I’ve used this metaphor before, but I can’t think of a better one. Say 30 people are in a room for a meeting, and in comes a giant plate of sandwiches. Maybe more sandwiches than are needed (35?), but not so many that people aren’t eyeing the buffet to see if they need to make a bold move to get the roast beef if they hate tuna, etc. You’ve been in that situation before, or something like it. You can play it cool or be That Guy, but either way, you’re probably going to eat.

But let’s say one of the 30 people leaves the room for a hot second, to grab a pen, tell someone more coffee is needed in the room, whatever. And while that person was gone, some other jerk goes to grab a sandwich, and sneezes a terrible, wet, disgusting sneeze all over one end of the buffet. Yikes. Now the rush is on, because hell if you’re going to be one of the people to get up there before all the non-sneezed sandwiches are taken.

Call the one person who left the Arizona Diamondbacks. What are the chances he gets a non-sneeze sandwich? They’re practically nil. Maybe some of the other people will be nice to the D-backs, and tell him about the sneeze, even though that draws attention to the sneeze guy and most people choose to avoid calling others out. It’d be up to the D-backs to believe it, or not believe it. Because while most people would have sandwiches, to the D-backs, it would look like there were some pretty great looking ones on that one end of the buffet, and you gotta eat — maybe you just delude yourself into thinking the sneeze must not have happened.

It sure seems like there’s only one organization in MLB now that doesn’t appreciate catcher framing. There’s only one organization that, time and again, keeps heading to that one end of the buffet that everyone seems to avoid. On one level, it’s understandable — unlike the sandwiches that are all together in one place, catchers like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Gerald Laird and Jordan Pacheco and Chris Herrmann aren’t so similar that you have to ask yourself “why are these guys available?” And part of that is just that if a player can’t catch but can really hit, they don’t become available for a waiver claim or minor league deal or distant prospect — they get moved to a different position.

It’s frustrating. I happen to think that the D-backs have been so fearlessly different than the other 29 clubs that they actually have derived some kind of advantage from that. Other teams may have dismissed BABIP as luck for hitters and pitchers both, but sometimes the actual results are the least misleading — and I think that’s been true for Shelby Miller, in particular. Still, wouldn’t you rather know how sneezed-on a sandwich really is? Shifting is wonderful, but it has only ever moved the needle on run prevention by about 1%, or less, for any team, ever. The difference between baseball’s best framers and worst framers appears to affect run prevention by about 8%. It’s freaking huge. And even if you only half believe in it, you should still admit that’s it’s huge.

Would it really be so hard for the D-backs to march to their own drum and at least consider some of these data-driven things? Just under two years ago, it seemed like Managing Partner Ken Kendrick thought so. Via Dan Bickley:

“When we look at where we are and where we were, I can compare two regimes,” Kendrick said. “I don’t want to say polar opposites — that’s too strong — but there was a pretty significant reliance on data with Josh than with Kevin. I always hoped for, with each, more balance. It’s easy to say, but not always easy to achieve.

“I think we know we don’t have the balance I still think is the right way to go, and I think we need to recognize (that). To this point, there are only a few teams that are starting to do exotic (defensive) shifts, which is an element of a much bigger picture of (baseball analytics) …

I don’t know that Josh Byrnes was too analytics-driven — I wasn’t digging in on the D-backs regularly at that point, and as far as I know, the only other team to have consciously shifted away from analytics is the Red Sox, and recently. But if Kevin Towers was too far to the other extreme, how would one describe the current front-office-by-committee?

Look, there’s a possibility that Tuffy Gosewisch just wasn’t ready right now, and he’s far from being deity-like as a framer anyway. But why oh why would you take Chris Herrmann over Gosewisch when pitching has been this team’s Achilles heel? You can almost see the logic — the D-backs did invest in the pitching staff, and the idea of having a left-handed-hitting backup for Welington Castillo has lots of appeal. But check out these defensive numbers, and how they’d affect the team on a game by game basis:

Catchers Defensively

That was easy; the Baseball Prospectus defensive numbers are set so average is zero at catcher. To do the same kind of thing on offense, the most accurate stat is Runs Created. But Runs Created isn’t keyed to average, and it’s not even keyed to replacement level — so this is based on the fact that if you average all 2015 catchers together, the average catcher had 64.2 Runs Created over 650 PA (which is about where a catcher would get if he played 162 games, keeping it the same as the defensive numbers).

Catchers Offensively

Players get better and worse, so it’s not like any of this is written in stone. But with two numbers that can actually be compared to each other, the conclusion should be pretty obvious: in terms of total run differential, Gosewisch is about a -0.21 runs per game guy, and Herrmann is a horrific -0.32 runs per game.

So… what the hell? Because it’s not like Herrmann is much, much better against RHP, either (he’s hit .191 over his career against RHP, and Tuffy has hit .211 over his career against RHP). The only way to prefer Chris Herrmann over Tuffy Gosewisch is to ignore defense completely. Looking only at offense, Herrmann looks like the (slightly) better player, and since Castillo struggles against “Finesse” pitchers, you actually could form a pretty good hitting platoon between Castillo and Herrmann. But that’s still missing the point.

There are always things we don’t know, and it could be that Herrmann has made some change for the better, that Gosewisch is really slowed after knee surgery… a whole host of possibilities. Given the revelation that GM Dave Stewart‘s wife is Herrmann’s agent (which I think means that Stew was his agent before he became GM), it would be easy (and lazy) to suggest that had something to do with it. This time last year, though, I said that I would never again question the front-office-by-committee’s motives, and I meant it. It’s just that completely ignoring framing seems like the only other explanation, especially considering the deep chasm between Herrmann’s value and Gosewisch’s.

12 Responses to Double Plus: Chris Herrmann over Tuffy Gosewisch Betrays a D-backs Blind Spot

  1. Ben says:

    It seems like they don’t value pitch framing much, but supposedly Castillo is working on improving his skills in that area. Maybe the same is for Herrmann? Maybe the Dbacks think the new inefficiency is in valuing as teachable skill (that they will teach) to highly. http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/mlb/cactus-league/2016/03/17/arizona-diamondbacks-welington-castillo-set-improve/81946782/

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      I believe it, and I hope so (although Tuffy could also improve).

      Mike Butcher was there when Chris Iannetta tried to get better and did get better, just by deliberately trying to take advantage of framing.

  2. rye says:

    I think there’s some things that are being overlooked. Castillo wasn’t targeted by the D-backs but rather fell in their laps when Tuffy went down last season and the team was put in a position where they HAD to do something. The way the Trumbo trade worked out was not foreseen by anyone. At the time, most were excited about Leone and Guerrero, viewing Castillo as a necessary stop-gap until the off-season when the D-backs could do something real about the catching situation. The fact that Castillo turned into a huge plus for the team probably ended up indirectly allowing the D-backs to go after Greinke and/or Miller.

    I think the team views the back-up catcher role as an area in which it doesn’t feel like spending a bunch of money. Herrmann was brought in as a low-cost option with relative upside. That said, the only reason he’s on the roster over Tuffy is because Tuffy has options and Herrmann doesn’t. The team is not going to throw away both Herrmann and Palka just for the pleasure of letting Tuffy catch 3-4 times every 2 weeks. Now the team has a back-up for the back-up and while neither are above replacement level catchers, most backups aren’t and they’re not costing anything.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      All true, and I do kind of agree — it’s just that I think some other scrap heap guy like Brett Hayes or Mark Thomas wouldn’t actually be a step down from Herrmann, so there’s not as much of a reason to go Herrmann over Tuffy just because that means they can keep both.

      On Castillo, he really did fall in their lap. It would have been easy as all hell to have gotten him in the Montero trade, but they didn’t.

      • rye says:

        I was very critical of the Herrmann trade when it happened. Of all of the off-season moves this is the one that I understood the least. But Tuffy did heal a lot faster than I thought. I thought Tuffy would be on the DL to start the season and Herrmann, as a low cost alternative, could fill in while he healed. I can’t speak to Hayes or Thomas as better or worse than Herrmann. I understand that Herrmann was once highly regarded and he’s had minor league success. Maybe the team was just hoping to hit the lottery. Maybe they will.

  3. AZ Zonie says:

    It could be that the Dbacks are thinking that pitch framing may be starting to become less important as laid out in this post on Fangraphs earlier this year: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-beginning-of-the-end-for-pitch-framing/ I would agree that umps are certainly aware of pitch framing and don’t want to be shown to be improperly influenced by it. IMO this seems like pitch framing would at least gradually decline in importance – all things being equal.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      To err is human…

      I see what you’re saying, and thanks for posting the link. I also meant what I said — even if you thought it was only half as important, it’d still be a pretty big deal.

      2 strikes a game could easily be the difference between a walk and a strikeout… and over a 6 inning start, that’s enough to take a 8.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 guy who looks like an average or better pitcher and make him look like a 7.0 K/9, 4.5 BB/9 pitcher, the kind of guy who might be too fringy to stay in a rotation.

      It’s just so big to start with…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Put me in the tuffy camp, game manager first. The cronyism though what a conflict.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again…

    Teams have made the playoffs and won the World Series with poor pitch framers behind the plate. Even the Red Sox, who are known for their reliance on statistical analysis, were willing to have a non-framing catcher like Salty behind the plate, and managed to ride that to a World Series championship.

    I still say you are overstating the importance of this stat. I also believe that pitch frame is becoming even less significant as umpires are becoming more and more aware of pitch framing, rely more on technology to grade umpire performance, and are basically working harder to ensure that “a ball is a ball, and a strike is a strike”.

    I think the D-backs made the right call this off-season spending most of their money and prospects on Greinke and Miller, rather than trying to upgrade the existing pitching staff simply through pitch framing.

    I also think that pitch framing cannot offset a .135 batting average.The D-Backs obviously felt that Hermann’s left handed bat was more important than Tuffy’s framing, and I agree with them.

    • Ryan P. Morrison says:

      Some very smart people came up with the method for measuring framing, and that included evidence of causation. Lots of other smart people essentially peer reviewed that method. You don’t have to believe in it of you don’t want to, but to the extent I’ve been able to understand it — it looks legit. And for what it’s worth, there’s been an answer for every potential problem I’ve been able to think of.

      I would just suggest that if you choose to believe it’s not true, you consider that it’s probably off by a matter of degrees — not off so completely that it should be ignored. The pitch framing numbers are presented in run values precisely so that you can know precisely what they can offset. A .135 average? Maybe not. But Herrmann’s history and projections put him only slightly ahead of Gosewisch. And Herrmann is not demonstrably better than Gosewisch against RHP, either, which is the appeal of him batting left-handed — Herrmann has actually been worse against RHP, at least in terms of batting average.

      The Red Sox forced Salty to work on framing, and even though he was terrible with Texas, Miami, Arizona… He was actually pretty good, even slightly above average with Boston. So I don’t think we can infer that Boston would have kept playing him if he hadn’t been able to improve.

      I’m with you on adding Greinke and Miller instead of trying to upgrade with a catcher, especially if they really did have to pick one or the other. But I’m not saying they should have replaced Castillo. I’m just saying that since the offense difference between Gosewisch and Herrmann is so small, the team should have paid more attention to the defense difference.

      MLB has been using technology to police umpiring for more than ten years. Maybe it will make a difference, but I wouldn’t bet it will be immediate, or complete. If it’s reduced by half, Herrmann is still a bad call. And we’re only talking about 1-3 extra strikes a game — those really matter, depending on when they happen. But you can’t expect umpires to be perfect.

      All I’ve done is pass along numbers. I do pretty much believe them. You don’t have to. But they aren’t overstated in the article above.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Jonathan Lucroy anyone?

  7. […] a chance with Arizona. Tuffy Gosewisch would do well to hit the ball with some authority in Reno as we’re not sold that Chris Herrmann is the best option behind Welington […]

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