Last week, FanGraphs (finally) unveiled their catcher framing metrics and included it in their WAR model, so you know what that means? I get another excuse to talk about how good Buster Posey is. I also get an excuse to talk about how much better or worse some other Giants catchers (and pitchers!) are. We’ve had access to the Baseball Prospectus, StatCorner, and Sports Info Solution framing metrics for years, but FanGraphs’ numbers show how individual pitchers are affected based on who caught them.
First, let’s look at Buster Posey. In David Appelman’s overview of how catchers and pitcher WAR is affected by the new numbers, Posey shows up as one of the largest benefactors of the change. Before framing was factored into fWAR, Posey was on track to enter the Hall of Very Good, but now, he’s where he should be.
Posey has saved the Giants 118 runs in his career. That brings his career fWAR from 38.7 to 51.1. That makes him fourth among active catchers, and the three players ahead of him (Brian McCann, Russell Martin, and Yadier Molina) all have three to five more years of playing time.
Posey’s 2012 MVP season went from 7.5 to 10.4 fWAR. That’s more valuable than 2003 Barry Bonds and Bonds had a 1.278 OPS in 2003. I’ve always believed that if Posey didn’t get hurt in 2011, the Giants would have would four championships in five years, but Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside combined for 29.9 framing runs and 4.2 fWAR. Sure, they didn’t hit at all, but they saved a ton of runs just by making the pitches look like strikes.
Since Steamer now incorporates framing into its projections, Posey is no longer projected to be the most valuable catcher in baseball this season. That distinction now belongs to Yasmani Grandal, who had to settle for a one-year deal. The Nationals offered him a multi-year deal, but four years and $60 million is an underpay for one of the best catchers in baseball.
Mentioned in Jared Cross’s introduction to FanGraphs’ framing, he mentions that the Giants figure to be one of the most improved teams in framing runs. While the exact number is subject to change because the backup catcher battle is still going strong, that they will improve seems like a certainty. That’s because the Giants will be without Nick Hundley.
Hundley was a popular figure in the Giants clubhouse, and his .304 wOBA was above average for a catcher. However, Hundley’s framing numbers had him at -11.2 runs in 2018. That was the fourth-worst mark in baseball and the three catchers behind him caught 300 more innings than Hundley.
Before the framing numbers were folded into fWAR, Nick Hundley had accrued 11.3 fWAR. That’s not a bad career at all.
After framing is accounted for, that falls all the way to 1.9 which is what an average starter is expected to produce in a season. That’s a -9.4 difference. It’s as if Mike Trout siphoned Nick Hundley’s WAR to fuel his 2018 season.
If, for whatever reason, why you were wondering why the Giants didn’t want to reunite with Hundley, that’s why. All the value he provides at the plate is given up behind it.
Instead of bringing back Hundley, the Giants have instead gone through a Bachelor-style audition process where Farhan Zaidi has instead brought in every available backup catcher and will give one a rose at the end.
If framing ability were the only qualifier for the job, it would have belonged to René Rivera. As is, it looks like it will go to Erik Kratz or Tom Murphy who are good and meh framers respectively.
When I projected Andrew Suárez, I wrote about how having a better framer behind the plate would help him, and really that’s true of the entire pitching staff including Madison Bumgarner.
Bumgarner was one of the pitchers most dinged in fWAR because he’s mostly pitched to Posey over his career. His fWAR went from 30.7 to 28.0. The past two seasons, Bumgarner hasn’t been helped behind the plate, and over the last two seasons his strikeout rate fell, and in 2018, his walk rate went up.
Having a better framer behind the plate ought to help Bumgarner get closer to where he was. The larger concerns are Bumgarner’s declining velocity and his overall command, so he can’t just let Erik Kratz save him.
None of the above is necessarily new information. We’ve had framing numbers from Baseball Prospectus, Sports Info Solutions, and Statscorner for years now, so we’ve known that Posey was good and Hundley was bad etc.
What this really does is serve as a reminder that WAR is an evolving statistic that’s based on the context of what we figure is a good player now. That doesn’t mean that WAR is wrong, just that it is gradually moving closer to the truth. Before last week, WARP was the model that was closest to representing catcher value, and FanGraphs finally caught up.