Mike Fast, who is now working for the Houston Astros, published research on catcher pitch-framing over at Baseball Prospectus last September. It is a fascinating article and does not require a BP subscription, so I would encourage you to read it if you have not yet done so.
Fast analyzed PITCHf/x data from the 2007-2011 seasons. According to the results, former Pirates’ catcher Ryan Doumit cost his pitchers more strikes than any other catcher in baseball over that period. Fast concluded that Doumit’s tendency to move his head while receiving pitches was the main reason for his struggles. Much of the article focused on the importance of a catcher quietly receiving a pitch without extraneous movement.
I was reminded of this while watching the Pirates take on the Red Sox on Friday night. In the seventh inning, Tony Sanchez replaced Eric Fryer behind the plate. I have only had a chance to see Sanchez catch on a few occasions, but in that limited time, I have been impressed by his ability to receive pitches with ease.
Here is a comparison between Sanchez and Doumit. The Sanchez clip is from Friday night, and the Doumit clip is from May 8, 2011. Both catchers are receiving a fastball from Daniel McCutchen, with both pitches mostly hitting the target. Notice how much more movement is involved in the Doumit clip, in his glove, shoulders and head.
Sanchez’s 2011 season was clearly a disappointment on the offensive side. That being said, I am pretty convinced that his defense, particularly his receiving skills, will someday provide an enormous benefit to Pirates’ pitchers. It will be interesting to see if he can rebound with the bat this year, as he may have significant defensive value if he can hit enough to eventually take over the big league catching job.