As an instructor, I've always felt that it is important to make sure that the information we give to catchers, coaches and parents has been run through the gauntlet before it's presented. We want to make sure that the future generations of catchers have the best possible information and not just what is easiest to teach them.
This month's tip is about the different reasons why we must change our stance when there are runners on the bases or when there are two strikes on the batter. With a runner on the bases our list of responsibilities grows. We are now asked not only to receive pitches, but block them when they are thrown in the dirt, as well as throw to a base when a runner attempts to steal.
The explosive movements needed while blocking and throwing require an efficient approach that does not take away from my ability to receive and keep strikes looking like strikes. But we do hear some coaches asking their catchers to maintain one stance at all times. This approach, however, will force the catcher into extremely inefficient patterns while blocking and throwing. If we maintain a deep crouch at all times, we risk losing time on a block and direction in a throw.
There has been this thought over the years that if our body is low to the ground it will be easier and faster to get to the ground on a block. Unfortunately, that is just not how our bodies work. If my hips start below my knees, my body must move one of two directions in order to get the knees back to the ground. There is no compromise here. And both directions take considerably longer than dropping straight to the ground. We can roll forward into the ball, which is a longer arc-like path to the ground (the fastest path between two points is a straight line), and forces us to add energy to the ball since we will likely still be moving in the direction that the ball is coming from. Or, we can send our hips upwards to get the knees back underneath our body. This also wastes a tremendous amount of time, seeing as we are moving in the opposite direction that the ball is headed.
Our goal should be to get to the ground as quickly as we possibly can, so that we are motionless once the ball hits us. We want to absorb all of the energy from the ball, not add any to it. And certainly not waste so much time that we can’t get to the spot the ball was thrown.
We also run the risk of putting our body in a position which makes it extremely hard to gain control of our lower body during a throw. I want to limit the lateral movement of my body while standing up out of my crouch during a throw to the bases. If we keep our hips lower than our knees, they will be working back up to neutral during the time where we should have been standing up. Unfortunately, this skill is incredibly time-sensitive, and our brain is going to want us to get rid of the ball. So instead of completing the stand up out of our crouch, the brain will want to position the throwing-hand-side foot. Because we still have too much weight over our feet, the only way to get the foot underneath our center of gravity, is to pull the body to the side and slide the foot to where our center of gravity used to be. This is often cause catchers to send their entire bodies to the left (or right if you are a lefty), which take the legs out of the throw and and adds spin to the ball. This will greatly affect the accuracy and velocity of the throw.
Catchers, we must change our stance with a runner on base or two strikes on a batter. Our feet should get wider, our hips should rest no lower than the middle of our knees and our backs should be perched forward. The weight of our body should be on the balls of our feet, with our heel in contact with the ground.
Also, we want to make sure that the throwing hand is tucked securely behind the glove to ensure its safety. The most dangerous location to keep the throwing hand with a runner on base or two strikes on a hitter is behind your body. It will NOT stay there. The moment you realize that the ball is heading to the ground or the runner has taken off to steal a base, the hand will come out from behind your body and for a lengthy period of time, be completely exposed.
It will sit off to the side of the body while the hand works its way around to the front. Keep in mind that the batter still has a chance to foul off the pitch, even if that pitch is headed for the dirt. The last place we want our hand is off to the side of our body not protected. The safest place for that hand is behind the glove.
This “Runners-On” stance will allow to you to handle all of the responsibilities of the position when your team needs you to the most.
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Director of Operations
New England Catching Camp