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Did Bad Catcher Framing Cost the Rangers the West?

Jeff Sullivan has a post at FanGraphs that illustrates how different ball and strike calls were between teams in 2012, with Rangers pitchers being among the most victimized

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Jeff Sullivan has a post up at FanGraphs in which he...well, I'll let him explain:

FanGraphs provides for you total pitches, total strikes, and plate-discipline data based on PITCHf/x data. By using zone rate, you can come up with pitches in the zone, which leads to knowing pitches out of the zone, which leads to knowing swings at pitches out of the zone. Based on those numbers, you can end up with an expected strikes total. You’re way ahead of me — I probably don’t need to explain this in great detail.

Using this information, Sullivan determined, for each team, how many more (or less) strikes per 1000 pitches were called than would be expected, based on pitch f/x data. Given the studies that have shown that catchers have an impact on ball and strike calls based on how they frame pitches, it isn't surprising that there were pretty significant spreads from top to bottom. And while the difference between a pitch being called a ball versus a strike seems minor, its been calculated that a pitch being called a ball instead of a strike results in a 0.13 run swing.

The best teams in this regard in 2012, according to Sullivan's calculations, were the Braves and the Brewers, each of whom received 11 more strikes per 1000 pitches than would be expected. The Pirates were the worst, getting 19 fewer strikes per 1000 pitches than would be expected. At approximately 23,000 pitches per season, that means the Brewers and Braves each got about 690 more strikes called than the Pirates did, compared to what pitch f/x says would be expected. Using a 0.13 value for each ball/strike call, the difference in those ball/strike calls resulted in an advantage of almost 90 runs over the course of a season for Atlanta and Milwaukee, compared to Pittsburgh.

How did the Rangers fare? Not well. The Rangers were tied with the Twins as the fourth-worst team in the majors, getting 13 fewer strike calls per 1000 pitches than pitch f/x indicated should be called. The overall average is 5 fewer strike calls per 1000 pitches, so the Rangers were 8 strikes per 1000 pitches worse than average.

The Rangers threw 23,493 pitches in the 2012 regular season. That means the Ranger pitchers had around 188 more pitches called balls that should have been called strikes, relative to the average team. At a value of 0.13 runs per ball/strike call, that's a difference of 24 runs allowed over the course of a season.

10 runs are generally considered to be worth one win in the standings. If the Rangers had been an average team, in terms of ball/strike calls relative to what pitch f/x says should have been called, you can estimate that they'd have allowed 24 fewer runs, which would have resulted in two more wins for the Rangers -- they'd have been a 95 win team, rather than a 93 win team.

The Oakland A's won 94 games, and won the A.L. West by one game. If the Rangers had won 95 games instead of 93 games, they'd have edged out the A's for the A.L. West, would have avoided the Wild Card play-in game, and would have been matched against the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS.

So one could, if one wished, make the argument that umpires not doing a good job calling balls and strikes may have cost the Rangers the division.

One could also argue that poor pitch framing by the Rangers catchers may have cost the Rangers the division.