Catching a baseball is a skill movement. When it comes to doing this as a catcher, high achievement levels hinge on mental, physical, and experience components. At its core, a successful catcher must learn to receive pitches correctly and block anything they cannot catch.
Biomechanical studies reveal that our brain records skill movements, known as engram, or muscle memory. Catching skills need to be mechanically sound and learned at an early age. As a catcher matures, thousands of correct skill movement repetitions will be automatically transferred though muscle memory in game situations.
The number one responsibility of a catcher is to be a good receiver. Blocking and throwing are also important, but do not occur at nearly as high a rate as receiving throughout the course of a practice session, game or season. In this article, I will focus on framing as part of the receiver’s responsibility. Framing is the art of making sure pitches that are in the strike zone remain strikes. We never want to give away a strike. Catchers must master techniques that ensure the umpire gives them the strike call.
The game situation and the skill level of the catcher will determine the stance used in any given situation. There are three basic stances that a catcher can utilize when framing a pitch:
- Primary (no runner on)
- Secondary (runner on or two-strike count)
- One or both knees down
Framing the 17-inch wide plate requires the catcher swaying quietly to the pitch location. His nose must be behind the baseball movement. He cannot “chicken wing” the pitch. He must have soft and strong wrists and hands.
The Frame Clock
The graphic below is an attempt to visualize the strike zone in the form of a clock.
- The catcher’s arm side of the strike zone are numbers 1 through 4 on the clock, where the “stick it” technique is implemented. The mitt must stop movement of the pitch at the corner of the strike zone, catching the outside half of the ball.
- The bottom of the strike zone are numbers 5 through 7. Here the “cherry pick” technique is used. This means catch the bottom half of the ball with your thumb under and glove up (or thumb up and glove down). It is common for inexperienced catchers to ‘dunk’ this location, meaning their mitt will continue downward after the pitch is received.
- The catcher’s glove side of the strike zone are numbers 8 through 11, where the “stick it”—catch inside half of the ball—technique applies.
- The top of the strike zone is number 12. This requires catching the ball deep, and catching the top half of the ball.
These techniques provide a basic plan for catchers, however their setup, target placement, and having awareness of individual pitchers and their movement must also be accounted for.
Framing success requires a trust-building relationship between the catcher and the pitcher. They need to form that bond with one another. Mutual respect for each other’s role will develop from getting to know each other as a person, working together in practice bullpens, and supporting each other through the good and the bad.
- Two Knees: The ball should be in your bare glove hand. Start in the center of your chest. Move to the number 1 location, and “stick it”. Return to your chest. Frame each location from 2 through 12 with the proper technique.
- Two Knees, No Glove: The coach or your partner will toss baseballs into the strike zone. You will frame and drop each baseball.
- Primary Receiver Stance: The ball is in the bare glove hand. The coach or your partner will call the number location (1-12). Move the ball from the chest to the number, and use the frame technique.
- Primary Receiver Stance: Glove on. Coach or partner toss to locations. Frame and drop each baseball.
- Secondary Receiver Stance: (Runner on) Ball in glove bare hand or ball in glove. Frame to pitch locations of your choice.
- Secondary Receiver Stance: (Runner on) No glove or glove. Coach or partner will toss. Frame the pitch dropping after each catch.
- Live Bullpens: The more comfortable you are with your battery mate, the better your team results will be.
- Pitching Machine: The machine is a great resource for catching, blocking, and seeing many different pitches.
The coach with the catchers needs to choose drills for a basic routine and add alternating drills per workout. Keep the workout between 10-12 minutes.
A Final Thought on Framing
Few baseball people will deny the significant role that a catcher plays in successful team defense. A serious catcher understands that his number one responsibility is being a receiver. Pitchers and position players feed off of the leadership of a solid catcher. I want the team to understand that our catcher is challenged every game to get at least one out by getting a called strike three from framing. Lastly, respect for a catcher is earned. Just ask any good umpire!
'Doc' Kennedy spent nearly two decades (1979-1998) coaching at Phoenixville Area High School (Pa.) where he amassed 323 wins and sent 55 graduates on to play at the collegiate level. Nine of his former players were drafted, including MLB Hall of Famer Mike Piazza. In addition to his high school coaching duties, Kennedy also was Head Coach of the Phoenixville AmericanLegion from 1981-1988. He spent nine years as an assistant coach at Villanova University (Pa.) from 1999-2008 and also coached two summers in Cape Cod. Now, the 38-year ABCA Lifetime Member is an Associate Scout for the Boston Red Sox and continues to volunteer at Phoenixville High School where he works with catchers and hitters. The high school field is named "Doc Kennedy Field" and his number 18 jersey is retired. Kennedy is a member of the Phoenixville Area High School Sports Hall of Fame as well as the Pennsylvania American Legion Sports Hall of Fame, Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame Tri-County Chapter and the Chester County (PA) Sports Hall of Fame.