Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan presented some fascinating data on pitchers that benefit from, and are harmed by, missed strike zone calls - he asked, which pitchers get the most strikes that should be balls, and the most balls that should be strikes? At the core of this question is pitch framing; are some pitchers harder to frame than others? I'll let Sullivan elaborate:
I think we’re at the point where we can acknowledge that pitch-framing is probably a real skill that some catchers have more than others. But not every pitcher on the mound comes with the same framing degree of difficulty. If Jamie Moyer throws a low fastball in the zone that gets called a ball, and if Felix Hernandez throws a low fastball in the same spot that gets called a ball, one of those is a little more forgivable than the other. Framing might not be hard, I don’t know, but framing some guys has got to be a relative challenge.
As Sullivan himself points out, the point of this article was really just "to show some numbers". However, as with many articles that just "show numbers", we come out with more questions than answers. How hard is it to frame pitches? Is it primarily under the pitcher's or the catcher's control? Are certain umps better than others at making the right call? Are catchers getting better at framing pitches? What factors go into how difficult it is to frame pitches?
It is that last question that I wish to look into today. I don't plan on coming to any definite conclusions, but I'll simply give you some suggestions, possibilities, and .gifs, then open it up for discussion. Without further ado, here are some factors that I feel could influence a catcher's ability to frame pitches:
This is fairly self-explanatory. The faster a pitch is travelling when it reaches the catcher's mitt, the harder it will be for the catcher to hold his hand steady and control his mitt. Like Jeff said, a fastball from Felix Hernandez is going to be a lot harder to frame than a fastball from Jamie Moyer. Consider these .gifs (which may or may not actually apply to this example):
Yeah, yeah, I know neither of those is a great example of pitch framing, but you get the idea. If the top pitch was 79 miles per hour instead of 93, maybe Jesus Montero could have even made an effort to frame it. And in the bottom frame, a faster pitch may have pushed Ramon Hernandez's mitt off the plate. At the very least, you can see how slightly different locations would have been affected by velocity as far as framing is concerned.
Intuitively, a pitch that is moving away from the strike zone would be harder to frame than a straight pitch (or at least a relatively straight pitch). Similar to velocity above, the more momentum that the ball has, the harder it will be for the catcher to hold his mitt steady. Consider a strikeout and a walk by Zack Greinke:
Again, the second .gif isn't the best example in the world, but the important thing to notice is that the catcher is forced to jab his mitt down and follow the path of the ball, thus making it almost impossible to frame the pitch effectively. Low breaking pitches, I would suspect, are very hard to frame because of this movement away from the zone.
My third and final suggestion is that pitch location could influence the difficulty of framing said pitch. As a commenter in Jeff's article pointed out, Derek Lowe, who appeared at the top of the "getting lucky strike calls" list, pounds the lower half of the zone with his sinkerball, while Masterson, who appeared at the top of the "getting unlucky ball calls" list, often leaves his pitches up in the zone. Maybe, just maybe, low pitches are easier to frame than high pitches. Let's look at the final .gifs:
In the top frame, you can see Masterson miss on a pitch high and outside. It looks as though the pitch had the potential to be framed for a strike, but whether it be because Carlos Santana is a bad pitch framer or high pitchces are harder to frame or it wasn't actually that close, the pitch was called a ball. In the bottom frame, Lowe gets a called strike three on a pitch in the lower half of the zone. It was pretty clearly a strike, but it certainly seems possible that the location of the pitch made it easier for Santana to hold his mitt steady.
So there you have it. With some simple intuition, 5th grade physics, and poorly chosen .gifs, you have three potential factors that could affect pitch framing. Do you think these are valid factors? Is one more or less important than others? Do you you think other variables could make it easier or harder to frame pitches? Please, leave your thoughts below.