After years of seeing poor receivers like Ryan Doumit cost them strikes, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Russell Martin to the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history over the winter. According to Baseball Prospectus analyst Max Marchi’s pitch-framing statistics, Martin, a converted infielder who worked hard at becoming a better receiver, ranks fourth among major league catchers with more than 105 runs saved because of framing from 2008 to present, or roughly 0.23 runs per 100 pitches. Pittsburgh’s two-year, $17 million commitment is already paying dividends. With Martin behind the plate picking up extra strikes, the Pirates had their best April since 1992, the last season they were a winning team. I caught up with Martin to find out how he does it before a game at Citizens Bank Park.
With PITCHf/x in the past few years, people have tried to put a value on turning a ball into a strike, and what the best catchers are worth. Have you seen those stats? Have you noticed more emphasis on it from teams or coaches?
It’s been talked about more. It never really used to be talked about. I’ve always known that it makes a big difference, just looking at the greats over the years that have been really good receivers, but there’s never been an association with numbers. It’s kind of hard to put a value on it. It’s hard to illustrate.
This is a plot of the called strikes for all the Pirates pitchers. The first image is the last five seasons, and then the second image is this season. The red area is where the called strikes are. This season it’s been a much bigger blotch than the last five seasons, so that seems to suggest that might be you doing something.
Short sample right now, though.
But yeah, sure.
It seems like the main difference is on the top and bottom there. Is there an area that you feel like you’re most able to get those extra strikes?
Probably bottom-middle of the zone. I’ve always been pretty good at getting that pitch.
In case you were busy weighing the pros and cons of employing Vinny Del Negro at your place of business, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Dwyane Wade was scintillating down the stretch as the Miami Heat moved on to the Eastern Conference finals after a 94-91 win eliminated the Chicago Bulls from the NBA playoffs. After the game, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose did a teleconferenced interview from his home, saying, "Oh no! I was ready to go tomorrow! What are the odds? Come on guys, we had this! Oh well, guess I got to shut it back down." Just as the feed went out, the camera trained on Rose zoomed out to reveal a shoddy backdrop of a Chicago home in the middle of a sunny beach locale, with Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in the background drinking extravagantly large blended drinks.
The top seed in the West has fallen as the Memphis Grizzlies ousted the Oklahoma City Thunder with an 88-84 win. Meanwhile, in Blaine, Washington, Chad McFadden, a man whose allegiances were as divided as his geographic proximity to Vancouver and Seattle, awoke up from a decadelong coma. Bleary-eyed and confused, he cheered the Grizzlies win while lamenting that what seemed to be the Sonics were once again unable to make the Finals as the top seed. "I remember '94, before there even was a Grizzlies team to spit my affection wait what the hell is this? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT HAPPENED! THE ONLY PERSON I RECOGNIZE IS BRYANT BIG COUNTRY REEVES!" But it wasn't Bryant Reeves at all that he recognized, and when McFadden was told that he was watching Pau Gasol's little brother dominate defensively for the Memphis Grizzlies against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that had once been the Sonics, McFadden lost consciousness again.
In case you were out looking at buffalo and thanking the heavens that you never had to actually traverse the Oregon Trail by wagon, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Paul George and the Indiana Pacers remained red hot at home as they pushed the New York Knicks to the brink of elimination with a 93-82 win. This battle of the second- and third-best teams in the Eastern Conference has now tilted firmly in favor of Indiana, which has New York residents stunned. "This was our year," said Daniel Czaplinski of Woodside. "We at least had to make it to the Heat. The Pacers? Gimme a break. Who the heck are they?" When asked if he had seen the Pacers play at all this season, Czaplinski said, "Yeah, they had that Zeller kid, and Oladipo. Not sure what happened to them, but Melo shouldn't be letting this George Paul guy take over. This is an abomination and all these bums should be fired."
The Spurs grabbed a pivotal Game 5 win in the friendly confines of San Antonio, beating the Golden State Warriors, 109-91, behind 25 points and 10 assists from Tony Parker. Parker, a noted French person from Belgium, was quietly finishing off a pack of Gauloises after the game before he mused about the idea of a falcon he had in his mind. "You know, bird that does not exist, your ability to fly is less impressive to some because of your lack of corporeal form. But to me, nonexistent falcon I just named Tweet-Tweet, you are more impressive, as you at least know you do not exist, where as real falcons contend daily with the illusion of reality." After a brief pause when Tweet-Tweet likely asked Parker for his last Gauloise, as Parker dropped one onto the ground next to him, Parker added, "And that is how I defeat the Warriors. They expect me to move at speeds, or to distribute the basketball. But that's all the secondary creative act. The original creative act was forgetting my own creation. Here, let me imagine a treatise for you to read." Unfortunately, Tweet-Tweet does not read French, and used Parker's imaginary philosophical text as bedding for his imaginary nest.
No, this didn't happen yesterday, and yes, the taker of this clip shot it vertically (a.k.a. YouTube's Kryptonite), but it doesn't matter. Because this is just beautiful.
From the same Dodgers-Giants game this past weekend that included a fan brawl comes this, a clip of L.A. Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp signing a baseball and then shedding his Dodgers hat, jersey, and cleats for a fan who, according to the YouTube uploader, is "fighting a tough battle."
According to the uploader, the third-base coach is the one who asked Kemp to come over after the game, which he did, and then some.
It's a short, simple clip, but it's always important to remember that occasionally these athletes, often perceived as in-game heroes, can actually mimic that mystique once the games have ended.
In case you were busy stirring up debate, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
LeBron James was a near unanimous choice for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, securing 120 of the 121 available votes. About Last Night is all about starting debate, not shying away from controversy, and being real with the audience, so we salute the brave soul who decided that Carmelo Anthony had a better season than LeBron James. Unfortunately, that voter, who remains anonymous as of press time, didn't go far enough, placing James second on his ballot. That's no way to start a real debate about value in the NBA! For those interested in engaging in the debate, the official ALN MVP ballot (which was submitted to the NBA in the hopes that they would include it, though ALN is, despite much public pressure, still denied a vote) will be revealed at the end of this column.
The Chicago Bulls, again playing without Luol Deng, who was suffering the aftereffects of a spinal-tap procedure gone awry, still managed to close out the Brooklyn Nets, 99-93, to set up a second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. Now I know a lot of people in Chicago are up in arms about whether Deng and Derrick Rose should be playing at less than 100 percent. Here's my thing: I don't think any Chicago Bulls should be playing. Carlos Boozer's steadfast refusal to sit out games is an affront to sports, and he should not be allowed to continue any longer.
In case you were busy being the guy who started icing bros again, much to the chagrin of everyone who knows you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets gave the Thunder their best shot, overcoming a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit, but Oklahoma City held on late to win, 105-102, to take a 2-0 series lead. When asked how he and his team would recover from the defeat, Harden said, "Oh, we won't. It's over." When asked if he was serious, Harden replied, "Have you seen Kevin Durant play basketball? I mean, playing with him, you know he's good, but playing against him? No, no, this is done." When asked again if he was serious, Harden replied, "Yes, I'm dead serious. We might not even go back to Houston. We're just going to pack it in." When asked again if he was serious, Harden shook his head. Then he nodded. Then he shook his head again. Then he shrugged.
Tony Parker had 28 points to lead the San Antonio Spurs over the Los Angeles Lakers, 102-91. "We are ahead by two games," Parker, a noted French person, said after the game, twitching visibly. "But I do not care an iota. The degree to which I care is so infinitesimal as to be not a thing at all, as my very existence has been laid bare by a new team policy banning smoking during the postseason. What is it to make policy anyway? To say, 'I know a thing and you must behave thusly.' How much false arrogance must live in the mind of a man who believes he knows a thing? When the mind is mere electricity that wants wants it wants a smoke so bad, I just want one drag, just one, just please one drag. Oh, I am no more than a dog!" Parker then let out a cry of lamentation before closing his eyes and willing a Gauloises into existence between his fingers. He then added with a wink, "One cannot know of policies if one cannot know, yes?"
Zack Greinke's out until June, Carlos Quentin has caused 1,000 "What did they teach you at Stanford??" jokes, and everyone else is trying to sort out what happened. We're half a day past the Petco Punchout, still trying to figure out what the final fallout will be.
If you missed it, Quentin came to the plate leading off the bottom of the sixth inning of last night's Dodgers-Padres game. With the count 3-2, Greinke threw an 89-mph fastball, hitting Quentin in the left arm. To narrate everything that happened next, let's bring in the great Vin Scully:
In case you were busy using an already awesome milk shake as the base for an even thicker and more decadent uber-milk shake, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Sergio Garcia and Marc Leishman shot 6-under to share the opening-round lead at the Masters. Garcia, considered among the best active players to have never won a major, said afterward, "Oh, no, please don't notice I'm leading. I can't choke if I'm not in front. I had no idea my round would be good enough to put me on top. Please, don't even talk to me. Talk to Leishman! Just talk to Leishman! Why won't you just talk to Leishman?!" Garcia then ran into a greenside bunker at the fourth hole, attempting to bury himself in the sand.
The Bulls continued their streak-snapping ways, and Nate Robinson scored 35 points in Chicago's 118-111 win over the New York Knicks at United Center. New York came to Chicago on a 13-game winning streak. Knicks coach Mike Woodson was reflective after the loss, saying, "Oh, we laughed when Erik Spoelstra came in shouting, 'I'm out!' when the Bulls brought down his team's streak earlier this year. And we shrugged off his warning that they'd lay us low, as well. We were sure we'd remain kings of our castle, masters of our domain, lords of our manors. And yet here we are, sweaty, drained, and out of the winning streak contest ourselves."
Last year, Jason Motte was one of the best and most reliable closers in the game, racking up 42 saves, nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 2.75 ERA. He signed a two-year, $12 million contract in January, and was widely expected to have another big year banking saves for a playoff-contending Cardinals team.
We'll let the excellent news and analysis site Rotowire.com take it from here:
MARCH 23: Motte has what the club is describing as a "mild strain" in his right elbow that will keep him off the mound for at least a week as the team explores the severity of the injury and potential treatments, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. General manager John Mozeliak said Motte will "likely" start the season on the disabled list with the flexor strain.
In case you were busy learning how boring Nevada is outside of Las Vegas, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Texas's Yu Darvish was one out away from a perfect game, but he was forced to settle for a near shutout as Marwin Gonzalez singled late in the Rangers' 7-0 win over the Houston Astros. "He sure did mar my win tonight, didn't he?" Darvish asked rhetorically after the game, before adding, "see, you can make puns out of anyone's name. Not just mine, Yu guys."
Kobe Bryant got his 19th career triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks, 101-81, in a critical Western Conference showdown. The Lakers also retired star center Shaquille O'Neal's no. 34 at the game. Bryant showed great respect for his former teammate, saying, "He's the best player I've ever suited up next to. I mean, even Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal." Bryant's eyes narrowed, as a flood of memories came back to him before he added, "But, of course, Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Bryant's eyes narrowed yet further as he felt compelled to add, "But Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before Bryant's eyes became somehow even narrower as he said, "But Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Then Bryant, his eyes now impossibly narrow, added, "But, of course, Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before he closed his eyes completely, swallowed hard, and said, "and neither of those guys could hold Elden Campbell's jock."
In case you were busy dancing like no one was watching, despite the fact many, many people were watching, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Clayton Kershaw pitched a shutout and hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants, 4-0 to open their 2013 season. "I've been playing at such a high level for a number of years, and now it's time for me to make an impact at every level of the franchise," Kershaw said after the game, while directing traffic in Dodger Stadium's serpentine parking lot, adeptly moving those headed to the 110 away from those headed toward the 101. Kershaw reportedly spent the remainder of his evening helping the grounds crew reseed the playing surface, before finally heading to the locker room to do the team's laundry.
Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies sent the Spurs to their second consecutive defeat, winning in Memphis, 92-90. Conley hit the game-winning shot with six-tenths of a second left on the clock, but was also held without a steal for the first time in 64 games. "I'm out of the game," Conley said after the win. "I've been taking things my whole life, but I'm done. I've got a wife now, and I think a more stable life is what we need." Despite these comments, Conley was, admittedly, "intrigued" by a plan that Marc Gasol was putting together for "one last big score," but at press time had still refused to commit to any more steals in a potential first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
The news started filtering in late Monday morning. Zack Greinke, the Dodgers' $147 million winter pickup, the biggest signing of the offseason, and the biggest signing ever for a right-handed pitcher, was scratched from his start, and would be flying to L.A. to have his elbow examined. Just like that, the promise of a potential World Series run this season appeared to go up in smoke.
Hours later, we got the update. Greinke wasn't headed for Tommy John surgery. He had an inflamed elbow, one that would warrant two or three days of rest followed by a return to a progressive throwing program and a return to the mound in the relatively near future. That report calmed a lot of jangled Dodgers fan nerves. But the Greinke scare also underscored what figures to be a recurring theme in 2013: Even with a $220 million payroll, the Dodgers' season could be hanging by a thread.
On Wednesday, I covered 15 players with compelling backstories who've been invited to spring training with American League clubs. Per that article: "These are the NRIs, the non-roster invitees promised almost nothing — not a job, not a major league deal, nothing more than a chance to come to camp, overcome often astronomical odds, and somehow make the Opening Day roster."
As the calendar flipped over to June last season, the Dodgers faced what seemed like an easy decision.
Six and a half months earlier, they had signed All-Star center fielder Matt Kemp to a $160 million contract extension, ensuring that their franchise player wouldn't test free agency at the end of the following season, and locking him up through 2019. Now, Andre Ethier stood four months from free agency himself. The two Dodgers outfielders had reached the majors together in 2006. They were the two best hitters on the roster, and Ethier looked on his way to a monster breakout season, hitting .324/.381/.569 through the first two months of the season. Just before Opening Day, Guggenheim Partners had given Frank McCourt the billions of dollars he so deserved for looting his own team for years. The new owners' pockets were bottomless, their commitment to winning resolute. Facing the choice of losing their slugging right fielder to free agency or getting his name on a long-term contract, the Dodgers did what you'd expect from a team with no spending limits: They shot the moon, handing Ethier $85 million to secure his rights through 2017 — or 2018 if they exercised their $17.5 million club option.