April 2019 - Tip of the Month

Stop Killing Catcher’s Arms!

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Once again, our massive offseason road trip camp schedule has lead to a bit of a delay in our monthly tips newsletter. For that I apologize, but we have been hard at work training catchers around the world and continuing to push instruction for the position forward. 

Over the past few months we’ve seen countless instructional videos promoting the throw from the knees to 2B as not just flashier, but more effective than standing up. Not only that, we have seen other “well-respected” catching instructors irresponsibly teaching the approach with a complete and utter disregard for scientific research and testing surrounding the bio-mechanics of athletic throwing patterns. Long story short, athlete who have not established these patterns should never throw from their knees in any circumstance. So instead of yelling “STOP IT!, YOU’RE KILLING CATCHER’S ARMS!” at the top of my lungs, I figured I would write a blog entry. 

We’ve preached that the standing approach is almost always a far more efficient method to throwing to 2B since I can remember, but lets take a moment to lay out all of the reasons why taking this approach, even with an advanced and efficient athletic throwing pattern, is still not an approach that should be relied on for consistent results. At at the very least, used as the default approach to throws. 

REASON #1: For the greater population of athletes, it is NOT safe. 

Using a throw from the knees as the default approach to throwing is dangerous for the large majority of athletes who play the catching position.  The reason for this is simple. There’s a ton of absolutely HORRIBLE information out there when it comes to throwing technique and mechanics. And even worse, some of that information is coming from those at the top of the instructional food-chain. So, you are seeing throwing pattern deficiency with high-level athletes as well. 

Until an athlete has established efficient throwing patterns that don’t put their arms at risk, athletes should NEVER attempt the throw from their knees. Doing so will put their arm at even greater risk since the bulk of the resulting excess stress in the throw will be felt by the arm. 

Basically, if you cannot throw efficiently standing up, what makes you think you can do it from your knees. 

Now, if I ever ran into a player who had exceptional movement patterns from a prone position and flawed standing up, would I tell them to continue throwing from their knees? Sure, but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t work tirelessly to fix the problem standing up because…

REASON #2: It is NOT faster. 

When we think about the throw we often look at it through the eyes of athletes. We look at it from a technique standpoint and forget that throw really is just a big math problem. Get “Object A” to “Object B”, before “Object C” gets to “Object B”. We need to do this in the most efficient way possible. Throwing from our knees is not that way. We cannot possibly throw as hard from our knees as we can standing up, and if we can that says more about the sub-efficiency of our throwing motion in general than it does about our ability to throw from our knees. What that means is that the throwing patterns are screwed up and you most likely have no idea how hard your body is actually capable of throwing a ball. If the velocity on a throw from the knees is the same as the velocity standing up, something is wrong with how you throw. Period. 

We wanted to make sure that we touched base with some guys far smarter than we are, so we reached out to the guys at Driveline in Seattle, WA. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Kyle Boddy and his team have turned the game upside down bringing a scientific approach and quantifiable metrics to breakdown athletic movement patterns. Their level of understanding regarding the human body and the skill of throwing is absolutely unmatched worldwide. 

Here’s what one of the guys at Driveline, former catcher Maxx Garrett, had to say about our question. 

“I think it is pretty safe to say that you can put more force into the ground from the standing position. From the standing position, I would think that you will be able to create more Ground Reaction Force and greater hip rotation which will lead to greater velocities. Ball flight takes up a great portion of pop time, so creating this velocity is an important thing to think about.” 

Ground reaction force is greater standing than kneeling. When I talked to Maxx he said they hadn’t done any specific testing, but that this could generally be assumed as true. 

For those of you unfamiliar, Ground Reaction Force: In physics, and in particular in biomechanics, the ground reaction force (GRF) is the force exerted by the ground on a body in contact with it. 

Now, I’m not writing a physics thesis or an entry into a medical journal, so I will spare you the complete technical breakdown. But basically, you can create more GRF standing than you can kneeling and that means the human body produces higher velocities standing compared to kneeling. 

Now I am sure there are those of you who are out there saying, “Well yeah coach, but I am also getting rid of the ball significantly faster, so it doesn’t matter that we aren’t throwing as hard.” Here’s the problem, remember how we just said this whole thing is a huge math problem. We can’t forget the math. 

For every 5 MPH we drop in velocity by throwing from the knees, we need to drop at least 1 tenth of a second, or 0.10, in our release time. Here’s the issue, most catchers are not actually quicker releasing from their knees. A lot of the time, it’s exactly the same. Most of the time it’s never fast enough to offset the drop in velocity. And yet….

REASON #3: It’s far less consistently accurate. 

The throw from the knees is less accurate in general. A lot of it has to do with the stability of our body while executing the throw (ie. shin guards sliding on the ground, as opposed to standing with cleats). There’s a reason the footwear we use to play the game has spikes to provide us with more control of our bodies. We don’t have that on our shin guards and I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen a catcher unload a ball from their knees only to watch it never make it to the bag, sail high, or be off-line to the right or left. We have significantly more control of the direction of our throw while standing up. So why on earth would we want to take that risk if we aren’t really gaining anything from it, or at the very least putting ourselves in harms way? 

The only answer I have ever heard that I would actually understand and maybe even respect, if not only slightly, is that it “LOOKS COOLER and is MORE INTIMIDATING.” The problem here is that the only reason this is true is because coaches at the higher levels keep telling catchers that this is how you do it. Especially in the game of softball. But, you know what isn’t intimidating? A runner safe at 2B on a lat throw by the catcher. Or, worse, a runner safe at 3B or Home because our inaccurate throw got by the infielder. 

Now I know there will be those of you who will immediately point to some of the elite catchers in the game (both baseball and softball) and say “But they do it and they do it so well!”

A few thoughts on that:

  1. They most likely have established elite throwing patterns and aren’t putting their body at risk by attempting it. NOTE: Some of them don’t have elite throwing patterns and shouldn’t throw from their knees for that very reason, but…

  2. They still throw hard enough and get rid of the ball quick enough that the expected outcome still nets them a positive result most of the time.

  3. They are not actually faster from their knees, but…

  4. Their reputation alone controls the running game and at that level, when you have gotten to the pinnacle of your sport, you can do whatever the hell you want to.

I’ll say this, could there ever be a situation where the sub-par athleticism of an athlete and their physical constraints lead to them actually being more efficient throwing from their knees? Sure. Have I ever seen a catcher where that was true? Well, we’ve worked with over 15,000 students over the course of the last 20 years, and no, no I have not. 

Are there ever situations where coaches should teach a throw from a catcher’s knees as the default approach? Absolutely. 

Here they are:

  1. Throwing off of a block and the catcher has previously established highly efficient throwing patterns.

  2. A pick off to 1B or 3B…and the catcher has previously established highly efficient throwing patterns.

  3. A straight steal of 3B, and the pitch brings the catcher to their knees…and the catcher has previously established highly efficient throwing patterns.

  4. The catcher, while tracking down a popup, trips, falls, catches the ball, and the runner on 1B, for some strange reason, starts chatting with their friends in the stands while standing 5 feet off of the bag….and the catcher has previously established highly efficient throwing patterns!

Other than that…..“STOP IT!, YOU’RE KILLING CATCHER’S ARMS!” Until then, we’re not done talking about this.

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

Don’t forget to register for the 19TH ANNUAL TCC SUMMER CAMP! JULY 15-18 or AUGUST 5-8! CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO!

Jason Weaver