Pitch framing a focus for Tigers' manager
Former catcher Ausmus wants to put new stats to use throughout organization
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brad Ausmus has been credited by a few different publications, including Baseball Prospectus, as one of the best pitch-framing catchers of his generation, if not all-time. If there's a skill to it, he should know.
Still, there are now readily available statistics, and Ausmus wants to put them to use -- not just in Detroit, but throughout the Tigers' organization.
"I think we'd be burying our heads in the sand if we didn't at least acknowledge it," Ausmus said.
Ausmus acknowledged it a few years ago as a special assistant in San Diego, where he tried to identify common traits in catchers with good pitch-framing numbers.
Ausmus wants to apply that in the Tigers' system. He has discussed it with player development director Dave Owen and Minor League catching coordinator Joe DePastino, and has talked about it with backup catcher Bryan Holaday. Alex Avila had high pitch-framing metrics for a few years before suffering a drop last year.
"It's a very en-vogue stat right now," Ausmus said. "But you have to at least pay some attention to it, just because if you think of the effect -- one call in a game, changing one ball to a strike, or one strike to a ball, and now say it's 10 calls in a game, or five calls in a game -- the impact that can have over the course of a season is enormous.
"You certainly want to make sure a strike is called a strike, but I think it's the guys -- we talk about Jose Molina, Jonathan Lucroy or Russell Martin -- these are guys in the upper echelon of that statistics, they're not only making sure strikes are called strikes. For whatever reason -- and I promise you these guys were not taught this, it's just the way they catch -- they seem to get a few more calls outside the strike zone than other catchers do."
Pitchers understand it as well. Justin Verlander said he and Avila talked about it over dinner the other night, and how Avila's adjustment to catch with one knee down on some pitches could help garner a call on a low strike.
"He feels he's able to get under it a little better," Verlander said. "Especially a really well-located low fastball, especially guys that have good angle, naturally you're going to want to snatch it down. But being able to stick it right there so that the umpire can look at it, not a lot of guys can do it great. It's big on curveballs, too. Obviously that's more dramatic of a break."
Those skills were discussed before there were numbers to quantify the impact, Ausmus said.
"When I played, my approach was, 'I want to make every pitch look as good as it can possibly look,'" he said. "You knew you were supposed to have soft hands. You wanted to make the pitch look good. But in terms of mechanics to framing to get a strike, I think that's probably in its infancy right now."