Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

If you are reading this, there is a remarkably decent chance that you are a somewhat invested baseball fan. As a baseball fan, you probably ...

Brayan Rocchio

The Cleveland Guardians have a very promising farm system, and Brayan Rocchio might be their best prospect.

I have watched him play a good amount, and I have a few things to say. There is little reason to doubt his 70 fielding grade from FanGraphs, as his defense is tremendously smooth. His main knock is his power, but I don't think it's much of a concern. Obviously it would be nicer if he had power, but he has the ability to drive the ball, which is what matters. The power will come as he develops. His batting stance is very similar to Francisco Lindor, although he obviously lacks Lindor's exceptional raw power.

Speaking of Francisco Lindor, he might be severely underrated at this point. The dude had the second best start to a career for a shortstop behind ARod. Noisy defensive metrics have masked his defensive excellence, not because they underrate him, but because outlier DRS totals for other defenders overshadow Lindor's consistent dominance. Statcast had him at like +15 runs at shortstop this year, and that isn't a fluke, at least not a big one. +15 runs at shortstop makes him like a +23 runs on defense, meaning that he was around a 4.5 WAR guy in 2021 in just 125 games. This is coming in a major down offensive season in which he was extraordinarily unlucky. Since Statcast started tracking defensive output, Lindor has thrown up +77 runs at shortstop, which comes out to around 14 runs per 150 games. Some regression is due even with the large sample, but I would say with some confidence that Lindor ranges from +7ish to +13 in terms of true talent at short. Throw in the shortstop positional adjustment and his true value at short should range from 15 to 21 runs. Using his conservative Steamer offensive projection, that would make him around a 5.5 WAR player. I also think Steamer is underrating his offensive capabilities.

Anyways, let's talk about Rocchio. He is a switch hitter like Lindor and attacks the ball similarly. He is nicknamed "the professor" because of how smart he is. His "feel for contact" is a great sign and he might be able to convince Guardians fans to forget Lindor. At just age 20, he threw up a 135 wRC+ in 203 plate appearances at the AA level. FanGraphs isn't loading properly but this is something that only a select few shortstops have accomplished, like Javier Baez, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa. Those guys did much better than a 135, but I didn't put too much thought into this segment. 

Point is, Rocchio is a plus "hitter" (which is what really matters as a prospect) with elite shortstop defense and a great baseball IQ. He has a very high floor and ceiling, and should be one of the top prospects entering 2022. I'm not sure if he will be, since FanGraphs has only done reports on the Athletics, Cubs, and Angels. 

Edit: speaking of Francisco Lindor, I was looking through some old scouting reports and I noticed that, while he was the best prospect in the Indians system, the scouts weren't particularly high on his power. The lines between Rocchio and Lindor are blurred. It's not likely that Rocchio comes close to what Lindor has accomplished/will accomplish, but there are a lot of very direct similarities. 

Quick Algebra

 If the break even rate is 50%, then what are the straight up betting odds?

Using Algebra, the equation for calculating the break even rate using an underdog moneyline (variable x in this equation) is


If you had +100 odds, then you would get 1/(1+1) which equals 1/2, which is 50%.  If you decide not to use those strange negative odds and say a guy is +50 (bet 100 to win 50), then you would get (1/1.5) which equals 66%. If a team is +50, which is a fancy way of saying -200, then they have to win 66% of the time in order to profit. What if we had the break even rate, and wanted to see what the moneyline was?

Think of the moneyline as a ratio. If it is greater than 1, the team is an underdog, and if it less than 1, the team is a favorite. Given a break even rate, let's get an equation for the ratio. 

BE=break even rate

r=ratio (moneyline)





there we are. Let's see it in action.

BE=50% (or 0.5.





Bet 1 to win 0.51

I wrote this to figure it out for myself but if you ever want to quickly calculate gambling stuff then y ou could use this as well. 

Miguel Sano should never touch a first base glove ever again

Not going to get too in depth with actual data here, but I'll start with something.

Miguel Sano is projected to be at -14 defensive runs at first base in 2022. To be clear, I'm not talking about positionally adjusted defensive value. I'm talking about defensive runs specifically at first base. After positionally adjusting, we get a crisp -27 defensive runs for Sano in 2022. His offense would have to be tremendous in order to justify playing time. He's not a terrible hitter; he is pretty good, but not nearly enough to be a good everyday starter. That is unless, of course, we think outside the box.

One positive in Sano's game is his cannon of an arm. The behemoth of a ballplayer can sling it. The 6'4", 280 pound man is also not notably slow; his speed is below the league average for sure, but he's not Albert Pujols. The question is: can the guy play right field? The short answer is not really. He certainly wouldn't be a good defender in right. The real question needs to be: is Sano's value maximized playing a corner outfield position?

Miguel Sano has played 312 innings in his career in right field, and they came in 2016. He didn't exactly impress. A -6.7 UZR/150 indicates that he would be around -14 on defense, which is a massive boost as compared to his abysmal time spent at first. Just for reference, his -17.9 career UZR/150 at first is even worse than his projected total of -14. It's worth noting that Sano was 23 when he played in right, and was much faster than he is now (well above league average, actually. The dude used to be a shortstop. Absolutely insane.) Sano would probably be a lot worse today, but the samplesize is also ridiculously small, so I wouldn't necessarily count him out in right field.

You might be wondering: "Why not put him at DH?". This is a great question. He definitely should play DH. Unless he has some untapped potential in right field, DH is a perfect spot for him. There is no reason to make him worry about fielding; just let him hit. However, if there ever is a scenario in which he does need to play the field, it should not be first base. I cannot understate just how atrocious he is at first base. Psychologically, it might make sense to put the big lumbering power bat at first. This does make sense if he is an unknown quantity. Usually, when a player moves down the defensive spectrum, he improves (or at least holds his own, because moving down the defensive spectrum implies regression. Regardless, players should do better at easier positions.) This is not the case for Sano. Sano cannot handle first base, and would be better off playing a more conventionally difficult position. This would allow the Twins, or any team employing Sano, to get a conventional first baseman that can hit as well as Sano while also not being a liability out there. Those types of players are relatively inexpensive due to the surplus of good hitters that are not athletic enough to play the rest of the field effectively. Just look at how CJ Cron has been paid over the years. 

This applies to a few other guys. Josh Bell is another main example, since he is just a less exaggerated version of Sano from a value perspective. Bell has been considerably more atrocious in the corner outfield than Sano has, so Bell's value is probably best maximized as a DH. Then you have a guy like Bobby Dalbec, who is a potentially skilled defender that just hasn't gotten acclimated to the first base position. As a natural third baseman with fantastic athleticism, it might make sense for the Red Sox to get Dalbec off of first. They could try Rafael Devers at first, since he doesn't exactly handle the hot corner very well. They could also just trade Dalbec to a team that doesn't have a third baseman, maximizing value for both sides. 

The point of this post was to demonstrate the opportunity cost of having an awful defensive first baseman. There is a reason that the DH position exists, but there might be other alternatives as well in the case of an emergency. Just refer to the title.

Late 2000s Underrated MLB Team

 C: Russell Martin

1B: Kevin Youkilis

2B: Chase Utley

3B: Chone Figgins 

SS: J.J. Hardy

LF: Nick Swisher

CF: B.J. Upton

RF: J.D. Drew

DH: Jim Thome

I had this list typed up for a while and I didn't plan to publish it. I mainly went on blogspot because it saves my work and works as a nice document to type on. That said, I will type my thoughts on each of these players. Very little research was done (at least for this piece), so don't get really upset if I get something wrong. 

Russell Martin was a very underrated player, as you might already know. He was a very solid hitter at the catcher position, although that's not what he was known for. It was his top tier pitch framing that made him an immensely valuable asset. If your standards for HOF heavily rely on the idea of value in terms of winning games, then you should probably consider Martin for the hall. He was just that good. 

Kevin Youkilis, known colloquially as the greek god of walks, was a tremendous player for the Red Sox. He could play both first and third, playing third when Adrian Gonzalez was traded to Boston in 2011. Billy Beane and Paul Depodesta of Moneyball fame loved this guy as a prospect. They were almost able to get him in a trade for next to nothing, but young Red Sox GM Theo Epstein knew what they were up to and put a quick end to that idea. He tore up the majors for a while with his incredible plate discipline and strange batting stance, and was a massive fan favorite for his intensity at the plate.

I wrote a very in depth article about how Chase Utley was one of the best players in MLB history, and you can check it out in the sports section. Long story short, he was awesome.

Chone Figgins, from my memory, was an incredible baserunner and solid hitter. His production for the Angels was truly dynamic, although he slowed down after signing a large contract with the Mariners. "Chone Figgins" is also a badass name. 

J.J. Hardy was a tremendous defensive player who saw a late career power breakout. He couldn't hit very well overall, but his home run power at a premium position allowed him to be a great asset for the Brewers and Orioles. I remember he and Troy Tulowitzki being at the top of the home run leaderboard in 2011, and thinking "wow, this guy isn't as good as Tulo, but he is quite good." His 2011 season was definitely not a perfect indication of his true talent but regardless he was a really good player.

I don't know if Swisher was actually that underrated, but he was pretty awesome. He was another guy that Billy Beane loved, but this time it was in the draft. Billy thought he should have been the first overall pick, and was elated to be able to draft him in the middle of the first round. It's interesting that he thought that, because he was completely right. Swisher wasn't some raw power, elite defensive athletic freak that had the "potential" to be as good as Ken Griffey Jr. He was just a great hitter who had a very high chance of being a well above average major league player. People tend to not pencil in those types of guys as first overall picks, no matter how good they are, so it's impressive that Beane managed to do so. 

B.J. Upton was almost certainly not underrated, but I am still including him. He was well known due to his role on a very successful Tampa Bay team. His hitting skill left a lot to be desired, but he had tremendous power and was a great defender in center field. I'm not sure if he goes by Melvin or BJ at this point, but either way, he was a really fun player that I recognize from my childhood. 

J.D. Drew was actually very underrated. For whatever reason, Red Sox fans hated him. He signed a pretty large contract because he was really good. Bill Simmons claimed that he wasn't "clutch" for some reason. This is ironic because Drew ended up tossing out a multitude of clutch hits, including but not limited to his grand slam against the Indians (yes, they were the Indians at the point. Now the Guardians.) in the 2007 ALCS, his walk off ground-rule double against the Rays in game 5 of the 2008 ALCS, and his go ahead 2 run shot vs the Angels in the 2008 ALDS. He was an exceptional player that, I guess, made the game look too effortless and rubbed fans the wrong way.

Jim Thome was just a god tier hitter. No matter the age, no matter where he went, he just hit a lot of homers. The dude posted a 177 wRC+ in 340 PAs at the age of 39, without the assistance of a comically good BABIP. 612 homers, apparently. I vaguely knew both of those stats but I searched them up to verify. Thome was on that Indians team of the 1990s that contained an onslaught of top hitters. Imagine just being a pitcher and having to face Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, and some other dudes that I'm forgetting. Don't forget that one of their mediocre hitters, Omar Vizquel, was an exceptional defender. It's a shame that that core never won anything. More on Omar Vizquel: sexual misconduct aside, I feel like a lot of people misjudge him (as a player, to be perfectly clear). Obviously there are the people who genuinely think he is a Hall of Fame caliber player, which I find to be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, there are copious amounts of people that believe that he just wasn't a good player. That population has a very low median age, probably a bit lower than where I'm currently at. Vizquel was not a good hitter relative to the league average, but this was a time when all of the best hitter+athlete combos weren't shoved at short. Shortstop is a difficult position, and while the league average shortstop these days produces somewhat well at the plate, this wasn't always the case. The replacement level for shortstop is the same as its always been, but people might not understand just how good the modern generation of shortstops is. The dominance for Hanley and Tulo was not a normal thing at the time. Then, all of a sudden, we saw Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts come out of the clouds at once. On top of that, possibly the best shortstop of all time Fernando Tatis Jr. spawned just a bit later. Then Wander Franco comes along to make things look even crazier. Notice how I haven't even mentioned guys like Tim Anderson and Bo Bichette. The point is, major league talent has moved towards playing the shortstop position, and people don't realize just how good these players are. When they underrate these players, and they compare past shortstops to these players, they tend to believe that the Vizquels of the world were actually just random bums who are overrated by old people. 

  One reason that Derek Jeter is so highly regarded is that it was once uncommon for a shortstop to be so good offensively. The league average shortstop in Vizquel's time put up around an 80 wRC+. These days, it is near 100. This is not because shortstop has become an easier position defensively, it is because teams are putting their most talented baseball players at shortstop. Anyways, Vizquel was a well above average player in his time. That was a long rant about in support of a player that I do not care for. 

Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

If you are reading this, there is a remarkably decent chance that you are a somewhat invested baseball fan. As a baseball fan, you probably know who Chase Utley is. "Longtime 2nd baseman for the Phillies", "a really good player", and "the guy who killed Ruben Tejada" could all be phrases people use to describe this guy. At his best, Utley was a very well known player. His popularity expanded within Philly fandom such that Mac from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia wrote a letter professing his love to him. Phillies fans know just how good he was, and they love him for it. Mets fans, on the other hand, are not so fond of him.

I've always gotten the sense that Utley is perceived as a really good, but not great, fan favorite type of player. A "you hate to play against, but love to have him on your team" type guy. This reputation massively undersells just how fucking good Chase Utley was.  Chase Utley is not just a good player. He is not just a great player. Chase Utley is a hall of famer. Scratch that: Chase Utley is one of the best players of all time.

This claim might seem a little absurd, but you just have to hear me out. Let's start with some pretty basic numbers. In his career, he slashed a very respectable 275/358/465. That comes out to a 118 wRC+. He hit 259 home runs, stole 154 bases, whatever. All of this screams "good player", but that's obviously not my claim. Everyone knows that Utley was a good baseball player. Since I am not just arguing that he was a good player, I need to try a bit harder. 

Thanks in large part to his +76.2 estimated baserunning runs and +117.2 estimated defensive runs, Utley ranks 68th in fWAR among all position players since integration with 62.9. Notice that I am using fWAR instead of rWAR. This is because fWAR doesn't use an incredibly noisy metric for its defensive input, a metric that impressively manages to simultaneously overfit and be less descriptive. My point is that I'm not out here arguing that Andrelton Simmons is a hall of famer. If you really want to know, Utley actually had a higher career rWAR than fWAR (64.5>62.9). While I do not care very much, at least you can sleep soundly at night knowing that I didn't cherrypick Chase Utley's career WAR total. 

Anyways, a 62.9 career WAR total is quite impressive. Around 60 WAR seems to be a general benchmark for fringe hall of famers, and Utley surpasses it. He is just behind deserving hall of famers Roberto Alomar (63.6), Duke Snider (63.5), Ernie Banks (63.3), etc. and is ahead of guys like Andre Dawson (59.5), Ichiro Suzuki (57.8, although this doesn't really do him justice, but a bit more on that later), and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. (54.5). Just in terms of runs produced above a theoretical freely available player, Utley is a pretty clear cut Hall of Famer. However, as I started explaining earlier, I think I can do much better than just citing his career WAR next to other hall of famers. Before I do that, however, some things need to be clarified.

A lot of people will respond to that most recent WAR argument by saying "WAR isn't everything." In some cases, that is a true statement. If you want to evaluate the current best players in baseball, simply pulling up the previous season's WAR leaderboard would be a mistake. There are a lot of reasons why this would be a mistake, but they all boil down to "small sample size." However, if you assume that a player's WAR represents the true WAR that he would post after a functionally infinite amount of simulations, then WAR quite literally is everything. Imagine this scenario. You're heading into the 2022 season, and you have to pick between two shortstops. One shortstop is guaranteed to produce 8 wins above replacement over 150 games. One shortstop is guaranteed to produce 6 wins above replacement 150 games. You take the one who produces 8 wins above replacement 100% of the time, no matter how he gets to those 8 wins, because winning is the goal. 

WAR, as calculated for baseball, is an amalgamation of estimated batting, fielding, and baserunning runs. FanGraphs and Baseball reference calculate batting and baserunning very similarly, and for the most part it is pretty easy to represent how a player produced in the past on that side of the ball. Defense is a whole different animal, and we are still a pretty long ways away from really getting a measure of "true production" for fielders. Unlike hitting, you cannot attribute a play to a defender based purely on the box score result, so there is a lot of gray area. When Juan Soto hits a single, you would know; it would be a lot more difficult to determine whether or not he prevented one in the field. Tracking data can only go so far, and can only measure value so much. Because of this, it is always important to take advanced defensive metrics with a grain of salt, and it is probably best to assume that the most conservative output is also the most accurate. 

 Offensive output is still imperfect as well. A good example is Ichiro, who, in his prime, produced around 1 more win per season than he "should" have, as measured by win probability added.  Win probability added is an almost perfect estimator of past production, but the issue lies in the significant variance that comes with it. In terms of win probability, players that overperform their "peripherals" (WPA neutralized for the leverage) one year do not tend to replicate their overperforming in the following season. If a player was expected to put up 0 WPA (league average) based on his counting stats, but he put up 2 WPA, you would still expect him to put up 0 WPA the next season. 

However, given Ichiro's unique playstyle and the large sample that he overperformed in, it would probably be fair to say that a stat like wRC+(or any stat that composites hits, walks, home runs, etc.) has a somewhat significant bias against him. Ichiro is an outlier in this regard, but there are probably less extreme cases in which wRC+/wOBA slightly misrepresent a player's true ability. Baserunning is also imperfect, as it, like fielding, doesn't have as much information to draw from. A ball being ever so slightly misplayed by a fielder could be the difference between scoring and getting thrown out, resulting in a different BsR on plays in which the baserunner made an equally "good" play. Baserunning production estimators probably are more accurate than defense estimators, but the point is that there remains a lot of gray area. 

None of that really matters to my actual point. WAR, in its purest form, is an all-encompassing stat that literally is "everything" and should be treated as such. When playing time differs (like a starting pitcher vs reliever) then this would not necessarily be the case, but in this context it is. All else equal, a player who produced an average of 7.5 WAR per season is objectively better than a player that produced an average of 7 WAR per season, because more wins are better. "All else equal" doesn't just apply to my point about playing time/player roles; there is also the matter of sample size in terms of evaluation.

The reality of baseball is that players' "true talents" do not fluctuate nearly as much as people want to think. It would be fair to assume that Christian Yelich was a better baseball player in 2018-2019 with the Brewers than he was with the Marlins, but not by nearly as much as his production would indicate. Production is very unstable, but true talent isn't. When someone points to a player's best statistical season as their "peak", they are actually subconsciously doing some subtle cherry picking. Players do change, mainly via aging (both ways) and injuries, but for the most part they stay the around the same. 

It's not impossible for players to improve on their game later in their career to the point that they are noticeably more productive. Marcus Semien is definitely a better player now than he was in 2016; same goes for Gerrit Cole. Barry Bonds was a much better player after he started eating healthier. I already mentioned Christian Yelich. It's just that these cases are few and far between, and often their changes in skill are still over exaggerated. On the topic of Marcus Semien, he is definitely a guy that I would expect to still be really good heading forward, but play significantly worse than he has over the past 3 seasons. (UPDATE: the Rangers signed Marcus Semien for a lot of money after I wrote this, and that might not have been the wisest decision. Only time will tell, I guess.) With this type of thinking, we can identify which players were truly better than others at their best, albeit with a good amount of uncertainty. When doing so, we will realize just how good Chase Utley was.

"He's a power hitting second baseman, Dee, you know how rare that is in the National League?" Mac's line defending his enjoyment of Chase Utley is more meaningful than you might think. Utley averaged 29 home runs per 150 games from 2005-2009, and if you take a look at the leaderboards, the only players to homer more often than him were first baseman, DHs, and some corner outfielders who sucked at defense. He combined his home run power with a good walk rate, strikeout rate, and ability to convert balls in plays into hits.  This culminated in a 138 wRC+ from 2005-2009, trailing only a bunch of fat 1B/DH types and Alex Rodriguez, who was also starting to cultivate mass as well. Utley wasn't the most dangerous hitter in the game, but he was up there. He did this while simultaneously, as Mac kind of alluded to, being the best defensive 2nd baseman in the game (sorry, Nick Punto). With 2nd base being somewhat of a premium position, his defense becomes that much more valuable. Not only was Utley a top hitter and defender, but he was also one of the best baserunners in the game. His stolen base totals weren't high, but he made the best of the attempts he had. His career 88% stolen base rate might be the best all time (don't quote me on that), and doing so on decent volume allowed him to produce 39.2 more runs than expected on the basepaths in that stretch.  Utley was as well rounded as a player can be, and when you sum the parts of his game, he looks a lot more valuable than you could possibly imagine.

Just to be clear, looking at Utley's production from the 2005-2009 would be an example of cherrypicking, but the effects are minimal. Utley didn't actually get consistent playing time until 2005, and 2009 was his age 30 season, when players tend to start regressing sharply. His 2010 season was also around what you would expect from a year of aging, and that's not included in the sample. He quickly fell off after 2010, but I would attribute that almost 100% to age as opposed to natural regression to the mean. 

Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds, Joe Morgan, Mike Trout, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson, Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Mike Schmidt, Albert Pujols, George Brett, Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Chase Utley. If you read all of those names, it would seem like I listed all of the best players post integration and then added in Chase Utley at the end for comedic effect. However, all of these guys share one thing in common: they are the only position players in MLB history (post integration) to post 5 different seasons in which they surpassed the 7 fWAR mark. Here's Chase Utley's fangraphs page in case you don't believe me. Again, these are the best players of all time. This isn't some Thaddeus Young type stat; we are looking at an all encompassing value metric and our cutoff is an integer. Having a single 7 WAR season is difficult. Doing it twice is very rare. Doing it five times? Well, as you can see, only the best have done it.

I'll backtrack a little. I must admit that this stat is clearly cherry picked, and I can prove it. Among these players, Utley ties for last in seasons surpassing that mark with 5, tied with Mantle, Morgan, Henderson, Brett, and Robinson. In said seasons, he ranks second last in WAR per season, 7.7, just ahead of Frank Robinson. It would be fair to say that Utley is the worst of these players (although peak Utley, I would argue, was better than peak Robinson), but that isn't exactly a stain on his legacy. Those are almost all of the agreed upon best players of all time, and Utley is right there with them. 

The majority of these players had fantastic longevity, and as a result had a lot more "prime" seasons to choose from. Take Frank Robinson for example. He seemed to be at his peak until around age 34, and since he debuted at age 20, his "prime" self had 15 opportunities to post a WAR over 7. Utley, on the other hand, was called up at age 24 and didn't get consistent playing time until age 26. In his first full season, he posted a 134 wRC+ and 7.2 fWAR. Not something you see every day. He then proceeded to post 5 CONSECUTIVE 7+ WAR seasons before father time caught up to him. It is theorized that the average "ager" starts to significantly worsen after they reach the age of 30, so it wouldn't be a stretch to say that what we saw from Utley in that span actually was his "true talent". Perhaps it would be prudent to include Utley's slightly worse but still fantastic age 31 season in the sample to avoid overestimating his ability. Even so, that comes out to around 7.3 WAR per season. Again, ridiculously good. Not impressed? Go and find any great player at all, look at his long term peak with respect to aging to avoid cherry picking. If you did this correctly, and didn't choose one of the guys that I already listed, then you probably found a player that was not as good as Chase Utley. 

I believe there are only 4 players in the current MLB that are currently better than Utley: Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, and Ronald Acuna Jr.. Trout definitely was better, and the three guys I mentioned probably are as well (although I cannot say that with much certainty), but otherwise there just aren't many guys that truly stack up to Utley. The only other active player who was once better than Utley at his peak was Albert Pujols. Mookie Betts had an argument, and he could prove me wrong with a 2018-2020 Mookie-esque 2022 season, but his "struggles" in 2017 and 2021 would lead me to believe that he was not as good as his 2018-2020 production would indicate. Yadier Molina, Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey come close, but they still don't cut it. That's just how good Utley was. Chase Utley wasn't some decent fan favorite. At his peak, he truly was one of the best players of all time, and he deserves more recognition. 

Pitch Framing: MLB's Biggest Market Inefficiency, or Poorly Evaluated Skill?

Back in the heyday of the Moneyball Oakland Athletics, MLB front offices ignored a very important part of hitting: the ability to draw walks. Billy Beane and the A's took full advantage, acquiring players that were not very good on the surface, but were quite adept at taking the base on balls. In doing so, they managed to get productive players in their lineup for a very low cost. All of this is well known. This was a glaring market inefficiency and has since been covered up. MLB front offices are a lot sharper now, and it is very difficult to find significant market inefficiencies by examining past production. However, there might exist an exception to this rule: pitch framing.

I find it strange that MLB teams often ignore pitch framing, because it seems like a pretty common talking point among evaluators. Modern day catchers definitely put an emphasis on framing. Take Gary Sanchez for example. Gary is one of the least skilled defensive catchers we have ever seen, but he is smart. At the cost of his reputation, he sells out his blocking ability to frame pitches, and it works. He still isn't a productive framer, but he manages to not be a liability behind the plate because of his good approach. This anecdote supports the idea that teams put pressure on their catchers to be really good pitch framers. Teams care about framing, but to what extent?

The pitch framing skill gap is not what it used to be; just a decade ago, the difference between the worst and best pitch framers was around 50 runs. 50 runs is the difference between a league average player and a first ballot hall of famer in his prime. In 2021, the difference was just 31 runs, and that's despite Salvador Perez being a very weird outlier. Most catchers who suck at pitch framing, like Ryan Doumit and Carlos Santana (yes, he played catcher), generally suck at the catcher position in general. There is no chance that Doumit or Santana would have logged so many innings at catcher if they played today. Then you have Salvador Perez, who is by all accounts an incredible defensive catcher. Perez' issue is that umpires either have a personal vendetta against the Royals pitching staff, or they just want Salvy to look bad. Despite this, Perez gets playing time at catcher because of his impressive skills outside of framing. Without these skills, he would have certainly been moved to a DH/1B role.  Anyways, the point is that catchers place more of an emphasis on pitch framing than they used to. The Ryan Doumits of the world are gone, and even just a mediocre framer like Zack Collins is now one of the worst liabilities in the sport. Teams want their catchers to lie to umpires as much as possible, but are they willing to pay money for it?

The first graph shows all free agent signings among catchers since 2019 and their projected Steamer WAR not including their projected framing runs (Steamer didn't project pitch framing before 2019, so I can't move the sample back any further). Perez's massive extension with the Royals is not included, but it would only strengthen my theory.  The second graph shows the same thing except pitch framing is including in the projected WAR. It might be hard to tell from just eyeballing the graph, but there is a stronger relationship between salary and non-framing WAR (Pearson R value of 0.86 for non framing and 0.8 for framing).

To further examine this discrepancy, we should look at how pitch framing correlates with the residual for the second graph. The residual represents the difference between the actual salary and the expected salary given a projected WAR value that factors pitch framing.

As we can see, the more you were "underpaid" by teams, the higher the likelihood that you were a good pitch framer. This is a very good indication that teams are not even considering pitch framing as a genuine skill that can be predicted using statistics. The fact that you are more likely to predict how much a player's market value when you ignore their pitch framing acumen is enough to make this claim. However, there is more information to be considered.

The previous graph showed the residual for a WAR value that factored framing; the one you see on the right is the same thing except it uses a framing-agnostic WAR projection. As we can see, there is a *very* slight upper trend. All else equal, a catcher with good framing projections will tend to get slightly more than he *should. Maybe teams do want to pay for pitch framing, but their evaluation of pitch framing wildly differs from that of the public's.

It's hard to say which reality is true, but there are two possible scenarios here. The first is that teams do not use measurable framing statistics to project value for catchers. That much is pretty self explanatory. The second is that teams do very much care about pitch framing, but the measurement methods they use wildly differ from the public data that we have. This seems a little unlikely; it would make sense that evaluation methods differ, but framing is not particularly difficult to evaluate. We have pitch by pitch data with a strike zone overlay that can very quickly determine whether or not the umpire made the correct call, and with a large sample it should be pretty easy to see which catchers are stealing strikes. However, it is possible that teams control for a lot more than just the results of the pitches, and that creates a large gap between how players are publicly and privately evaluated. It's hard to say what is going on without actually asking the people making these decisions. All we know is that someone is misevaluating catchers.

*how much he should get if you assume that pitch framing is not a real skill with any value.