Is Throwing the Most Important Skill in Catching?
Many coaches say yes. There are entire talks by catching coaches who are teaching that throwing is the most important skill in the game. Throwing is also the most commonly evaluated skill for a catcher… just look at the fact that every showcase and tryout includes pop times, but not many include any sort of receiving or blocking evaluations.
Why do many coaches believe that throwing is the most important skill for a catcher?
For starters, its the easiest to measure. It’s something tangible that coaches can use to evaluate a catcher.
Throwing is also the most memorable. Everyone remembers when a runner is thrown out, especially in a clutch situation, but very few people pay attention to the receiving and blocking that happens.
Perhaps the biggest reason, though, is that controlling the running game can help save runs. Throwing out runners directly translates to outs, eliminates baserunners, and prevents runners from getting into scoring position.
(Note regarding younger youth levels: Youth levels are an interesting discussion because anyone who has watched the youngest youth levels knows that when a runner gets on first then they might as well head straight to third base. Many young catchers simply don’t have the skill set to throw out runners, yet. But, for the purposes of this discussion I am focusing at catching skills with the longview in mind. What skills matter most once players get to the high school varsity level and beyond?)
Clearly, throwing out runners is very important. But is it the most important thing?
In a word… NO.
Receiving is Actually the Most Important Skill in Catching
Why do I say that receiving is actually the most important skill in catching? Well, it comes down to simple math…
The average number of pitches thrown in an MLB game is 146. Younger levels will sometimes throw much more than that because the pitchers simply aren’t as good, but let’s round up to an easy number and use 150 pitches for our discussion today.
On a bad day, a catcher might have to block 15-20 balls in the dirt. That’s a rough estimate, but as a ballpark that should be pretty close.
How many times does a catcher throw? 3? 5? 10? The number is not high, especially in a competitive game. If a catcher is throwing even 10 times then it’s likely not a very good day.
Using these estimates based on 150 total pitches in a game, let’s say the catcher has to block a lot of pitches that day and there are 20 balls in the dirt. That’s 13% of the pitches in this scenario.
Now, lets say the bad day continues and the catcher makes 10 throws. That’s 6% of the pitches.
That means that the catcher will receive 81% of the pitches, or 121/150 pitches.
My question is this… how does the skill that catchers must execute 81% of the time they are behind the plate NOT the most important skill?
How Do You Win Baseball Games?
How do you win baseball games? I would offer that it starts with pitching and defense. Scoring more runs than the other team is obviously essential, but offense in baseball is difficult. Pitching and defense are much more within the team’s control, and no team can win consistently without quality pitching and defense.
The goal is to get 18/21/27 outs (however many innings the level of game has) as quickly as possible. To get outs, pitchers have the throw strikes. To throw strikes, pitchers need catchers who are good are receiving and winning pitches.
Technology is far more advanced than it ever has been in the game of baseball, and one product of the analytics we have today is the ability to track how the catcher’s receiving skills matter in the context of the game. This is still relatively new compared to the history of the game, but the data is clear – catchers who are high level receivers and are able to win the borderline stri-ball pitches make a huge impact on the outcome of the game.
Throwing is the flashiest skill in catching. It’s also the easiest and most traditional way to evaluate catchers thanks to pop times. But, it is not the MOST important skill for a catcher. Catchers receive more pitches than they block or make throws on… by a lot. If you want to win baseball games, then the catcher needs to work hard to be the best receiver he/she can possibly be.
Receiving is the most important skill for a catcher. If you’re involved in coaching a catcher in any way (or you’re a catcher yourself reading this), then your investment in receiving skill development should be a top priority.
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