Ever since catcher Tom Murphy made his major league debut on September 12, pundits, commentators, and bloggers have been dwelling on assorted minutia. Home runs? Three. He hit three home runs. What else is there to say!? Don’t even get me started on obscure stats like with slashes in them. I prefer my baseball statistics without punctuation marks, thankyouverymuch. And I won’t even deign to acknowledge the existence of SB, WP, PB, CS, and FP mumbo jumbo. At the end of the day, the only stat that matters for ole Murph is CHF. Can. He. Frame.
So, can Tom Murphy frame?
It’s not entirely clear. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start wondering in earnest. According to the leading framing measures, Murphy cost the Rockies some runs with his framing in his 2015 showing. Baseball Prospectus identified 623 framing chances for Murphy, and they estimate that he cost the Rockies 2.1 runs in those chances. That mark ranked 44th out of 76 catchers with at least 600 chances. Statcorner estimates that Murphy cost the Rockies 2.4 runs; however, they identified 740 framing chances as opposed to 623.
These figures are not nearly enough to draw conclusions with any degree of certainty about Murphy’s framing. According to BP, only one catcher with fewer than 1000 chances earned a positive mark, Josh Thole with 0.5 framing runs added. But it’s enough to say that, right now and with a small sample, the metrics do not view Murphy’s framing positively.
To test this small sample assertion, let’s look at even smaller samples. I identified some of the worst called balls Murphy received. Here, "worst" means called balls that should have been strikes. Additionally, I identified the best strike he received—meaning the called strike most outside of the strike zone. Let’s see how these all fit.
One of the worst called balls Murphy received came on October 1. With Justin Miller on the mound and Paul Goldschmidt at the plate, Miller threw that cruised well into the upper right side of the strike zone. In the chart below of Murphy’s called strikes in that game (courtesy of the incredible Baseball Savant), it’s the lower of the two balls inside the strike zone:
And, in moving pictures, this is what it looks like:
Huh. Well that doesn’t look so bad. At least, it doesn’t look so bad from the perspective of Murphy and his CHF. That called ball, which I judged to be the most egregious called ball he received in September 2015, was definitely on the umpire. Miller's small hop of annoyance suggests he knew it was a strike. While receiving it, Murphy exhibited all of the desired characteristics of a quality framer here. He presented a low target. This is partially assisted by resting his left leg flat on the ground. Additionally, he is still behind the plate and received the ball without much movement. It was a strike called a ball, but it was not Murphy’s fault.
Let’s look at another. This called ball is from September 25. Against the Dodgers, with Jimmy Rollins up to bat, and with John Axford pitching, Murphy received another the high and centered called ball in the chart below:
The visual evidence:
In this chance, Murphy is a bit more active behind the plate; however, it’s because he had to be. Axford’s fastball was well off-target. The secondary indication that this was a missed call is Rollins's relief heavy dirt sweeping. In order to catch the pitch, Murphy had to extend his glove-hand and grab it. In this case, it probably would have been more beneficial to subtly shift his torso to receive the ball. While it’s great to be quiet behind the plate, a sure way to lose a strike is to reach for it. That’s what happened here. Still, I have a hard time calling this a poor framing job. It was a ball that should have been called a strike by an umpire reasonably misled by Murphy’s need to reach for the ball.
Let’s now turn to what might have been Murphy’s best stolen strike. It took place on September 14. Miguel Castro was on the mound. At the plate was Álex Guerrero. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Castro tossed a fastball that was well outside of the strike zone. Among the called strikes in the chart below, it’s the one furthest to the right:
As I previously noted, pitches in the middle of the zone but outside of it are the balls most likely to be called strikes. But that doesn’t mean Murphy and Castro were gifted this strike. Murphy presented it perfectly:
Again, Murphy is calm behind the plate. He received the ball without moving much. This was made all the easier because Castro nailed his location. This is one of those balls well outside of the strike zone that nary a broadcaster mentions on account of just how much it looks like a strike to everyone, not just the umpire. The secondary indication that the ball was outside is the apparent escape of Guerrero’s spine solidity. Castro’s swagger off of the mound suggests it was the plan all along. And, in fact, because he hit his target with such precision, it was the plan all along.
We’ll know a lot more next season when Murphy gathers a few thousand rather than a few hundred framing chances. But it’s quite a booster when discovering that the most egregious called balls were either clear missed calls or the demonstration of framing skills that just didn’t work out.
With regard to the all-important CFH, the early answer for Tom Murphy appears to be yes.