Arthur: Yadier Molina forgot how to frame a pitch

From SABR member Rob Arthur at FiveThirtyEight on May 4, 2015:

Yadier Molina is falling apart. It’s not his hitting, and it’s not his base running. It’s too early in the season to say much that is meaningful about those skills, which can take months of stats to become reliable.

It’s the Cardinals catcher’s defense that’s a mess. Molina’s pitch framing has collapsed, dropping from third-best in 2013 to 60th in 2015. And the Cardinals are at real risk because of it. Framing was thought of as mythical until researchers found direct evidence for it in how umpires were calling borderline pitches. The idea is simple: A catcher receives a pitch and “frames” it so that the pitch is more likely to be called a strike. In contrast to descriptions of framing as cheating, good framing involves catching the pitch with a minimum of excess motion. In so doing, the catcher offers the umpire a clear view of the ball and thus collects more favorable strike calls.

Since 2008, Molina has been the fifth-best framer in the league. In that time frame, Molina has saved more than 114 runs by flipping pitches that would have been close calls to strikes (worth about 11 wins, in aggregate). Since pitch framing isn’t yet accounted for when sabermetricians project a team’s statistics, Molina’s secret skill helps to explain the Cardinals’ outdoing their projections for the past 10 years and some of their perpetual October success (though to a lesser extent).

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Originally published: May 4, 2015. Last Updated: May 4, 2015.