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Framing Check-in: How are Mejía and Zunino doing so far?

MLB: World Series-Los Angeles Dodgers at Tampa Bay Rays Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

One month into the 2021 season, and it’s time to check-in on how catchers Mike Zunino and Francisco Mejía are doing. Offensively, they’ve both done pretty well so far. Zunino has impressed with a 24% barrel rate and five home runs, and Mejía is hitting .306/.327/.490.

But how are they doing behind the plate?

Francisco Mejía’s Framing Check-in

Catcher framing is truly an art that separates an average defensive catcher from an elite defensive catcher. Not only is every pitcher unique, but so is every pitch. Getting familiar with how each pitcher’s stuff moves is so important for framing. With Mejía being so new to the organization, it is expected that his framing is a little slow to start, but his actual framing ability should be better demonstrated towards the middle/end of the season.

Looking at the Baseball Savant framing statistics, the red indicates above average strike rate and the blue indicates below average.

Strike rate refers to the number of pitches that were called strikes, but not swung at. By separating the edges/outside of the strike zone into smaller zones, we can identify Mejía’s framing strengths and weaknesses.

Mejía’s 2021 strike rate by zone
Baseball Savant

The east/west edges of the zone (Zones 14 and 16) are Mejía’s clear strengths so far. Based on his strike rates from years prior, we can expect improvement in the north and south edges of the zone (Zones 12 and 18) as the season progresses.

Mike Zunino’s Framing Check-in

Mike Zunino’s framing looks better so far. He has an above average strike rate in the east/west edges of the zone (Zone 14 and 16), as well as the north/south edges (Zones 12 and 18).

Zunino’s 2021 strike rate by zone
Baseball Savant

If Zunino keeps up these numbers he will have the most zones with above average strike rates and the best overall strike rate (51%) of his career. The north edge of the zone has improved significantly for Zunino and the south edge strike rate has returned to the rate it was when Zunino was on the Mariners.

Zunino’s strike rate trends on the north/south edges of the zone
Data from Baseball Savant

How do Mejía and Zunino’s strengths work with the Rays’ Starting Pitchers?

Both Mejía and Zunino do well framing pitches in the east/west edges of the zone. Looking at the rotation heat maps, this will help the following pitchers get some extra strikes on the edges of the zone:

  • Josh Fleming
  • Rich Hill
  • Michael Wacha
  • Ryan Yarbrough
2020 and 2021 Heat Maps
Baseball Savant

Zunino has an edge over Mejía at framing north/south pitches. Rays starters that favor the north/south edges of the zone include:

  • Tyler Glasnow
  • Chris Archer
2020 and 2021 Heat Maps
Baseball Savant

Glasnow typically uses his curveball to get swings and misses, especially on counts with two strikes.

Due to the vertical movement, it often lands very low and beneath the zone. Zunino does a great job at converting breaking balls into strikes. He does this by giving a high target, so the ball breaks down at the lower edge of the zone, deceiving the hitter and prompting them to swing.

Should these trends continue, the Rays may want to consider which catcher is in tandem with Glasnow moving forward.

Where can the rotation use some help?

The newer members of the rotation, Luis Patiño, Brent Honeywell Jr., and Shane McClanahan pitch to the corners of the zone, which are weakest for Mejía and Zunino in terms of strike rate.

2021 Heat Maps
Baseball Savant

In this pitch to the northwest corner, Zunino gets it back into the zone, but is not able to get the strike call:

These corner spots are incredibly difficult to frame, but they are not completely lost on Mejía and Zunino. For example, even though Mejía’s strike rate is only 26% in the southwest corner of the zone, he does a good job at ensuring this pitch is called for a strike:

Similarly for Zunino, his strike rate is only 30% in the southeast corner of the zone. Looking at the video below, he is able to convert a pitch into a strike.

While this pitch is more of a strike than the one Mejía received, Zunino still did a nice job at keeping it in the zone. When pitches have that much movement, every inch matters, and good catchers are able to grab them before they run off the plate.

Looking forward to the remainder of season, Mejía will become more familiar with the Rays’ pitchers and should be able to improve on his weaker areas of the zone.

One really strong aspect of Mejía’s defense is his arm. Depending on the situation, I would not be surprised to see him sacrifice a call to catch a runner trying to steal. It is very rare to see catchers who are elite at both throwing out runners and framing, and based on his arm, Mejía will probably lean towards preventing advancements on the bases.

Zunino has been with the team three seasons now, and should be well adjusted to the pitching staff. While his arm is not as good as Mejía’s, he has shown improvement in framing, particularly in the north/south edges of the zone.

It isn’t hard to make these Rays pitchers look good, but the extra effort in framing from Zunino and Mejía will go a long way.