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Pitcher-catcher battery leaders in extra strikes

While some catchers are better at framing than others and some pitchers are better at exploiting that, we don't necessarily know whom to credit. Still, we can determine which batteries have done best overall at getting extra strike calls.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Cameron recently re-raised the issue of how to partition credit for framing between the catcher and pitcher. Knowing one is throwing to a good pitch framer could lead a pitcher to pitch just outside the zone a bit more often (or at the corners, as opposed to throwing a safer strike, in three ball counts). A pitcher with superior command could capitalize on his catcher, and pitchers who angle for more pitch framing opportunities would generate more value for their clubs than an ERA estimator like FIP might lead us to believe.

I am not attempting to rip apart pitcher and catcher from that kind of symbiosis, and I'm not sure either's contribution to framing could live on its own. Nor am I attempting to show which batteries are best at framing. Instead, I was interested to dig in on batteries that have been best at framing this season.

As a counting statistic, Baseball Prospectus's Framing Runs (calculated either by count or by call) naturally favors batteries with more framing chances (at least among the batteries with positive figures). Framing chances are largely dependent on innings pitched, but the correlation isn't perfect. Using chances to create a rate statistic doesn't tell us who the "best framing batteries" were, at least on its own; getting those chances is part of the skill. But looking at "extra strikes" per 100 framing chances yields some interesting results.

To make the corpus of 1847 batteries in the Baseball Prospectus database more manageable, I used a cutoff of 400 framing chances, leaving just 238 batteries. Why 400? It captures all top 30 results for framing runs by count (it also captured 29 of the top 30 results for framing runs by call, leaving out just the Alex Cobb-Jose Molina battery, which ranked 21st despite just 398 chances).

In illustrating his point, Cameron used Lohse as an example for how a pitcher can be partly responsible for good framing outcomes, and the data support that premise. The pitcher who claimed the top result in extra strikes per 100 framing chances was indeed Kyle Lohse, but not with Jonathan Lucroy as his batterymate.

Pitcher Catcher Framing Chances Extra Strikes Extra Strikes/100 chances
Kyle Lohse Martin Maldonado 457 28.8 6.30
Jered Weaver Hank Conger 656 51.3 5.99
Francisco Rodriguez Jonathan Lucroy 473 26.7 5.64
Yovani Gallardo Martin Maldonado 417 22.8 5.47
Jeff Locke Russell Martin 858 45.5 5.30
Eric Stults Yasmani Grandal 757 37.5 4.95
Jeremy Hellickson Jose Molina 467 21.3 4.56
Juan Nicasio Wilin Rosario 566 24.9 4.40
Dallas Keuchel Jason Castro 979 42.7 4.36
Eric Stults Rene Rivera 447 19.1 4.27

Some expected matches here, but a few surprises, as well. Wilin Rosario has a garbage reputation as a pitch framer, and despite these numbers with Juan Nicasio, Baseball Prospectus has Rosario at exactly zero extra strikes in 6,825 framing chances through September 16 (not solidly negative marks as in previous seasons). That's a glowing recommendation of the command or pitching style of Juan Nicasio.

The top 10 makes the Brewers and Maldonado look good, but how about Eric Stults getting two batteries in the top 10 out of 238? Might not be quite as impressive as what Juan Nicasio has done, as both of Stults's catchers have been quite good at getting extra strikes overall (Grandal, 99 extra strikes in 5073 framing chances; Rivera, 137 in 5792). Still, getting per-100 rates over 4 far surpasses both catchers' overall per-100 rates (Grandal, 1.95; Rivera, 2.37).

The top 10 does not include any of the 51 (of 238) batteries with at least 1,000 framing chances, and if you felt a little uncomfortable with some of the sample sizes above, you're not alone. When examining outliers such as those, the greater range of possible rate outcomes with smaller samples gets magnified. So what does the top 10 look like just for pitchers with over 1,000 chances? All ten of the batteries in the table below rank in the top 30 (of 238):

Pitcher Catcher Framing Chances Extra Strikes Extra Strikes/100 chances
Ryan Vogelsong Buster Posey 1555 56.6 3.64
Wade Miley Miguel Montero 1244 45.2 3.63
Roenis Elias Mike Zunino 1370 48.5 3.54
Johnny Cueto Brayan Pena 1415 49.5 3.50
Matt Garza Jonathan Lucroy 1088 38.0 3.44
Yovani Gallardo Jonathan Lucroy 1338 43.3 3.24
Hisashi Iwakuma Mike Zunino 1148 37.1 3.23
Marco Estrada Jonathan Lucroy 1129 33.1 2.93
David Price Jose Molina 1303 38.1 2.92
Jon Lester David Ross 1068 30.1 2.82

Big props to the framing tandem of Vogelsong and Posey, who also form the overall battery leader for extra strikes. Posey is no slouch; in addition to Vogelsong, his match with Madison Bumgarner has done well in extra strikes per 100 framing chances, with 2.73, and he has a 1.64 per-100 mark overall this season. Mike Zunino also excels with two pitchers, has positive per-100 marks for the other three batteries that have more than 400 framing chances (Felix Hernandez, 2.34; Fernando Rodney, 1.95; Chris Young, 0.51), and looks great overall (1.69 extra strikes per 100 framing chances).

How about Johnny Cueto? Brayan Pena has a great reputation behind the plate, and Cueto has clearly benefited from having Pena as more or less a personal catcher. But consider this: Pena's extra strikes numbers have actually been quite a bit worse when he's caught other pitchers. With Cueto, Pena has 49.5 extra strikes in 1415 chances; subtract that from Pena's overall numbers, and you get without-Cueto totals of -8.5 extra strikes in 1777 chances. Can we say that Cueto deserves some of the credit for his 7+ framing runs this season with Pena, then? For what it's worth, Cueto's per-100 mark with other catchers this season (384 framing chances) is just 0.08. But considering that Cueto has allowed just 59 ER in 227.2 innings this season, he might deserve more of his 2.33 ERA than his 3.29 FIP might indicate.

With no overlaps on the two top 10 lists, how impressed should we be on how the Brewers have taken six of the 20 spots? Pretty impressed. In fact, let's go ahead and pretend this entire post is about the Brewers — we'll even put in a link to Brew Crew Ball.

Outliers this extreme are often a combination of likely explanations, and for the Brewers to have this much success in pitch framing, we're probably talking about luck or savvy in targeting not just Lucroy but Maldonado; an emphasis on framing; and an emphasis on pitchers who succeed with command as one of their better tools. Milwaukee does not lead MLB in framing chances; it settles in at 8th in that regard with 11,952, a little closer to 1st (White Sox, 12,652) than to 30th (Giants, 10,858). The Brewers have done really well with extra strikes, however: 2nd, at 274. The Crew also fit in comfortably at second place in both Framing Runs by count (34.4) and Framing Runs by call (40.7).

Wait, second? Eric Stults leads the Padres among pitchers in terms of extra strikes (62.5), but he still co-owns just 17.5% of the extra strikes won by the Padres so far this season. The team's total of extra strikes (356.6) is a whopping 2.33 standard deviations off the mean, and all three of the catchers used by the Padres this season have made contributions. In addition to the 137 extra strikes tallied by Rene Rivera and 99 by Yasmani Grandal, Nick Hundley broke with tradition to put up a slightly positive extra strikes mark (instead of a horrendously negative one). In fact, if we turned our list of 238 batteries with at least 400 framing chances into a list of 875 batteries with at least 100 framing chances, Nick Hundley would co-own the best per-100 extra strikes mark with a ridiculous 9.11.

How about on the other end of things? The very worst battery in terms of extra strikes per 100 chances — 1,000 framing chances or more — is Tom Koehler and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (-3.51 extra strikes per 100). 900 chances or more: Nathan Eovaldi and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (-3.91). And back to the 400-chance cutoff we started with: Brad Hand and...drum roll, please...Jarrod Saltalamacchia (-6.63).

Think Jose Fernandez was impressive again this year before succumbing to his UCL tear? He put up mediocre Framing Runs totals with Salty, and in our set of 238 batteries with at least 400 framing chances, Fernandez ranked just 205th in extra strikes per 100 framing chances. But although Henderson Alvarez didn't do much worse than Fernandez, taking Salty's five entrants as a group makes Fernandez look good again. Unless Salty was dealt an incredibly terrible staff of pitchers command-wise (which might be partly true), we might infer that Fernandez isn't to blame for his native framing numbers. Had Fernandez been given a league-average framer, would he have had even more success?

As noted above, by using framing chances as the denominator in making up a rate statistic for extra strikes, we don't give ourselves a complete picture on who the best framing tandems have been this season. Some of the framing-effectiveness-proof is in the chances pudding, insofar as racking up a large number of chances could be largely to the pitcher's credit. But even without accounting for how particular batteries came to have as many chances as they did, it seems clear that some pitchers are better able to capitalize on framing than others.

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All statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus.

Ryan P. Morrison is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score, and co-author of Inside the 'Zona, a site offering analysis of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Follow him on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.