Controlling the running game is an important aspect of a catcher's game. Controlling the running game takes more than just throwing guys out when they are attempting to steal a base. In the catching world today there is great emphasis placed on pop times to second base. We are constantly consumed with getting the sub 2.0 pop time in order to throw out runners. But is that really all it takes? Is that really going to be enough? The answer is a simple...NO. There is so much that goes into throwing out a potential base stealer at second base. Lets take a look at a few things that we need to consider.
1. The pitcher's time to the plate.
Many times, at the youth level, catchers will take the full blame for a base stealer reaching second base safely. They are told their throw was not quick enough. Their feet were too slow. Their exchange was bad. Basically any number of things that a coach can think of to tell the catcher they messed up and need to be better next time. The problem with that is the pitcher has a great responsibility in controlling the running game as well. Typically, at higher levels, a pitcher needs to get the ball to home plate within 1.3 seconds of lifting his foot to throw. That gives the catcher ample time to throw out most base stealers. Assume for a minute that the base stealer gets to second base in 3.3 seconds, the pitcher delivers a 1.3 second pitch to the plate, and the catcher delivers a sub 2.0 throw to second. The ball beats the runner. Now consider a pitcher who delivers the ball in 1.5 seconds to home plate with a 3.3 runner and a sub 2.0 catcher. With an accurate throw, the ball gets to second base late. So there is a huge importance that needs to be placed upon pitchers to help control the running game. It is not all about the catcher's pop time.
2. Pitcher's holding runners.
Pitcher must be able to hold runners. How is this done? They need to be able to mix up their delivery to plate by occassionally changing their pace. They can mix in different leg kicks by going from a slide step to a jab steb or a high leg kick. By mixing in different looks, the runner is never able to find good timing to steal a base. Pitchers also need to develop a good pick off move. If there is no threat of being picked off by the pitcher then the base runner is free to extend their lead past what they normally may. A good pick off move will encourage the base runner to stay close to their current base out of respect of the pitcher's move.
3. Catcher's back pick.
This is something the catcher can control. Throwing behind runners is a great way to tell the other team that you are confident in your arm and that you will throw behind a runner for a pick off at any moment. By doing this, catchers will force runners to have more thoughts running through their head while on base. Instead of being able to get a lead and focus solely on the pitcher they will have to focus on the catcher who may also attempt a pick off. It is important to have the ability to pick off at all bases, shortening the lead of a base runner, and better your chances of throwing him out.
The above video is a great example of what catchers can provide to help control the running game before anyone attempts to steal. There were many times in my 20 years as a catcher that I picked off runners and every base. This was especially effective at the high school level when runners were not mentally advanced as the college or professional base runner. At the amatuer level it can be fairly easy to catch a base runner sleeping and pick him off from the catcher position.