Why Pitch Framing Is Our Friend


David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough beginning to the season and it seems like almost everything that could go wrong, offensively, has gone wrong for the Padres. But there have been a few good signs from the people who don’t pitch. Cameron Maybin is finally back on the field. Seth Smith has proven himself to be a very good hitter. Chris Denorfia has shown that he deserves more playing time, even when everyone’s healthy.

But what has been the best position for the Padres, without question, has been the catchers.

If you take the catchers as a three-headed monster, the combination of YasRenNick GranRivLey has given the Padres 8 doubles, 4 homers, 14 ribbies, and a good combination of on-base ability, average and power.

But their pitch-framing skills might just be even more valuable.

Coming into May 2nd, the Padres are ranked tops in baseball for pitch-framing. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Padres catchers have given the staff 63 extra strikes, saving almost 9 runs for the month. If you take the standard Sabermetric idea that 10 runs saved or earned equals 1 win in the standings, that means that the catchers, just by making their pitchers look better, have given the Padres almost one of their 13 wins.

For those of you who are wondering just what pitch-framing is, I’ll try to give the simplest explanation, and I’ll use Ben Lindbergh’s article from Grantland for the base. Basically, it’s the ability of the catcher to make borderline pitches looks like strikes to the umpire. By positioning his body to aid an umpire’s line of sight, not leaning out of the zone, and keeping his mitt from moving too much, the catcher can make a pitch “look” more like a strike. I’d advise everyone to read the article before you watch another Padres game. It will seriously change the way you watch baseball.

This is a skill that is predictable and doesn’t seem to go away year to year. Jose Molina of the Rays is excellent at it. Ryan Doumit is horrible.

Because I can’t resist, Nick Hundley is considered below average, which is why he’s probably spending more time pitch-hitting than catching these days. It’s also why he’s being shopped around even though he’s one of the only Padres right now who seems to be able to hit. There’s a nice little comment about Hundley in the article, where former GM Kevin Towers complains about how Hundley catches.

This makes what Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera are doing even more impressive. They’ve ranked as the best pitch-framing catchers in the game, even with the Hundley anchor dragging them down. And Austin Hedges is learning this skill as well, so he should be ready to add this value when he hits the majors down the road. If it’s one thing that the Padres seem to be ahead of the curve at, it’s the understanding that they need good catchers to make their pitchers more valuable.

Speaking of pitchers, the Padres announced today that they signed Cuban right hander Odrisamer Despaigne today. It’s reportedly worth $1 million and it’s a minor league contract.

Before we all get excited, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes wrote this about him in March:

"I talked to a high-ranking international scouting official to get a scouting report on Despaigne, to perhaps shed some light on why he hasn’t signed. The official has seen Despaigne three or four times in person and has seen him dating back to 2010.The picture painted by the official was not particularly exciting.  “I would say his stuff is average across the board. He’s got feel and he’s got deception, and he knows how to pitch.  The biggest thing going for him is his ability to mix and match and change slots and change arm angles.  He probably throws four different pitches from different slots and different angles. He never gives guys the same look, and he throws a lot of strikes. But he doesn’t have anything plus.”  The official considers Despaigne’s pitches to be fringe-average or slightly above-average, depending on the day."

Okay, this is one person’s opinion. I don’t want to overreact. But didn’t I just write about this last week? Two weeks ago? Why are the Padres signing pitchers when their minors are supposedly full of pitching prospects? Why are the Padres, who love claiming poverty, throwing a million dollars at a guy who’s ceiling is “slightly above-average”? Dierkes’ source even said that he didn’t see any team giving this guy this much money.

I’ve long since given up on the Padres making any big free agent signings. But I keep hoping that their signings will make sense. Considering the dearth of offense at the big league level, shouldn’t they be spending as much energy as they can adding hitters to their minors? The Cuban infielder who was scouted at the same time as Despaignes, Aledmys Diaz, signed a 4-year, $8 million deal with the Cardinals. So for the price of Josh Johnson, the Padres could have added a strong middle infielder and kept him for the next 4 years.