Most of the time, pictures do more justice than talking. So when Jason Castro said a few words about catcher framing, I immediately wanted to run to a computer to look at what he was talking about. Maybe next time we’ll take a look at some video together and tease out what he meant a little further. But this time, just a few words were worth a lot of thinking, and the pictures filled in the blanks.
There weren’t many words spent on this subject. When I asked Jason Castro about his catching instructor and if they worked on framing together, Castro answered that “I don’t think framing in the traditional sense is something that is really taught in any more, the emphasis is shifting to being as quiet as you can about receiving the ball and giving the umpire the best view of the pitch that you can.”
Though that felt like a letdown at first, it of course squares with what we know about the best framers in the game. Watch Jose Molina do his thing, courtesy of Jeff Sullivan, and you see calm hands, not moving much. There’s no way you’re going to fool the umpire by trying to bring the pitch back to the zone.
But when I asked Castro to talk a little more about giving the umpire the best view, Castro agreed: “That’s part of what I’ve integrated into my catching this year is thinking about the angles in which I set up, and I actually have noticed a difference in the rising number of called strikes we’ve gotten this year, in just a non-scientific approach to it.”
Courtesy Jeff Sullivan, a slightly more scientific approach:
Astros 2012, whole team: 3 expected strikes above average per 1,000 called pitches
Astros 2013, whole team: 5 expected strikes above average per 1,000 called pitches
Of course, there are multiple catchers in each year, and non-Castro catchers got significant playing time last season. There’s a tiny sample size this year, only about 1,000 called pitches in all. But it does sound like the catcher in the organization that hired the guy that once wrote this about catcher framing is doing some work on his framing. We shouldn’t be surprised.
After all, in that Molina piece, Sullivan did give us this:
There might also be something to be said about Molina’s body angle versus Lobaton’s. In a Clubhouse Confidential segment, Dave Valle talked about the importance of setting your body such that the umpire gets a good look at the ball all the way through. It appears that Molina has his body at an angle, while Lobaton is a little more square to the pitcher. That could be some factor; when it comes to receiving, Molina is outstanding across the board.
But it’s also hard to talk about these things in a locker room before a game. If we did, he might have said something about butt waggle. And asked Chris Carter to come over and pretend to be the umpire behind him. And it might have gotten complicated when the guys around Carter couldn’t agree on who should be the batter.
So let’s just use real life. Up first are two GIFs from last year, in April. On the left, Castro was catching righty Bud Norris on April 8th. On the right, he was catching lefty J.A. Happ on April 9th.
Now let’s compare to his work this year. On the left, Castro catching Norris again, this April 6th. On the right, lefty Wesley Wright on April 5th. Pay close attention to Castro’s butt when receiving Wright.
Did you see it? Watch his butt waggle. Or, alternatively, look at these still images of his final stance against lefties, and look how much of the white of his pants you can see behind his catcher gear in each (2013 is on the right):
Against righties, Castro does much of the same but it’s harder to see because the batter is in the way. And it’s less obvious what he’s trying to do. Against lefties, you can see it pretty easily: by waggling his butt a little, he creates an angle for the umpire behind him to see the pitch better. And so far, even in a small sample, it looks like it’s working.
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.