Could the subtle art of pitch framing be on its way to baseball’s scrap heap?
Albuquerque Isotopes catchers sincerely hope not.
With the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS) making the calls at Pacific Coast League ballparks this summer, catchers can no longer buy occasional strikes for their pitchers through a quick shift of the glove or smooth pitch presentation. The computerized system won’t be swayed.
“It’s kind of crazy,” said Carlos Perez, who has caught 17 games for the Albuquerque Isotopes this season. “I’ve been working my whole career trying to frame strikes and now I can’t use it. To be honest, I don’t really like it.”
Perez did not have to worry about balls and strikes Tuesday night, lining up at designated hitter and belting his 20th home run of the season in Albuquerque’s 15-7 win over Las Vegas at Isotopes Park.
Dom Nuñez did the catching, went 2-for-4 with a double and continued to frame pitches.
The ABS may not appreciate their efforts, but don’t expect Perez, Nuñez or Isotopes teammate Jonathan Morales to stop framing. After all, human umpires still call the balls and strikes in Major League Baseball.
With that in mind, PCL catchers continue to work on their pitch-presentation skills.
“You have to,” Nuñez said. “My goal is to play in the big leagues and framing is still an important skill. It’s pretty secondary to me, I’ve been doing it for so long, but it’s tough not being able to get a call for your pitcher.”
Nuñez, who has played in 109 games for the Colorado Rockies, and Perez, who has appeared in 212 MLB games with three teams (Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers) say they are not entirely sold on the ABS.
Perez believes the system is more likely to reward breaking balls that miss their target.
“It can be an advantage for the pitcher,” Perez said, “because sometimes a bad breaking ball is still called a strike. But I don’t think pitchers really like it and it can be hard for umpires, too. Everyone is working to get to the big leagues and there’s no ABS up there.”
Isotopes bullpen catcher Greg Jones said the Colorado Rockies organization is trying to take a pragmatic approach. The ABS is being employed on an experimental basis and may or may not be part of baseball’s longterm future.
“The club’s perspective is to tell guys to catch as if (the ABS) never existed,” Jones said. “It’s here now, get used to it, but until ABS makes it to the big leagues – if it ever does – continue to work on framing, including during games. It’s an art form that needs to be worked on.”
Catchers are not the only ones questioning the ABS.
Several batters took issue with strike calls during Tuesday’s game, including Las Vegas’ Luis Barrera, who dropped his bat on the plate in disbelief after being rung up on a questionable third strike.
But Nuñez and Perez say they’d probably rather see pitch framing outlast the ABS.
“I feel like the goal in baseball is to have a system that’s better than big-league umpires,” Nuñez said. “So far, my experience is that the ABS is not better than big-league umpires. As far as pitchers, some guys say they like it, some don’t, with probably more leaning toward don’t-like-it.”
ROLLING A SEVEN: Albuquerque and Las Vegas were tied at 3-3 Tuesday night until the Isotopes put up seven runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Perez drilled a two-run home run, D.J. Peterson drew a bases-loaded walk, and Coco Montes belted a grand slam to give the home team a 10-3 lead.
Montes also had an RBI single and drove in six runs in the game.
Peterson came up three times with the bases loaded, walking twice and grounding into a double play.
Vs. Las Vegas
12:05 p.m., Isotopes Park, 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROMOTION: Youth Summer Program Day
PROBABLES: Aviators LHP Zach Logue (3-2, 5.17) vs. Isotopes RHP Riley Smith (3-3, 7.01)
TUESDAY: Coco Montes drilled a grand slam and drove in six runs as the Isotopes rolled to a 15-7 win over the visiting Las Vegas Aviators in front of an announced 8,533 fans. (Click here for box score, here for updated Pacific Coast League standings.)
Carlos Perez and Sean Bouchard also homered for Albuquerque. Bouchard finished 3-for-4 with a double and four runs scored. The teams combined for 25 hits, 18 walks and five errors.
Karl Kauffman (2-0) allowed three runs in five-plus innings for the ‘Topes.
NOTABLES: Sunday’s 12-3 win over visiting Sugar Land was the fifth time this season that Albuquerque had hit five or more home runs in a game. The previous time was a record-tying eight on June 25 at Las Vegas.
- Coming into Tuesday’s game, Albuquerque had surrendered 169 homers for the season, tied for the most in all of minor league baseball (behind only Double-A Amarillo). The Isotopes had also allowed the second-most runs (655) and most hits (983).
- Since pace of play rules went into action on April 15, game times have changed drastically. Over the nine games prior, the average game lasted 3 hours, 11 minutes. Now, 75 nine-inning games into enforcement, the average game for the Isotopes is 2:44.
- Wynton Bernard came into Tuesday tied for first in the Pacific Coast League in triples (7), second in average (.338) and total bases (181), tied for second in XBH (43), third in hits (97), slugging (.616) and OPS (.990), tied for third in runs (67), and fourth in RBIs (65).
TRANSACTIONS: The parent Colorado Rockies on Tuesday recalled RHP Justin Lawrence from Albuquerque as the Rockies’ Jhoulys Chacin went on the injured list with toe sesamoiditis. LHP PJ Poulin moved up to Albuquerque from Double-A Hartford.