INCREASED STRIKE CALLS
At all levels of play, the closer the catcher can receive a pitch in relationship to the batter, and the strike zone, the better chance those pitches are called strikes.
Note: The Strike Zone is defined as the space over home plate, which is between the batter’s armpits and the top of the knees. The strike zone, in relation to home plate, remains the same regardless of where in the batter’s box the batter stands.
We want the umpire as close to the strike zone as possible. Quality pitches caught closer to the strike zone have an increased chance of being called strikes.
PITCHERS WITH GREATER CONFIDENCE
When the catcher sets up too deep, the pitcher is forced to throw each pitch further than necessary. A catcher positioned 2’-4’ closer to the pitcher makes a huge difference from the pitcher’s perspective, visually. The closer the catcher is to the pitcher, the more confident the pitcher is going to feel on each pitch.
Older pitchers can deliver off-speed pitches (which travel on more of a downward plane) with less concern of the ball bouncing in front of the catcher (giving base runners the opportunity to advance). A significant factor in executing an off-speed pitch is throwing it with maximum confidence.
Additionally, when the catcher is too far behind the batter, a pitcher is forced to throw off-speed pitches on a higher plane, so the ball reaches the catcher. Pitches that are higher in the zone, especially off-speed pitches, are easier for the batter to hit …and hit further.
FEWER PAST BALLS AND WILD PITCHES
All pitches travel on a downward angle to the catcher. The shorter the distance between the pitcher and catcher, the fewer balls in the dirt; we reduce the number of past balls and wild pitches.
REDUCED ARM STRESS
The shorter distance a pitcher is required to throw the ball, the less stress on the arm. A few extra feet per pitch, on a 50-60+ pitch outing, adds up to considerable unnecessary stress on a pitcher’s arm. The same goes for the catcher throwing the ball back to the pitcher(s) over the course of a full game.
IMPROVED TEAM DEFENSE
The role of the catcher extends far beyond receiving pitches. The catcher is an integral part of the team defensive unit; required to make throws to bases on bunted balls and balls tapped in front of home plate; when runners attempt to advance via a steal and on blocked pitches in the dirt.
The closer the catcher is to the field of play the quicker they can field balls, and they are closer to the bases when making throws. Shorter throws are more accurate; getting to the ball quicker and throwing a shorter distance can make the difference between an out or safe call on bang-bang plays.
The catcher is the leader of the defense. When not receiving pitches, we want the catcher in their ‘defensive position’, which is in front of home plate. It is from this point they communicate with the defense and run the game. Developing the habit in our catchers of getting to their ‘defensive position’ the moment the ball is put into play usually requires a lot of reminding from a coach. The closer the catcher sits to home plate, the quicker they will develop this important habit.
In addition to leading the team, it is critical for the catcher to be in their ‘defensive position’ when making plays on runners attempting to score.
MAKE CATCHER INSTRUCTION A PRIORITY
At all levels of play, given the unique nature of this position, the catcher often gets lost in the shuffle of the many aspects of the game needed to be taught during practices. Yes, I saw it at the highest levels of NCAA Division-I and as a professional player.
We want to make a conscious commitment to ourselves, prior to the start of pre-season practices, to work with our catchers each day. It begins with the simple step of adding “Catcher’s Work” to our Practice Planning.