How do you make up the gap when you still have a large talent deficit most times you take the field? The Giants are trying to do it by exploiting every edge, from platoons to increased shifts to aggressive use of relievers.
There have been mixed results, but when it comes to the catchers, there's a clear area where they're excelling in finding an edge.
Tyler Heineman and Chadwick Tromp have had their growing pains as rookies, but both have done a pretty good job at pitch framing, an area of emphasis for new bullpen coach/catching coach Craig Albernaz.
Per Baseball Savant's framing metrics, Heineman ranks 15th and Tromp is 17th (out of 55 qualified catchers) in strike rate, which looks at how often a catcher converts non-swing pitches into strikes when they're in the "shadow zone," which Savant counts as one ball width inside the zone and one ball width outside. In layman's terms, it's how often catchers are stealing strikes on the edges of the zone with their framing.
The league average is 49.1 percent. Heineman is at 52.4 percent and Tromp is at 52.1.
"One of (Albernaz's) main points of emphasis is how we can swing counts in our favor for our pitchers, and some of the most important work that they can do is keeping balls that are strikes in the zone," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I think they've done a nice job of that so far and they've responded to Albie's emphasis, and as a staff I think we all believe that the number one job of a catcher is to kind of make a pitcher look great. From that standpoint, the catchers have done a nice job."
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The two newcomers have gone about it in similar ways but with different styles. Heineman has been particularly adept at framing pitches on the left edge of the zone, ranking first overall in that area so far, while Tromp is 10th. Tromp ranks eighth on framing low strikes (Heineman has been good there, too, ranking 12th) while using a unique method. Like several other catchers around the game -- including Houston's Gold Glover Martin Maldonado -- Tromp often gets down on his right knee to receive low pitches. It's a setup that might cost him a wild pitch here or there, but should help him steal strikes.
"The one-knee setup is something that we feel actually makes him slightly more athletic and enables him to push in both directions and be stable and balanced," Kapler said. "It's definitely a work in progress and a focused area of development for Tromp, but it also enables him to get up underneath the low strike, and I think part of the reason that his receiving numbers have been good so far is that the unconventional setup works well for him."
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