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Mudville: July 12, 2024 7:44 pm PDT

Framed!

BY KEVIN KERNAN

New baseball has a lot to learn.

What in the name of Johnny Bench is going on with the catching position? They don’t catch like they once did – hence the name of the position – and they certainly don’t throw like they once did.

Catching and throwing were kind of staples of the position.

Now it’s Framing in the bizarre Nerd World.

Much like hitting used to be hitting, you know like batting average was important, it used to be important for catchers to be able to catch and throw. If you don’t use it, though, you lose it, and New Baseball continues to lose so much that once made the game so great.

Practicing catching and throwing used to be part of the gig. No more. That crusty veteran catching coach has given way in most instances to the Frame Artist. Practicing catching and throwing is no longer in vogue. Who has time for all that when there has to be a litany of framing drills done by what used to be called the catcher?

You’ve got to steal strikes in today’s game. You know, fake out the umpire. Just like in football. You don’t go 10 yards for a first down, you go 9 1/2 and steal the first down.

Oh, you’re telling me football officials are not played for fools like baseball umpires are with “stealing strikes’?’

Here at BallNine, we are all for truth in advertising so let’s call this for what it is, these are no longer catchers in New Baseball behind the plate, so let’s call them what they really are – Framers.

You have your first baseman, your second baseman, your shortstop, your third baseman, leftfielder, centerfielder, pitcher and framer.

Theo, with his implementation of the pizza box bases and limited disengagements– essentially pitchers have only two throws over to first base – has turned every baserunner with good speed into Rickey Henderson.

Teams emphasize Framing to the detriment of Catching. Please make it make sense.

And I said when Theo Epstein’s new Rickey Rules came into play for New Baseball that stealing bases would never be easier and teams need to take full advantage of the Rickey Rules. I’m surprised it has taken this long to take full advantage of the Rickey Rules but that’s on the Nerds too, they are averse to risk taking. You might run into a catcher with an arm once in a while.

It’s funny, they don’t have the same aversion to striking out. They have no problem with those outs.

And why do I call them Rickey Rules?

Simple. Theo, with his implementation of the pizza box bases and limited disengagements– essentially pitchers have only two throws over to first base – has turned every baserunner with good speed into Rickey Henderson.

But it goes much deeper than that and that is why we are here to help explain what is really going on in the game. This base-stealing storm has been brewing for years.

“What I’ve noticed,’’ one top evaluator told BallNine, “not only do they not throw well and they are on one knee, but because they have lived in a generation of no stolen bases (before the Rickey Rules) you have pitchers who can’t hold runners and catchers who act surprised when there is a stolen base now; their transfers are horrible and they end up dropping the ball out of the glove.’’

What a great point. That is exactly what is happening in the game and base-stealing teams need to keep the pedal to the metal like Alex Cora did with the Red Sox, who we all know, thanks to John Henry, only have a 1-in-30 chance of winning the World Series. The Red Sox stole nine bases vs. the Yankees Sunday night.

David Hamilton #70 of the Boston Red Sox is called safe after stealing second base during the eighth inning of a game against the New York Yankees, setting a franchise record with the 9th steal of the game, on June 16, 2024 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Cora and his runners showed they have a better than 1-in-30 or 1-in-20 chance of stealing bases against the Yankees.

Because the catchers are not used to this world – hey, there are only so many hours in the day and once you go through your endless framing drills, and your endless pitching meetings to go over how you are going to sequence pitches against the hitters according to the probabilities, and then maybe take some swings in the cage, eat before the game, spend mental skills time with the Framing Coach after the Framing Workout and get in to see the team masseuse – how in the world are you going to find time to practice catching and throwing?

That also entails getting at least one infielder out of his pre-game rhythm so he can work with you catching the throws and attempting to tag the runner. In games now, infielders often give-up on the throws because they are so off-line.

And if a pitcher wants to work on his move to first or going to a slide step, that takes away time from practicing getting maximum spin rate on his pitches and not only that, if he is using a slide step, how in the world is he going to get that Driveline grunt going toward home plate and max velocity; you know max velocity where you have no idea where the pitch is going and may be so off target you break the hand of one of the game’s superstars in Mookie Betts.

But I digress.

There simply is no time to work on improving actual baseball skills like catching and throwing for the millionaire Framers, who also are very good at putting one knee down, and then running to the backstop to pick up the errant baseball as the run scores.

Now you understand what New Baseball all is about.

Atlanta Braves catching coach Sal Fasano #57 smiles in the dugout before the Friday evening MLB game between the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Guardians on April 26, 2024 at Truist Park in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Smart teams run by baseball people may want to take full advantage of the extra almost 90 feet (don’t forget it is shorter now with the pizza box bases) that teams want to give you.

And may I also suggest, third base often is even easier to steal, especially when the third baseman is back on the grass or near shortstop because all you have to do is beat the third baseman to the bag, no matter what kind of throw the Framer makes.

So, there is that too, another base out there just waiting to be stolen. Chances are the throw may not even be made to a base and here is why.

“The catchers are trying to rush on the transfer, and they end up going too fast and end up dropping the ball out of their glove and not even making a throw, it’s like uncontested,’’ the talent evaluator explained.

Nailed it.

It is Freebie Base Ball these days.

Then, of course, when you do get the runner to second or third, you have to drive him home. You have to make contact with the baseball with runners in scoring position, but that is a totally different ball of wax and that’s on the batter to time up his exit velo swing with the baseball.

What can teams do to try to limit stolen bases? How about some sweat equity.

“I don’t ever see the catchers out early anymore with the old crusty bleeping catching coach, who is making him block balls and throw to second base all day long,’’ the evaluator said. “Guys like Gary Tuck, actually doing work.’’

Some teams still have that type of coach who knows how to coach catchers. There are coaches like Jerry Narron with the Angels and Glenn Sherlock with the Mets. Neither of those gentlemen are crusty but they know how to get the job done.

Coach Glenn Sherlock #53 greets Francisco Lindor #12 of the New York Metsduring the game between the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on Tuesday, August 2, 2022 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

What does the evaluator see?

“What I see is somebody set up a pitching machine from 45 feet away and the catcher sits on one knee with glove on the ground and try to catch balls knee high,’’ the evaluator said.

Yep, that is all around the game at all levels. “That’s the only work they do,’’ the evaluator said.

And that is not going to help the Framer throw out baserunners, especially top tier athletes who can really run like the wind, a part of baseball that always has been exciting and also gets the fans into it.

Funny isn’t it, how pitch framing improves when you improve the talent level of the pitchers on a roster, kind of goes hand in hand or maybe even hand in glove if the Framer can successfully transfer ball to hand.

“We’re getting 85 percent of guys trying to frame pitches that aren’t even close,’’ the evaluator said, “and 15 percent throw-out rates, if they’re lucky.’’

That’s where the game is at right now. That is where the Framers are at right now.

“If you are working on all the wrong stuff, it doesn’t matter,’’ the evaluator said, spilling more baseball truth.

I said Theo’s Rules would ruin the Art of the Steal and it has done just that. All you have to do now to have success is have the guts to steal. Change the rules to fit the agenda instead of actually working on baseball skills.

This changes the record books too. Today’s stolen base is not the same value as a stolen base from before the Rickey Rules. Think of it as baseball’s version of inflation. Inflation has hit the stolen base. That was clearly evident Sunday night when to Alex Cora’s credit, the Red Sox ran the Yankees ragged, stealing a franchise record nine bases in their 9-3 win at Fenway Park. Yankees catcher Jose Trevino essentially had the yips by the end of this game and, of course, it was not only Trevino’s fault, Yankees pitchers, starting with starter Marcus Stroman did not do a good job holding runners and Cora exposed what could be the Achilles Heel of the mighty Yankees.

“Oh my gosh that was an embarrassment,’’ one longtime baseball man, a former pitcher, said.

And this isn’t just happening in Trevino’s World.

A scout told me he was at a six-game series that Yankees High-A farm team Hudson Valley played recently and both teams combined for 25 stolen bases. No one was thrown out. How can that possibly happen?

It happens because they don’t care about it happening. The teams do not work on it enough to make the numbers somewhat tolerable.

“They can’t throw anybody out,’’ the scout said.

Runners can be thrown out if teams work on the process of holding runners and also having catchers who can throw in that 1.89 time like the Phillies’ Rafael Marchan did Monday night in a 9-2 win over the Padres. The Padres’ Kyle Higashioka, an ex-Yankee, also threw out a would-be base stealer in that game so it can be done.

“If you actually take some infield, it might happen,’’ the scout said.

Yes, believe it or not, you have to work on some things in baseball to get better and work on the field, too, not just in the batting cage or in the iPad Lab.

Scouts tell me the AAA Syracuse Mets under manager Dickie Scott actually take infield and get some pre-game work done but Scott is a veteran baseball man, not just what I call a meter reader manager that so many teams have put into place in their minor leagues.

You know, they read the metrics and do little or no actual managing. Meter readers.

“The Syracuse Mets were fun to watch,’’ the scout said.

In this day and age in the minor leagues that is a huge compliment, congratulations Syracuse Mets and Dickie Scott.

If more teams worked on the Art of Catching and not just the Art of Framing, baserunners could be cut down. You have to practice throwing out runners. You have to practice holding runners. It’s a team effort.

It helps too if you have the Crusty Old Coach helping the Framers out.

One such former coach and former major league catcher recently reached out to me and offered this comment about framing, catcher’s interference and passed balls. “That’s what happens when you ‘reach out’ to receive the ball instead of letting it come to you,’’ he said. “I watch some baseball now, can’t believe how many balls get by catchers and they don’t even bat an eye.’’

The Art of Framing in New Baseball has destroyed the Art of Catching.

By the way, Johnny Bench practiced transferring the ball with every throw he made, even playing catch, and he also said you have to let the ball come to you.

Good advice. Try it, Framers.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • Watching baseball since 1964 as an eighth year old, is it my imagination that catchers today can somehow catch a 100 mph pitch but drop so many one hop throws from the outfield? I do not remember it being this bad years ago. Is the catcher’s mitt made different than years ago that does not make it normal to catch a one bouncer anymore? Can you ask your old time catchers and scouts this question. I am puzzled by my observations over the last 5-10 years.
    Thanks in advance for responding.

    Pat

    June 20, 2024
  • Don Werner

    Don Werner Framed. Music to my ears Kevin. Hard to watch. Where is the art of receiving?

    June 21, 2024
  • Don Werner

    The voice of reason!!!! Thank you and amen on the “Framed”article. Look like a bunch of rec league players back there.

    June 21, 2024
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