Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez looks on during the first inning...

Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez looks on during the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

DENVER — In these early days of his life in the major leagues, Francisco Alvarez at times has felt sort of bad about making umpires look bad.

The scene has unfolded on dozens of occasions in the past month-plus: His batterymate delivers a pitch. It is a little low or a little outside or a little otherwise outside the strike zone — a ball, basically. Alvarez catches it and, with his thick forearms and strong hands that Buck Showalter has gushed about, ever so slightly shifts his mitt toward the plate.

The ump calls it a strike.

That is the art known as framing, or — in the preferred parlance of some backstops and coaches — receiving. The ability to steal strikes, which can change the course of an at-bat, which in the right moments can change the course of an inning or even a game, is a key skill for modern catchers.

When Alvarez does so, he said, the batter is prone to glare at the other guy behind the plate. He gets a kick out of it.

“They never say anything to me,” the 21-year-old Alvarez, wearing a proud smile, said through an interpreter. “They’ll look back to the umpire and they’ll start talking. And sometimes I feel bad for the umpire because, like, damn. I robbed a strike there. It probably should’ve been a ball. But I’m also happy because they called a strike.”

Alvarez’s strike-stealing is part of what has been, statistically and increasingly reputedly, a sound all-around defensive skill set, impressing Mets staff and pitchers and belying the belief about him as a prospect.


Among the 84 catchers to play in the majors this year, Alvarez is tied for first with six defensive runs saved, as tabulated by Sports Info Solutions. He is in the 86th percentile in the framing measure created by MLB, excelling especially on pitches just above or just below the zone. And he has rated about as well in blocks above average (also via MLB), which gauges his ability to smother pitches in the dirt to prevent baserunners from advancing.

Alvarez has struggled to throw out base-stealers — he has caught only four of 38, and one of those was an opposing catcher who stopped partway to second base — but the running environment created by new rules makes it difficult to evaluate that piece. He has a strong throwing arm, so the Mets think he’ll come around.

“When I was coming up, the knock was I wasn’t a good defender. So it brings me great pride to have good numbers,” Alvarez said. “Honestly, I welcome the criticism, because the criticism gives me more motivation to end up being better. There’s always room to work if there’s criticism, so for me, get better to make myself feel better, but also to quiet those critics.”

Catcher defense can be notoriously difficult to measure, and Alvarez’s sample still is small. But the Mets like what they have seen.

Showalter, for example, frequently answers questions about Alvarez’s hot hitting by changing the subject to his work ethic and defense.

Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, aces with children who are closer in age to Alvarez than the pitchers are, have been effusive in their praise for the rookie.

For Scherzer, who has spoken highly of Alvarez since they teamed up in the minors briefly last summer, that includes highlighting Alvarez’s “creativity” and unpredictability in his game-calling.

“I can’t say enough great things about him,” Verlander said. “He cares, No. 1, which shows big time in the clubhouse and behind the plate and in prep work. That goes miles for pitchers. We all know that the bat is going to be there, but the work he’s done behind the plate and the work he’s done to get to know our pitchers, just the improvements he’s made already, is a great sign for him as a future major-leaguer.”

An area of emphasis for Alvarez the catcher: Don’t get whacked in the head so often.

During the Mets’ most recent homestand, the backswings of opposing hitters clipped his helmet — a jarring experience for any catcher — several times.

Alvarez, who said he has never suffered a concussion, plans to avoid such issues by backing up. Catching coach Glenn Sherlock briefs Alvarez and others at the start of every series on which batters on that team are most likely to hit him, so yielding even a few extra inches when they are in the box can make a difference.

Being closer to the plate helps with framing, making his positioning a bit of a risk-reward calculation. In a lot of cases, avoiding a brain-rattling backswing is more important than stealing strikes.

“I’m not trying to take as many hits to the head, so I should start positioning myself farther back,” Alvarez said.

Sherlock said: “It’s pretty scary, getting hit with a bat . . . Catcher depth is something we look at pretty much on a daily basis. If we feel like one of the catchers is getting too close, we make them aware of that.”

Anything to protect the guy who, oh, by the way, is second on the team in OPS (.885) and third in homers (eight). And who apparently is a good catcher.

“I’ve gotten much better at my framing. It’s something that I had to work on, whether it was that, my blocking, my throwing, my framing,” Alvarez said. “Now that everything is starting to come together, I’m kind of getting the fruits of that labor, all the work that I’ve put in since I became a professional. I’m very happy with how things have been playing out.”

Sanchez finds new team. The San Diego Padres claimed catcher Gary Sanchez off waivers from the Mets on Monday night. The two-time All-Star was designated for assignment Thursday after playing in three games for the Mets.  

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