The loss of Christian Vazquez for the season to Tommy John surgery is a big one for the Red Sox. Though some hoped he would develop as a hitter, the Red Sox weren’t expecting much offensive production. Instead, much of his value was to come from his ability to frame pitches. Last season, his total pitch framing value expressed in runs (14.6) was about as valuable as Russell Martin’s (16.5) according to our metrics, and this despite Vazquez getting about half the framing chances.
With Vazquez now slated to miss the season, to paraphrase my dad, the Red Sox will get nothing and like it. Except that’s not exactly true. There is still Ryan Hanigan, Sandy Leon, and if things get desperate, Humberto Quintero, whose name I’m fairly certain is an incredibly subtle Lolita reference that I’m not quite getting. And in fact there is some good news here, and not just for those of you who get the reference and therefore feel superior to me. The good news is Ryan Hanigan is a good pitch framer, too. On a per-pitch basis (again, by our RPM metric), Vazquez was about three times the pitch-framer Hanigan is based solely on 2014’s statistics. Hanigan’s performance was similarly above average but not great in 2013. Those with carmine colored glasses might cite that he was one of the better pitch framers in baseball in previous seasons. So if you’re among that group, maybe take the below with appropriate skepticism.
But Hanigan was going to play anyway. He’s not the guy getting replaced. It’s Vazquez who is being replaced, partially by Hanigan and partially by Sandy Leon. So how does Leon fare at framing pitches? Well… have I mentioned what a nice quiche his mother makes? It’s sumptuous! Caramelized onions, leeks, and… what? You want to talk more about Leon’s pitch framing? Are you sure? Fine. But just remember when I tell you Sandy Leon isn’t a particularly good pitch framer that you are the one who wanted this.
Sandy Leon isn’t a particularly good pitch framer. There. Happy? I blame you.
Although that’s not entirely fair or, to be fair, true. Leon hasn’t played enough to know definitively how good or bad a pitch framer he really is. Our numbers say what he’s done in his career is very slightly above average, and StatCorner’s numbers say what he’s done in his career is slightly below average. But he could be better than that. Or worse. Because what he’s done in his career is not much!
What we do know is Leon isn’t Vazquez. So let’s try and see what the Red Sox have lost in the pitch framing department through Vazquez’s injury. To do that, we have to know what they had. Baseball Prospectus had Vazquez projected to get 65 percent of the starts with Hanigan getting about 25 percent and Blake Swihart getting the last 10 percent. For ease of use, I’m going to ignore Swihart and give his playing time to Hanigan.
Last year, Red Sox pitchers threw 23,778 pitches over the course of the season, a number similar to previous seasons. Of those, 11,582, or 48.7 percent, were judged to be framable. Using 2014 framing numbers, here’s what the Red Sox would have received in terms of pitch framing value from their catchers before Vazquez’s injury:
Before Vazquez’s Injury
23,778 (total pitches thrown in season) X
.487 (percent of total pitches that are framable) X
.65 (number of framable pitches Vazquez would be expected to catch) X
.004605 (Vazquez’s Framing Runs Added Per Framing Chance)
= 34.66 Runs
= 5.87 Runs
Total Runs = 40.53
Using the general framework of 10 runs being equivalent to one win, the Red Sox would have received four wins from their catchers’ pitch framing abilities alone.
Post injury, Hanigan is set to get 60 percent of the starts with Leon, Quintero, and Swihart getting the rest. Based on what the Red Sox have said about Swihart and the fact they sent Quintero, a known quantity, to the minor leagues, let’s assume 60 percent of the starts go to Hanigan and 40 percent to Leon. Based on that breakdown, here’s what the Red Sox can expect to receive in terms of pitch framing value from their catchers now.
After Vazquez’s Injury
.60 (number of framable pitches Hanigan would be expected to catch) X
= 10.07 framing runs
Total Framing Runs = 10.07
These numbers show the Red Sox have lost three wins in catcher framing alone by losing Vazquez, moving Hanigan into the starters role, and adding Leon as the back up. For a team PECOTA projects to win the division by a single game, that is a lot, and not a promising start to a season of high expectations.
Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.smugmug.com