If I told you that Austin Hedges has allowed just two passed balls this year, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. Hedges has long been touted as a defensive prodigy at backstop, with good athleticism, good footwork, good hands, good just about anything you’d associate with defense at catcher; passed balls, on the other hand, are for slow, stone-handed handed catchers, save for the occasional cross-up or knuckleball. You probably also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Hedges has allowed the second-fewest amount of passed balls in baseball among regular catchers this season, just one ahead of Buster Posey and nine behind the league leaders, Yasmani Grandal and Gary Sanchez.
At this point, you might think, okay, big deal.
Dear smart baseball people…how is Yasmani Grandal both an elite pitch framer AND the MLB leader in passed balls the last two years?
— Jon Sciambi (@BoogSciambi) July 29, 2017
Sciambi’s tweet got me thinking, though: what if more passed balls is actually a good thing?
The idea here is that good framing catchers are worried more about presenting the pitch correctly over securing the ball 100 percent of the time. And that the actions associated with good framing—staying quiet, sneakily moving the glove back toward the strike zone on the catch, occasionally catching the ball outside the pocket of the catcher’s mitt, etc.—are the kind of skills that might also lead to more passed balls. A passed ball, in isolation, is never a good thing. But if five extra passed balls a year lead to five extra runs in pitch framing, you’ll take it in a heartbeat.