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Jose Molina, Russell Martin and the frame game

Apr 17, 2012, 9:44 AM EST

Jose Molina

One last thing on the Cody Ross strikeout:  feel pity for Ross, feel some aggravation at umpire Larry Vanover, but let us not slight Jose Molina, whose pitch framing is about as good as it gets in baseball and, as Bradley Woodrum notes at FanGraphs today, was likely the biggest reason that call went the way it went.

That link has a lot of detail about pitch location and framing.  But if it’s too much for you, the topic of a catcher’s influence on the game is tackled in a less complicated fashion in Anna McDonald’s piece from ESPN yesterday about Russell Martin, which also touches on Molina’s greatness in this area:

Martin’s ability to frame pitches is recognized throughout baseball. Through extensive statistical research, Max Marchi of Baseball Prospectus recently pinpointed Martin as the second best catcher (behind Brian McCann) in the major leagues over the past four years in framing pitches — receiving that borderline pitch and influencing umpires to call a strike.

Cashman said he “very much so” takes advanced statistics and research into consideration when evaluating the work of a catcher. With the wealth of data now available via the Pitch f/x system, researchers like Marchi are digging into catchers’ abilities in framing pitches, blocking pitches in the dirt, controlling the running game and fielding bunts. A major reason the Rays signed career backup Jose Molina to become their starting catcher was data that showed he was one of the best at framing pitches.

It’s an art form, really. And even though I often wish we had robots calling balls and strikes, I can’t lie and say that a good frame job by a catcher isn’t something amazing to see.

  1. youjivinmeturkey - Apr 17, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    I Actually LOVED This Post.
    A Topic That Doesn’t Get Discussed Much, PERIOD.
    Nice Work, Fo SHO!
    -BRAD

  2. stex52 - Apr 17, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    I didn’t know that much about this subject until I started listening to Jim Deshaies on Fox SW several years back. Obviously, ex-pitchers think this is a great trait in catchers.

    I now try to look for it in judging catchers.

  3. proudlycanadian - Apr 17, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    In other words, Cody Ross got framed.

  4. stlouis1baseball - Apr 17, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    Great article. The importance of a good Catcher can not be overstated. As Brian Cashman says…he is the field general. Not just framing pitches…but calling the game…holding the running game in check…and producing at the plate when the opportunity presents itself.
    This article’s timing couldn’t be better. During the Cardinals/Cubs game TLR was in the booth with Thom Brennamen and Eric Karros. They were talking about last season and AP signing with the Angles. Tony said he didn’t blame either side. It’s the nature of the business climate we are in. The Organization had a number in mind they felt they couldn’t surpass (which was the 3rd largest contract in the history of the game at the time) and held to it. AP was offered so much cash he couldn’t turn it down. But most importantly…TLR said the player in uniform the Organization felt they could not afford to lose (ABOVE EVERYONE ELSE)…was in the batters box. It was Yadier Molina. Yadi promptly ripped a base hit on cue (collecting an RBI). He then STEALS SECOND while Tony is still raving about him. He said Yadi will get 9 or 10 steals in a season while only being thrown out a couple of times as a result of knowing the game of baseball and being the smartest baseball player he has ever seen. Further, he said you simply can NOT put a price on the comfort level you have with him behind the plate for a full season of baseball. I would say it is the most important position in the game (when anchored by a good one of course).

  5. spindervish - Apr 17, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Respect the skill and nuance involved if you like, but the fact that “pitch framing” is even a thing is pretty much horseshit.

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 17, 2012 at 11:56 AM

      Forgive my ingnorance Dervish. But please advise as to what exactly you are referring to when you use the word “horseshit” in reference to “pitch framing.”

      • Kevin S. - Apr 17, 2012 at 12:18 PM

        My guess is he means that catchers tricking umpires into thinking balls are actually strikes probably isn’t good for baseball as a whole, even though it’s good for the catcher’s team.

      • stex52 - Apr 17, 2012 at 12:29 PM

        StL,

        I’m going to go two different ways on this. First, I agree with everything you said up above about catchers in general and Molina in particular. A good catcher is an undervalued commodity.

        Second, what I think Spinder means is that framing only exists because umpires aren’t very good at their jobs. If we had better calls made, they would not be influenced by catchers doing little sleight of hand tricks with the exact location of the ball.

      • Jeremy Fox - Apr 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM

        Yes, if umps were robots, pitch framing wouldn’t have any effect. So while overall I’d be in favor of robots calling balls and strikes, it would be a bit of shame that the skill of pitch framing would become pointless and so would fade away. Like other now-lost skills that were made irrelevant by technological advances.

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 17, 2012 at 12:44 PM

      I see. I guess my response to that would be that some consider it gamesmanship and others (me in particular) consider it an essential part of the Catchers job.

      • stex52 - Apr 17, 2012 at 12:52 PM

        In the context of how the game is currently called, you are obviously right. Getting the maximum benefit for the team out of the way balls and strikes are called is a very valuable talent for a catcher.

        If we come to better ways of calling balls and strikes, that skill may be less required or needed. But, then again, the catcher still would have the toughest job on the field.

      • spindervish - Apr 17, 2012 at 2:19 PM

        Yeah, the above explanations of my comment are pretty accurate.

        And obviously I’m not advocating that people in the business of building teams ignore this aspect of a catcher’s skill set (assuming you accept that this sort of thing is really all that quantifiable). It just upsets me that this stuff is necessary because it’s apparently so effective, which obviously points to the umpires being pretty bad at their jobs. It’s actually quite ridiculous.

  6. stlouis1baseball - Apr 17, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Very surprised to learn that Jeremy would (overall) be in favor of robots calling balls and strikes.
    Hard to respond to that. Robots? Let’s go ahead and use them in the filed and at the plate too.
    Take the human element out of everything.

    • Jeremy Fox - Apr 17, 2012 at 1:52 PM

      Um, nothing I said implied that I’m in favor of players being replaced by robots. I’m not. The human element of the game that I like has to do with human *players*. Umps are needed to enforce the rules, not to add an additional human element. Which means that if there’s a better way to enforce the rules, it ought to be considered.

      An analogy: track races are now time electronically, rather than by people with stopwatches, even though replacing human timers with electronic timers took a human element out of track. Surely one can think that’s a good thing, without being accused of wanting to replace human runners with robots?

      You’re welcome to criticize my views on whether balls and strikes should be called by robots, but please don’t attribute to me ridiculous opinions that I don’t actually hold.

      • stlouis1baseball - Apr 17, 2012 at 2:17 PM

        Jeremy: I apologize if you felt that is what I was saying. Please know it wasn’t. If you read my post again you will see that I clear say….
        “Robots? Let’s go ahead and use them in the filed and at the plate too.”
        To confirm…I did NOT say you were implying that we use robotic players. Only making the correlation that once we use robotic umpires…we aren’t too far off.
        Speaking of robitic players…
        the more I think of it the more I realize we already have one in A-Rod. LOL!

      • spindervish - Apr 17, 2012 at 2:39 PM

        Yeah…this slippery slope stuff is (as it usually is) a fallacy. You can’t equate the roles of players and umpires.

        Jeremy puts it well above – the players are the human element. The umpires shouldn’t even really be looked at as “human” in this context; they’re simply there out of necessity, as proxies for the abstract concept of “the rules.” Their job is to govern play, not influence it with their “humanity.” Obviously their ability to do this is limited by their humanity, but if technological advances exist that could help them do better (or simply do the job for them with less incidence of error), these advances ought not to be resisted. This has nothing to do with the actual players and the argument that “replacing the players with robots” is the logical, absurd extension of my position really doesn’t hold water.

  7. cur68 - Apr 17, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    Forget robots. Get a Molina. Those guys grow up exerting subtle influence on everything. Some less charitable souls would call it gravity, since they are on the hefty side (with the exception of Yaddi, but once the ink is weighted into it, perhaps). I watched Jose for years with the Jays. He seems to do it all without effort. I’ve suspected he has a verbal cue that he uses on the umpire to “prime” him for the call Jose wants. Hard to prove, though. Lets just call it The Force then, shall we? The Force is strong with the House Of Molina.

    • stlouis1baseball - Apr 17, 2012 at 2:18 PM

      Yes…and Mr. Molina (rest his soul)…did a great job at producing MLB Catchers.
      Uncanny really.

  8. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 17, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Another great article, which I thought was linked back awhile ago but can’t find any reference to it, is Mike Fast’s work at Baseball Prospectus last year on catcher framing. I believe this was the catalyst to Max’s work

    [warning a lot of math involved]

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=15093

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