This article is a follow up to a post on my Facebook page (Benji Johnson Catching) about blocking. I was watching the Reds play the Pirates and saw the Reds catcher do something that many catchers today are taught NOT to do, but what he did was textbook perfect. Lets take a look.
What looks wrong in the above picture? A few things may come to mind if yo are a catcher. You might say that his knees should be on the ground. Or, you might say that he needs to have his glove on the ground covering the 5 hole. Traditionally speaking, you would be right. But, it is now the modern era of baseball catching. No longer are things done the way our fathers and grandfathers did them. The traditional moments of the position have adapted/improved/evolved in recent years, giving rise to a different animal behind home plate. I am here to put to rest some absolutes that our young catchers are told they must do when blocking that simply are not always true.
Does anyone out there still catch like the picture below?
No, they don't, because it is out dated. We have advanced from that form of catching to what we see on television from our modern day catchers. And if you pay close attention to catchers you will notice some subtle changes in the position over the last decade that allows catchers to be more efficient behind the plate. Today's catchers must adapt to keep up with the advancement and level of competition within the game. Base runners are faster and pitchers throw consistently higher speeds that they did 20 years ago and because of that, there are new demands placed on catchers. So lets get into the meat of this article and discuss the picture in question at the beginning of the article.
1. Why is his glove up?
Short Answer: Hands react to the ball
Long Answer: Notice in the top picture the catcher is starting his initial movement to the ball which is done with the hands. If yo pay close attention to catchers blocking pitches, you will notice that the glove is rarely on the ground and it is consistently up towards the groin/midsection. The hands are the fastest reactors and they are able to react to the trajectory of the ball, much like an infielder fielding a bad hop. I the top picture, we almost see an "infielder's stance" for a grounder.
2. Why aren't his knees on the ground?
Short Answer: Strike First/High Bounce
Long Answer: Good catchers know that their primary job is to receive strikes. Because of this, catchers will go down as late as possible in order to be ready for a strike as long as possible. We don't have to be on the ground waiting for the ball to his us. Many time the ball hits the body just before the knees contact the ground. Also, in this particular block, the ball bounced well ahead of the plate, causing the catcher's reaction to be up slightly, in anticipation of a higher bounce. But this reaction is only done because he is allowing his hands to be free and making a play on the ball rather than just letting the ball hit him.
3. Why is he not around the ball?
Short Answer: Squareness to pitcher
Catchers want to maintain squareness to the pitcher rather than squareness to the plate because this produces a broader space for the ball to impact. Many catcher have been taught squareness to home plate on side to side blocking but it is always safer to maintain squareness to the pitcher. This is a much more efficient form of side to side blocks.
I could go into a number of other details regarding this subject, but for the sake of short blogs, I will save those details for my upcoming book. My encouragement to all catchers is to pay close attention to MLB catchers and learn as much as you can from them.
Below is another block attempt during the same game to further support this article. While this ball went unblocked because the batter actually fouled the ball after it bounced, the form is still perfect. Hands react first. Then the hands react up into the body on the trajectory that the ball would have taken. Check it out...