So here I will teach all about framing, for the masses who do not have the pleasure to learn from me. However, you may be unhappy with what I have to say.
The best way to “frame” a pitch is to catch the ball where it is pitched — and don’t move!
That’s right — no turning the wrist, moving the body, or otherwise “easing” the ball into the strike zone. Just catch it and “stick it” (meaning, hold it there — “sticking” is a term stolen from gymnastics, to describe a gymnast holding his/her form at the end of an exercise).
While you may on occasion run into an umpire who will call strikes when you pull a pitch into the strike zone, the better umpires — which you will hopefully see as you reach more advanced levels — will be wise to your ways and nearly always call “ball” when they see you move your mitt.
The best thing you can do as a catcher to help your pitcher — and the umpire — is to catch the proper half of the ball (left, right, or top) with soft hands and HOLD your mitt exactly where you catch the ball. Even if it’s an inch or two out of the strike zone, just HOLD IT THERE. Give the umpire a good one- or two-second look at where the ball is. By doing this you are putting coins in the umpireï¿½s trust bank; little by little he will trust you and where you receive the ball. Build up this trust over the course of a game, and maybe — just maybe — you will be able to ever so slightly ease a pitch an inch or two over to the left or right and into the zone.
So I lied, sort of. There is an art to framing a pitch into the strike zone, but it is an advanced skill, and one that should be used sparingly — like once or twice a game at most. And actually you “frame” more with a lateral, subtle move of your body than with the glove. The problem with learning to frame is that most young catchers (old ones too — watch Mike Piazza) will try to pull nearly every ball into the strike zone. This only irritates the umpire and causes him to eventually disregard the end of the ball’s flight.
Rather than try to force pitches into the strike zone, a better plan is to attempt to catch the ball when it passes through the strike zone. Coach Dave Weaver uses a term I like; he says “beat the ball to the spot”. Again, this isn’t something you can do on every pitch — unless you have a guy like Tom Glavine who is always around the plate. Most pitches will move a bit — to the left, right, or vertically — and sometimes you might be able to catch the ball just as it’s passing through the strike zone. At times this is early, so you need to reach out to get it, while other times you will need to keep the glove back and receive the ball deeper, after it breaks. We’re talking a matter of inches here, not feet, and your ability to decipher whether to reach or wait will come with experience — both your own and your time with a particular pitcher.
Try it next time you’re catching a pitcher in practice. Pay close attention to the movement on that pitcher’s pitches, and learn to anticipate its mild breaks. Try to figure out ahead of time where the ball is going to pass through the strike zone and “beat it” to that spot with your glove. Remember to keep soft hands, and make gradual movements — as opposed to jerking at the last second to snatch the ball. Receive the ball and hold it, so the umpire can take a picture of it. The umpire will thank you — and so will your pitcher.