Thank you to the many of you have been avid readers of our hitting and pitching material on Baseball Rebellion. We absolutely love sharing what we know and love with you. JK Whited and I are excited to bring you more free content in the catching discipline! Catchers are arguably the most important defenders on the field but there is little detailed information available to adequately teach catchers to receive, block, throw, and handle their pitching staff's to the best of their ability. This article is going to begin with the importance of the basic stances and setups that enable catchers to excel behind the plate. There are three main categories of stances that all catchers should utilize. They are the:
For the purposes of this article we are going to only focus on the primary and secondary stances. We will discuss the signals stance in a later post.
The idea for this article began when I was watching Noah Syndergaard pitch in his second start against the Milwaukee Brewers. Syndergaard's blazing fastball and 12-6 breaking ball certainly caught my eye but I couldn't stop watching his catcher, Johnny Monell. Monell essentially telegraphed every pitch with runners on base due to his mistake in stance and setup. Below is a video of Ryan Braun's ten pitch at bat that resulted in an RBI single, the only run the Brewers would score that day.
I want you to pause the video before each of the ten pitches thrown as soon as Monell gets in his stance. Can you guess what pitch is coming?
Did you figure the pattern out? If not, don't feel bad. It doesn't appear that the Brewers, Mets, or Syndergaard did either. Below is another video where I reveal Monell's mistaken pattern.
Now that you have seen it, you will notice it in many games at many different levels. Most teams look for pitchers to tip their pitches but rarely attempt to read the catchers. I think it is safe to assume that the Brewers would have had a better day at the plate had they known what pitch was coming any time a runner was on base. It is also likely that the Mets and Syndergaard would have urged Monell to be consistent with his stances based on situation and not pitch type had they seen this pattern. I hope this case study helps catchers at all levels to see the importance of having a foundation of consistent stances. Below, I will take you through the key characteristics and purpose of the primary and secondary stances.
The primary stance can take on various styles but should allow a catcher to receive the baseball to the best of their ability. In order to do this, the catcher should be stable and have a low center of gravity. This gives the catcher the best opportunity to receive the low pitch, which can be one of the hardest pitches to receive and one of the hardest pitches for umpires to judge. Having a comfortable and stable base also allows the catcher to sway slightly from side to side in order to give the umpire the best presentation on borderline pitches. The primary stance should only be used with zero runners on base AND less than two strikes. In these situations, there is no real need to be prepared to block or throw as long as the catcher can keep the umpire from getting hit. Many young catchers will make the mistake of staying in their primary stance with two strikes, because they forget that they may have to block a swinging third strike. Below, I will examine some of the aspects of the primary stance through examples of high level catchers.
The picture above shows Russell Martin in his primary stance. Martin is one of my favorite catchers to watch for a variety of reasons. One of which being how smooth and quiet he is when he receives the ball. Martin uses the most common style of primary stance. His feet are turned out slightly which allows his glutes to sit lower than his knees, giving him a low center of gravity. In this position, Martin will be able to comfortably receive the lowest possible strike and give a great view of the pitch to the umpire. If you are a pitcher, you know how critical it can be to have this pitch called a strike. Along with his low center of gravity, Martin also has a great deal of stability in his primary stance because he allows his heels to stay on the ground. This allows him to subtly sway laterally with his body without losing his balance. Many catchers never attempt to keep their heels down and struggle to move smoothly behind the plate because of it.
Salvador Perez often uses this rare but effective style of primary stance. He drops his left knee to the ground allowing him to be comfortable yet low and stable. The low and inside strike (right handed batter) can be difficult to handle, particularly if the pitch has some movement inward towards the batter. One of the reasons for this is that the catcher's left knee is an obstacle that has to be worked around. Perez' setup allows him to handle the low and inside pitch fairly easily because his left knee is out of the way. Salvador Perez is a very large catcher at 6'3, 240 pounds. The catching position can be stressful on the knees especially with the weight of a player like Perez. By utilizing this version of the primary stance, Perez is able to take a lot of the load off of his knees and better conserve his energy throughout the course of a game, season, and career. This allowed Perez' to catch in an extraordinary 90 percent of the Royals regular season games in their very successful 2014 season!
Tony Pena used a style that was and still is a bit less conventional than the two catchers previously highlighted. He would tuck his right leg behind him and sprawl his left leg out, allowing him to sit even lower than Martin or Perez. Pena enjoyed an eighteen year career and likely took a great deal of stress off of his body by utilizing his unorthodox stance. While unusual, Pena's primary stance allowed him to be comfortable, stable, and low to the ground.
As you can tell from the three examples I used, there are many different ways of positioning the body to get in a solid primary stance. The variation of primary stance a player decides to use should be based on their size, strength, and flexibility. The secondary stance appears to be much more uniform due to the need to be ready to receive, block, or throw efficiently.
The secondary stance should prepare the catcher to receive, block, and throw effectively. For this reason, the secondary stance should be used any time there are runners on base or when there are two strikes. Catchers generally point their toes straighter and hold there glutes higher (even with knees is a good benchmark) but are still able to give a low target in their secondary stance. They will also stagger their right foot slightly behind the left foot in order to put their hips in a good position to turn at the start of their throwing motion. This stance can be a harder position to hold compared to the primary stance, so it is important to encourage young catchers to practice this stance often and to implement a training regimen that focus' on the legs, hips, and core. Let's take a look at some of the same players highlighted before to see how there stances change when there is a potential need to block or throw.
The above photo of Russell Martin is distinctly different than that of him in his primary stance. Notice how he has moved his feet further apart, pointed his feet straighter, raised his glutes to be even with his knees, and staggered his right foot slightly behind his left. This position allows Martin to block and throw more effectively than if he had remained in his primary stance. While receiving is harder in this position due to a raised center of gravity, it is certainly possible to be effective from this position.
Due to Salvador Perez' unconventional primary stance, his secondary stance is a more drastic change than that of Russell Martin. The picture above gives us a good look at the staggered stance used by most catchers where the right foot is positioned slightly behind the left. As mentioned earlier, this allows for an easier path for the hips to clear as the catcher turns to make a quick throw. You can also see that he has raised his hips and glutes to be even with his knees as his heels stay on the ground.
I wanted to use Jonathan Lucroy as my last example here because he moves very quickly behind the plate. One of the reasons for this is that he uses a good secondary stance to consistently put him in position to react and move. His stance is very similar to both Martin and Perez. One difference is the placement of his throwing hand. He places it behind his glove whereas Martin and Perez hold their throwing hand's near their right knee and right hip respectively. The placement of the throwing hand can change based on comfort level but should put the catcher in position to tuck their throwing hand behind the glove when they block.
No matter how elementary catching stances may seem, it is vital that catchers at all levels remain consistent in their stances based on the situation presented. Solid stances will allow for the best performance in the given situation and will inhibit the opposing teams ability to get a read on which pitch is coming.
I hope you have enjoyed reading our first catching article. We will have more articles in the future that highlight many of the essentials of the catching position but you can get individualized training from JK and I through our online catching program! Check out our catching lesson page here to purchase. If you combine catching instruction with a Baseball Rebellion hitting or pitching subscription, you will receive 15% off of your monthly catching subscription. For more information contact us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. In our next post we will discuss how to properly give signs and why it is important to give signs at a young age.
Thank you for Reading!
Gabe Dimock - Baseball Rebellion Certified Catching Instructor