Crash Bag Vol. 41: Pitch Framing and Managing
I didn’t get many questions this week (I guess people are more interested in the World Series in the Phillies managerial search. Go figure), so I’ll just do something of a deep dive on the topics I was asked about.
@robertdalton52: How much of a difference does pitch framing make? Do the umps call strikes and balls based upon pitcher/catcher, and batter reputations?
The first part of this question is somewhat well-tread ground in sabermetrics. Pitch framing was always thought to be somewhat valuable, like blocking pitches, but research indicated that the overall spread in pitch framing value added was actually more on the order of wins than runs. According to Baseball Prospectus, the top pitch framer last year was Tyler Flowers, who produced 25.1 runs, or roughly two and a half wins, above average, while the worst surprisingly was former framing superstar Jonathan Lucroy at -17.7 runs. So the spread there was more than four wins.
And this year wasn’t atypical. In 2016, Dioner Navarro cost his team 18.8 runs, while Buster Posey saved 26.5 for his. That’s a four and a half win split. In 2015, Yasmani Grandal led the league with 23.3 framing runs, while our beloved Chooch cost the Phillies 17.1 runs. That’s again, a spread of over four wins.
Meanwhile, the spread for pitch blocking in 2017 was just 6.7 runs. The spread for throwing runs was only 8.4 runs. Clearly framing is an important skill, and there’s evidence it’s improvable for players. Jason Castro was horrendous in his first three years, costing the Astros almost 30 runs over those three years, the first two as a part time player. Over the last four years, though, Castro has earned over a win per season in extra strikes.
This should provide hope for Phillies fans, as Jorge Alfaro is considered well below average in pitch framing. He cost the Phillies 5 framing runs over just 35 games thus far in his career. However, as Castro has shown, there’s room for improvement.
As for reputation, that’s a little bit harder to pin down, but a study published in 2014 cited an up to 17% difference in terms of favorable calls depending on whether or not the pitcher has been an All-Star. From the article I linked above:
For each additional appearance in an All-Star Game there was a 4.8 percent increase in the probability that an actual ball would be called a strike. A player with five All-Star appearances had a 14.9 percent chance of a true ball being called a strike, which is a 16.7 percent increase over the chance a journeyman will benefit from the same mistake.New York Times
And there’s a similar effect the opposite way, with journeymen’s strikes being called balls more often than All Stars. The study was based on data from 2008 and 2009, and the early returns on more recent data show that the effect has diminished, but it’s still around.
After this tweet, Scott and a non-me Mike were discussing the roles here. They brought up bringing them both in, but I consider this unlikely. Joe Girardi is not going to be anyone’s bench coach at this point, especially not a rebuilding team. And if he is hired as manager, he’s going to want to pick his own bench coach. Perhaps there would be a place for Dusty, but I’m not sure they have any prior work together. He probably wouldn’t bring in an unknown for his number 2.
So on to the question. I’ll start with Dusty. I love that he has spent so much time with the Phillies’ young players already. He presided over their breakouts and deserves some credit for the way J.P. Crawford and Rhys Hoskins performed in the Majors last year. Hoskins, Crawford, and Altherr have all shown some amount of affection for their minor league manager, and that’s important.
But what I’m not sure about is his in-game tactical management. I don’t watch much minor league ball, and even if I did, the stakes are completely different than in the Majors. He’d be a first-time manager in the Majors, and he never really played in the MLB either, recording only 6 PAs (but a 274 OPS+ as a catcher!). However, he led the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils to first place in the Eastern League in 2015 and 2016, then led the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs to a second-place finish behind the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
Maybe he won’t be the most tactically sound manager out there, but after years of railing on managers, I’ve come to think that the in-game management is not as important as the clubhouse stuff. We statheads just critique the on-field stuff so harshly because we don’t see what happens behind closed doors, and even if we could, the benefits would be unmeasurable.
Joe Girardi is somewhat the opposite of Dusty. He’s a proven MLB manager with probably little-to-no familiarity with the current Phillies’ roster. I can’t for the life of me figure out why he got fired. I guess ten years is a long time, especially when you consider that Charlie Manuel was only the manager of the Phillies for 8 ½ seasons, but the Yankees were over .500 every year, and the team significantly over-achieved this year, coming within one game of the World Series.
And his reputation and a sound tactical manager is well-earned. In a FiveThirtyEight study performed last year, a statistic was introduced called wRM+ or weighted reliever management plus. We know how these “plus” stats work, where the average is 100, and 110 is considered 10% above average. Well since 2000, Joe Girardi was tied for second with a 111 wRM+, behind only Joe Torre.
Additionally, Baseball Info Solutions likes him, as he was first in the 2016 season in percentage of plate appearances with the platoon advantage and next to last in intentional walks. But you have to wonder how well he would do in the National League, where managers have more finagling to do due to the lack of a DH. He was last in the MLB in number of relief appearances, and with baseball trending towards earlier hooks for starters and more relief pitchers, that is just a little bit concerning.
All in all, I think both would be fine options. Girardi obviously has the track record of success, a World Series ring as a manager (and three as a player), and a Manager of the Year award from 2006. But Dusty already has the players’ admiration and respect and has never played or managed for the Yankees. I already said I think the in-game tactical management is secondary to the off-the-field stuff. I think that means it’s about to get Dusty in here.