World Series Shows Pitch Framing Matters

Everywhere you turned last night, the major discussion was Home Plate Larry Vanover’s strike zone.  As it appeared by the fan watching at home on television, it seemed like Corey Kluber was getting a more favorable strike zone than the one Jon Lester was getting.  The critique wasn’t limited to just fans.  Lester had his own problems with the strike zone himself.

It was actually the same refrain Mets fans had in the Wild Card Game.  It appeared Madison Bumgarner was getting a larger strike zone than Noah Syndergaard was.  This was one of the reasons Bumgarner was able to go deeper into the game and help the Giants advance to the NLDS.  In the World Series, it was one of the reasons why Kluber dominated the Cubs and why Lester left the game down 3-0.

In both cases, it appears the viewers and the teams were correct.  One team was not getting the calls the other team was getting.  It is not because the umpiring crew likes one pitcher better than another.  It is not because umpires put bets down on both games.  It is because of the art of pitch framing.

In the Wild Card Game, Rene Rivera struggled in that department while Buster Posey, the best at it in the game, was on top of that aspect of his game.  It made a big difference in the game.  It was also a big difference last night.

During the 2016 season, both Roberto Perez and David Ross were exceptional pitch framers.  As it turns out, Perez was not only better during the regular season, he was also better last night.  Perez’s pitch framing makes such a huge difference in getting those borderline pitches for his staff.  It allows them to get an advantage in the count and to get that called third strike.  Indians backup catcher Chris Gimenez said it best when he said:

He is phenomenal.  Blocking, receiving — he’s elite, in my opinion. His game-calling has gone through the roof just from the beginning of this year. And he is literally an elite pitch framer. Even [Andrew Miller] today was like, “It’s so nice having him back there. He makes those 50-50 balls look so good, in the umpire’s eye, that’s a strike.”

(Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports)

If that quote sounds familiar, it should.  Here is what Addison Reed had to say about Travis d’Arnaud:

There’s been a couple of times just this season that I’ve went back and looked at video just because I wanted to see how low the ball was, and how good of a strike (d’Arnaud) made it look. He’s the best I’ve ever thrown to at doing that. Just the way he frames the ball, it’s unbelievable. He makes balls that are four or five inches below the zone look like they’re almost right down the middle by just the way he flicks his wrist. I couldn’t even tell you how he does it.

(Mark Simon, ESPN).

While many choose to discount pitch framing, and the importance it has, teams and pitching staffs don’t.  There’s good reason for it.  As we saw in Game 1 of the World Series, it was the difference between Kluber throwing six shutout innings with nine strikeouts and no walks and Lester walking three and barking at the umpire.

With the Mets, it was the difference between Bumgarner going nine, and Syndergaard going seven.  It was also the difference between Reed being a pitcher with a career 4.20 ERA and a 1.275 WHIP to a dominant eighth inning reliever who has a 1.84 ERA and a 0.957 WHIP as a Met.  In total, it helps the entire Mets pitching staff.

Fact is pitch framing matters, and it has a huge impact on the game.  It was a big factor why the Indians won Game 1 of the World Series, and it was a factor in the Mets run to the World Series in 2015.  It will be a big factor in 2017 when a healthy d’Arnaud is able to catch a healthy Mets staff.