How Tyler Flowers changed my mind about Framing | Baseball Catching Tips

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When I got drafted 14 years ago (man has it really been that long??), the most important thing a catcher did to affect the game at the professional level was throw guys out.

Pop-time has been dethroned

In the past, the two more valued catching skills were usually…

  1. Pop-time and
  2. throwing velocity to 2nd base

These were the top 2 defensive skills measured at scouting events and showcases… and rightly so (at the time), because we as a baseball community didn’t have any other tools to measure a catcher objectively.
But in the last decade the statistical analysis and technology in baseball have come a LONG way.

(I’m sure you’ve seen the Statcast data when you’re watching a game on tv.)

Launch angle, exit velocity, spin rate, and of course the “k” zone. Why Pop Time is no longer #1 skill for baseball catchers... and what is now
And along with the new ways to measure performance, came a new way to evaluate the importance of each skill.

For example…

Do you know why stealing in now so rare to see in MLB games?

Baseball analysts decided that unless a baserunner steals successfully 80% of the time or greater, it isn’t worth it to steal at all.

And since the average caught stealing percentage in the Major Leagues is 30%… most people stopped even trying.

How the Catcher Position has changed​

The skill that has forever been the most important for a catcher, has now become LESS important because of analytics (at the big league level at least).

So now that “Pop time” has been dethroned as the king of catching skills (at the Major League level) what is the top, most valued skill now?​

Meet the new “King” of MLB catcher stats… Framing

They learned that catchers that catch more strikes, catch more WINS.

And winning games and winning championships is what it’s all about!

It seems obvious when I say it like that: “Catch more strikes, catch more wins.”

Right?

But this one idea changed everything.

So much so that when Hank Conger was catching for the Los Angeles Angels in 2013 and averaged stealing 3 strikes per game, some statistical analysts argued he helped the team win more games than Mike Trout!

Now if you are shaking your head at that, so was I.

How is stealing 3 strikes over the course of 9 innings more valuable than the G.O.A.T.?

Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers helped me understand a few years later.

We were talking about catching from a one-knee stance.

I was coming from an “old-school” perspective and arguing that he wouldn’t be able to throw anybody out.

He said “If I steal an extra strike on a guy, he probably doesn’t reach first base…. so then I never even have to throw him out. I helped get him out before he even got there!”

And my head exploded. Lol.

The Nerdy Stuff – Why Framing is the most important skill for a baseball catcher

Think about it…

3-1 count.

A hitter takes a borderline pitch.

A great receiver gets it called a strike.

Instead of being on first base with a walk, the hitter has to hit in a 3-2 count.

MLB have a .450 OBP and a .211 AVG in a 3-2 count. So with that one strike stolen, now there is an 55% chance the hitter will get out on the next pitch, and a 79% chance they’ll be out if they swing.

Compare that against a 100% chance of them being on base if the catcher framed the borderline pitch poorly and the pitch was a ball.

The same argument can be made for stealing a strike in ANY count. A hitters OBP and AVG goes down the more strikes they have on them throughout the at bat.

So, steal 3 strikes a game and the analysts argue you’ve saved at LEAST one run.

And I agree.

If you can do that EVERY game…. you are saving at least one run every game.

How many times do you have a game with ZERO RBI’s when you are hitting??

Well, if you steal 3 strikes you can still impact the game in a big way!

About Ryan Lavarnway

About Author

In a nutshell... When Lavarnway made his Major League debut with the Boston Red Sox on August 18, 2011, he became the first player in MLB history to hit two Home Runs and throw out a runner in his first start as a catcher. Since then he has played with the following organizations: 💥 Boston Red Sox 💥 Atlanta Braves 💥 Baltimore Orioles 💥 Oakland A's 💥 Pittsburgh Pirates 💥 New York Yankees 💥 Miami Marlins In 2013, Lavarnway earned a World Series title and ring with the Boston Red Sox. Lavarnway was a key member of Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic is 2016 and 2017, earning himself MVP of Pool A of the Tournament. Going further back... Lavarnway attended Yale University where he studied philosophy and played baseball for the Yale Bulldogs. In 2007 he was named a Division 1 All-American after setting multiple single season records, and in 2008 he became the Ivy League's all-time career Home Run record holder. Lavarnway was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 6th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft. Two-time Boston Red Sox Minor League Offensive Player of the Year Rated by Baseball America best defensive catcher in the International league in 2012.

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