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  • Writer's pictureAndy Singer

SSTN Mailbag: Catcher Interference, Exit Velocity, And Slow Promotions!



The Yankees are winning and the offense seems to be coming around. Those are both things that make me happy, but I've been thinking a lot more about minutia lately. I observe baseball rather closely, as you might imagine, and border on obsession thinking about small details that make large impacts to the game we watch unfold before us on the field. Last week, I wrote a quick note about Judge's contact profile, and how those varied statistics were skewing his overall averages. I was writing a much more detailed post about Judge's hard contact on the ground and significant volume of soft contact in the air, and he promptly obliterated the usefulness of such an article. That's great, but it led to some good discussion here at SSTN about why it took Judge so long to come around. We'll likely never know the real answer, but a number of our readers speculated that Judge could very well have a new orthotic that takes pressure off of the toe that Judge himself has stated will require maintenance for the remainder of his career.


While speculative, it floored me that I hadn't considered such a hypothesis, which is hysterical for a very particular reason. Back in the Fall, I tore some ligaments that run from the foot to the calf (doing something incredibly dangerous, I might add: walking down a muddy hill on a terrible golf course to my golf ball...yes, it still feels as stupid as it sounds). To manage the injury and prevent recurrence, I was fitted for new custom orthotics that made it feel as though I was standing on the side of my foot (I wasn't, but then again, we always talk about feel vs. real in mechanics). My foot felt better! It also totally changed how I balance during movement. As though I needed more proof, I turned too quickly and fell nearly through a hunk of dry wall 3-4 weeks after I received my new orthotics. Months later, I'm just now beginning to feel "normal" during movement.


What's my point? We talked a lot about Judge's toe, but sometimes, the prescription for making something manageable can change the way we move, and that can take time. It floors me that I never considered an idea like the one our readers conceived. It amazes me how much we can both learn from each other and from ourselves if we just stop and think a little more simply and logically.


As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll answer questions about catcher's interference, exit velocity, and seemingly slow promotions for position players! Let's get at it:


Michael G. asks: [Willson] Contreras's horrifying injury made me realize something this week. It feels like there are a lot more catcher interference calls in the last few years than there have been in years past. Am I right and if so, what's the cause?


That was a terrible moment. Watching Contreras jump and writhe in pain after getting hit straight on by a swing was painful even for the viewer, but sadly I can't say that I'm surprised this happened to someone. Michael is right: catcher's interference has been on the rise for the last few years. The Athletic ran an article earlier this week, and their research indicates that yes, catcher's interference calls have risen significantly in a short period of time, and also that it is clearly a result of pitch framing.


One of the most common places that good catchers steal strikes is at the bottom of the zone, and even beneath the zone. We've watched as more catchers adopt a one-knee stance behind the plate specifically to get better at framing the lower part of the zone. Most of the pitches that are thrown in that part of the strike zone in today's game are hard-breaking curves, sliders, and splitters. With such sharp downward break, it makes sense that catchers would inch forward in their crouch in an attempt to catch the ball at a higher point to steal the low strike. Consequently, catchers are now placing themselves in harm's way and right up against the path of the bat when hitters swing.


Will the injury to Contreras lead to some change in how catcher's set-up to home plate? I highly doubt it, as the gain from stealing an extra strike or two per game is far too great for most teams. In fact, I would argue that beyond the obvious, we have reached the point where the implementation of the Automated Balls and Strikes (ABS) system at the Major League level is actually a player safety issue at this point. Until that system comes to the Majors, I fear that we will again see an injury like Contreras'. MLB better get to work on making final improvements to the ABS so it's ready for The Show.


Rob asks: Does exit velocity really matter as much as people say it does? For instance, Stanton hits the ball harder than anyone in the sport, but he's an average hitter at best overall. Before Stanton, the Yankees acquired Donaldson because he hit the ball hard, but he was done as a hitter. It's sometimes fun to imagine how hard someone hit a homerun, but I really don't think it is as important as they lead us to believe.


I can't recall if I've answered questions specifically about Exit Velocity in the Mailbag in recent years, but I think it makes sense to cover it again, because my thinking on Exit Velocity has become a bit more nuanced over time. Let's start with the most essential understanding first: yes, Exit Velocity matters. Every year between 2018 and 2021, I ran a post near the beginning of each off-season mapping the trend and correlation between Exit Velocity and offensive performance (generally, I used wOBA for this calculation). In every year I ran this study, I found that Exit Velocity and total offensive performance were highly correlated. Generally speaking, the harder a player hits the ball, the more performance we would expect to see from their offense. That doesn't mean that there aren't outliers within that correlation, but the correlation remains.


However, that doesn't at all mean that Exit Velocity is the be-all-end-all for player offensive performance. There is also much more to it than just looking at Average Exit Velocity and Average Launch Angle to make assessments about a player's hitting performance. I talked about this in last week's SSTN Mailbag regarding Aaron Judge's performance. If one were to look at Judge's Statcast page at that time, they would have seen that Judge's Average Exit Velocity and Average Launch Angle were actually quite similar to their standard marks. However, digging into the numbers at a more granular level, it was apparent that while Judge was mostly hitting the ball at his usual distribution of launch angles (albeit with a few more pop-ups relative to everything else), almost all of his truly hard contact was coming on the ground at launch angles of 0 degrees and below. Most of Judge's hard contact throughout his career was distributed between 0 and 30 degrees, so his hard contact in 2024 wasn't actually advantageous. Those numbers have since leveled out, but that is a really easy example of how we can use Exit Velocity (and Launch Angle!) to explain performance.


Much of the discussion around Exit Velocity and Launch Angle is far too simplistic. Using the averages for both of those numbers can give us some direction, but when good Exit Velocity and Launch Angle don't match performance, we can use that information to dig deeper. I would also caution that even upon examination at a deeper level, Exit Velocity and Launch Angle studies really only more clearly define the "what," not necessarily the "why." This is why analytical analysis, biomechanical analysis, scouting, and coaching all need to work together. While we get a more simplistic view of these aspects of player evaluation, teams have significantly more granular data with which they can work, and they are balancing all of the above aspects to evaluate and maximize performance of their players. The Yankees were long lauded for their balanced approach as an organization, and while it appears outwardly that they became a bit unbalanced in this regard, it seems that this balance has returned in recent months.


Alan B. asks: The Yankees have gotten a lot of love for the farm system, especially the mid to late drafting of pitchers who become prospects and moved quickly through, why isn't the same thing done with the position players? Like why is Ben Rice still in AA (blocked by Luis Torrens)? Or with versatile player Jesus Rodriguez showing his late season hitting last year in Hudson Valley was no fluke when he is off to the same start this year but still being stuck in Hudson Valley? 


Truthfully, I've been waiting for weeks for someone to ask this question, and I have to thank Alan for obliging (though I've seen Alan write something very similar in the comments on other posts). At the moment, it does appear as though the Yankees have been a lot slower to promote players from AA to AAA. On the surface, it certainly does seem strange, but it makes a lot more sense when we look under the surface deeper.


MLB implemented the ABS system at AAA last season, and it has since thrown the statistics observed at that level way out of whack. Pitchers suffered noticeably, producing far more walks, which led to many pitchers leaving pitches out over the plate a bit more, which in turn led to more hits and bloated ERAs. The inverse effect was that hitters had inflated batting lines and plate discipline statistics.


Just look at Everson Pereira last season. He raked at AAA and seemed to have good plate discipline numbers if you were just scouting the stat line. I noted at the time that there were still some significant pitch recognition concerns there, but the hitting environment at AAA covered those flaws up to a significant extent. Pereira struggled mightily in the big leagues, and it was only through those struggles that he has since found what he needed to work on in the minors. Usually, hitters get that feedback at AAA, but they're not getting it to the same extent now with the climate at that level.


For that reason, I think the Yankees left some of their most prized prospects at AA for a little longer than they might have otherwise. TJ Rumfield was absolutely ready for AAA in terms of raw development when the minor league season started, but the Yankees clearly waited to see how AAA played for hitters before promoting him. While the ABS is better this year, it still needs tweaking, so I think the Yankees are waiting until it is absolutely necessary to promote their prospects from AA to AAA. That being said, Ben Rice has proven nearly everything he can prove at AA, so I would expect a promotion to AAA in the coming weeks.


With barely over 200 plate appearances at A+, I think the Yankees are leaving Jesus Rodriguez down there to prove that the offensive performance isn't a fluke and to get some additional work defensively, as he's not nearly a finished product on that side of the ball yet. The Yankees have some prospect clumps at the lower levels of the minors, but at the upper levels, I think the Yankees are more just promoting based on the minor league climate right now. Minor League veterans without a ton of Major League utility are not actually blocking good prospects.

18 Comments


Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
May 10

I think the time is NOW for the "robo umps" and the ABS to be at EVERY level and the majors NOW. You can't have one level having it and a level below AND a level above NOT having it. It is extremely important that every single level is uniform in that regard. That is the only accurate way to evaluate players. That is probably the #1 reason why a guy like Franchy Cordero can be a dominant hitter in AAA last year, but so mediocre and strike out so much on the big league level. Jeter Downs is hitting extremely well right now in AAA, but does not have a strong track record as a hitter in the ma…

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Jeff Korell
Jeff Korell
May 10
Replying to

I agree that it should be refined. The strike zone also has to be adjusted based on the batter's size. Obviously, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are going to have a bigger strike zone than Jose Altuve and little Ronnie Torreyes. And a guy like Rickey Henderson would have a smaller strike zone due to his "low crouch" batting stance. So adjustments like that have to be made, but overall, I want to see the strike zone the same size for each player at each level of play, from Rookie Single A all the way up to the majors. Many players will hit better with the AAA (robo/ABS) strike zone than they will with the Major League (human judgeme…

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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
May 10

Meanwhile, Nick Burdi has come off the IL, and instead of putting Tonkin on waivers (Huevers? Whatever's needed so he'll be Sai-gone), they sent down Marinaccio and his 1.42 ERA. I guess the Yankees are planning on losing some blowouts this weekend and need someone to eat innings that you wouldn't want to waste Major-League-quality pitchers on.

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fuster
May 10
Replying to

sent him down after using him for 23 pitches


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Alan B.
Alan B.
May 10

Luis Torrens is definitely, directly blocking Ben Rice. The IL (AAA) had the robo ump and the ABS last season too. You cannot tell me that every single club, including the Yankees don't have something like that at their version of a home base, like Tampa for the Yankees and Dunedin for the Jays.


As for Jesus Rodriguez, the only position I'm waiting for him to play is RF. He's played 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, & C. He has 8 errors this year, 6 as a catcher, if I remember correctly, all on throws. He's using all arm to throw, from the 3 errors I've happened to see. I see no reason why he shouldn't be in AA, eve…


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Alan B.
Alan B.
May 10
Replying to

Trevino & Wells are staying here, but with what the Yankees did when they called up Carlos Narvaez, I see him being a trade chip, or maybe even Luis Torrens.

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jjw49
May 10

IMHO.... launch angle and exit velocity are made for TV stats that don't mean a lot. In baseball the object is to put the ball in play whether it be a single, etc or a HR. Does anyone really care .... meaningless stat.

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fuster
May 10
Replying to

not only is it slightly harder to catch a ball coming directly at oyu when it's traveling at great velocity,

it most obviously is more difficult to move to intersect and grab a ball when there is less time to make the play.


couldn't be clearer

~~~~~

that it only recently became feasible to accurately measure the velocity of a struck ball is inconsequential

there is a long history of players describing the velocity of pitched and struck baseballs.

"hit a seed"

" throwing gas"

et c

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chrisoconnor33
May 10

Great point about the ABS being in triple A and not double A. People say that there is now as big of a gap between the majors and triple A as ever before, but I wonder about the difference between double A and triple A seeing as how the balls and strikes experience in double A might actually be preparing prospects for the majors better.

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Andy Singer
Andy Singer
May 10
Replying to

That's exactly right. Until the rules get stabilized at AAA, we're going to see teams hold guys at AA for a bit longer than normal. Supposedly, there isn't as much pure "stuff" at AAA either, as teams either jump pitchers to the Majors or hold them back at AA, so that's another shot against development for hitters at AAA.

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