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When thinking about developing catchers in today’s showcase environment the truth is, whether right or not, there is a large amount of stock placed on a players pop-time.
For those who don’t know, a pop-time represents the time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the intended fielder. Generally, the lower the time the better as you have a greater chance of throwing out the runner. The average pop-time for qualified catchers in MLB last year ranged from 1.90-2.14.
When looking at the qualities that go into a good pop-time for a catcher a couple of things stand out. Obviously, arm strength is a huge component. Being able to throw the ball at a high velocity helps make up for flaws in footwork or the transfer. However, arm strength is only a portion of what goes into a good pop-time.
The exchange of a catcher is extremely valuable when measuring a statistic that lasts nearly two seconds. Every tenth of a second is crucial for catchers. An exchange is how fast the catcher can receive the ball and get the throw off to the intended base.
The footwork of a catcher is critical for lowering their exchange time. Your catcher must find the quickest and most efficient way to receive the ball and get it to their intended target accurately.
There are a couple of different ways to teach the footwork in the exchange. So what exactly is the right way? This is often the first question I get asked when working with a catcher. Some teachers teach to gain ground with the right foot towards the target before squaring up (as seen below).
However, I think this takes too much time and also opens up stepping and slipping on home plate as a possibility.
Some also teach a spin technique. Here the catcher does not gain ground towards the target, instead just spinning and squaring their shoulders to the target immediately.
This can be difficult for younger players or players without a great deal of arm strength. The lack of momentum towards the target makes it tough on the catcher’s arm.
While working with young catchers or watching them go through their transfer work, the one thing that irritates me is when they take their glove hand straight to their head. This is often taught at a young age but once again, just not what happens. This goes along with the previous section describing how the transfer happens around the glove hand. Notice in the gif’s below, each catcher transfers both around the glove, but also transfer at each height the pitch is delivered. Whether up, down or in the middle, the transfer occurs where the ball is caught.
Gattis transferring a pitch low in the zone Maldonado transferring a pitch up in the zone
What you will see being done by most high-level catchers is a hybrid of the spin and gain ground technique. Because of this, they are able to be efficient, fast and accurate.
A quick move with the right foot towards where their left food originally started allows the momentum needed in the throw, causing less stress on the arm. It is also significantly quicker than the gain ground technique.
Another vital part of the transfer is the lane in which the transfer occurs. Whether the pitch is right, left, or in the center of the catcher dictates the lane towards the target that the transfer happens. While many catchers are taught to stay in the center of the plate because the quickest way from one point to another is a straight line, this just isn’t what occurs in high-level catching.
As the pitch is farther right of the catcher, the catcher’s lane shifts towards the left-handers’ batters box. However, the body and transfer still work around the glove.
Salvador Perez handling a pitch to his right Zunino transferring a pitch to his left
Zunino does a great job handling the pitch to his left and you will notice, like the other two pitch locations, he works his footwork around the pitch.
Here at Baseball Rebellion, we use three different drills to help our catchers footwork and decrease their pop-time. These drills below are a little unconventional, yet they emphasis what really occurs in the exchange.
Hopefully, this article makes you watch catchers a little differently. Watch what actually occurs in the transfer, not just what you think happens. Not just watch it, but teach what actually happens. Just because you were taught one way, doesn’t mean it’s correct. Your players deserve it.