When discussing Russell Martin, one of the topics that frequently comes up is pitch framing. This is a relatively new concept in baseball circles. The idea, as I understand it, is that if the catcher’s glove frames the outside edge of the strike zone as the pitch is caught, the umpire is more likely to call it a strike. Studies appear to show that pitch framing can make a significant difference for a pitcher, and that Martin is quite good at it.
I saw an example of this in an animated GIF posted on The Blue Jay Hunter (scroll down to “versus Chris Jones and J. J. Hardy”). . It was a sequence of images showing a batter taking Daniel Norris’s curve for a called third strike on the outside corner of the strike zone. Martin’s glove doesn’t move when he catches the pitch, and he holds the ball there for an extra split second, as if all he wants to do is give the umpire a clear view and let him make his own decision.
Less accomplished catchers stab at outside pitches and catch them outside the strike zone. When the umpire sees the ball in the catcher’s glove, and the glove is outside the zone, the tendency is to call a ball, not a strike. Even worse are the catchers who attempt to drag the ball back into the zone. Umpires are often offended by this, as they see this as an attempt to show them up.
Martin’s framing ability is one of the two main reasons why the Jays spent so much money to acquire him. The other, of course, is his nationality. Martin is not only Canadian; he grew up in Montreal, and is fluently bilingual. Rogers is obviously keen to capture more of the Quebec market for the Jays and to hopefully win over Montreal baseball fans whose hearts were broken by losing the Expos. Having Martin around for the next five years will undoubtedly make a significant difference.