We should care about catcher framing. Dating back even a decade, smarter teams began putting a price on catcher framing as a skill. From a sports betting perspective, if teams are willing to do so, and we have the data that’s capturing this skill, we should make use of it.
Below, I’ve compiled all catchers with at least 500 framing chances this season, per Baseball Prospectus, and averaged BP’s framing runs metric along with FanGraphs framing runs metric. However, framing runs over the course of a season or even partial seasons don’t tell us the whole story of their importance.
|wdt_ID||RK||NAME||INN||GAMES||CHANCES||BP RUNS||FG RUNS||AVG||RUNS/G||+WIN%|
We must begin by looking at the impact on wins. Per FanGraphs, each framing run is worth slightly more than 0.1 wins to a specific catcher’s value. This, obviously, omits other aspects of defense and hitting that would not be captured, but we can focus on those in other ways.
Purely from a framing standpoint, 0.1 wins seems minimal at face value. However, it turns out to be a sizable difference in terms of win percentage and the small margins that determine the outcome of your baseball betting season.
As you can see, Austin Hedges currently ranks at the top of our list with 0.209 framing runs per game, which again seems minimal, but has a +2.2% effect on his team’s win percentage versus what we’d call a league average framer. A difference of 2.2% in a betting market is quite significant and per my simulator, would be a decision on whether to make a play or not.
On the other end of the spectrum, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who has been the worst framer in baseball over the last few years by a decent margin, cost his team 2.9% in win percentage so far this season compared to average. Again, these downfalls can be made up in other ways such as hitting and other aspects of catcher defense, but framing is far more subtle.
For example, the Rangers acquired Jeff Mathis this season to split at least some time with Kiner-Falefa. Mathis happens to be one of the worst, possibly the worst, hitting position player in the majors. However, he’s atop the framing leaderboards nearly every year which certainly makes him a viable catching option despite hitting hardly better than an NL pitcher.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Mathis’ framing in our short sample this year has been well below his standards. Mathis ranks 29th in framing runs per game and is actually just worse than average according to Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs. If Mathis goes on to be his usual self with his framing skills, he could make about a +5% improvement to Kiner-Falefa just in framing. For reference, that would be the difference of being favored at -110 to -135. Now, when you factor in the fact that Mathis will not be much of a hitter at any point in his career, that difference is likely negated to a degree.
Nonetheless, if you wonder why catchers like Austin Hedges, Max Stassi, or even Erik Kratz continue to be employed on Major League teams, it’s because they are elite framers who certainly make up for their hitting downfalls by simply making pitches appear as though they caught a piece of the strike zone.
We also must acknowledge those catchers like Posey, Flowers, Grandal, and Realmuto who are impressive framers while also maintaining their abilities at the plate. Contreras and Sanchez (#55 and #56, respectively) are widely regarded as two of the better catchers in baseball while struggling badly in the framing department, but we must add the caveat that they have been two of the worst framers in baseball this season.
As we move closer to a completely automated decision-making process in baseball with technology that is coming available, the framing revolution will inevitably end. Until then, remember that it matters far more than you’ve probably realized.