Just another case of (reverse!) ageism

Thearon W. Henderson

There's that Jeff Sullivan fellow again, shaking up all that data and coming up with something interesting.

This time it's pitch-framing (of a sort), but with a twist ... We know, or think we know, that some catchers are better at getting strikes called on close pitches than other catchers. But what if it's not just the catchers? It's long been said that veteran hitters get the benefit of the doubt on the close ones. Veteran pitchers, too.

And that's where Sullivan comes in. With the help of PITCHf/x, Sullivan explored the possibility that older pitchers get more close calls than younger pitchers. The fun thing about my job is that I get to skip all the methodology, and skip straight to the conclusion: Yes, they do.

What the table suggests is that veterans have gotten the benefit of the doubt, compared to younger pitchers. It’s a fairly small effect, considering how many pitches are thrown over an average 100 innings, but it looks like an effect really is there. On average, between rookies and pitchers 36 and older, you’d expect from these numbers an ERA advantage of about 0.20 in the older pitchers’ favor. That is, everything else being equal. That’s roughly the value of 17 extra strikes per 100 frames.

But I have a different, if related theory. My belief is that pitchers with good command will be able to throw to more favorable zones than pitchers with worse command... Within the oldest group, you have guys pitching in the majors, and you probably don’t have many guys throwing 95 miles per hour. So they have to be good at something else, and it’s probably location. That might well explain what’s observed in the table. It might look like the benefit of the doubt, but really, it’s just easier to get calls if you put the pitch around where its target is.

All of which seems reasonable enough. But as I'm sure Jeff realized, this does open any number of other lines of inquiry. Is there some way to tease out "benefit of the doubt" from "hitting his spots"? Should we adjust our pitch-framing metrics for catchers to account for the age of those catchers' battery mates? Do older umpires have more sympathy than younger umpires for the older pitchers?

It was wonderful to learn, after all these years, that pitch-framing, or something that we might loosely describe as pitch-framing, really is a thing that matters. But that was just the beginning. So many wonders await!

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