The most important and valuable skill for any catcher is the ability to get strikes called for their pitcher. The skill of getting strikes called is what we call “receiving”. Over the course of a game receiving is by far the greatest way a catcher can have a positive impact on the game. Each pitch is a chance for the catcher to positively impact the game through how they receive the pitch. Receiving is somewhat subjective because every umpire has a slightly different strike zone. However, there are a few fundamentals that we incorporate into everything we do with receiving.
The first fundamental is to minimize movement of the body when we receive the ball. The more movement of the body, the more likely the pitch is to be called a ball. A great example of this is when a catcher sets up way off the outside corner in an 0-2 count, and then the pitcher throws it exactly to the catcher’s glove. The umpire calls the pitch a ball because it was way off the corner and everyone in the field, dugout, stands, etc. starts complaining because they think it should have been called a strike. Why would they think a ball way outside is a strike? It is because the catcher didn’t have to move his body to catch the ball. When a catcher limits their body movements then they can more effectively get strikes called.
The second fundamental we emphasize is to catch the ball in the pocket with the thumb underneath the ball. This is illustrated in the two pictures below:
Ideally each pitch would be thrown right to the glove, so we could catch the ball in the pocket every time, but that is not realistic. Keeping the thumb under the ball when receiving allows the catcher to manipulate the strike zone more effectively. Positioning the glove with the thumb underneath provides strength and leverage to present the ball better. Glove positioning is all about being able to present the ball to the umpire in the best manner to get him/her to call a strike. Catching the ball in the pocket or being “pocket perfect” with the thumb underneath is something that we strive for our catchers to do on every strike.
The next fundamental we stress is to create relationships with the pitcher and the umpire. Receiving skills can not be properly utilized without creating trust with your pitcher and with the umpire. A pitcher that trusts his catcher will have more confidence and better execution on his pitches. On the opposite end, an umpire that trusts the catcher will be more likely to call strikes. Having a food relationship with both the pitcher and umpire will allow a catcher to utilize/showcase his strengths and minimize the pitcher’s weaknesses. We often drill with an umpire (a catcher not directly in the drill), so that they understand what looks good to umpires and how they can better receive the ball in the game.
Receiving has evolved a lot over the past few years, but the fundamentals of receiving still apply today. Catching is the only position that affects the outcome of the game when the pitch is not swung at. Eighty-four percent of pitches in the MLB are not put into play. This means a vast majority of pitches thrown in a game can only be affected by the catcher. Often times the outcome of a game can be decided when the ball is not put into play.