We’ve seen some pretty revolutionary baseball research over the two decades, but until about three years ago our public estimations of catcher defense were pretty limited. We had some idea about which catchers were the best at catching base stealers, but blocking, framing, game calling, and the other nuances of the job were relative unknowns. We knew they were there, we could see them at work in individual situations, but we just didn’t have quality, public data to give us a clear pitcher of catcher defense. That’s starting to change, although we’re still a long way from home.
Over the last couple of seasons, pitch framing has become a popular topic of conversation in the game with teams like the Rays, Pirates, and others seemingly targeting quality framers. We have had new metrics and seen lots of articles considering the merits of those catchers who can steal extra strikes. It’s hard to say if it’s permeated the baseball world, or just the advanced metrics/blogger world, but framing is the new “it” asset. We even saw our own Dave Cameron place a high value on catcher defense on his 2014 NL MVP ballot.
Catcher defense can essentially be divided into five categories: normal fielding, pitch framing, blocking, game calling, and controlling the running game. In no area are we perfect, but there are some areas that we can evaluate better than others. Catcher defense is an evolving area of study and hot topic of conversation. Let’s briefly consider what we do and don’t know about the most indispensable position.*