Anyone who has been keeping up with the Chicago Cubs' offseason surely knows by now that the team is placing an unprecedented value on the framing ability of catchers. So what does it mean exactly, and what is the impact? As a Cubs fan, I'll look at it from my team's perspective, but this is obviously a subject that all MLB fans should be familiar with now, particularly if you grew up studying stats on the backs of baseball cards like the three GBS writers definitely did.
Welington Castillo was the starting catcher for the Cubs during the past two seasons. He is generally seen as a quality young catcher with a bright future, especially offensively. In the 2013-14 seasons, Castillo averaged 10 home runs, 39 RBIs, and 34 runs scored. Those are not bad numbers from a traditionally weak offensive position, especially if a team has an otherwise good offense and does not rely on power numbers from the catcher. The Cubs appear to be moving in that direction, at least, as players like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and other top hitting prospects begin to arrive in Chicago.
Still, the Cubs made a run after Russell Martin before trading for Miguel Montero and signing David Ross. So why did the front office suddenly place so much emphasis on upgrading behind the plate?
A quick look at some stats on Baseball Prospectus shows us exactly why. You can study the numbers yourself, but to briefly summarize, last year Montero framed enough pitches and earned enough extra strikes (144.9) to account for 13.3 runs for his team, ranking 3rd out of all MLB catchers. Castillo's calculated credited runs, on the other hand, totaled -7.0 (yes, he lost runs), accounting for more than a 20-run difference and placing him 72nd among catchers.
If these numbers truly translate into on-field improvements, a 20-run gap is tough to ignore. Last season, Montero (.243 average, 13 home runs, 72 RBIs, 40 runs) was also better offensively than Castillo (.237, 13 home runs, 46 RBIs, 28 runs). If Montero is going to drive in 26 more runs with his bat while earning 20 more runs with his framing skills, his addition to the roster is huge.
I'm looking forward to learning more about advanced catching metrics this season and will hopefully have positive results in Chicago to discuss here as well.