Baseball Prospectus announced a step forward with its catcher framing data Monday, which included putting framing numbers into every player profile on the website. I sing the publication’s praises nearly every day with links and comments on its content, so it’s no surprise that I find this information exciting.
But it also makes me nervous regarding the current Braves catching situation. The more articles I read that include framing data, the more I realize the team is taking a step back in that department this season.
As a quick primer, here’s a paragraph from the Baseball Prospectus article linked above that helps wrap your head around the value of catcher framing:
“We will freely admit: If you haven't seen the results of previous framing studies, it can be tough to wrap your mind around the size of the impact of a good or bad framing catcher. These effect sizes are not out of line with what has been reported in the past, but they're still obscenely large. Everyone agrees that Mike Trout was either a deserving MVP or a deserving runner-up in each of the past two seasons, which the stats say were worth close to 10 wins apiece. Our data suggest that over the past five years, the teams that have employed good framers like Jonathan Lucroy, Brian McCann, and Jose Molina have received essentially "free" MVP-caliber seasons from framing alone. (Each of those catchers has been worth about two extra wins per season over that span). This is a staggering amount of value. Add in the fact that these wins are almost assuredly not properly priced into the free agent market, and the difference between having a good framing catcher or a bad framing catcher can make or break a cost-conscious team.”
Honestly, it’s difficult not to take a step back when your previous catcher was Brian McCann. He has been one of the better receivers at framing over the years, ranking first in framing runs earned since 2008 (127), and 10th in framing runs per 7,000 chances (22.2). (As a note, the 7,000 chances is a rate stat designed to compare according to the average amount of framing chances per season. The average starting catcher will have around 7,000 chances in a season.)
McCann hasn’t always been the best at slowing the run game, but he has a quiet mitt that secures strikes better than most. He has also earned 924 extra strikes since 2008, per the data.
Evan Gattis isn’t McCann defensively. He has a similar arm and feet, but his framing isn’t on the same level. But that doesn’t mean Gattis is below average.
Gattis earned 3.3 framing runs in 2013, compared to McCann’s 11. It doesn’t compare, but it’s still above average for Gattis, and certainly better than I expected. If rated for 7,000 chances, Gattis earns 11.6 framing runs, which is a respectable number.
If one looks beyond Gattis among the current crop of Braves catchers, one would want Gattis behind the plate 24/7.
Atlanta’s backup, Gerald Laird, recorded -8.3 framing runs in 2013 and has totaled -83.3 since 2008. That ranks next to last in Major League Baseball over that span. Per 7,000 chances, it’s a similar horrendous number for Laird at -23.5 since 2008.
The worst at framing since 2008 is the Braves’ third catching option, Ryan Doumit. The new Atlanta bench bat has recorded -124 framing runs since 2008, which is by far the worst in MLB. Per 7,000 chances, the rate is -35.3.
Doumit has long been considered one of the weaker defensive catchers in the game. His bat has carried his value, and that’s good for Doumit, because he has a good bat. It’s the reason the Braves signed him, and I’m glad he’s a bench option for them.
Also, I don’t expect Doumit to catch much, if at all. The Braves talked about Doumit’s catching experience being a reason they can pinch hit with Laird earlier in the game, but that still means Doumit would be more of an emergency option should Gattis get hurt in the late innings. Gattis will require days off, meaning Laird will start behind the plate. Even then, however, I think Gattis would come in more often than Doumit if required.
So while Gattis probably gets a little more hate on his defense than deserved, he probably won’t fill McCann’s framing shoes. It would require a top 10 framer to do so. The Braves will have to make up that advantage in another way. Gattis mashing 20-30 home runs would go a long way toward that.
Behind Gattis, it’s not a pretty sight defensively. So if a fan barks for Laird to play more behind the plate because of defense, spark a hearty defense for Gattis’ framing data compared to Laird’s.