Many young players want to be the catcher because along with the pitcher, they touch the ball the most during a game. This is a good thing that can be an issue because not all players are cut out to be catchers. This also depends on the level of play for your team. A travel or rep team will need to be selective when setting the defensive line up. A recreation team that is on the field for fun and to be with their friends may not put the same emphasis on this position. This is not to say that the catcher is not important at the recreational levels. What I am saying is that the catchers skill level needs to match the level of play. We want everyone to get a chance to try the position and then move forward from there. The Catcher responsibilities include much more than reading, relaying signals and fielding the bunt. Most will agree that the importance of the catcher can not be over stated when it comes to the tempo of the game, the success of the pitcher and the activities of the defense.
Basic Catcher Responsibilities
Receiving Pitches and throwing to bases:
In Normal catching position, the glove side foot is slightly ahead of the throwing side foot, this puts the catcher in a great position to throw to any base and of course back to the pitcher.
The catcher has to throw to another base, after fielding a fair ball in front of the plate, when a baserunner is attempting to steal, and when a baserunner has led off far enough to be picked off . In each situation, a quick and accurate throw is important. In most cases, there is no time to execute the proper throwing technique that provides the most power on the throw. This is why a strong arm is important for a catcher.
She needs to be able to get rid of the ball quickly and accurately. The type and location of the pitch will determine to some extent, how quick the release can be. For instance, a pitchout naturally brings the catcher up into throwing position, and away from the batter to receive the ball. Because a pitch out is hard to hit, it can make it easier for the catcher to focus on the throw. If a ball is in the dirt, it is going to be more important to stop it from getting past and giving the runner extra bases.
Passed balls need to be practiced as well. We often have our players practice the things that are going to get outs or stop runners from advancing. It is very important to practice errors too. A wild pitch or a passed ball is an error that if handled correctly can stop the damage and in some cases even get outs.
Throws to first base
When a right handed batter is at the plate, the right handed catcher has a clear throwing path to first base. If the pitch is over the middle of the plate, the catcher need only shift her body weight to her throwing side foot as she receives the pitch, push off and step onto the glove side foot in the direction of first base.
When a left handed batter is at the plate, her position in the box and the location of the pitch will determine the footwork necessary for the pickoff throw to first. Ideally, the throw to first should be made to the inside of the foul line from in front of the batter. If the batter stands deep in the box. the catcher may be able to use the same execution as if the batter is on the left side. If the batter stands in front of the box , however, those techniques might not work so well as the batter might become an obstruction. The catcher could then throw from behind the batter. This would be more effective at first than third because the runner is leading off towards second base and not home.
Signals are important for this play so that the right fielder is ready for any ball that gets past first base. A miss will advance the runner. The defense on the left side also needs to be aware because if the runner takes off for second, a quick reaction by the receiver at first will get the ball to second before the runner. This play is not generally recommended with a runners in scoring position. Especially at third unless it is a set play where the player at first base steps forward, receives the ball and sends it right back to home to tag out the runner who took advantage.
The play could also be used to get a runner who leaves second on the play by having the first base player cut the ball of on its way to first and sending it to third right away for the tag. Practice is important for this play because an errant throw can cost a run.
Throws to Second Base
Assuming the the pitcher ducks, or moves to the side, the catcher has a clear throwing path to second base if the runner is stealing from first. The batter’s position should not be an issue unless she is close to the plate or up in the box. Some catchers will move closer to the plate to make the throw to second closer but this can tip off the defense. For a strong catcher, a simple push off the back foot will give her the strength to get the ball quickly down to the base. Some will need to take a quick step with the back foot to provide the first step in a crow hop for a solid throw. I have had catchers who could actually throw from behind the plate effectively down to second base from their knees. This is becoming more common as players are spending more time training and taking the catcher responsibilities to the next level. There are also new catchers who will actually run towards the pitcher with the ball showing with their hand above their shoulder to stop a runner from advancing.
A great play that I have also seen players execute is a quick throw to the pitcher who does a quick relay throw to second base as a surprise pick off tactic. An amazing play which will keep runners close that requires again, good communication and signals.
Throws to Third Base:
When a left handed batter is at the plate, the catcher has a clear throwing path to third base. If the pitch is over the middle of the plate, the right handed catcher can shift her body weight to her throwing foot as she receives the ball, then she pushes off the throwing side foot, and steps onto the glove side foot in the direction of third base. If the pitch is over the middle of the plate or to the catchers right, she can shift her weight onto her right foot as she receives the ball then push off that same foot stepping towards third base. If the pitch is received to the catchers left, a quick crow hop can be used to get the ball out quickly and down to the base. A left handed catcher will modify her footwork appropriately.
With a right handed batter at the plate, her positioning and the location of the pitch will determine the footwork. Ideally the player at third will receive the ball on the inside of the baseline because the runner is likely taking her lead in foul territory to avoid being hit by the ball if the batter makes contact. Because the batter is in the batters box, this can make a good clean throw difficult. The catcher in this case can step out in front of the plate to makes the throw. The other option is that she can actually throw from behind the batter. This however can cause problems as she would then be throwing across the base path. If the runner is consistently leading off on the inside of the base path, this might be a good option.
Signals are critical in this case because a missed ball goes down the baseline and provides a great opportunity for the offense to score. The left fielder needs to be aware that the play is coming so that she can back up successfully if needed.
The catcher is often seen as the general on the field. She is the one who calls the plays and directs the defense on most plays, especially when there is more than one runner on base. The reason for this is because she can see the entire field from her position. Leadership qualities and confidence are definitely a benefit for this position, along with a good knowledge of the game. If she doesn’t have a loud voice, relay or hand signals can be an alternative or can add to the communications. Although this is an important part of the catcher responsibilities, her technical skills behind the plate might be so good that you decide to have another infielder call the plays after the ball is hit. Someone with a loud voice and a good knowledge of the game and the defensive skills of the team is important.