The Hidden Value of Buster Posey and Yasmani Grandal
Written By: John McCool (@Desertrose28)
Pitch framing is the art of using slight body movement and positioning to create the illusion of a strike. A good pitch framer turns borderline balls into strikes and keeps pitches received in the strike zone as strikes. If done consistently, a skilled pitch framer creates extra strikes for his pitcher and coaxes hitters to chase pitches slightly off the plate.
An increasing number of Major League front offices are using pitch framing as a means to evaluate catchers. Teams recognize that in the ongoing chess match between the pitcher and hitter, an established pitch framer can tip the balance in favor of his pitcher. The best pitch framers save up to 15 to 20 runs per season.
One metric used in pitch framing is calls per game, which measures the number of extra strikes that a catcher gains over the course of the game. In 2016, Buster Posey and Yasmani Grandal led the way with 1.75 and 1.70 calls respectively, per game.
Curt Casali and Miguel Montero made the biggest gains in calls per game last season, averaging an additional .84 calls per game.  Despite splitting time with Wilson Contreras and David Ross behind the plate, Montero “stole” 2.05 strikes per game and saved 16.1 runs (RAA) on 4599 pitches received.
Figure 1: Increase in extra strike calls per game between 2015 and 2016.
Posey and Grandal’s Framing Dominance
Buster Posey and Yasmani Grandal have established themselves as the best pitch framers in the game. In 2016, Posey and Grandal saved 26.8 and 24.1 runs respectively, through pitch framing.
As the backbone behind the Giants’ three World Series titles, Posey has established himself as a franchise player. On the offensive side, Posey posted a 14/80/0.288 slash last season. On the defensive side, Posey upped his calls per game by 0.53 and saved an additional 11.6 runs compared to 2015. Rob Arthur, a writer for FiveThirtyEight, notes that Posey’s pitch framing skills are in part related to his ability to keep still as he receives a pitch.
Figure 2: Pitches received by Buster Posey outside of the strike zone in 2016
Source: Baseball Savant
In 2016, the Posey received 6,654 pitches outside of the strike zone. He was able to pick up strikes on these pitches at a 16.5% rate. For example, Posey manufactured called strikes on 19% of Madison Bumgarner and Santiago Casillas’ pitches outside of the zone last season.
Figure 3: The percent of called strikes that Posey received on pitches outside of the strike zone for the Giants’ starting rotation in 2016.
Like Posey, Grandal is a versatile hitter with a knack for framing pitches on the outer edge of the strike zone. During the 2014 offseason, Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers President of Baseball Operations, exchanged outfielder Matt Kemp for Grandal. During his stint with the Rays, Friedman applied data analytics principles to sign Jose Molina, another undervalued pitcher framer, to work with the Rays’ young pitcher staff.
Grandal developed the craft of pitch framing at the University of Miami. As he progressed through the minors and into the big leagues, he continued to work on his receiving skills with veteran catchers like Ramon Hernandez, Brad Ausmus, and A.J. Hinch.
Figure 4: The number of runs that Grandal has saved from pitch framing
In 2016, 16.47% of pitches that Grandal received outside of the strike zone were called strikes, 4.71% higher than short-term pickup Carlos Ruiz. Grandal consistently framed pitches on each side of the strike zone.
Figure 5: Pitches received by Yasmani Grandal outside of the strike zone in 2016
In comparison, Salvador Perez’s pitch framing cost the Royals 19.5 runs last season. He turned just 13.3% of pitches received outside of the strike zone into called strikes. Perez did a good job buying extra strikes on the left side of the strike zone (catcher’s view), but was not as effective receiving the ball on the bottom or right side of the plate.
Figure 6: Pitches received by Salvador Perez outside of the strike zone in 2016
Perez did a poor job receiving pitches in the strike zone. In 2016, 9.67% pitches that he caught in the strike zone were called balls compared to just 5.79% for Posey.
Figure 7: Pitches received by Salvador Perez and Buster Posey in the strike zone last season.
The fact that pitch framing is mainstream pinpoints to how rapidly baseball analytics has seeped into player evaluation and on-field strategy for most teams. While some argue that pitch framing is an unreliable metric, the numbers suggest otherwise. We found a 0.54 correlation between catchers’ 2015 and 2016 O-Strike% and a 0.58 correlation between catchers’ 2015 and 2016 Z-ball%.
Over the last couple of seasons, pitch framing has given small market teams like the Pirates, Padres, and Rays an edge behind the plate. It was one of primary reasons why the cash strapped Pirates signed Russell Martin and later pursued Francisco Cervelli.
For most catchers, pitch framing is largely a skill acquired outside of the core blocking, throwing, and pitch calling skills worked on during spring training. As teams continue to search for a slight competitive edge, however, they may start nudging their young catchers to emulate Posey and Grandal behind the plate.
 Catchers that posted runs above average (RAA) above zero and received at least 1000 pitches in 2016.
 Catchers that received a minimum of 1,000 pitches in 2015 and 2016