Assistant GM, former big league backstop Hinch passing on knowledge
PEORIA, Ariz. -- If there's been one constant to Nick Hundley's spring, it's his morning video sessions with Padres assistant general manager A.J. Hinch and their discussions about catching mechanics, including pitch framing.
Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks of the web site Baseball Prospectus recently published an article regarding a new study that has drawn a lot of attention to measuring catcher defense called: "Framing and Blocking Pitchers: A Regressed, Probabilistic Model" that attempts to quantify how many runs a catcher saves by turning balls to strikes.
The study covered six seasons (2008-13) and revealed that, in terms of framing runs, Hundley ranked in the bottom five at minus-55 over that span. The best was Brian McCann (plus-127). The lowest-rated catcher in that stretch was Ryan Doumit (minus-124).
Hence the extra work this spring, not just on the practice fields with Padres coaches, but having Hundley and the other catchers work with Hinch, who spent parts of seven seasons catching in the big leagues, on improving mechanics when it comes to receiving the ball.
"You're always working on your game. But I think one part of my game that has needed work the most is pitch framing," Hundley said. "That has been my main focus. As a catcher, you always want to get those borderline calls for your pitchers. It's a very important part of the game."
Hinch said this is by no means a new topic, though it's something that's getting attention, especially this past winter, as the organization has looked closely helping their catcher get better mechanically.
"The partnership of the pitcher and catcher in terms of strike throwing has been around forever," Hinch said. "I don't think it's a brand-new topic that's being introduced. It's a little more of a topic these days because of the data and the information that's available."
"There's been more of a focus for us, from [manager Bud Black] to the front office. Because of the 150 or so pitches that we are going to call, execute and receive each game, every one of them we have to work hard on."
That starts with some catching basics, Hinch said.
"We have to put ourselves in the good position to receive. We need to give a good target, work with the pitcher to expand the plate the best he can and also give the umpire a good look and a chance to call it a strike," Hinch said. "That's our primary focus."
But, as Hinch said, that's not always easy when you have a pitching staff with a diverse repertoire.
"Most of what is being worked on with receiving with our catchers is getting your glove in a good position to catch the ball correctly, but it's a little more difficult to do when Andrew Cashner is throwing in the upper 90s, with Tyson Ross and his movement, Josh Johnson and his angle," Hinch said.
"Each one of those guys, their ball does a little something different. But the one constant we preach is getting your glove in the right position at the beginning, then we can react and see the ball."
A lot of the discussions with Hundley are about 'surrounding' the pitch and also not having such a firm and straight arm to catch with, using more flex at the elbow so he's not as rigid.
"With Nick, it's a little more anticipation ... loading his target, being able to surround the ball and make the plate a little wider," said Hinch, who noted that 'surrounding' a pitch is more working outside-in, bringing pitches back into the strike zone and doing so subtly.
"With [Yasmani] Grandal, it's more focusing on the low pitch. With [Rene] Rivera it's allowing him a little relaxation. Buddy preaches target so with [Austin] Hedges, we had to raise his target to give the pitcher a little better look."
In addition to Hinch, Triple-A El Paso manager Pat Murphy and a handful of others have been working with the catchers in camp.
It's a work in progress, as Hinch said. But Hundley feels like he's made some significant inroads.
"I'm trying to be quiet and not make it such a big event," Hundley said. "I'm trying to surround the ball, catching from the outside in, being smooth and quiet so no one recognizes it."