If you want to be an elite receiving catcher you should never “frame” pitches. At Catcher University, we are adamant that our catchers don’t frame borderline pitches in an effort to get more strikes for the pitcher.
What do we teach instead?
We teach catchers to catch all strikes/borderline strikes the same way with the glove in a Thumb Under position. Here is a graphic that shows what this looks like on pitches all over the strike zone:
Growing up, we all heard many catching coaches talk about framing pitches by manipulating our glove to try to make a borderline pitch look like a strike. The intent behind this teaching is 100% on the right track – as catchers, we DO need to fight to win every possible pitch as a strike for our pitchers. Catching the baseball is the skill that we perform more than any other in a game, and it is what our position is named after. All catchers need to work to master their receiving skills.
So what do we mean when we say “DON’T FRAME!” to our catchers?
Let’s imagine a pitch on the left hand side of the plate, inside to a right-handed hitter. If a catcher attempts to frame that pitch by catching the ball with his thumb up and curving the glove towards the plate, what message does that send to the umpire? For starters, it sends two big messages:
- Catching the ball this way is different than on other pitches to that automatically draws more attention to the pitch.
- If a catcher manipulates his glove in a way that is different than other pitches, he is clearly indicating to the umpire that he thinks it could be a ball and is doing something out of the ordinary to try to make it a strike.
Neither of those messages are what we want to send an umpire when we receive a pitch that is a borderline strike or ball.
Instead of framing pitches, we talk about presenting pitches to the umpire and specifically receiving the ball in one of three ways at CatcherU:
1. Catch Strikes.
One of my favorite questions to ask catchers is, “how do you frame a strike?” Catchers almost always begin responding with varying techniques or framing strategies that involve manipulating the glove. These are good thoughts, but they are all wrong because we do not frame pitches. How do you frame a strike? You don’t. It’s a strike. If a pitch is a definite strike, just catch the ball with a Quiet Glove + Thumb Under and do not mess it up or draw any unnecessary attention. Remember: the best catchers are like offensive lineman – nobody notices the good ones.
2. Present Borderline Pitches.
If the pitch is borderline, there is an art to presenting the ball to the umpire to win the pitch for your pitcher. First, stay quiet and consistent just like you do on every pitch with your thumb under the ball. Getting crazy with twisting or turning your glove only draws attention to the fact that you don’t think it’s a strike.
Next, Beat the Ball to the Spot + Stay Below the Ball and draw the pitch towards your chest slightly as you are catching the ball. This is only possible is if you beat the ball to the spot. If you’re late getting to the spot with your glove, simply do you best to stick the pitch right where you catch it. You are always better off just sticking the pitch where it is pitched than trying to make up for being late by moving your glove too much after you have already caught the ball. Subtlety is key when drawing the ball towards your chest, and “less is more” is always the best approach.
When presenting borderline pitches to the umpire, the goal is to earn the umpire’s trust by proving that you know the strike zone that day. If the umpire trusts the catcher, then the ump is more likely to be influenced by the catcher presenting borderline pitches as if they are strikes.
3. Get Rid of Balls.
If the pitch is an obvious ball, catch it and get it back to the pitcher as quickly as possible. Do not waste any time with a pitch that is an obvious ball. The catcher’s goal is to preserve credibility with the umpire at all times. Remember: it is the pitcher’s job to throw strikes, not the catcher’s.
Whether you are a catcher, the parent of a catcher, or a coach, keep this in mind when you are practicing/teaching receiving skills. Baseball analytics are showing the importance of receiving more than ever before now that technology is able to track and measure whether borderline pitches are called balls or strikes. That is leading to more and more coaches and scouts are prioritizing receiving as they recruit/scout catchers, so remember to stop framing pitches and give yourself the best chance to win pitches for your pitcher!
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