Jun 11, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta (17) during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Angels 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
There are some things that statistics cannot quantify. Clubhouse chemistry, the ability to perform under pressure and the desire to win are three to come to mind easily. Until recently, the ability to steal strikes, or pitch framing, was one of those intangibles as well. However, that has changed.
After Jose Molina received a starting role from the Tampa Bay Rays, in large part due to this ability, other teams began to pay attention to framing pitches. Websites began tracking that ability, trying to determine who the best catchers in baseball were at pitch framing. Recently, the fine folks at Baseball Prospectus posted a study about this ability, looking at the best and worst catchers in terms of pitch framing. The study looks at the past six seasons, from 2008 through 2013, and breaks down the best and worst by year.
This study was a mixed bag for the Angels. Unfortunately, Chris Iannetta, who is not exactly renowned for his defense, cost his teams a whopping 75 runs due to his inability to get borderline pitches called as strikes, ranking only behind Ryan Doumit and Gerald Laird for the worst catchers in that time frame. However, based on 7000 chances, Hank Conger would have ranked third last season with a ranking of 28.3 runs saved.
So, what does this mean for the Angels? Right now, the Angels are going into the 2014 season with a young and unproven back end of the rotation. While C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver have proven their ability to pitch deep into games, the rest of the starters have not. By being able to steal a strike here and there, Angels catchers may be able to keep Mike Scioscia from having to turn to the bullpen as early as he otherwise may have. Even an out or two can make a big difference.
Although Chris Iannetta is going to be the Angels primary catcher, they may be better served to give Hank Conger more playing time. While Conger is not the equal to Iannetta offensively, he is a vastly superior defensive catcher. With the potential that the Angels lineup has when healthy, they may be better served letting Conger play more often, just to help out the younger starters.