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There is a common saying in baseball that the pitcher controls the pace of the game. The game doesn’t start until the pitcher throws the ball.
While this is true, one could argue that the catcher is equally important in controlling the pace of the game. After all, the pitcher can’t throw the ball until his catcher is ready to receive it.
In baseball, a catcher’s job is to receive the pitch from the pitcher. He is also charged with other tasks like calling pitches, aligning the defense, and controlling the running game.
Catcher is considered by many to be one of the most important defensive positions on a baseball field because he touches the ball on every play. Continue reading to learn more about this complex position.
1. Receiving the Pitch
Sometimes, we make the game of baseball seem too complicated. Sometimes you just have to ask yourself, “How can we simplify this concept?”
At the end of the day, the catcher’s main job can be put simply: catch the pitch.
However simple this concept maybe does not take away from the fact that receiving the pitch from the pitcher can be very difficult as not all pitches are created equal.
When it comes to receiving pitches, catchers’ jobs have never been more challenging as players at all levels are throwing fastballs and offspeed pitches with more velocity and more movement than ever.
Not only is it important to be able to catch these pitches; it is important to be able to catch them well enough to allow the umpire to effectively call balls and strikes. A catcher who struggles to catch pitches may cost his team a few strike calls.
On the flip side, a catcher who is skilled at receiving may steal a few strikes for his team by making balls look like strikes. This is often called framing. There are many new techniques for framing pitches that all have the same goal: steal as many strikes as possible.
Sometimes these hard fastballs and devastating offspeed pitches don’t make it all the way to the plate. When this happens, it is the catcher’s job to block the pitch from getting to the backstop.
To block a pitch in the dirt, the catcher drops to his knees and uses his chest protector to stop it from getting away. This is why they wear all of that gear.
Blocking is one of the most important aspects of catching for two reasons: 1) It helps keep runners from advancing, and 2) it keeps the ball from hitting the umpire. (You never want to upset the person calling balls and strikes for you.)
Receiving pitches is no easy task for the catcher, but at the end of the day, every catcher must be willing to take on the challenge and risk some bumps and bruises for his pitcher.
2. Calling Pitches
Catching is by far the most physically demanding position on the baseball field, but it is also one of the most mentally demanding positions as the catcher is charged with other important tasks that require some thinking.
A catcher is also responsible for calling the pitches for the pitcher. Sometimes, a coach calls the pitch, and the catcher relays the sign to the pitcher. Other times, the catcher calls the pitch on his own.
Typically at the youth level the coach calls the pitches, and the catcher’s only responsibility is to relay that sign to the pitcher. However, this is a big responsibility because if the catcher and the pitcher are not on the same pitch, it can cause a cross-up.
A cross-up happens when the catcher thinks one pitch is coming, and the pitcher throws another. It takes some practice for pitchers and catchers to be on the same page when relaying pitches.
At the professional level of baseball, and sometimes in college and high school, the catcher is the one responsible for calling all of the pitches. This is what people in baseball refer to as calling his own game.
When a catcher calls his own game, he has full autonomy over what pitches should be thrown and when. Most of the time, they allow the pitcher to shake his head to ask the catcher to call a different pitch if he chooses. This does not happen very often for experienced catchers though.
This is why professional catchers are so valued because as they take a beating physically behind the plate, they must also know the scouting report on hitters, understand the pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses, and know every situation of every game to call the pitches.
3. Aligning the Defense
Much like a keeper in soccer or a goalie in hockey, the catcher is the anchor of the defense who directs others where to go in certain defensive situations.
A catcher is also responsible for aligning the defense because he is the only player who can see the entire field. He must call out bunt defenses, first and third defenses, and direct players where to throw the ball when necessary.
Most teams have certain plays that they like to run to defend bunts and stolen base attempts with runners on first and third. The catcher is often charged with the task of giving signs to call out the plays in these situations.
Most of the time, these calls come from a coach in the dugout, but it is the catcher’s job to make sure those signs get relayed and that everyone knows their job.
Because he can see the whole field, it is also the catcher’s job to tell players where to throw the ball in certain situations.
On a bunt, the catcher must call out the base to which the defensive player who fields the ball should throw it. The defender is coming in on the ball with his back to the baserunners, but the catcher can see it all; therefore, he must listen to and trust his catcher.
The catcher also must align the cutoff man when there is a throw from the outfield to home plate. The cutoff man serves as a middle man between the ball and home plate in case it does not make it all the way to home.
The catcher must not only align him between the outfielder and home plate, but he must also tell him what to do with the ball. He must let him know whether to cut it off and throw it home, cut it off and hold it, cut it off and throw it to another base, or to just let it go.
As you can see, catchers really don’t get a physical or mental break during the game.
4. Controlling the Running Game
Stealing bases is somewhat of a lot art in today’s game. With that being said, good teams always take advantage of catchers who struggle to throw to second base.
A catcher must also control the running game to prevent opponents from stealing bases and advancing on passed balls and wild pitches.
Put more simply, a catcher’s job is to keep runners at their current base. This is why a catcher’s pop time is often recorded in the scouting process.
The pop time is the time it takes the catcher to throw the ball down to second base. The time starts when the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt and stops when the ball reaches second base.
Having a good pop time is a way to control the running game because it decreases the number of opponents who are willing to test a catcher’s arm.
A catcher also controls the running game by blocking balls in the dirt. With runners on third base, pitches that get by the catcher often result in runs scored.
When catchers can block these balls and keep them in front of the plate, pitchers have more confidence and runners don’t score on free bases.
A good day for a catcher is when runners don’t even attempt to steal bases on them, but any catcher who has any sort of competitiveness loves when runners try to test them so that they can throw them out.
Why Do Catchers Have to Squat to Catch the Ball?
Catchers actually aren’t required to squat behind the plate, but they do so for two reasons: 1) to give the pitcher a lower target that is in the strike zone, and 2) to give the umpire a better view of the pitch.
Can a Player be Too Tall to be a Catcher?
There is no such thing as being too tall to play any position in baseball. It can be more difficult for taller players to squat down in the catcher’s position, but that isn’t always the case. Joe Mauer is a future Hall of Fame catcher who played the position at 6 foot 5 inches.