Content provided by USA Baseball.
The catching position is without question the most involved position on the diamond, playing a part in every single pitch of the game. While they have a multitude of responsibilities, far and away, a catcher’s number one priority behind the plate is to simply catch the ball. The manner by which they receive a pitch can have a significant impact on a pitcher’s effectiveness, not to mention a game’s outcome.
Watch a Major League game, and you’ll notice that there is not one uniform stance or squat that every catcher gets down in because the squat is all about flexibility and comfort, which obviously varies from player to player. What IS uniform amongst catchers is a low and athletic squat with a big target presenting the glove AND the body to the pitcher.
There are three different types of stances for catchers, each of which serves a specific purpose out of the squat. A signal stance is narrow and tall, with the knees angled towards the middle infielders. Designed for when a catcher is giving the signs to the pitcher, with the knees closer together the signs cannot be seen by the runners and/or coaches at first and/or third base. A non-action stance comes in situations with nobody on base and less than two strikes on the hitter when there is no potential for a runner to advance on a ball that gets by the catcher. Fundamentally, it’s a bit of a wider, lower base athletic stance to give the pitcher the biggest possible target to throw to. The action stance is necessary when there are runners on base or two strikes on the hitter where the catcher has to be ready to block a ball in the dirt or throw out a potential base stealer. Mechanically this stance is still athletic with a higher backside to allow the catcher to be quicker should the pitch be down, or the runner take off.
As mentioned above, catching the baseball is the position’s top responsibility. How one receives pitches plays a huge part not only in whether or not a pitch is called a strike or a ball, but also can impact a pitcher’s confidence both positively and negatively. Around professional baseball, catchers have gone away from the term framing and more towards the term receiving, which focuses more on presentation to the umpire than it does trying to make a ball look like a strike. Ideally, the best catchers are the ones who catch strikes as strikes, balls as balls (without trying to make them look otherwise), and borderline pitches better than what they truly are.
The less movement with the glove and the body, the better a pitch will look, as if it’s thrown directly to the target. And that image, to an umpire, often looks like a strike from behind the catcher. Having a quiet glove begins with having a loose hand, which helps develop a quick hand. To create a loose hand, a catcher rest his left arm on his left leg when squatted down and giving a target, or can even bring the glove in a bit closer to the body which will allow it to be quick when it comes time to catch the ball. The key to having as little movement as possible with the glove upon catching the ball has more to do with beating the pitch to the spot than it does “sticking” the pitch with a strong hand. And being able to do that all begins with having that relaxed hand before the pitch is even thrown. Loose is quick, and quick is strong!
Blocking is a catcher’s badge of honor. It is a skill that separates the men from the boys, as it not only takes technique, but also character. It’s sacrificing the body to prevent a runner from advancing 90 feet, giving a pitcher confidence to throw his nasty off-speed pitches in the dirt that get hitters to chase, knowing the catcher is going to keep them in front.
Blocking begins with anticipation. It is the number one key to becoming a great blocking catcher. Expecting a pitch to be in the dirt makes a catcher that much more prepared to block it. The glove leads, and the body follows. Many coaches tell a catcher to “be a wall” to keep the ball in front of them, but balls go flying off of walls. The reality is that a catcher wants to be a pillow behind the plate, where the ball will just drop to the ground after hitting them. A catcher can become that pillow simply by exhaling when he goes down to block, and in doing so, the body becomes soft and ready to absorb the ball. Once the ball is knocked down, now it’s vital for the catcher to get up as fast as possible and find the ball to prevent a baserunner from advancing or to throw the guy out who is trying to. Get down quick but get up quicker!
Catchers all love their pop times to second base when trying to throw out a potential base stealer. Most believe the quickest time comes from a harder throw, but the reality of getting the ball to second or third doesn’t come as much from a strong arm as it does from quick feet. Much like an infielder fielding a ground ball or turning a double play, the catcher’s exchange into the bare hand and subsequent throw to second or third will come from quick and compact footwork. Quick and compact footwork gets him out of his squat and into that turned position to throw with his front shoulder pointing to the base he’s going to. Also, like infielders, catchers want to work low to high into the throw, rather than standing upright to throw, which 1) takes more time, and 2) often creates a spike throw since it’s coming from a high position. So, remember, when throwing to bases, it’s not about that high effort with the arm, but the quick steps with the feet.
By Darren Fenster
Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.
Original article – https://usabdevelops.com/USAB/Blog/Catching_101.aspx.