"Hip Hip, Hooray!"
One of the most common questions we are asked by catchers, coaches and parents alike is "How do I speed up my pop-time when throwing to 2B?". After all, it is a skill that a lot of people attach a lot of value to. And despite how much it bothers me that the more impactful skills of a catcher are overlooked far too often, it's still a very valid question, and one that we have always sought to provide a answer to.
The first thing to realize is that the throw is a process. A series of movements, or a chain-reaction, contributing to the eventual release of the ball. While the velocity of the throw factors in quite a bit, it's the time in which a catcher get's the ball from their glove and out of their hand that makes the biggest difference. After all, the ball is never traveling faster towards 2B than when it is out of the hand, in the air.
So what is the one location all catchers can immediately look to for the source of the most significant drain on their release time? Simple...their hips.
The still-frame above is from a Spring Training throw made by Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vasquez in 2013. This throw has been featured in a couple of our Tips of the Month in the past and the full video can be found HERE. He is able to get rid of the ball in under 6 tenths of a second. One of the fastest releases of all time.
What I want you to focus on is the direction his body moves just before and after receiving the ball. Most importantly yet, I want you to focus on the direction and actions of his hips. They only go UP while he gets turned towards his target.
This is so important for all you catchers to focus on, as I can't tell you the number of times I have a new student go through a throw to 2B and they end up in the right-handed batter's box. If you are moving sideways, you are not throwing the ball forward.
To put it simple, you can't throw until your body is positioned to do so. If you have to wait until your momentum, which is falling off to the side, stops, you are simply wasting too much time. Not to mention the effect that this will have on the accuracy of the throw and the pattern to which your arm moves through while going through the throwing motion.
Take this throw from the Astros' Jason Castro for example. Because so much of his momentum is carrying him to the side, he is unable to begin his throw until a full 2 tenths of a second later than Vasquez. This causes not only a drag on the release time, but kills his ability to generate enough velocity to get the ball all the way to 2B.
Catchers, the phrases we have begun to use is to "Turn up!" or "Turn in place!". Make sure that your hips are not "leaking" to the side and simply stand up out of your crouch while getting your body turned. The goal is to minimize any movement that would take away from your ability to begin your stride forward while throwing.
So, how do you speed up your pop-time? Prevent your hips from leaking to the side, make sure to get turned in the direction of your throw while standing up, make a clean exchange and use an efficient throwing pattern to deliver the ball to your target. It's really that simple.
Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!