• Is Ryan Doumit's Catching A Critical Liability?

    Could Ryan Doumit's inability to frame pitches be a liability that overrides his value?"I donít say this about many decisions, but starting Doumit at catcher might be a fireable offense. In 60 games at catcher for Pittsburgh in 2011, his framing cost the Pirates 20 runs. In 59 games for Minnesota in 2012, his framing cost the Twins 21 runs. All told, his framing has subtracted 98 runs over the past five seasons, on top of the damage from the other things he does poorly behind the plate, which wipes out his offensive value."
    - Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus

    It has been difficult on this site to state concerns about Ryan Doumit and the Twins extending him. In a debate last week, I was told 28-29 teams would love to have Doumit and he was more valuable than ever.


    Let's look at two teams attempt to fill out a bench.

    Last fall the Twins and Rays were both seeking catching help. The Rays signed Jose Molina and the Twins signed Doumit.

    The Rays signed Molina for 1.5 million and picked up his option for 2013 at 1.5 (also reported 1.8) million. The Twins have invested 10 million in Doumit over three years.

    For several years catching performance has been evaluated using pitch f/x. The results seem to be reliable as the catchers who perform at the top or bottom of the list remain relatively stable.

    This information and study by Mike Fast was available to both teams. Aaron Gleeman referenced it at the time of the Doumit signing.

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/ar...rticleid=15093

    Molina was the best catcher at saving runs through framing pitches over a 5 year period. Doumit was at the bottom of the list. They were at the extremes both in total and average per 120 games.

    How did it work out for both clubs?

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/a/18896

    If the metric is accurate, Molina saved his team 50 runs in 80 games. Doumit cost the Twins 21 runs in 59 games. Molina's value is all defense but those 50 runs saved represent 5 wins. Doumits -21 represents a loss of 2 wins and completely wipes out his contribution to the team as a hitter. Molina and Doumit took there familiar positions at the top and bottom of the list. A result that could have been easily projected.

    28-29 teams would love to have Doumit? Must be everyone except the Rays.

    It couldn't be more clear that the Twins evaluation differs greatly from the Rays. One other quote from the first article about the Twins management and pitch f/x

    "...Ryan Doumit, the patron saint of poor receivers. Except that Doumit hasnít exactly been blacklisted behind the plate: in fact, he caught more innings for Minnesota in 2012 than he did as a Pirate the season before. Well, okay, you might say, but that was the Twins, the one team you could almost persuade yourself hasnít heard about PITCHf/x yet. (ďWait, you mean all this time all of our pitchers were throwing really slowly?Ē)

    I am assuming you stopped reading this a long time ago if you join the Twins management in skepticism about pitch f/x.

    If not, what should the Twins do about Doumit?

    Doumit's only value as a catcher is on someone's fantasy baseball team. In that realm, Molina isn't even an afterthought.

    Doumit does have value. He can platoon at DH and pinch hit. While I question whether that role merits an extension, the real concern is the Twins management understanding of the impact of defense on wins. The Twins should not enter the season with any plan of using Doumit as a catcher. Anything more than a late inning emergency replacement can not be justified. Our young and struggling pitching staff must be given any edge the Twins can provide.

    There has been much discussion about the Twins carrying 5 catchers. It is really 4 if Doumit is rightly moved into a Jim Thome role. It is 3 if Butera does not return. One of the three, Pinto, is not near ready for the majors. That leaves Mauer and Herrmann.

    The bigger question must be asked about the Twins management. From the outside, it seems like they are taking a long time to embrace some of the metrics of the last decade.

    One roster decision about a back up catcher speaks volumes about the two teams. One team commits 3 million to get two years of top ranked defense. The other commits 10 million over three years for an above average bat without a position.

    Let's hope the Twins are right and the metrics of the last decade are poor indicators of how to build a roster and win ball games.

    This article was originally published in blog: Doumit, Molina and Pitch f/x started by jorgenswest
    Comments 56 Comments
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Where a catcher catches the ball doesn't tell where/if the ball crosses the plate. The idea that how a catcher catches the ball has much of an infuence on the umpire's call is pretty weak. The umpire is focused on where/if the ball crosses the plate, not where it is caught. Can a catcher steal a strike once in awhile- I am sure it happens. Can you take what is a minor skill by a catcher, and elevate to the point that it saves 50 runs in less than half the games by the back up catcher?


      That is the problem with this "metric". It is not remotely believable and takes away from what should be the central argument, the value of a good defensive catcher. There is no doubt that Molina is a good defensive catcher. He calls good games, works well with his pitchers, throws out runners, probably has a good relationship with most umps and probably is good at number of other things including "framing a pitch".

      But by doing a sloppy job of constructing this "metric" it obscures what should be the central point. It also shows why most fans should be a lot sceptical of most new metrics.
    1. greengoblinrulz's Avatar
      greengoblinrulz -
      I am absolutely a defensive metrics guy but dont know how to precisely rate a C.
      Its awkwardly funny to watch a game & hear an announcer talk about how good a defensive player is but ALL the metrics show otherwise....or vice versa.
      These are new stats & this early into them....either you believe them or you dont.
      Many that dont believe fail to understand that defense waivers from a player year to year just like a hitters numbers for many variables.
      I believe there is something to this, but not 100% sure of how to decifer the numbers myself.
    1. old nurse's Avatar
      old nurse -
      Quote Originally Posted by jorgenswest View Post
      []

      Most sensible comment in the discussion.

      .
      I do not see anyone disagreeing with the concept of Doumit needing to be a better catcher. The criticism of the metric is very sensible. When the creator of the metric says it is flawed to use the data to make your case is not a good arguement.
    1. Wookiee of the Year's Avatar
      Wookiee of the Year -
      Between the initial article and the resulting discussion, fascinating stuff. I tend to agree we should be skeptical of any stat that places so much value on the defensive capabilities of the back-up catcher, let alone one particular skill within those capabilities. Still, I've long written off pitch framing as not a real skill, but this article's making me think twice on that point.

      Even if I remain skeptical of this article's findings, I'm still glad to have read it.
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      Re: Head-bobbing. I'll say this: the immediate body language of people around a close call absolutely can affect the perception of that call. I could believe that it would have a significant influence on an umpire.

      I'll relate it to something that parents of young children can relate. When your kids falls - just gets a bump, or a scrape, or tumbles down a couple of stairs or whatever - the worst thing you can do is immediately react as if they could be seriously hurt, like running over to ask if they're ok. The second you react that way, they are hurt. Bawling, OMG-this-world-is-terrifying, hold-me-NOW, hurt. They are reading you, your immediate reaction, and if it's alarm, they're alarmed.

      Instead, you learn to NOT react, like keep walking, glance over and say "Whoa! Good one! You shaking that off, sport?!?" Once you master that, your kid becomes infinitely tougher.

      This is not to imply that umpires are children, but the same thing applies. We look for immediate validation one way or the other, even if what we're judging is if we are in severe pain or not.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim H View Post
      Can you take what is a minor skill by a catcher, and elevate to the point that it saves 50 runs in less than half the games by the back up catcher?
      Only if the catcher is a Yankee...
    1. Kobs's Avatar
      Kobs -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      People used to "know" the earth was flat, and that the sun revolved around the earth too....until we started using science and numbers to figure things out. Were those early attempts precise? No. Did they lead us to the truth, yes, yes they did.
      In what way is this science?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      He has a hypothesis. He then used observation to test the hypothesis. He used math to develop a theory and reach a conclusion. It is the definition of science. Does not mean his conclusion is correct, most theories are incorrect, but even that brings us closer to understanding.
    1. Kobs's Avatar
      Kobs -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      He has a hypothesis. He then used observation to test the hypothesis. He used math to develop a theory and reach a conclusion. It is the definition of science. Does not mean his conclusion is correct, most theories are incorrect, but even that brings us closer to understanding.
      I fail to see any tests being conducted on this. I see a bunch of statistical masturbation.
    1. Jim H's Avatar
      Jim H -
      Re: Head-bobbing. I'll say this: the immediate body language of people around a close call absolutely can affect the perception of that call. I could believe that it would have a significant influence on an umpire
      .

      I suppose this is possible. It is also possible/likely that the umpire has decided what to call before the reaction sets in. You do bring up something that hasn't really been discussed on this thread. There are 4 people involved in any strike/ball call. The pitcher, catcher, batter and umpire. If we use for example a pitch on the black(as Bert might say) trying to determine what actually inflluenced the umpire to make the "wrong" call is pretty difficult to determine.

      First you have to determine if it actually was the wrong call. Pitch f/x might not be right because of camera angles and the depth of the plate. If the pitcher has consistently hit the "corner" of the plate throughout the game, maybe the umpire gives him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe if the batter leans away from what he thinks is going to be an inside pitch, that could influence the call. Maybe the ump misses the call because he just didn't see it clearly. Maybe count influences the ump as John referenced earlier. There do seem to be umps that don't like to call a batter out on an extremely close pitch. And finally maybe framing could influence the ump.

      The problem is assigning a possibility like framing to every close pitch that is "missed" by the umpire doesn't seem like very good "science". It clearly misses all the possible interplays between all of the participants in the umps dicision.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Jim, it does not miss other possibilities, but you have certainly offered other good ones, and are offering several tests that could be done to the data. That is how these things should work. Scientific inquiry and rebuttal at its best, if someone does the tests.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Jim, it does not miss other possibilities, but you have certainly offered other good ones, and are offering several tests that could be done to the data. That is how these things should work. Scientific inquiry and rebuttal at its best, if someone does the tests.
      It would require years of data to work. Like UZR (which I have defended to an extent in other threads), this "framing" stat deals with far too many variables to be used on even a single season's worth of data, I suspect. As Jim mentioned, we're talking about four different inputs into each call (batter, catcher, pitcher, ump). Multiply those four variables by, say, 400 pitchers, 80 catchers, several thousand batters, and ~150 umpires and you're looking at a massive amount of variables on each pitch. On top of that, the fact that framing is assumed to be worth roughly 1/10th of a run is very much up for debate and the statistical influence on that is nebulous at best. To get enough information to reach a qualified conclusion, we'll need millions of data points on those four inputs to make something like this work (assuming the other variables are correct, which we cannot at this point). While it's *technically* science, at this point it's pretty bad science. Far too incomplete to be used to quantify anything at this point.

      In five years, we might have enough data to start really breaking down catcher framing. And if we do, I have the feeling that the numbers we'll see will be much different and much smaller.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I agree the numbers will be much smaller, but since I have not spent the time on this the author has, that's just a guess. I also agree we need a ton more data for the confidence level to increase. None of that means the exercise is a bad one, or proves he is wrong.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      You got a different home plate umpire for every game during a series. They all calculate THEIR strikezone, a lot of times watching the pitcher throw...or do they actually review tape themselves to have an idea of if a pitcher pays the corners or not, throws high, low, etc. Then you have the pitcher. They can be all over the place. Some take a batter, some take an inning, some take the whole game to be consistent with their stuff. Then you have the catcher. Are they calling the game plan, is the manager/coach calling the shots, is the pitcher calling the shots. Another question is how often a catcher IS in the spot where the pitch is thrown...are they outside when it comes insides, etc. etc. It's fun watching sometimes when the catcher leans like two feet outside to catch a pitch. Then we have the batter. What bout the guy who swings at everything (Carlos Gomez, Delmon Young for example) Sometimes they hit it. The batter can throw everything off because they are oft unpredictable. They figure out the pitcher. They don't ALWAYS swing the exact same way, just as the pitcher doesn't always throw in the same spots, or the umpire might have a smaller or bigger zone this game, or the catcher has hurt legs or a hangover.

      So, in deciding this metric...who costs the most runs...the gameplan (caller), the pitcher (no control), the umpire (doesn't know what they do from game to game) or the catcher (who has a job of framing the plate and catching the ball).
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      I agree the numbers will be much smaller, but since I have not spent the time on this the author has, that's just a guess.
      It's more than a guess, it's common sense. There is no way that a full season of Jose Molina is worth 25% of Tampa Bay's total runs allowed. If he was, we'd see teams clamoring for the Jose Molinas of the world, not signing them as backup catchers for $1.5m.

      I don't even know if a 2004 Barry Bonds was worth 25% of his team's runs and that was the best single-season performance in baseball history.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Ok, hypothesis...not guess.
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