Iannetta focused on improving pitch framing

Angels catcher was surprised to discover he ranked low in getting pitchers extra strikes

Iannetta focused on improving pitch framing

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Angels catcher Chris Iannetta has been among the worst at turning balls into strikes the last few years, based on recently adopted statistics that are gaining popularity throughout the game -- and that has his attention this spring.

"It's something I really take pride in," Iannetta said. "I'm really trying to work on it. Some of the numbers last year were not where I want them to be, and that was surprising."

Iannetta ranked 87th out of 105 Major League catchers in gaining additional strikes in 2014. That particular stat used Baseball Prospectus' "Regressed Probabilistic Model" of framing to calculate the combined probability that each pitch will be called a strike. The difference between those "projected strikes" -- rarely a whole number -- and actual strikes was then used to determine where catchers ranked with regards to framing pitches.

Iannetta came in at minus 19.4 last year, which basically equates to 19 balls that should've been strikes. Buster Posey led the Majors at plus 179.6, which, in theory, means he gave the Giants 180 more strikes thanks to his pitch-framing ability.

"I get really good reviews from umpires in what I do and how I work, and I see some discrepancies," Iannetta said. "It's disappointing. So my goal is to get as good as I can. Be in the top five, top 10, try to get better, see what the guys who do really well are doing mechanically."

Iannetta has asked umpires for advice throughout the spring and analyzed video of the catchers who do it well, but he still can't figure out why his numbers are so low.

"It's very subtle, how it plays out," Iannetta said. "We'll see."

Last year was no fluke, either.

Iannetta ranked 115th in 2013 (minus 76.4), 100th in 2012 (minus 50.6) and 107th in 2011 (minus 57). Former teammate Hank Conger, however, has favored well with that stat, a big reason the Astros acquired him during the offseason despite their depth behind the plate. Conger ranked third in 2014 (plus 169.3) and sixth in 2013 (plus 123.1).

Iannetta was made aware of the stat toward the end of last season and immediately tried to figure out why he wasn't better.

He wonders if frequently catching the explosive stuff of Garrett Richards last season had something to do with it. Or if his "relaxation point is a little too high," creating the illusion that pitches he reaches down for are below the strike zone.

"I definitely wasn't bringing the ball out of the zone," Iannetta said. "I was stopping it right where I caught it."

Over the course of an entire season, 199 strikes -- the difference between Posey and Iannetta last year -- may not seem like a lot. But Baseball Prospectus believes historically good framing catchers like Jonathan Lucroy, Brian McCann and Jose Molina contribute an additional two wins per season.

Baseball Prospectus also uses their model to assign run values based on this measure, saying Posey contributed 26.7 runs to the Giants and Iannetta lost 2.9 runs for the Angels last season based on pitch framing.

Of course, there is some subjectivity in the numbers.

"They could be accurate, they could be inaccurate, you never really know," Iannetta said. "But it's something to strive for, something you want to be good at."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.