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Developing a Little Sleight of Hand Behind the Plate

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Brian McCann during a Yankees workout in Tampa, Fla. McCann has earned a reputation as a skilled pitch framer, able to turn borderline pitches into strikes.

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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — When Brian McCann was a promising catching prospect for the Atlanta Braves, they appreciated his powerful bat, his intuitiveness in calling a game, his strong arm and quiet hands behind the plate. Putting a value on his bat was straightforward. The logic of pitch sequencing could be deconstructed. His arm strength could be quantified with a stopwatch.

But how much were those soft hands worth?

The modern art of pitch framing — presenting a borderline pitch to the umpire in such a favorable light that it is more likely to be called a strike — has been around at least since the late 1960s, when Johnny Bench popularized one-handed catching.

But the science behind it is relatively new.

“There wasn’t any,” McCann said of the emphasis on pitch framing…

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