Baseball Catching Techniques and Fundamentals

Is baseball catching important?  Yes, no, maybe?  What is the most important position in baseball?  Ask 10 different people and you may get 10 different answers!  Ask 100 different people, though, and you may be able to narrow it down to either the pitcher or catcher.  Brent Mayne, former Major League catcher, said “What's the most important part of the game? Pitching.  If it wasn't, why would teams throw this kind of money around lately?   That said, you have to have a good catcher.  It's like having a phenomenal race horse, but no jockey. Will the horse win the race without one?  Probably not."

So the importance of having a great catcher can never be understated.  Baseball catching is hard, and baseball catcher may be the most physically and mentally demanding position in baseball, and to be a good catcher, you need to know more than how to catch and throw the ball.  As the on field general, you have to know the game inside and out, and you have to be willing to keep learning.   Think about it…as the catcher, you're the on field coach and the only player who is looking out at the entire field.  You have to be able to see not only the current play, but think 2 or 3 plays ahead in order to make split second decisions that can determine the outcome of a play and potentially, the outcome of a game.  There’s a very good reason some of today’s best managers are former catchers, and some of the game’s past great managers were catchers as well.  They are leaders, have tremendous knowledge and a high amount of skill, much like the requirements for being a top notch catcher.  It also takes perseverance, determination and the will to continue to work as hard as is necessary to continue to improve. 

Image Courtesy of Christine Beck, chrissybeckphotography.com, Chesapeake, VA

Image Courtesy of Christine Beck, chrissybeckphotography.com, Chesapeake, VA

This article is a general look at the skills, fundamentals, and techniques required to become great at baseball catching.  I have worked with Xan Barksdale who operates baseball catching 101.com, and he has a great deal of info on that site at www.catching-101.com, which he has given me permission to use.  There he has some great videos, drills, information and articles, and I highly encourage anyone reading this to check out his web site.  You will most certainly improve as a catcher and field general, which is what today’s coaches are looking for!

A catcher must have the proper stance. There are three basic stances to learn…a signal stance, a primary stance and a secondary stance.  The Signal Stance is the stance you use to give signs to the pitcher.  Here, your toes and knees are pointed to SS/2B, your mitt is an extension of the knee, your chest is up and signals are given against your cup. The Primary Stance is generally used with no runners on and less than two strikes.  You squat with your feet shoulder width apart, staying comfortable.  Your hips and shoulders stay square to the pitcher and your feet straight across or slightly staggered.  Stay low, relax your receiving arm and point your palm at the pitcher.  Keep your throwing hand protected, and present the pitcher with a good low target.  The Secondary Stance is used with runners on base and/or two strikes on the batter because you need to be ready to block or throw.  Here, stay higher and more athletic, with your weight on the balls of your and not the instep.  Keep your butt is slightly raised, your feet staggered and chest square.  Your throwing hand can be behind the mitt in a fist or behind the body.  Keep a good low target.

Photographs courtesy of and used with the exclusive permission of Christine Beck, chrissybeckphotography, Chesapeake, VA,
and Xan Barksdale, www.catching-101.com

Since the official rules of baseball state that the catcher must have both feet inside or on the line of the catcher’s box at the time of a pitch, where should you stay with relation to the hitter? Simply, as far forward as possible without your mitt interfering with a batter's swing.  A well-known coach once said you should be able to reach out with your glove and almost be able to touch the back of the hitter’s leg.  Being closer allows him to better hit his target, since the throw is shorter, and it also gives the umpire a better read of the strike zone since the ball will be caught closer to where it crossed the plate.  Use your common sense and judgement, though.  If you don’t know where to set up, stay back until you get an idea of the hitter and a better read on his swing.  Catching is all about adjustments, and the quicker you can read and adjust, the more effective you will be!  However, do not give away pitch location by setting up too early after giving your sign.  

Baseball Catching and Receiving

Receiving is simply catching the ball, but it is the most important job the catcher has.  To become better, like anything else, practice.  Work hard during bullpen sessions to maintain a quiet body and soft hands to ensure that once the ball hits the mitt, the mitt does not move.   If a pitcher throws a pitch that you KNOW is going to be a strike, Stick it.  This means your glove should not move, except a little back, after you catch the ball.  For pitches low in the zone or breaking balls, sticking the strike is significant since catchers have a tendency to move the glove down after having caught a low or downward moving pitch.  Once the glove hits the ground, that strike probably became a ball!  Catchers should also Beat the Pitch to the Spot.  As you follow the pitch from release, move your glove to beat the pitch to that spot. This will allow you to "stick" that pitch and the momentum of your glove is stopped.  For pitches up in the zone, catch them as far back as possible, as doing so allows the pitch to drop, which may give the umpire the perception it is lower than actual.  For close pitches low in the zone, attack them to catch them while they are still in the strike zone, being careful not to interfere with the batter's swing.  

Framing

Framing is the art of making a pitch that is near the zone appear to be a strike.  Framing is difficult and must be practiced, but a catcher who frames well can get strikes on borderline pitches, which your pitchers will love!  Framing is a subtle and smooth movement of the wrist, just as you catch the ball, which drags the ball toward the strike zone.  In order to frame, a good catcher will get around the ball, meaning he will catch the outside of the baseball and close the glove in the direction of the strike zone.   

Check out this baseball catching article on framing for more in-depth information.  It is a must read for any catcher looking to improve his techniques and fundamentals.

Blocking

Blocking is being able to knock down and control a pitch that bounces in order to easily grab it and pop up, and actually leads to a better pitcher! If the catcher cannot control the ball that bounces, baserunners will quickly figure out the weakness and through pure anticipation, will end up taking bases on balls in the dirt. When your pitcher knows nothing will get by you, he will throw with an air of confidence that will inspire those around him. He will not hesitate to drop off a 2 strike hook, or waste a bouncer with a runner on base, and he and the rest of the team feel good about that.

This article on blocking goes into much more detail and is an absolute must read for any catcher looking to improve his btechniques and fundamentals.


Photographs by and used with the express permission of Xan Barksdale, www.catching-101.com

Baseball Catching and Throwing

Throwing out potential base stealers is a fundamental skill that separates a good catcher from a great catcher. Being able to control your opponents running game forces them to play station to station, hit and run, or bunt a runner into scoring position. This gives you outs! To have success throwing out runners, you need to be quick and have a strong accurate throw - read about it here!  Notice and try to emulate the baseball catching form shown by Xan Barksdale to the right!  While arm strength, accuracy and quickness are the major components of being able to successfully throw out a runner trying to take a base, youth catchers and those just learning the position are way better off realizing that velocity is not yet as important as accuracy, and as Xan Barksdale says, “don’t be consumed with the stopwatch”. Work on the fundamentals, practice your techniques, and check out the below articles for additional information.

Click here to read about the science of throwing out a baserunner attempting to steal

Photographs by and used with the permission of Xan Barksdale, www.catching-101.com

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