The Ins and Outs of Hanigan and Molina
As teams become smarter—in conjunction with adopting and molding the intelligent ideas from other clubs—the opportunities and windows for competitive advantages becomes fewer and fewer and shorter and shorter. The Rays have been on the frontline for some of the more recent trends, but the search for the “extra two percent” has seemingly become more difficult in recent years. Even so, finding efficient ways to use your resources remains a tried and true method to maximize potential.
With the re-signing of Jose Molina as well as the trade for (and subsequent extending) of Ryan Hanigan, Tampa Bay has invested a decent amount of capital in two catchers on the wrong side of age 30 without much in the way of offensive chops—we’ll see if Hanigan’s on-base aptitude returns and/or translates without the pitcher batting behind him. Still, the two 30-somethings have been lauded for their ability to handle pitching staffs and for their pitch-framing.
For the first time since it became en vogue to do so, the Rays will employ two skilled pitch framers. Hanigan, the one with a larger paycheck and younger knees, is expected to get the lion’s share of time behind the plate. That said, Molina, even as he creeps toward 40, should see more time than the regular Sunday catcher. Knowing that players with above-average abilities often achieve results in the different ways, let’s compare* where each framer seemingly does his best carpentry. In theory, it would make sense to “platoon” or align the catchers with pitchers that would receive the most benefit from their framing if such benefit was available.
*This is a simple, exploratory observation. Most differences are small which means we’re talking a handful or two of pitches going one way or the other, but again we’re looking for two percent-like advantages. Outside factors such as umpires, batters, as well as different pitchers also have influence.
Molina (called strikes looking in the strike zone)
Molina (called strikes looking out of the strike zone)
Hanigan (called strikes looking in the strike zone)
Hanigan (called strikes looking out of the strike zone)
– Hanigan appears to receive more strike calls on the first-base side of the dish or to the arm-side of left-handers slash the glove-side of righties. He does, however, get a good amount of calls near the knees of where right-handed batters would stand. The former Red also does well at the lower edges of the zone and just below.
– Molina’s framing skills are more apparent up in the zone and to the arm-side of righties slash glove-side of southpaws. Like Hanigan, he gets calls on the edge of the third-base side. This is generally regarded as a area where catchers and pitchers get the a lot calls, right or wrong.
– Some looser, abstract thoughts: Chris Archer and Hanigan seem like a pair that might work well. Archer’s slider tends to dive right around the area (low and away to right-hander) where Hanigan gets calls. If the opposing batter doesn’t swing and miss at the pitch, Hanigan may be able to make it look like a strike anyway. Meanwhile, Jake Odorizzi might do well with the incumbent backstop. The young right-hander loves the fastball up in the zone, but his off-speed pitch (which may end up as his best offering) will likely be arm-side and down. Perhaps the same can be said for man who is teaching Odorizzi to throw a splitter this sprig, Alex Cobb. Meanwhile, Cobb has much better command than his pupil does, and can work all quadrants of the zone with multiple pitches. Matt Moore is a mystery. As a left-handed pitcher, you would think working to his arm-side would be most important, but his atypical rubber position (third-base side) means he does a lot of glove-side pitching. Lastly, David Price has above-average command of an assortment of pitches. He will get strikes regardless of the receiver.
– It’s unlikely that the Rays or any team platoon catchers based on framing. However, if the opportunity to use a battery with complimentary skills arises from time to time, why not take a shot and see what happens?