Chicago Cubs: The importance of catcher David Ross

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It isn’t just a coincidence that the Chicago Cubs acquired David Ross only two weeks after signing free agent pitcher Jon Lester to a 6-year contract valued at $155 million. The Cubs front office wanted Ross in Chicago to ease Lester’s transition with his new team. The two spent two years as teammates in Boston and won a World Series together in 2013.

After some struggles initially, David Ross has helped Jon Lester post some good numbers this season. Lester has a 3.26 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP to go along with a 6-8 cumulative record in 21 starts. However, these numbers are bit deceiving because a few bad starts at the beginning of the season dragged these stats upwards. According to baseball reference, Lester posted a 1.66 ERA and a .762 WHIP in the month of July.

May 11, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester (34) and Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross (3) meet during the fourth inning against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Ross has caught Lester in 19 of his 21 starts; missing these other two opportunities because of a concussion. The way that Ross frames the ball seems to suggest that he has been instrumental to Jon Lester’s success this season.

Stat Corner is a website that has pitch framing data. This data clearly shows that Ross is a standout pitch framer capable of helping his pitcher earn more strikes than he otherwise would have recorded. 

According to the data on this website, Ross has a zBall% of 10.2 percent. This means that umpires called balls on 10.2 percent of the pitches that Ross handled that were actually in the strike zone. Placed in a vacuum, this number needs context to denote meaning. The MLB average zBall% is around 14.5 percent and Ross’ 10.2 percent number places him at number seven in the Majors among almost 100 qualified catchers.

Similarly, Ross’ oStr% is elite among Major League catchers this season. This statistic measures the percentage of balls caught outside of the strike zone that the umpire called strikes. Ross’ percentage is 10.6 which hover’s three percentage points higher than the league average of around seven percent.

Ross is the fourth best at yielding strike calls on balls among qualified Major League catchers this season and pitch framing abilities have helped the Chicago Cubs pitching staff. And it shows with the Cubs pitching staff ranks number three in the Major Leagues in strikeouts with 913 while Jon Lester currently ranks number 18 in strikeouts among 640 qualified pitchers.

His ability to frame pitches well and earn his pitcher more called strikes than the average catcher is a factor that has contributed to a collective 3.40 ERA posted by the Chicago Cubs pitching staff this season – which is fifth best in the league.

Ross has been invaluable in maximizing the talents of the Cubs pitching staff this season because of his pitch framing abilities.

Next: His defense has been good too