There's been a flurry of activity on the catcher market early in the Hot Stove season, but notably, it hasn't included either of the top two free agents at the position: Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos. And plenty of teams looking to contend could still use a catching upgrade.
Grandal and Ramos won't come as cheap as the catchers who have moved already. But with the catcher position remarkably thin across the Major Leagues, someone's going to pay them. The question is, if teams want to make sure their investment is worth it, who should they pursue? Here's one big argument in Grandal's favor: pitch framing.
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Grandal is, consistently, one of the top framing catchers in baseball. Ramos has been consistently below average. Both players are strong offensive catchers, especially from a power standpoint. Grandal's pitch framing gives him a big edge on the defensive side of the position, and that should grab teams' attention.
Statcast™ can help show which catchers are the best at getting strikes for their pitching staff, and Grandal has ranked among the league's best since the tracking technology was introduced in 2015. Statcast™ divides the strike zone into three regions: in-zone, shadow and out-of-zone. "In-zone" pitches are clear strikes; "out-of-zone" pitches are clear balls. But the "shadow zone" is a coin flip. It covers the borderline -- pitches that are within one baseball's width of the edges of the strike zone -- where, if a hitter takes, the call could go either way, strike or ball. Want to find out which catchers are good framers? Focus in on the shadow zone.
With Grandal behind the plate in 2018, when a hitter took a pitch in the shadow zone, it was called a strike 52.2 percent of the time. Across MLB, those borderline pitches were called strikes just 48.0 percent of the time. And Ramos got a called strike just 46.3 percent of the time.
If you look at Grandal and Ramos' body of catching work since Statcast™ began tracking, it's more of the same. Since 2015, Grandal's gotten called strikes on 52.5 percent of borderline takes. MLB catchers overall have gotten 47.0 percent called strikes, Ramos just 46.1 percent.
Among regular catchers -- those who have averaged at least 1,000 borderline pitches received over the last four seasons -- Grandal's called-strike rate is second-best. Ramos' ranks 30th. The catcher better than Grandal is Jeff Mathis, and Mathis (who just recently signed with the Rangers) can't hit like Grandal.
In fact, Grandal has ranked among the Top 10 catchers in baseball in each of the four seasons of Statcast™ tracking. Ramos has never posted a borderline-called-strike rate above the Major League average.
Grandal's called strike % on borderline takes
2018: 52.2% (8th among regular catchers)
2017: 50.7% (6th among regular catchers)
2016: 53.9% (2nd among regular catchers)
2015: 53.1% (3rd among regular catchers)
Overall: 52.5% (2nd among regular catchers)
Ramos' called strike % on borderline takes
2018: 46.3% (T-37th among regular catchers)
2017: 46.4% (T-35th among regular catchers)
2016: 45.8% (T-30th among regular catchers)
2015: 46.2% (T-31st among regular catchers)
Overall: 46.1% (30th among regular catchers)
A few percentage points might not seem like such a big difference, but it is. Over the course of a full season, that's hundreds of strikes that Grandal is getting and Ramos isn't. This year, for example, Grandal got called strikes on 1,519 of the 2,908 borderline takes he caught this season, Ramos on 1,101 of 2,377. That can change the course of a lot of at-bats.
It's a striking contrast. Yes, Grandal had his struggles with pitch receiving during the 2018 postseason. But that shouldn't come close to outweighing the track record he's established. He's a strong two-way catcher, and those are hard to come by.