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.