May 17, 2012

Jose Molina makes batters very angry.:
A quick article and a collection of (small) animated gifs that show how lots of batter complaints from umps seem to be when Molina is behind the plate. His "framing pitches" is a continuous display of artistry.

posted by grum@work to baseball at 01:31 PM - 12 comments

That is fantastic.

posted by yerfatma at 01:54 PM on May 17

Cool, but baffling. What's he doing that is so effective at selling balls as strikes?

posted by rcade at 02:22 PM on May 17

In some of these, does it appear the glove's slightly angled, as in when the ball's caught, the webbing points into the strike zone ... idea being that even if the ball's caught outside, it must be a strike.

This was a classic ... often discussed but not often visually presented.

posted by jjzucal at 02:29 PM on May 17

This does show the fallibility of umpires' judgment, but when I was in my apprentice year of umpiring, one of our instructors gave us a nice hint. This instructor was very experienced in amateur baseball, and he was good enough to have umpired at international championships. His tip was that if the catcher moved his glove toward the strike zone after the ball hit the glove, unless the pitch was clearly a strike, call the pitch a ball. I used this all the time I was umpiring, and very few catchers ever complained. To the few that did, I asked them if the pitch were a strike, why did they try to fool me by moving the glove? I never had one reply to that with anything but silence.

posted by Howard_T at 03:28 PM on May 17

In several of them, he holds the ball up for the umpire to have an extra moment to think about it. Maybe that's it?

posted by bender at 03:28 PM on May 17

I think Molina's trick is that he moves the glove BEFORE catching the ball.

So if the ball is outside, his glove is a bit MORE outside when it's coming in, and he sweeps the glove towards the plate. The moment the ball goes "thump" in his glove, he stops moving his hand a fraction of a second later.

I think that confuses the umpire into believing the ball curved/tailed across the plate at the last moment (because Molina had to move his hand IN, not OUT), thus catching the back corner/edge of the strike zone.

Other catchers seem to catch the ball outside (as Howard_T says) and THEN start moving the glove toward the plate.

The report that the article references (about good/bad catchers for framing pitches) was pretty big news last year, and it looks like Tampa Bay took it to heart by signing the aging Molina. They decided to take into account his pitch framing/defense, over his (potentially) declining hitting.

I say that because the day before they signed Molina, they dealt away their younger/cheaper catcher John Jaso (who has an exceptional batting eye and draws many walks).

If someone can objectively measure catcher pitch framing, this might become a huge step in accurately determining catcher defensive value outside of passed-balls/stolen bases. Suddenly, "Catcher ERA" might have some real value...

posted by grum@work at 03:49 PM on May 17

The trick is that Molina moves the glove very little, and he does not reach out and stab at the ball, but receives it (and seemingly with little movement after the catch). In the Baseball Prospectus report/article linked in the SB Nation piece (and referenced by grum in the preceding comment), there are some great animated GIFs of catchers doing it well (Jonathan Lucroy, Molina) compared to catchers doing it poorly (Varitek, Ryan Doumit).

posted by holden at 04:10 PM on May 17

One other thing to note - his body does not move - his glove moves quickly and minimally, but the rest of his body is still. It's like watching those nature films of a lizard nabbing a fly. I'm guessing if the umpire relies on the catcher's position to help determine the call (most likely subconsciously), then the lack of body movement and the quickness of the glove movement helps sell the final glove position.

posted by kokaku at 05:26 PM on May 17

My highest level of umpiring was Little League 25 years ago, but I don't really understand why the umpire is looking at or caring about the catcher's glove. Unlike everything else in the equation, the plate doesn't move, and from his angle behind the catcher, I'd think it would be much easier to tell up or down based on the position of the batter rather than the mitt.

Apparently I'm wrong, though.

posted by Mookieproof at 05:53 PM on May 17

I don't think umpires actively look at where the glove is. They can't help but see it though and it factors in to the decision making on some unconscious level. If the umpire sees a lot of movement, or movements that look suspiciously like the catcher is trying to fool the umpire, I think that is naturally going to affect any umpire even when they have the best of intentions.

posted by tron7 at 07:38 PM on May 17

I'm still trying to figure out why the final pitch to Brett Lawrie isn't a strike in everyone's book. According to Pitch FX, that pitch was almost dead on top of the zone and well over the plate.

As a former catcher, I was a fair pitch framer. I always found the keys were:

1) Don't move significantly. The less movement, the better chance the umpire would notice it and assume you were calling for the pitch there all the time. 2) Hold it. Catchers don't hold pitches they know are obvious balls, but they do frame pitches that are damned close or just barely in the zone. Framing those pitches gives the umpire a second chance to react. 3) When the ump says, "Stop doing that," you stop doing it.

As a former umpire, it was almost completely unnecessary to frame pitches for me, as my zone was huge. Bottom of the knees, at the letters and if I thought one stitch touched the corner, you'd better be swinging your bat.

posted by wfrazerjr at 09:12 AM on May 18

Pretty good stuff. As my Braves are in Tampa this weekend I'll be taking a closer look...and I can't say the Braves have never benefited from framing.

posted by cheemo13 at 09:41 AM on May 18

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