The Washington Nationals acquired catcher Jose Lobaton from the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this year for a number of reasons, but “the key,” according to General Manager Mike Rizzo, was his ability to frame pitches
“He fit the criteria we’re looking for,” Rizzo said. “Switch-hitting is certainly a bonus. Our statistical analysis people rank all the catchers in baseball, and he ranks very well in the framing.”
Pitch framing is when a catcher makes borderline pitches on the edges of the strike zone appear to be in the zone. The gold standard in the league is Jose Molina of the Rays, so it makes sense that his prior backup, Lobaton, would somehow also learn this craft. So far it doesn’t appear that way.
According to catcher data available at Matthew Carruth’s StatCorner, Lobaton has gotten progressively worse at pitch framing each season.
Among the catchers with at least 500 pitches received, Lobaton ranks 25 out of 35, mostly because he is unable to get the calls in the top or bottom third of the zone. Here is the strike-zone breakdown for pitches called balls with Lobaton (1,756 pitches) behind the plate this season:
That ball called right in the middle of the strike zone probably wasn’t Lobaton ‘s fault, but compare that spread to Angels’ backstop Hank Conger (573 pitches), whom StatCorner rates as best in the league:
I guess it is good for Lobaton that Matt William’s only benches players for a lack of hustle.