On Friday, Off The Bench published its first foray into the new Statcast data. In that piece, which is made possible by baseball savant, I made note that Colby Lewis was the only player to induce (throw) multiple catcher interferences last year. I went on to publish the first ever heat map in Off The Bench history, but kept coming back to Colby Lewis and wondering what the hell happened on those two plays. Of the 702,307 pitches thrown last year, only 31 (0.004%) ended with a catcher interference call. Why was Colby Lewis unfortunate enough to have it happen to him twice? And why were they on different pitches in the same quadrant of the strikezone?
I got so worked up that I used an exclamation point. I have kept coming back to those two red dots. It feels like a song is stuck in my head, but it’s really just some bizarre corner of my brain has developed a fascination with Colby Lewis’ 2015 catchers interferences. I’m not sure what that says about me, or about you for reading about it. But to the interwebs I went in search of something to appease my admittedly odd appetite for interference information, armed with some data from baseball savant and Google.
What I knew:
- May 22, bottom 4: Slade Heathcott reaches on catcher interference by Robinson Chirinos. Slade Heathcott to 1st. 88.8 mph sinker *
- Oct 5, top 2: David Murphy reaches on catcher interference by Robinson Chirinos. David Murphy to 1st. 82.2 mph slider*
*I also knew all sorts of information such as spin rate, direction, home plate umpire, and the count, but let’s not consider the above a full list of things that I knew.
Slade Heathcott’s CI
Well, here’s something interesting right out of the shoot: In the third inning, Heathcott hustled his way to a double for his first big league hit.
My next link found Heathcott’s catcher’s interference with Robinson Chirinos catching. If you watch that video, you can see Chirinos reach across to try to snag the ball as Lewis missed inside, while Chirinos was set up outside. From the Baseball Savant data and my graph, it sure looks like pitch f/x was way off on where that pitch was delivered. Maybe that’s the case, but maybe my interpretation is way off of what the pitch f/x data means. Either way, now we know that the pitch was on the inner half of the plate to a lefty and that nobody was on base.
This seems like a pretty run of the mill catcher’s interference. Ball is hit softly, umpire hears multiple sounds, deduces CI call, and awards the batter first base. Fielders look around surprised and bewildered, and many unaware fans in attendance never catch on that something kinda odd has happened. To the next one.
David Murphy’s CI
Again, something unrelated but also interesting pops up right away. On April 11, 2010, David Murphy reached base twice via catcher’s interference. Four days later, his teammate Colby Lewis matched his career high with 10 strikeouts. These two were longtime teammates.
Googling also unearthed this gem from July of last year, which we will delve into more fully after we uncover the truth behind this other Colby Lewis CI.
….Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury became the first player since David Murphy in 2010 to reach base via catcher’s interference not once, but twice in the same game. It marks only the seventh time in Major League history that a player has reached base on catcher’s interference twice in one game. Along with Murphy and Ellsbury, the others to do so are Bob Stinson (1979), Dan Meyer (’77), Pat Corrales (twice in ’65) and Ben Geraghty (’36). Ellsbury, however, is the only one to draw an interference call from two catchers (Robinson Chirinos and Tomas Telis) in the same game.
OK so this October 3 game between the Angels and Rangers was one for the ages. The Angels were fighting for a playoff spot and the Rangers were trying to improve their seed heading into the playoffs. The Angels absolutely had to win, and wound up scoring 5 in the 9th inning to take the lead and win. It was an exceptional game, and I found video of Murphy driving in a run. I also found video of Murphy reaching via CI in an August game against the Rangers.
But no video of the Murphy CI can be found. We know it happened. It was in that pitch f/x data. Plus, there’s this tweet!
Murphy reaches on his signature play: The Catcher Interference. Cron up. This is the guy who really kills LEwis.
— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) October 3, 2015
But when I finally unearthed a video of Randal Grichuk reaching first on a CI call after an infield fly, I realized that my search for this had gone too deep. David Murphy hits into a lot of catchers interferences and it just so happened that Colby Lewis was on the mound for one of them last year. Lewis was on the mound for Slade Heathcott’s second major league at bat, in which he might have been so overcome by nerves that he forgot where to stand in the batter’s box.
Hitters Induce CI’s, Not Pitchers
While looking through all of this, I found that note on Jacoby Ellsbury. Further, the history of David Murphy’s CI ways made me realize that these odd plays may be more common with certain batters at bat. To the data:
Since we’re only looking at 2015 data, it’s amazing how many of these players are repeat offenders. Heathcott managed 2 in just 30 plate appearances last year. David Murphy managed 3 in 391 and Carl Crawford got his 2 in just 193 PAs. If we dug up more data on Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Howard, I’m sure that these instances would not be their only time aboard via taking a whack at the catcher.
What is far more telling in this chart is the percentage of lefties that reach by catcher’s interference. 26 of the 32 CI’s last year were from lefties. That’s a full 81%. That’s an extraordinarily high percentage. When you consider the mechanics of the right handed catcher and the lefty hitter, there’s an obvious propensity for this type of oddity, and the data supports it.
But Back to Colby Lewis
Lewis had an unfortunate confluence of events that led to multiple batters reaching via CI. First, he faced David Murphy. That’s like a cardinal sin if you’re trying to avoid all CI’s. Then, he faced Slade Heathcott, who may be a walking version of catchers interference and may not have figured his way around the Major League batter’s box just yet. Then, Lewis faced an inordinate number of lefty hitters, who have a higher propensity to hit the catcher’s mitt en route to first base.
So why did Lewis face more lefties to cement his fate as the CI king of 2015? He’s never been able to get lefties out. Lefties have posted an .817 career OPS versus Colby Lewis. So in effect, the CI’s were self induced by Lewis’ inability to get lefties out. You know what else was self induced? The 1200 words that I just cranked out about Colby Lewis and catcher’s interference. My curious brain appetite is sufficiently fed for today. Hope yours is too.