Baseball prospectus recently published an article on the defensive impact of catchers that tried to quantify the differences in framing in receiving pitches. Framing is the art of holding a glove and positioning your body with the intent of convincing an umpire that the pitch you just caught is really a strike. It turns out that different catchers have a significant effect in turning balls into strike calls and that this effect is persistent across seasons and even if a catcher switches teams. Jose Molina was judged to be the best in baseball at turning close balls into called strikes. Our own Geo Soto is 10th best in baseball over the past 5 seasons with an estimated 7 runs per 120 games saved by his framing of pitches. Hill was near the bottom with 15 runs cost per 120 games. By contrast, Jose Molina saves his teams a staggering 35 runs every 120 games by the way he catches the ball. If this is even remotely accurate, Molina is one of the best bargains in all of baseball at $1mm per season. Albert Pujols doesn't quite produce that many extra runs over the course of a season relative to a replacement player.
This brings up a line of thinking for me in evaluating pitchers on the free agent market. You need to look at the skill of the catcher to whom they were throwing. If we have a pitcher from Pittsburgh that has been throwing to Ryan Doumit (the worst grade in baseball, costing his team 26 runs per 120 games) and you are going to bring him to Chicago to pitch to Geo most of the time, you would expect him to do significantly better since he would be getting more borderline pitches called as strikes. Tom Gorzelanny anyone? Whereas a pitcher that has been throwing to Molina or Jonathan Lucroy (another of the top receivers) could be expected to not put up the same quality of numbers for a new team with an inferior receiver.
Anyway, I hope that you will enjoy the article and its implications as much as I did. I thought it interesting enough to point out. The Economist magazine published a small piece on it earlier this week as well with a tie-in to the Moneyball movie.