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Two Hands or One? It Depends

I’m pretty sure every fastpitch softball player ever has been instructed to catch with two hands. This mantra is drilled into them from the first time they put on a glove – and often until the last time.

Yet if you watch high-level players play you will often see players catching with just their glove hand. So which way is correct?

The answer is: it depends.

Sorry to equivocate but there is no “right,” one-size-fits-all answer. Because either way can be right depending on the situation.

Using two hands

When receiving a throw, the two-handed approach is generally preferred if the ball is thrown within the area of the torso. Using two hands helps secure the ball and protects against an error in case it accidentally doesn’t make its way into the pocket of the glove.

Two hands are also generally preferred when a throw must be made immediately following the catch, such as on a potential double play. Catching with two hands means the throwing hand is right there with the glove, enabling a faster transfer than if the throwing hand is somewhere else.

Another time two hands is the way to go is when fielding a ground ball between the feet. Especially if it is bouncing instead of rolling. Using two hands makes it easier to react to the unexpected and still make the play.

This has nothing to do with softball but was too cute to pass up.

In the outfield, players should be using two hands to field a fly ball they are already camped under. I know, I know, lots of MLB players use one hand but keep in mind their gloves are large and the ball is much smaller. Not to mention they are bigger and stronger.

Fastpitch softball outfielders are better served using two hands so they can clamp down on the ball after the catch. Just be sure the throwing hand is to the side rather than helping to close the back of the glove like so many seem to like to do.

Finally, when outfielders are fielding a rolling or bouncing ball with no need to make an immediate play, two hands is the way to go.

Especially if the outfield looks like this

Using one hand

It would be safe to assume that any situation that isn’t mentioned above would be better-served by using one hand. And you’d be right. But let’s go through a few anyway.

The first is when the player has to reach for a ball, i.e., ball that falls outside their center mass. Reaching with one hand allows you to reach further than doing it with one hand.

That’s just science. The extra inches gained may make the difference between an out and an error.

This reaching applies not just left, right, and up but also down. For example, an outfielder making a do-or-die play will be better off reaching down with her glove hand only so she can keep moving fast and pick up the ball on the run in order to gain more momentum into the throw. Trying to use two hands will only slow her down.

On ground balls, anything to the right or left will work better with one hand – again because it increases the player’s range. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen players try to go laterally with two hands only to see them miss by an inch or two. Maddening!

There are also a couple of positions that are (or at least should be) primarily one-handed. Take first base for example.

While it would be nice if all throws came right to them with time to spare, the reality is that’s rarely the case. First basemen are always stretching in some direction, even if it’s forward.

On in some other crazy direction.

Having a first baseman try to make these catches one-handed is a rookie mistake. Letting them reach with the glove, and throw the other hand back, will help your team secure more outs, especially as the pace of play gets faster. You can read more about that here.

Catcher is another one-handed position, although for different reasons.

Most times catchers are going to try to receive their ball in the center, even if they have to move that center from side-to-side. The issue here is protecting their throwing hand.

Balls deflecting off bats, bouncing off the dirt, or even breaking suddenly all put the throwing hand at first. Sprain a thumb, jam a finger, or even break a bone in the back of the hand and that valuable catcher will be watching from the sidelines for a while.

Learning to receive with one hand while keeping the other protected will help keep that catcher on the field when you need her.

One-handed catching also has the added bonus of reducing the time to transfer the ball from the glove to the throwing hand on a steal.

Catchers who use both hands to catch the ball tend to pause to transfer the ball before pulling it back to throw. By catching with one hand catchers can bring the ball and mitt to the throwing hand, thus making the transfer part of the throw instead of a separate operation.

It’s a difference of hundredths of a second, but those hundredths can make the difference between safe and out. Here’s where you can learn more about one-handed catching.

Bottom line

So you can see there’s no single blanket answer. How many hands to use depends on the position and the situation.

My recommendation is to teach all players to do it both ways when appropriate. And for goodness sake let your catchers and first basemen use one hand even during warmups so they can build that all-important skill.

Is Catcher Framing Worth It?

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If there’s one thing you can count on, especially on the Internet, is if there is a prevailing opinion, sooner or later someone is going to offer a contrarian opinion. If nature abhors a vacuum, it’s also true that the Internet abhors agreement.

What made me think about it was a recent discussion I saw about the value of framing for catchers. For years now teaching catchers proper framing technique has been, as they say in the business world, industry best practice. A great deal of time and effort has been spent on determining the best way to receive a pitch to give it the best chance of being called a strike.

So naturally, the talk on discussion boards and Facebook groups is now turning to “framing doesn’t work and is a waste of time.”

Respectfully, I disagree. In my experience, when catchers learn to frame pitches properly they can help their pitchers immensely – if for no other reason than they’re not carrying the ball away from the plate and making the pitch look like an obvious ball.

Since I’m not tied to any one team or program, I get the opportunity to watch a lot of different teams play. Pitchers who throw to catchers who are good at framing tend to get more borderline strikes called than those who don’t.

Here’s one great example. This spring, thanks to another great Internet benefit, streaming video, I got to watch a student of mine catch several games, including some playoff games. This was strictly low-budget video – i.e., someone stuck a video camera up behind the plate, hit the button, and you could watch the game. No multi-camera moves, no chance of the point of view of the camera changing, no announcers to influence what I was seeing.

Quite frankly, I was a bit shocked by some of the strikes that were being called when my student, who is an excellent framer, was behind the plate. Pitches that looked outside to me (perhaps due to the camera angle) were getting called. Hitters were also a bit surprised so I don’t think it was all camera angle.

The proof, however, was what happened when the other team was in the field. The same pitches were being called balls. Same umpire, same camera angle, but different outcome.

(Who is this catcher you ask? I’m not alerting any umpires to the identify of this magician, but I’m sure she knows who she is. And no, that’s not her in the photo although this catcher is a darned good framer herself.)

You’ll see the same thing if you just stand in one place behind the backstop where a good framer is at work. Pitches that are being called balls for one team seem to be called strikes more often for the other.

Again, this doesn’t mean the umpires are bad. Far from it. It’s just that there are a lot of visual cues that go into making a call on a pitch speeding into you, and how the ball is received is one of them.

Of course, one of the things that makes for a great framer is NOT trying to make obvious balls look like strikes. That’s just insulting the umpire’s intelligence.

The key to framing is knowing not just how to do it but WHEN to do it. It’s also about being confident enough in your abilities that you don’t look like you’re trying to get away with something. Just stick it and move on.

The Internet is filled with free advice, and it’s worth the price. For my two cents, though, framing is a very worthwhile skill for a catcher to acquire and practice. Whether you want to believe it or not, it makes a difference.

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