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Jason Castro’s pitch framing skills are real

The Opening Day catching match-up between Jason Castro and Salvador Perez highlighted the former’s framing prowess.

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox
Would you believe the umpire called this a strike?
Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

The Twins’ opening series against the Royals featured a match-up between two teams that had abysmal pitch-framing catchers in 2016.

BP’s Framing Runs 2016

# TEAM Framing Runs
# TEAM Framing Runs
1 CHA -25.3
2 CIN -21.8
3 SEA -17
4 OAK -16.2
5 ARI -16.1
6 MIN -15.7
7 KCA -11.5
via Baseball Prospectus

The 2017 Royals did nothing to address their framing problem. Salvador Perez will remain behind home plate for the team until the sun is bleaching his bones and his decaying corpse is little but carrion for the vultures, who will feast on him and sell his catching gear for parts.

The Twins, on the other hand, signed Jason Castro based almost entirely on his ability to frame pitches. The Castro signing represented a sea change for the Twins, a sign that the new front office had some new ideas too.

Last Thursday’s game provided a snapshot of what framing — or “receiving,” if we want it to sound less duplicitous — looks like in real time, and just how glaring the difference between two catchers’ receiving skills can be. In one corner, Salvador Perez and his -12.8 Framing Runs (from 2016); in the other, Jason Castro and his +16.3.

To the tape!

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins
Salvy seems like a great dude!
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Salvy’s opening salvo

Just for a point of reference, here’s what it looks like when Salvy Perez tries to frame a pitch.

That’s ... not ideal. I remember when catchers in Babe Ruth youth league first heard about framing and started flopping their catcher’s mitt around like a fish in the bottom of the boat. It looked like what Perez is doing. Just because you ostentatiously swiped your glove a foot to the right after you caught the ball doesn’t mean we all forgot about where you originally caught it, Salvador.

On Thursday, Perez’s floppy glove-hand cost Royals pitchers, primarily against lefthanded batters.

via Brooks Baseball

Those green triangles I circled are balls thrown by Kansas City pitchers. Perez couldn’t get any borderline low pitches called for strikes by home-plate umpire Rob Drake.

Here’s one of them, a 2-0 slider to Max Kepler that Salvy elects to give up on instead of sticking.

That pitch looks well below the zone, but that’s partially because of Perez’ insouciance. Here’s its location, via Fangraphs.

Here again, against Rosario earlier in the inning, Perez basically starts standing up without giving the pitch a chance.

There was a runner on first and Rosario did briefly, halfheartedly show bunt. But unless that runner is going — which he wasn’t — Perez’ first job is to ensure the pitch is a strike. Again, Perez manages to make a borderline pitch look godawful.

via Fangraphs

Castro’s counterpoint

So far in his three games behind the plate for the Twins, Castro has demonstrated an impressive ability to receive all types of pitches (well, except fast ones because he catches the Twins), from all types of arm angles with all types of movement, and receive those pitches optimally.

That is, when he needs to let a curveball drop an extra few inches, he catches it deep, close to his chest; when he needs to snag a sinking pitch before it drops below the zone, he extends his arm and sticks it with authority out in front of him; when he needs to catch the ball in the heel of his glove to keep it in the zone, he does; and when he needs to damn-near snow-cone it, he does that too.

On Thursday, Castro’s framing also showed up most prominently against lefty hitters. (Thursday’s lineup comprised eight lefthanded hitters and three switch-hitters, with the bulk of those switch-hitting at-bats coming from the left side.)

via Brooks Baseball

Castro primarily stole strikes from Royals lefties on the outside edge and up top. (The red squares inside the blue circled areas show those strikes.)

Let’s take a look at one of the high ones, a first-inning fastball from Kyle Gibson to Eric Hosmer.

Castro sells this by maintaining his crouched stance, not standing up like Perez, and reaching out his glove to stick the ball, arm extended, near the top of the zone.

This slo-mo replay from the broadcast, complete with strike-zone overlay, demonstrates Castro’s skill at keeping still and keeping his stance steady so the pitch looks right on target.

Castro catches the pitch close to his chest and far to his glove side as the final selling point.

Even when the pitch misses its target — like Matt Belisle’s to Raul Mondesi Jr. in the eighth inning — Castro keeps his target still and his glove in the zone.

I like this pair of frame jobs from Taylor Rogers’ one-inning stint. Rogers’ sweeping slider requires Castro to track the spin and catch the pitch within the zone as close to the heel of his glove as possible — no mean feat.

Hosmer’s reaction tells the whole story here: Castro stole one from the Royals first baseman.

Again, Castro does so much by moving so little. The stillness is the move.

Castro saved his finest frame for the final pitch of the game. Behold this blue circle.

Via Brooks Baseball

That’s where Brandon Kintzler’s 1-2 slider to ring up Lorenzo Cain “crossed the plate.” (It clearly didn’t.)

That’s how you go out on a high note.

It’s absurdly early, and a million little things can and will change.

But Jason Castro looks to be the real deal, framing-wise. And, with a pitching staff that is relatively unchanged since a dreadful 2016, the Twins need all the strikes they can get. Castro’s pitch framing could play a vital part in stockpiling some.