One of the most important skills a catcher can possess is the ability to throw a runner out at second base. It’s a long throw – 84 feet, 10.25 inches to be exact – which occurs after the runner has already gained an advantage by A) leaving when the ball is released by the pitcher (or sooner, depending on who you’re playing) and B) only having to travel 60 feet.
Just from that statement alone you can see that the odds are stacked against the catcher. If the runner has 3.0 speed, and it takes the ball .4 seconds to reach the plate, that only leaves 2.6 seconds at most to catch the ball cleanly, transfer it to the hand, make the throw and have it arrive in time to catch the runner and have the fielder can apply the tag.
More realistically, you want the ball to arrive ahead of the runner, so let’s shave .3 seconds off that time. If you want to know how short a time that is, try starting and stopping a stopwatch in that amount of time. It will probably take you a couple of tries.
Then the fielder has to catch the ball and apply the tag. If the ball isn’t directly where the runner is the ball will have to be brought to the runner. Take off another .3 seconds for that. Now we’re at 2.0.
If the runner is faster, like 2.7, or anything else goes wrong, like a pitch that goes way high and has to be brought down, there’s even less time. You get the picture.
You can see why it’s such a valued skill.
While there are some aspects that are beyond your control – like that high pitch – there are definitely things catchers can do to improve their chances of throwing out more runners and building their reputations as the biggest, baddest gunslingers on the diamond. Here are five of them.
Pop up and throw instead of running up.
Many catchers, especially young ones, are taught to take a couple of steps forward before they throw to second. The goal behind this thinking generally is to help them get more velocity on the throw, although some will also talk about closing the distance. This type of thinking, incidentally, comes from baseball where the bases are 90 feet apart, not 60, so you have more time to uncork a throw.
The problem with that advice is while the catcher is running across the plate what is the runner doing? Running! And she has a head start and a full head of steam.
By the time a catcher stands up, takes a couple of steps and throws the runner has gained significant ground toward second. Not good.
The better approach is to spring up with the weight on the back leg, shoulders aligned with your target, and make the throw immediately. Yes, you may lose a little velocity on the throw, but the reality is you don’t have to get the ball to the fielder on a fly. It can roll faster than someone can run.
Two other benefits to not running across the plate are A) you won’t get hit by a batter covering the steal with a late swing (thereby getting hurt AND being called for obstruction) and B) you don’t risk slipping on the plate if it is slick or wet. Learn to pop and throw and you’ll increase your chances of throwing out more runner significantly.
Bring the glove/ball to your hand
Something you will see many young catchers do is catch the ball then reach forward to take the ball out of their gloves. It makes sense on the surface – they need the ball in their hand to throw.
The problem is reaching forward takes time. Then you have to pull the ball back to get it into throwing position before making the throw. This little delay may end up being the difference between safe and out.
A better approach is to pull the glove back to the throwing-side shoulder and have the hand meet it there. That way the act of getting the ball to the hand is part of the throw instead of a separate, delayed operation.
Slam it back and work on making it a continuous motion from transfer to ready to throw. You’ll shave a couple of tenths off your time.
BONUS TIP: If your core receiving skills are good, try learning to get the glove on the side of the ball and catch it as it comes back. As opposed to having the glove behind the ball, stopping the ball’s flight, and then having to pull it back separately. This type of raking can take another tenth or two off your time.
Improve your transfer speed
The longer it takes you to get the ball from your glove to your hand, the longer it will take you to make the throw. This is where many otherwise advanced catchers lose time.
Making the transfer is something you need to be able to do in your sleep. You just have to know where the ball is in your glove, and where your hand is, instinctively.
To get there, start by practicing the transfer with no glove. Just put the ball in your bare glove hand, then pull it back and slam it into your throwing hand. Rinse and repeat, over and over, until you’re not even paying attention to it anymore.
Then put your glove on, put the ball in it, and do the same, again over and over.
Finally, have someone toss the ball to you and work it through again until your transfer is flawless. If you can, work on the raking technique above AND work on catching the ball a little lower in the hand rather that in the webbing.
Catching it lower lets it stick out a little more so it’s easier to grab. Just be careful not to sacrifice getting a secure grip on the ball with your glove for trying to get faster. You have to get the ball to your hand before you can transfer it.
Practice the transfer and throw blindfolded
This is one of my favorite activities to do when I run a catching clinic.
When a catcher goes to make the throw, she shouldn’t need to look for where the base is or how to get herself aligned. That wastes time.
Yet you see it all the time. That little hesitation before they’re sure of where they’re throwing.
So to get past that, try blindfolding your catcher with the ball in her glove, then have her pop up and make the throw to second. For extra fun you can place an object at second and have her try to knock it off the base with her throw, offering a prize if she succeeds.
If you have multiple catchers you can make a contest out of it. It could be the first to knock it off gets a prize, or everyone who does it gets a prize. Doing the latter, by the way, is a great way to build some team spirit as they start rooting for each other.
A catcher who can hit a small target 84 feet, 10.25 inches away blindfolded, after starting in a squat, is a catcher who can accomplish anything.
Follow through on the throw
A lot of catchers, and a lot of players really, tend to stop their bodies when they are fully facing their target. Of course, to stop you first must slow down, which is the worst thing you can do when trying to perform any ballistic activity.
Encourage your catchers to throw not just with their arms but with their whole bodies. That means you should see the throwing side come through once the throw is made. That extra burst of energy will help ensure they get the most “pop” on their throws.
A catcher that can erase a runner trying to move into scoring position is worth her weight in gold. And since coaches rarely send their turtles to try a catcher’s arm, even coming close to throwing out the first runner is a good way to send a message to that coach that his/her team better be able to hit because there will be no freebies today.
And as word gets around, you probably won’t have to make as many throws because teams just know better than to try to steal on you.
Work on these techniques and you’ll have yourself an MVP year.