Little League Pitch Framing

The excellent and prolific Jeff Sullivan is responsible for the idea of “Little League Pitch Framing as NotGraphs Post,” though none of the shortcomings of what follows should be blamed on him. Many thanks to Jeff for the suggestion.

Baseball is a kids’ game, they say.

As a baseball geek who has no children, lives in a Major League city, and obsesses over his fantasy teams, I consume my baseball mostly from the Major Leagues. When it’s not MLB, it’s probably the high minor leagues or something like the college world series. Essentially, I’m watching baseball at the highest levels, the top 3000 or so players, guys who have been playing for decades. It’s easy for me to take for granted a basic level of coordination and awareness — which is why watching Raul IbaƱez or Delmon Young in the outfield is so amusing.

Watching the Little League World Series, even though I’m watching the best twelve-year-olds in the world, I’m still watching twelve-year-olds, kids who have only been playing maybe six or seven years instead of 15-30 years, whose bodies are in the midst of rapid and significant changes, who haven’t learned to completely control their emotions.

So, it amazes me, while watching the Little League World Series, that twelve-year-old pitchers can even throw strikes on a consistent basis, or throw out a runner from the outfield, let alone have the mental wherewithal and bodily control to think about framing pitches. And just as some of these twelve-year-olds will sometimes be unable to throw strikes, some of the twelve-year-old catchers don’t have advanced receiving skills, either.

But: Watching those skills in development, that’s the cool thing for me. Noticing when a kid is trying to mimic what he sees in the big leagues, or when he masters his own body and remains perfectly still as he accepts the pitch, that’s cool. Also, noticing when the raw, nervous energy of adolescence and pre-adolescence make it near impossible to be composed, that reminds me getting better at something takes time and effort. It’s really great to see.

The excellent and prolific Jeff Sullivan suggested that someone at NotGraphs take a look at pitch framing in the Little League World Series. I volunteered, though I’m not sure if Jeff was hoping for something more humorous here. Originally, I intended to make this post more humorous, but as I made and then watched these GIFs over and over, I felt unexpectedly inspired. I developed favorites. I created narratives in my head. So, now that I’m making this post, now that I’ve made my plebeian observations, I’ve decided to present these moving images with minimal additional commentary.

Presenting the “scoop frame” technique:

When it doesn’t work the first time, try it again:

So ebullient with youth that his whole body follows the ball. Gonna need a Molina brother to help get him over that.

This next little guy seems overly concerned with just catching the dang ball and remaining upright:

A marked improvement by this youngster between these two examples: in one he’s jiggling all over, and his head follows the ball very noticeably. In the other, his head doesn’t move and he’s settled his body down, too.

Love how on the second pitch he pulls a very high ball back down into the strike zone. I hope he gets away with that in a game:

Models of stillness:

*Most of these GIFs were made from a video that surveyed the 2012 LLWS; the first two are from video of a game from this year’s event.

*It should be noted these kids are receiving pitches that are located differently, so it’s not very fair to compare them directly. Given my own limitations, I was merely looking for basic skills

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These kids have mad skills. Of course that 6-2, 210lb, 12 year old pitcher makes my 5-10 160 pound self look like the little leaguer.