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The skill of receiving pitches at the catcher’s position has been brought to the forefront like never before. Right, and left catchers are upgrading their value by changing what they value.
Catching can be broken down into three simple categories: receiving, blocking, and throwing. While blocking and throwing get a lot of fanfare because they are the easiest to see and discern when done correctly or incorrectly.
However, if we simply look at which of the three the catcher has to do the most. We see that receiving is quite important. While a catcher might throw to a base once every couple of innings. They receive roughly 10-20 pitches each inning.
So how does this information change the way we train catchers? It is no longer ok to just be adequate at pitch presentation (how the catcher presents the ball to the umpire).
Great receiving catchers can steal strikes and outs for their pitchers that far outweighs the number of runners that can be thrown out.
Every catcher wants to catch the ball well. But are oftentimes are in a position with their body that makes it impossible for them to do so.
We must look at the set-up first. Which is what we did with a recent middle school client from Pennsylvania.
For years catchers setting up with one knee down has been seen as lazy. And worse a negative mark towards that catcher. In the same breath, that catcher was told they needed to loosen their hips in order to set up lower to steal their pitcher’s strikes at the bottom of the zone.
As you can see from Ryden’s initial evaluation video he set up very tall towards the top of the strike zone. He mentioned that he did this in order to be more athletic. As well as be quicker to pitches in the dirt or to get out of his stance to throw to different bases.
I would say this is the most common teaching and the same teaching that is becoming extinct. Ryden’s desire to “be more athletic” wasn’t allowing him to receive pitches in the best possible way. The first thing that had to be addressed was his set up.
Starting with one knee down makes it easier for the catcher to catch the pitch down. It also puts them in a stronger position to withstand the force of the ball.
This aspect is crucial for youth catchers who lack the grip strength to handle the pitch easily. So obviously with that being said, the first adjustment Ryden made was in his set up.
The setup difference allows the glove and eyes to stay in generally the same spot. However, notice how much stronger and balanced he is. This base allows him to handle the force of the pitch better.
When talking about handling the pitch down in the zone easier, we have to talk about beating the ball to its spot and the glove path leading to the pitch. Another reason we want to set up lower is it allows the catcher to work back up to the ball.
Every ball a catcher receives is thrown on a downward angle. In order to catch it well, catchers have to be able to work up to the bottom of the ball. This is to avoid the ball pulling them down and away from the zone. This is the reason for the next adjustment we made with Ryden. The initial move by Ryden when the ball was in the air was to stand up a little more up to eye level with the pitch.
This then forced him to dive down and stab at any ball low in the zone. We made the adjustment to have him lower. As well as turn his glove down in preparation for the pitch.
As you can see this is the first time we see a major difference in Ryden’s glove height. He is now able to work up through the strike zone instead of top to bottom.
Now that the setup and glove path has cleaned up, it puts Ryden in a position to present the pitch better. While the two pitches represented in this article are similar speeds and locations, how he went about catcher them couldn’t be more different.
He is now able to withstand the force of the pitch with the correct setup and glove path. He is able to make the same pitch look completely different in the eyes of the umpire.
Because Ryden is working up to the pitch instead of diving down, he is able to work the ball back to the middle of his body. With the last move being upward.
Notice how in the initial picture on the left the catching arm is locked out and pushing away from the zone. Where on the right the elbow is bent and pulling back to the middle of his body. Just slight changes in how he got to each pitch, allows him to present a pitch in the same location completely differently.
These changes occurred over the course of 48 hours. These adjustments we made might seem small because they are. However, they lead to massive differences in how he received the ball. Because of this, he is now much more valuable for his team this season.
I have zero doubts that he will be able to steal strikes that lead to outs all season long. There is no better way for a catcher to make themselves more valuable than becoming a better receiver. Catcher’s catch the ball much more than throwing or blocking it, train accordingly.