March 2013 - Tip of the Month

"How Fast is Fast?"

Close-Up Of Stop Watch

Close-Up Of Stop Watch

When it comes to throwing there are only so many variables a catcher can control. The most significant being the time it takes us to get the ball out of our glove, into our hand and then into the air towards our target. 

Years ago my father and I were trying to figure out a way to quantify the efficiency of a catcher's release. We came up with a drill that isolated the catcher's release and gave us a way to measure the progress of a catcher's throwing mechanics. We've been timing catcher's releases now for the better part of the last 10 years.

We would have the catcher stand on a line exactly 10 feet away from their target, a black tarp hung on the batting cage where we ran lessons. We would kneel down in front of them, underhand toss them a ball and they would go through their full-speed throw to 2B, a stopwatch started upon the ball's contact with the glove and stopped once the ball hit the tarp. 

There were a few rules to this drill...One, they couldn't cheat and move before the ball hit their glove. They had to assume this was a 1st and 3rd situation in the bottom of the 9th, one out with a full count to the hitter. We want a strike-em-out throw-em-out and we need to make sure the umpire is able to make the call on the pitch first.

Two, they had to recreate a throw of 127 feet for the older guys or 84 feet - 10 inches for the girls and younger guys. Simply batting the ball into the tarp, as fast a release as that would be, would defeat the purpose of the drill.

Three....well the third rule was that they couldn't hit us.

Over the last 10 years we've amassed somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 catcher's times at every level of baseball and softball. However, with the amount of time that we're dealing with being so finite, each time is only relevant in the eye of the coach who is holding the stopwatch.

There is so much variance between individual times that this vital measurement had to be standardized for the numbers to mean anything universally. So a couple of years ago, we did just that.

Using a 30 FPS HD camera or the video from a standard HD cable broadcast (can be ripped from websites using the firefox browser and the DownloadHelper plug-in), and a video player that allows you to scroll frame-by-frame using arrow keys on your computer (Quicktime), we can find out exactly how quick the ball got from the catcher's glove to the air.

I video my catcher's going through a full-speed throw to 2B and we measure from the frame the ball disappears from view when the glove closing completely over the ball (this is the point where I have found that the sound of the ball hitting the glove matches up with what our eyes see in real time, thus signaling the instructor/coach/scout to start the watch) to the frame where the ball is completely out of the catcher's hand.

If the ball is more than a foot out of the hand on the first frame that shows the hand letting go of the ball we count that as a half of a frame.

To give you a frame of reference of how fast is fast, here are some of the release times of a few current and past MLB catchers.

Yadier Molina & Pudge Rodriguez: Usually around 18.5-20 frames, or .62-.67 seconds.

Buster Posey: Usually around 19.5-21 frames, or .65 - .70 seconds.

Matt Wieters: Usually around 19.5-21 frames, or .65 - .70 seconds. However, he occasionally is over 22.5 frames or .75+ seconds.

Joe Mauer: Usually around 22.5-24 frames, or .75-.80 seconds.

The fastest in-game release I have ever timed actually occurred during this past Spring Training where Boston Red Sox farmhand Christian Vazquez got rid of a ball in 17.5 frames, or .58 seconds. These throws just do not happen during games, even at the highest level of baseball.

*UPDATE*

Salvador Perez recently let a ball go during the 2015 ALDS that bested Vasquez's throw. He got rid of the ball in .55 seconds and it got to 2B in 1.63 seconds from Sal's glove to the infielder's glove. 

Now, the fact is that this measurement is still just one piece of the puzzle. Arm velocity and accuracy are still very important, but using video we can, at the very least, offer catchers comparative results to the one thing they can continually be working to improve over the course of the year.

So, the question becomes "how fast are you?"

Thanks for reading this month's Tip of the Month!