The catcher’s helmet should cover the entire head. The foam rubber padding inside should give full coverage of the skull and ears. The face mask may be attached to the helmet or not but must rest comfortably on the forehead and cheek bones. The mask should have a throat guard. Some masks have the throat guard as part of the face guard. These depend on good catching technique by the catcher. A better throat guard is tied to the bottom of the mask and extends several inches below the mask.
The mask and helmet will need to be removed quickly in fielding popups. If the helmet is too tight the player will waste time getting it off or fail to get it off altogether. If the helmet is too loose, it will tend to slip around while the catcher is throwing to a base.
When the batter hits the ball and the catcher sees that they cannot get the ball they should remove the mask/helmet and stand one step down the line toward third from home with mask in hand. If they throw the mask away before they know where they will have to go on the play they might stumble over it. Thus they hold the mask until they know where the play is to be and then throw the mask into foul territory where it will not be stepped on. Removal of the mask quickly and easily is something that must be practiced.
The chest protector should cover the chest, abdominal area, and groin. All players would be advised to wear a protective cup for the genitals but it should be required for the catcher. Even with the cup the added protection of the chest protector is beneficial.
The chest protector should cover the non-throwing shoulder and the bones around the neck. Often the catcher has a loose chest protector which falls below the shoulders and leaves them and the upper chest and neck area exposed. To correct this the elastic straps that are to hold the protector in place can be shortened. If the straps do not adjust far enough by design then you should twist them until they hold the protector in the proper position.
The shin guards should cover the lower leg from the top of the foot just behind the toes to the top side of the knee vertically and wrap around the leg on both sides as much as possible. You owe it to your catchers to have shin guards for them that cover these parts of the leg. It is better to have shin guards too large than too small. The guards should be comfortable and snug. This will require adjusting the elastic straps if you change catchers. The time is well spent. You do not want the shin guard coming loose and you do not want to cut off the circulation of blood.
The catcher’s mitt is designed to protect the fingers from foul tips. It is not intended to make it easy to catch the ball. The mitt needs to be able to be opened fully. Mitts are usually stored in the bottom of the equipment bag and therefore are sometimes hard to open fully. The mitt should be flexible but unless you are good at leather care there is not much you can do about that. To make the mitt be a big target try storing the mitt with something heavy on it and the mitt fully open.
When no one is on base, the catcher can rest in a squatting position on the balls of the feet. Since no quick movement is required, the catcher might as well save energy this way.
The catcher should set up as close to the pitcher as possible given where the batter is standing in the box. Few catchers are close enough to the plate and fewer still adjust where they set up based on where the batter is. Since the batter will move toward the pitcher on the swing and will not be reaching for the catcher during the swing the catcher can be safe quite close to the batter.
The closer the catcher is to the plate the sooner the pitch is in the glove. That gives the catcher a better chance to throw out a runner. Also, pitches that are low are less likely to hit the dirt in front of the catcher and if they hit the dirt have less distance to diverge from where the catcher thinks they are going. In other words there will be fewer passed balls. If the catcher is closer to the pitcher, the ball is less likely to hit the dirt and thus is more likely to look like a strike to the umpire. It looks easier to throw a strike to a close catcher. Pitchers like that.
I like my catcher to set up with the glove shoulder near the center of the plate for several reasons. Since most catchers are right handed and most batters are in the left batters box (the one for a right handed swing), this moves the catcher further away from the bat while staying close to the plate. Second, most wild pitches thrown by a right handed pitcher are low and outside to a right handed batter. By being set up 4-6 inches further to the catcher’s right they will be able to reach more of those wild pitches. Third, the wild pitch that goes to the screen with men on base can be pursued more quickly without running into the umpire since he is not directly behind the catcher. Fourth, the catcher can more easily hold the glove at the bottom of the strike zone without getting their left elbow “trapped” inside the left leg. Fifth, the catcher has a better view of the third baseman on a steal of third and can step forward into the left handed batter’s box while catching the pitch and then throw in front of the batter to third. Sixth, the umpire is less likely to have his vision blocked by the catcher’s head or shoulder on pitches at the low and outside corner.
The hole behind home plate dug by the shoes of other catchers is where your catcher will want to set up. It will take a lot of “nagging” to get your catcher to set up on the outside edge of the plate for right handed batters. For left handed batters the catcher will want to be directly behind home plate.
With a runner on base the catcher must be able to move quickly. This means more work for the catcher and different placement of the feet. The catcher’s feet now must rest flat on the ground rather than just on the balls of the feet. Also, since the catcher does not know in which direction they will be moving the feet must be more widely separated (a little more than shoulder width apart, as usual) and perpendicular to each other. The left foot (on a right handed catcher) should be pointing at the pitcher parallel to the inside edge of the plate. The right foot should be pointed at the on deck circle to the right of the plate. This give the catcher one foot that can push hard back toward the screen (the left foot) and one that can push hard to the catcher’s left (the right foot). The right foot is also in position to push hard toward second or third on the throw to either base. The turning of the right foot to the outside does not prevent bringing the right knee forward to the ground to block a pitch in the dirt.
The catcher’s mitt should appear as big as possible to the pitcher. This means that it should be fully open with the palm toward the pitcher while the pitcher goes into their motion toward home.
The mitt should be used as a target for the pitcher. That target should be from 6 inches or a foot lower than the height the catcher wants the ball to go through the strike zone. Many catchers put the mitt at the batter’s waist. Since the ball will drop from 6 inches to a foot after crossing the strike zone (that is a fast ball, curves and change-ups drop more) the catcher is giving a target at the top edge of the strike zone. Any higher target would be out of the strike zone all together. For a normal pitcher and hitter the target should be no higher than the batter’s knees. Hitting that target would put the ball from 6-12 inches above the batters knees. Far enough into the strike zone that most umpires will have no difficulty calling it a strike if it is over the plate. For a “sinker” or change-up the target should actually be on the ground in front of the catcher.
The catchers bare hand should be held behind the back or at least behind the hip until the pitch hits the glove. With runners on base many catchers like to make a fist of their bare hand behind the mitt so it will be close for a quick throw. I do not like this because when the pitcher throws the ball catchers often do not keep their bare hand behind the mitt. This is too big a risk for me to tolerate for my players. When they reach high school they can work on that technique. I would rather risk the runner stealing a base than risk a smashed hand.
The catcher’s bare hand gives the sign to the pitcher before each pitch. Pitching rules require time for a sign even if the pitcher can throw only a fastball. This sign should be given in the crotch as if adjusting ones protective cup. Most boy catchers put the sign so low that it can be seen beneath their legs by the base coaches. The mitt should be dangled over the left knee to block the view of the third base coach.
One of the most valuable talents in a catcher is to be able to catch or block pitches in the dirt. Unless the ball hits the ground before it gets to the plate it is unlikely to bounce more than 3-4 inches before it gets to the catcher. Therefore, if the catcher places the webbing of the mitt or the finger tips on the ground with the mitt perpendicular to the ground in the path of the ball, the chances are very good that the ball will go into the mitt. Young catchers are afraid of the bouncing ball so they turn their head away (which is dangerous for their throat) and slap down at the ball. This causes the glove to be out of the ball’s path and to be above the ground when the ball goes by. Practice at catching low pitches using a tennis ball will help the catcher to get over the fear.
The catcher needs a strong, quick throw. The need for quickness puts a premium on coordination between hands and feet. If the feet are not ready the arm cannot be either strong or accurate. Thus the catcher should set their feet for the throw as early as is practical. The bare hand and the glove move together to the catcher’s right ear so the ball can be grasped securely on the way. The catcher’s back must be arched slightly so that the throwing shoulder can go up and over in an overhand throw. It is important for the throw to be overhand to prevent the ball being thrown wide of the target and to prevent arm injury to the catcher. The up and over movement of the throwing shoulder makes a good follow through easy and keeps the arc of the throwing hand in line with the target.
All throws by the catcher from the plate to a base should stay low. A bouncing throw to second or third is much better than one over the head of the fielder. A low, on line throw can get base runners out even if it bounces. Therefore throws to second should never get higher than the pitcher’s head.
Catchers can also prevent runs by not throwing. The catcher should have a good idea of how far off base a runner must be for the catcher to have a chance to throw them out. Since the runners need to know how far off base they can safely go when the ball is at least a base away, both runners and catchers can benefit from drills of this sort. A base runner should be safe standing half way between second and third if the catcher has the ball behind the plate. The catcher must take the ball to the runner on foot. If the runner is immobile until the catcher gets half way to the pitcher’s mound the catcher should be able to get the out. If the catcher throws from behind the plate the runner should be safe at whichever base the catcher did not throw to. If the catcher makes a lot of throws to third, some will go into left field. Thus, the catcher should force the runner back to second without throwing to third.
Throws to the pitcher should be firm, not soft lobs nor blazing fastballs. A lob allows a delayed steal. Blazing fastballs go into center field. The ideal throw to the pitcher would hit them in the chest if they did not catch it.
Yes, most pitches that go to the screen are wild pitches but whether the catcher could have caught it or not they need to react the same way. If there is no runner on base and the batter has not walked the should promptly walk over, pick up the ball, and throw it back to the pitcher. If the batter just walked, they should get the ball quickly and get it back to the pitcher. If there are runner(s) on base but none at third then they should get the ball quickly while listening for directions from the fielders as to where to throw the ball or to hold the ball. They should pick the ball up bare handed using the glove as a wall to push the ball against with the bare hand to be sure they get a good grip. They should move the feet into throwing position as they bring the ball up to the ear. On the way up they look for the runner(s) to see if a throw is called for. If the runners cannot be thrown out the catcher should go quickly back to home plate with the ball. Only after reaching the plate should they throw the ball back to the pitcher.If there is a runner on third and the ball gets behind the catcher the catcher must assume that the runner is trying to score and that the pitcher will be covering home. Since everything else must be sacrificed to get the ball to home plate as quickly as possible, the catcher will not even look in that direction until the throw is under way.
The catcher should have some idea of the path of the ball to the screen unless it hit the umpire or the catcher. The pitcher must point to any ball that has bounced strangely so the catcher will know where to look. Usually the ball goes straight back.
Unless the catcher has lunged to the left to try to catch the ball they will want to pivot to the right since the umpire is less in the way on that side. (With a left handed batter the umpire sets up on the catcher’s right and everything is reversed.) The foot placement described above will allow the catcher to push back hard with the ball of the left foot for a quick turn and once the body is going that direction the right foot is already turned to continue that push toward the ball while the left foot comes around for the first step.
By this time the mask should be off and the ball in sight. As the catcher approaches the point at which the ball will be grasped by the bare hand (we will assume a right handed catcher) they are adjusting their stride so that their right foot will strike the ground with the arch right next to the ball. If the catcher “came to attention” like a soldier at this moment the ball would be trapped between their feet. This foot placement is very important because that is the last step the catcher takes until after the throw is made to the pitcher covering home.
Since the catcher is coming directly from home plate the left foot should now be on a line toward home plate from the ball. (If the catcher has had to run a curve in order to get to the ball and they are no longer coming directly from home plate, the left foot may be moved in line with the plate while the tossing arm is in motion toward the plate.)
As the right foot is coming down the catcher is bending/crouching to grasp the ball in the bare hand with the hand coming toward the ball from the side away from home plate. The ball is grasped and thrown underhand in the same motion toward the third base side of the plate about knee high. The bare hand should not go any further than knee high on the follow through and the fingers of the hand should finish pointing at the pitcher. Stopping the follow through of the hand at that point almost guarantees that the toss will not go high.
Under no circumstances should the catcher stand up until the ball is released. Even if the catcher does not get a good grip on the ball and it slips out of their hand the ball will still be on the way to the pitcher with good speed and can get there in time.
This technique for preventing a runner from scoring from third on a passed ball has saved my teams about one run per game on average. Our best game was four runners put out at the plate. Even a catcher that can do little else well can be a good defensive catcher if they can get the ball off the screen to the pitcher quickly.
To do a good job of helping the pitcher think properly, the catcher should know how to pitch and what kinds of things the pitcher has trouble with. They should also know what the pitcher should do to correct whatever problems they are having. This material is covered in the sections on pitching. There is a lot of it.
The catcher should also help the pitcher by watching the base runners. Since it is difficult for a pitcher to see the target while watching base runners the catcher can give the pitcher signs to make a pick-off move or to pitch right away before the runner gets a good lead. If the runner just takes off for the next base while the pitcher is not looking the catcher should point at the runner. This allows the pitcher to step off the rubber and get the easy out. With the catcher watching the base runners the pitcher can relax and concentrate on throwing strikes.