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In baseball, not all catchers are poor hitters. Some are quite above-average, like Johnny Bench or Mike Piazza. But overall many fans may wonder, Why are catchers bad hitters? Let’s explore this in depth.
Most catchers don’t hit quite as well as batters who play other positions mainly because of the demands, physically and mentally, of catching. The position wears down the body due to the constant squatting, and propensity for injuries from fouled balls and other dangers.
Being a catcher also means having to spend more time honing your position’s skills, helping to warm up pitchers, and meeting with coaches and pitchers to prepare for game strategies. All that time gets taken away from a catcher’s ability to spend more time focused on hitting.
Finally, many catchers do not hit in batting order spots that tend to help hitters. Catchers are often placed near the bottom of the lineup, usually on purpose, so they won’t bat as much (usually 1 less at-bat), and also not run bases as much.
There are valid reasons why hitting is harder just because you’re a catcher. Here’s why.
- Fatigue. Try standing up, and squatting down onto your heels, then standing up again, 120 or more times over a period of hours. Even if you wear no gear (like a heavy face mask and chest protector), and are not hitting and running bases, 120 squats over a relatively short time will really wear out leg muscles and joints. Particularly hips and thighs, which are imperative for hitting with power.
- Less practice time. As noted above, the catcher position demands more time to perfect defense, which takes time away from being with a hitting coach or in a cage taking more swings. It’s the same reason a lot of pitchers can’t hit: teams don’t “waste” cage time to let them hit, so other players can get more swings.
- Pain. Hitting a pitched baseball is very hard to do ~ and very, very hard to accomplish if you’re hurting in any bodily area. Sore ankles or knees make it hurt to shift weight and stride. Wrist and elbow pain make a person grimace to swing. And broken or bruised fingers make it just about impossible to even hold a bat. Catchers get hurt often by foul-tips, or running to catch pop-ups in foul territory. It’s a reason why they call catchers’ gear the “Tools of Ignorance.” It’s a demanding position; one must be a bit off in the head to want to play there.
- Batting slot. In the National League, catchers are often slotted 8th in the batting lineup ~ or, just before the very weak-hitting pitcher. This means whenever the catcher bats, especially with 2 outs, he is less likely to get strikes consistently because the pitcher knows the next batter should be an easy out. Hitters in the 8th spot get pitched around sometimes; or just flat-out walked on purpose. Also, with 2 outs, managers want the catcher to make the last out of an inning so the pitcher then has to lead off the next inning ~ either costing an out, or clogging the base paths if he gets on.
- Lack of speed. Catchers often end up at the position due to their body build. The position is not for humans with thin legs, or those who are too tall so they struggle to squat a lot, or bend low enough. Lack of height is an advantage for a catcher, and being thick or stocky helps too because there’s more body to block poor pitches in the dirt. For this reason, and others (like fatigue), it’s rare to find fast-running catchers, which means fewer base hits legged out, or “warning track power” due to tired legs.
Those 5 things alone make it hard to improve on hitting if you’re playing catcher much of the time.
Other Factors that Impact Catchers Hitting
Here’s an insider’s look at some details of a catcher’s life that hurt the ability to hit well.
- Vulnerable thumbs. Major league pitches come in consistently in the 90s in the miles per hour scale, and even when a batter does not swing, their glove-hand fingers can get hurt by the impact of catching. Jammed or bruised thumbs are the norm; and often the catcher is so important to a team’s defense that they get asked to play regardless of minor injuries.
- Arthritis or bursitis in the ankles, or knees. All that crouching really does a number on the ankles, with all those bones and tendons holding it all together so all that weight can be carried properly. Ditto the knees, both from squatting, and dropping hard down onto them to block pitches (or runners).
- Collisions. Though new rules have pretty much eliminated fierce collisions at home plate with runners, catchers do run into people (and stationary objects like fences) quite often. Perhaps more often than any other defensive player.
- Mental fatigue. Depending on which team they are playing, sometimes a catcher is asked to be a big thinker during a game or series, maintaining serious focus on each hitter and his strengths and weaknesses, to help the team’s pitchers. After many innings of this, the tired brain makes the eyes and body feel exhausted, perhaps slowing down reaction time or bat speed.
The list of good-hitting catchers is actually quite long. Consider that:
- Mike Piazza hit 427 home runs and had a career batting average of .308.
- Carlton Fisk hit 376 homers in his career. Fisk also ranks 5th all-time in stolen bases by a catcher, with 128.
- Johnny Bench hit 389 lifetime home runs, and led the National League in home runs twice, and runs batted in 3 times.
- Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane ended with a .320 lifetime batting average ~ and 64 stolen bases! ~ in 5,169 at bats.
- Yogi Berra was a 3-time American League Most Valuable Player, who ended his career with 358 home runs. .285 batting average and .348 on-base percentage.
- Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins holds the all-time record for highest batting average by a catcher in a season (.365), and career (.323). He also holds the catcher record for highest on-base percentage in a season, .444 in 2009.
- Ivan Rodriguez had the most hits ever by a catcher, with 2,844 ~ not far off the 3,000-hit plateau most star players strive for. Current MLB catcher Yadier Molina had 2,112 hits through the 2021 season.
- Half of Famer Craig Biggio batted .344 as a catcher ~ where he played for 4 seasons before becoming a Gold Glove 2nd baseman for the Houston Astros.
Yet, most baseball insiders know there are (and were) many more poor-hitting catchers than the star sluggers such as those noted above.