Evaluating a Catcher's Release
A catcher's throw down to second base to nab a potential base stealer is in essence a 3-part skill that can be evaluated for strengths and weaknesses and improved. The three components are: (1) Ball Control and Release Efficiency, (2) In-flight Velocity, and (3) Accuracy. On average a catcher's success rate is just 25% and, at best, around 50%. Each of the three components of the throw contribute to the success or failure. Without evaluating each part and just practicing the throw, success will only increase slightly. The following is the three part evaluation process, presented in reverse order.
Accuracy is the easiest to evaluate and most observable component, irrespective of the other two parts. Rating a catcher on this portion is just a matter of noting whether or not the ball arrives at the 9"x18" target some 127 feet away. Practice usually results in improvement unless the throwing mechanics are completely wrong. A simple observation of the act of throwing will tell you if the catcher is doing it right or wrong.
In-Flight Velocity. Once I get the players arm warmed up to game readiness, I have him make 6 throws from a crow hop. He can use whatever mechanics he likes to generate the maximum velocity he can. I time that on the Jugs gun. I get 6 readings; I throw out the fastest, and the slowest, and average the other 4. This gives me an average max velocity. I then have him get into his crouch. I throw him pitches down the middle and have him throw down full speed. I again have him do this 6 times and use the same method to determine his average maximum throw down velocity. After timing over 500 catchers this way I have found that a drop in velocity of less then 3% from max velocity to throw down velocity is the goal. More of a drop then that and there is something in that player's mechanics of his throw to second base that is excessively “eating” velocity. At that point a close evaluation of those mechanics is needed.
Velocity is all over the map for me when I look at the database of kids I have timed. If I look at the High School Max-velocity kids as a group the low side is in the low 60’s. Good for HS would be low-mid 70’s, excellent would be 78-82. In the College group the low side is 70-74, good would fall in 75-79, excellent would be 80-84, 85+ would be a serious prospect as far as velocity goes.
Ball Control & Release Efficiency. To evaluate this component I use the following technique. I position the player in front of the black Jugs tarp that hangs behind home plate in our batting cage. I measure out 10 feet and draw a line. It must always be 10 feet. The player puts his toes on the line facing the black screen. The coach kneels in front of the catcher, slightly off center. The player gets into his secondary receiving position. The coach throws the “pitch”. Player completes a full speed throw into the screen. The stopwatch is started when the ball hits glove and stopped when the ball hits the screen. The player must sit on the strike and not move until the ball hits his glove as if it were an 0-2 count late in the game. Because the catcher is releasing the ball about 5 feet in front of the screen, arm strength has little to do with the time recorded on the stopwatch. The drill gives an accurate measurement of how fast the athlete gets it in the air. You can also have the catcher throw directly into the fence backstop, but I find the tarp makes a more precise sound when hit, making it easier to ensure a good clocking.
Ave release times for High School players would be under .85 down to .78, good would be .78 down to .70, and excellent would be .69 down to .65. Below .65 is very fast for HS. For the College players in my database the average release times would be under .78 down to .70, good would be .70 down to .65, and excellent would be .65 down to .59. Below .59 is really moving. Fastest release I have ever timed at any age is a 14yr old that throws in the .49-.52 range. He is just amazing.
While some critics of the evaluation process mention that it does not incorporate all the variables of a game situation, it does give a good base for comparison between any groups of players. Using these measurement techniques allows me to break the throw down into its 3 different phases and better be able to attack the area of greatest weakness in any given player.
I have a number of college players that have guns for arms, velocities out of crouch 85MPH+ but have slower releases then a number of high school kids. The above evaluation technique has enabled me to isolate what section of their throw is the weakest and look for the flaws that are eating time. Likewise I have some players that have lightning fast releases but 65MPH velocity. Again it helps me direct their training efforts in the area of greatest weakness.
Dave Weaver founded The New England Catching Camp in 1994 after realizing that instruction for the toughest position on the diamond was generally unavailable. Weaver teaches at numerous facilities throughout New England and conducts group clinics, team workshops, coaches clinics, and private sessions with catchers of all ages. Dave has coached athletes in a variety of sports for over 30 years, and has been a coach for catchers from youth through professional levels.
Copyright 2005 David A Weaver