Pitch framing has lost a bit of its luster of the last few years, simply because everyone knows about it. Whereas a few years ago it was the latest and greatest development in sabermetric thinking, now seemingly every team has a good framing catcher or three. Just as notably, the really bad framers—the Ryan Doumits of the world—have mostly disappeared, either forced out of the game or forced to improve at their craft.
But don’t tell Hector Sanchez.
Here’s the strike zone plot versus left-handed hitters that I pulled from last night’s game around the time Sanchez left after taking a foul ball off the foot:
Look at those green squares. There are three of them clearly in the rule book strike zone and another couple safely in the area generally called a strike. Part of that’s on the umpire, sure, and part of it’s maybe just small sample whatever. But we already know that Sanchez is not a particularly good framer. Last year, by Baseball Prospectus’ framing metric, Sanchez had the second-worst CSAA (-0.032) in all of baseball among catchers with at least 500 chances, ahead of only then-Reds catcher Ramon Cabrera. That was Sanchez’s worst year by the numbers, but he’s always rated as a well below average framer since debuting with the Giants back in 2011.
Sometimes bad framing is tough to pick up while watching a game. Sometimes it isn’t.
What follows are a few GIFs from a package the Padres broadcast put together last night on borderline pitches that didn’t go San Diego’s way. It’s not hard to see why.
It’s a little tough to see, but Sanchez actually drops the ball here. Literally. The very first step in getting a called strike, even on a pitch well in the zone, is to catch it.
Good receiving usually involves subtle movements. Just slightly pulling the glove up or down, left or right, to present the pitch to the umpire looking as much like a strike as possible. Here, Sanchez gets a pitch just a little bit up, but near the top of the zone, and upon catching it he jerks his glove down violently back to the center of the zone. Umpires know what catchers are trying to do, and they don’t want to be shown up. This is like going into the corner store and walking out while opening that stolen pack of gum; conceal it just a little and maybe the clerk will look the other way.
Sanchez just gives up on this pitch, and it’s not clear why. He’s set up low and outside, and the pitch comes in low and down the middle. Jhoulys Chacin misses his spot by just a bit, and all Sanchez has to do here is move his glove slightly to his right and stick it. Instead he catches the ball with his glove nosediving into the dirt. Even though this pitch is right near the bottom of the zone, probably a strike, there’s almost no way Sanchez is getting this call.
Whew. Same thing here. Sanchez gets this slider right where he wants it, bottom quadrant of the zone right at the knees. Look at how he lifts his glove up as the pitch in on the way and then, again, violently jerks it back down to catch it. If the umpire looks down at Sanchez’s glove when he catches the ball, he’s going to see it well below the zone. The head movement doesn’t help any.
There are some very basic rules to good pitch framing; Sanchez is breaking them all.