Blocking Technique: Should Catchers Move Forward When They Block?
Blocking is an essential key to limiting the movement of baserunners and being a great catcher. While a large percentage of being a quality blocker is simply having the willingness to move your body in front of the ball, many catchers block in a way that causes the ball to ricochet hard off of them rather than keeping the ball close and limiting extra bases from the opposing team. I experienced this in high school and college after being taught to move forward when blocking breaking pitches. The reason many catchers are taught to gain ground as they block is that the breaking pitch will hit the ground and reverse spin so the ball actually bounces in the opposite direction from the initial break. In theory, gaining ground as you block cuts off the angle of the bounce and allows the catcher to center the ball more easily on their body. This tactic works when beating the ball to the spot but at game speed, it is rare that catchers are able to be completely stopped as the ball hits them. Below is a gif of a catcher who has decent blocking technique but gains too much ground and the ball shoots off of him excessively.
If we teach our catchers to block more directly to the ground and move more laterally as the pitch is bounced to either side, we must account for the change in direction resulting from a breaking ball that is bounced in the dirt. This is where getting to know your pitcher and being intentional in catching every pitcher in their bullpen sessions becomes extremely important. Once you catch a pitcher enough, you can begin to predict how each pitch will move after hitting the ground. Based on this prediction, catchers can simply change where they direct their block. Below I will demonstrate the blocking technique we teach at Baseball Rebellion as well as how to adjust when a breaking pitch is thrown.
In watching many catchers block, the former Johnny Bench award winner, Mike Zunino, may be my favorite. He does a masterful job of being efficient with his blocking movement and keeps runners from advancing. Zunino does not do this by gaining ground forward or by becoming completely stopped when contacting the ball. In the video below, notice how Zunino moves directly in the path of the ball to create a downward angle and soft cushion with his chest protector which helps him deaden the ball.
Here are some clips of other MLB catchers blocking effectively without gaining ground.
In practice, make sure you develop a routine that includes blocking multiple pitch types at multiple locations. Make it your goal to not only block the ball but to keep the ball as close to you as possible. It is important that you include a mix of blocking and receiving where you are not told whether the pitch will be in the air or dirt. This provides a more realistic feel and incorporates the time it takes to make a decision on whether or not to drop into a blocking position. When training with mixed pitches in the air and in the dirt, too much movement forward in the blocking technique will be exposed because the catcher will not have time to come to a complete stop.