Do softball pitchers out-pitch your catchers?

As I have observed the game of fast pitch softball for women the past 10 years I have seen an interesting situation develop. There has been an extraordinary emphasis on pitching instruction around the country. The skills I used to see in only the best high school senior pitchers years ago are now being executed by girls as young as 12 and 13.

The 55mph barrier is being broken by younger and younger girls each year and the amount of movement on their pitchers that these young pitchers can achieve is startling.

All this leads me to the question: Do your pitchers out-pitch your catchers? Has the increase in skill of your pitchers out paced the skill of your catchers? Do your pitchers have pitches they can throw for strikes that your catchers have no chance of keeping a strike or maybe even just plain catching?

I see so many talented 12U and 14U pitchers lately getting frustrated because the catchers they throw to cannot begin to handle what they throw. Take a look at some interesting math for a moment and see how challenging it has become to be a 12U or 14U catcher.

It is not uncommon to see a second year 12U pitcher throw 50mph. At that speed the young catcher, maybe an 11 year old, will see a pitch leave her pitchers hand and hit her glove in just .55 of a second. That’s right, just a hair over ½ of a second. I hear so many coaches that are frustrated that their 12U catchers have trouble handling that velocity. To put that in perspective however lets look at how advanced we need these young ladies to be compared to their baseball counterparts.

On the 90 foot baseball diamond the distance from the pitchers mound to the plate is approx 60ft. The velocity needed to travel that distance in .55 is 75mph. Most baseball catchers will not have to catch that velocity, or deal with that limited reaction time till most are 15-16 yrs old at the earliest. We expect 11 & 12 yr old girls to do it with limited training.

A pitch of 55mph by a fast pitch pitcher arrives at the catcher in .50 or ½ second. Again the baseball equivalent velocity to achieve that reaction time is 82mph. Many high school varsity baseball pitchers will never see that speed in their high school career or have to deal with that short of reaction time.

So how can we help these young catchers to better handle the velocity and the short reaction time? I have a drill that I have been using for a number of years I have found to be extremely effective. The goal of the drill is to slow down the 50mph or 55mph or 60mph pitch to look like 35 or 40mph.

Here is how I do it. I do a receiving drill that exposes the girls to extremely short reaction times which equate to pitch velocities significantly higher then they will ever see even at the college level.

The first step is to get an accurate reading on your own underhand pitch speed. Find someone with a radar gun and have them time 10 pitches you throw into a screen. Your goal will be to throw all of them at exactly the same speed. Do not have the person tell you the speeds till you’re done. Remember, this needs to be a speed you can easily throw repeatedly with extreme accuracy. When I first did this a few years ago I found that my best speed for accuracy was 31-33mph.

I started with some 12U catchers back then and pitched to them at this speed from 25 feet away. Remember your goal is to throw strikes. This delivers the same reaction time as a 51mph pitch from 40 feet. Most thought this was easy. While the reaction time was the same obviously the ball hit their glove with significantly less force then the “real 51mph” pitch. The goal I gave them was to “beat the ball to the spot”, to have their glove at the spot of contact with the ball before the ball got their. With some of the fear removed since the ball would not hit as hard they became aggressive in their receiving and were soon catching from 25 feet with ease.

Then after 6-10 pitches from that distance I moved in to 23 feet. This reaction time now equated to a 55mph pitch. Most of these 11 and 12 yr old catchers were not seeing 55mph for real so this was a bit of a challenge for them. But again I observed a much bolder approach to their receiving and they were aggressive to get their glove to the contact point before the ball arrived. These same girls were very timid at this velocity in a real pitch situation. After 6-10 pitches I moved into 20 feet. I was now exposing 11 and 12 yr old girls to the reaction time of a 64 mph pitch. Many after getting over the initial “yipes, that gets in here quick” were able to begin to catch a few. When they missed and they bounced off of their mask there was no big concern since it was only 32 mph.

When I would then go back to 25 feet and throw 6-8 more pitches they all commented that the pitch seemed very slow compared to before. As I incorporated this drill into their regular training I began to see a marked difference in their live receiving performance. Pitches that would have blown by them before that were just a bit off the plate were now being easily caught. My next thought was to get them ready for even faster pitchers.

I have made this a part of the training regiment for all my fast pitch catchers. Many of these same girls are now 14-15 years old and I make that same throw to them now from 16 and 12 feet. That’s the equivalent of 80mph and 106mph. If I throw strikes, they can catch many of them. Then when their own pitchers actually throw high 50’s and low 60’s they look like they are floating in.

This training has also helped the girls to be quicker to get to curves, drops, rises etc. The pitches just do not look as fast when you’ve caught pitches with reaction times that are equivalent to twice the speed your pitchers really throw.

Look forward to your comments and questions