By framing runs above average on StatCorner, Chris Iannetta was 54th of 78 catchers that caught at least 1000 pitches last year. This year, he’s first. All it took was a little studying. After reading up, a little twist of the butt and a new relaxation technique was enough to change the fortunes of a 32-year-old backstop.
Some credit should go to Hank Conger, really. Because of his exacting manager, and his own inquisitive mind, Conger has spent a lot of time reading up on the best catching techniques. Conger admitted that he’d read all about where Jason Castro said he put his butt in order to give the umpire a better look at lefties.
And Conger made sure Iannetta knew what he knew. “We talked about it a lot,” admitted Iannetta about framing and his former teammate. “We talked about it in the offseason. We texted. We talked about it all spring.”
One of the things they talked about was the positioning that Jeff Sullivan spotted. “I have wider shoulders, so I have to make sure they can see around me,” Iannetta said. “I try to angle my body, I’ve tried angling my body a little.”
Seeing his name at the bottom of the framing lists had inspired Iannetta to figure it out, though, and positioning wasn’t the whole story. “I watched a lot of video of the guys that were doing it well, got an idea of what they were doing and what was going on,” the Angels catcher said. “The biggest thing I could come up with was when I started my process and gave my target at the bottom of the zone, and then as the pitch would come in, I would relax, like you’re taught to do, but I’d relax by bringing by glove into my belly button area.”
You can see what he’s talking about here, in early 2014.
The problem is that this left his glove in the wrong position for the low pitch. “I’d bring it up about four or five inches, so then I would have to go back down to the pitch when it came in,” Iannetta said. “I changed the relaxation technique so that instead of coming upwards, I try to go down, so that I’m catching pitches on the way back up.”
Here he is receiving a low pitch in 2015.
Looks like he’s ‘stabbing’ at the ball less, and sticking with the low position before the ball arrives. He’s getting more low strikes, too. Thanks to BaseballSavant, we can look at his called strikes received in 2014 (on the left) and 2015 (on the right).
It’s amazing what a little change can mean for a catcher. He changed his relaxed pose a little, moved his butt a little, and is now getting more strikes right on the bottom of the strike zone.
But as Iannetta put it, he had a “glaring issue” that was costing him low strikes. Despite showing what he thought was good form. “I was catching strikes for strikes, and I was holding it, I wasn’t moving it, I wasn’t taking the ball out of the zone or back into it, but I was still giving the appearance of those pitches being lower than they were.”
It’s not about fooling any umpires for Iannetta (“I’m not trying to steal strikes, I’m not trying to deceive anybody, I’m just trying to make sure I show those low strikes better”), it’s about getting all the strikes he should get. “Every day I want to end the day on a positive note by getting one strike that I should have as opposed to losing one,” Iannetta said. As he puts it that way, you have to admire the catcher for studying up to make sure his pitchers get the strikes they deserve.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.