The accepted wisdom at this point seems to be that the 2016 White Sox invested in non-framing factors at the catcher position in the hopes that the new catchers’ other virtues would compensate for the harm they would cause. Of course, they wound up doubly bitten by the fact that Dioner Navarro didn’t contribute on offense at all, and then he performed as poorly on defense as had been anticipated.
But the magnitude of just how bad he was needs to be expressed mathematically, because just saying, “He was really bad” doesn’t capture it. People acknowledge Navarro was bad in the way people take for a given that the Spanish Flu was bad, but when you actually quantify it, in 1918 the Spanish Flu killed as many as 50 million people or up to 5 percent of the world’s population at the time. Similarly, the White Sox were minus-26.4 in framing runs as a team, worst in MLB, with Navarro registering minus-19.9 in only half a season’s worth of games.
As a result, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, and Miguel Gonzalez finished second, third, ninth, and 17th in all of baseball in terms of most value lost to poor framing by their catchers. Sale and Quintana are veteran front-line starters who muddled through, but Rodon clearly suffered dramatically. Despite posting a good 3.44 DRA and a cFIP of 87 — a top 20 mark among pitchers with more that 140 innings — his ERA was 4.04.
The 2017 White Sox are going to be bad, and Omar Narvaez is likely mediocre-to-okay as a receiver rather than a true asset, but he doesn’t need to be more than that to be a massive upgrade. A team with neutral framing — zero runs added or subtracted — would have been 15th in the majors instead of 30th. The White Sox were further negative at minus-26.4 than the best team in the majors was positive at 25.6.
As a result, pitch framing, along with the timing of when good players like Quintana, Todd Frazier, and Melky Cabrera are dealt, as well as if and when the new elite prospects arrive, represents one of the many variables that could have a big impact on the 2017 team’s win total. Like many of the White Sox worst positions of the last decade, semi-competence represents a quantum leap above what they had in place previously.
It’s going to be a bad team, but the White Sox eventual record might wind up pretty close to where it was last year based largely on the fact that it would be almost impossible to do anything but improve in this area moving forward.
Lead Image Credit: Troy Taormina // USA Today Sports Images