October 2018 - Tip of the Month
Long time no post! Sorry for the break in action here everyone, but we had a very eventful Summer and are working on some big things for this offseason!
For this Fall’s first Tip of the Month, I thought I would touch on a topic that sheds some light on some of the advanced approaches to receiving that are being implemented at the highest levels of the game. Our focus in this tip will be “Attack Angle”.
As competitive athletes or coaches it’s incredibly important to make sure that we are always seeking out better ways of approaching each skill. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel per say, but we are trying to understand the wheel better and find methods to allow the wheel to work more efficiently. I’ve always maintained that I am a student of the game until I am done teaching in the game. After all, we are only as successful as our students, and if we’re not trying to provide them with updated and improved approaches, what are we even doing?
Receiving has always been something that we have trumpeted as the most important skill a catcher can possess. That’s why we had to take a hard look at the technique we teach when we started to see real data-driven results by some of the best in the game doing something completely different than what we taught.
The idea of attack angle first came up in a discussion I had with a student about Russell Martin a few years ago. I had been watching a Blue Jays game and he started his glove at his ankles. I couldn’t figure it out. It was a 1-0 pitch, with a runner on 2B. He wasn’t asking for the ball to be in the dirt, so what on earth was he doing? What he was doing was making sure that his mitt was never moving in any direction other than towards the strike zone. You know that feeling when a light bulb goes off in your brain and you couldn’t figure out how it wasn’t shining bright the entire time? That was how it felt when I saw this. It makes perfect sense. This idea has been widely echoed by catchers like Tyler Flowers (ATL), Austin Barnes (LAD) and Tucker Barnhart (CIN) in recent years.
Here’s a fantastic video of Tyler Flowers explaining his approach:
The question we had was how can this be implemented with our students in a way that allows them to adopt and implement this new technique? Well, here’s two drills to help build rhythm and develop this approach.
The first is the “exaggeration" drill.
Start by setting your glove at neutral like we always do with your thumb at 3 o’clock (or 9 for our lefties out there) and fingers to the sky with an open mitt.
As the ball is leaving the machine or hand, recoil the arm and glove towards the chest. During this move, roll the wrist so that the opening of the glove is turned towards our right (or left for our lefties out there). As we recognize the location of the pitch, we allow the arm to extend and attack the pitch from the outside of the zone in, making sure that our glove doesn’t move after pitch contact. We should work on this drill to multiple parts of the strike zone. On low pitches, it’s OK to allow the glove to drop down during the recoil and work back up underneath the ball to keep the ball from pulling our glove down.
Now, let me make clear that we still do not advocate glove movement after contact. Research has shown that only leads to more balls being called and doesn’t have the effect most think it does. MLB umpires have been graded on a much stricter strike zone than the one you see on your TV screens, and the fact remains that more glove movement equals less strikes.
That is where out second drill comes in. It is called the “weighted ball” drill.
This drill is done with an oversized weighted ball being underhand tossed to the center of the catcher’s chest. If you don’t have one, make sure it is at least done barehanded with a normal ball first.
The catcher should start with their glove hand on the ground outside their glove-side foot. The hand cannot leave the ground until the ball has been released from the drill partner. The goal is to make sure that the hand doesn’t move after receiving the pitch, and isn’t working away fro the middle of the zone.
This is repeated to each corner of the strike zone.
Location #2: the glove hand is set on the ground inside the throwing hand side foot.
Location #3: the arm and hand are extended up in the air to the glove side.
Location #4: the arm and hand are extended up in the air to the throwing hand side.
Then we do the same drill off of a machine with our mitt on. Make sure it is at a challenging, yet manageable speed. There is no point in catcher’s taking hits during this drill because they couldn’t catch up to the ball.
Both of these establish rhythm and allow us to attack the ball from outside the strike zone to in.
These drills will dramatically improve a catcher’s ability to keep strikes looking like strikes and otherwise save close pitches we otherwise wouldn’t have had a shot at. Focusing on attack angle will give catchers a better perspective of the strike zone and make it easier for an umpire to give us strikes. Remember, I am not trying to pull pitches into the zone after the ball has hit it, but if my glove is going to move in any direction, I certainly don’t want it to be away from the plate.
Thanks for reading this October’s Tip of the Month!