In recent years the “art” of pitch framing has gained a lot of attention in baseball. Major League Baseball now tracks catchers’ statistics around their effectiveness at getting strikes called on borderline pitches.
Unfortunately the concept of pitch framing is misinterpreted by many players and coaches in youth baseball. This has resulted in many youth catchers receiving pitches well outside the strike zone and trying to carry them back into the zone. You may have seen this done in a game and recognized how ridiculous it appears.
A basic skill every catcher should have is the ability to ensure that true strikes, those passing through the strike zone are called strikes. This comes as they learn proper receiving of the pitch.
An advanced skill for a catcher is to steal strikes off the corners of the plate. Those catchers that perfect this ability will experience great success as a catcher and be the favorite catcher of many pitchers.
This applies to not only the corners of the plate but also the top and bottom of the strike zone. There are specific techniques to achieving this and through practice each catcher can learn which technique they are most comfortable and successful with.
There are a few key components to framing and stealing strikes. First and most important is glove position. I see a lot of catchers taught to turn the glove vertically (web up) as they receive that glove side pitch and even vertically (web down) for the arm side pitch on the corner. I believe this actually is excess movement of the glove which gives the umpire the impression that you are trying to make a ball appear to be a strike. When receiving the pitch around the strike zone I believe it is important to maintain as consistent a glove position as possible meaning, keeping the thumb parallel to the ground.
The second aspect of framing is to beat the pitch to the spot. This allows the catcher to counter the momentum of the pitch and through their own arm movement carry the ball back into the zone as they receive the ball in their glove. One of the best at this technique today is Tyler Flowers of the Atlanta Braves. He has mastered the ability to almost effortlessly turn a ball 4+ inches off the plate into a strike.
As your youth catcher grows and begins catching more accurate pitchers (likely in high school) proper receiving and framing will be more important and will set your catcher apart from others.