing job with this staff and his pitch framing is absolutely helping the Pirates pitching staff get out of innings.

The other thing you might want to check out is ESPN [Pittsburgh] Radio's David Todd talk with Lindbergh about the interview with Martin and give you an idea about what defensive metrics and pitch framing means now and going forward. Very good listen.

For the record I still love the Martin signing. He has been absolutely amazing through 40 some odd games and if this continues it will go down as one of the best signings of Neal Huntington's tenure.

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