Plays at the Plate
Plays at the Plate are some of the most exciting plays in baseball. They are also the most dangerous. Thankfully, the MLB has made running over the catcher (which was the most ridiculous play in all of sports!) illegal now, but that does not mean that collisions don’t still happen. The technique a catcher uses in plays at the plate is vitally important to stay safe and injury free, while also accomplishing the critical task of tagging the runner out and preventing a run from scoring.
Here are the keys to the proper technique for plays at the plate:
- Catcher should always be in an athletic stance with the knees bent and ready for any type of throw - good throw, bad throw, in the air, long hop, or short hop.
RIGHT TOE POINTED UP THE FOUL LINE
- Catcher should always have the toe pointed up the foul line. This acts as the anchor point so the catcher always knows where he’s at on the plate, and it ensures that his leg is positioned to take a collision with the least possible chance of injuring the ankle or knee.
2/3 OF THE PLATE OPEN TO BASE RUNNER
- When the catcher points the toe up the foul line it also ensure that the runner as 2/3 of the plate open to slide into the plate. It is illegal to block the plate without the ball so this allows the runner to have a lane to slide to the plate before the catcher catches the ball.
RIGHT TOE POINTED UP THE FOUL LINE
- This keeps the leg in the safest possible position for the impact of the runner sliding into the catcher.
RIGHT KNEE TO LEFT FOOT INSTEP
- Once the ball is caught the catcher should bring the right knee down to the left foot instep. This covers the “5-hole” and safely blocks the plate.
TWO HANDS ON THE BALL
- Whenever possible the catcher should secure the ball with two hands - ideally with the right hand holding the ball inside of the glove for security and safety from the spikes of the sliding runner.
As the catcher catches the ball and executes the tag, the catcher should sweep the hands and knee into the position diagrammed below with force and authority, expecting an impact from the runner.
This position allows the catcher to absorb the impact of a runner without injury in two ways:
- If the runner does hit the catcher high (which is technically illegal but can still happen) then the catcher can fall backwards with the impact. This position prevents the leg/ankle from getting twisted and injured as the catcher falls back (think Buster Posey).
- If the runner slides slow then it also allows the catcher to absorb the impact and simply roll over onto the runner while securing the tag and avoiding injury
How To Practice
When practicing plays at the plate you have lots of options. It’s always important to start with good throws - either in the air or long hops - to ensure that the catcher drills the proper tagging technique.
Once the catcher begins to master the core technique of the play at the plate, the coach/drill partner can begin to vary the throws - good, bad, long hop, short hop, and varying locations/angles. For an extra challenge, the coach/drill partner can hit fungos to the catcher to force the catcher to read the ball quickly and react to a variety of different angles, heights, and hops from the simulated “throw” off the fungo bat.
To help the catcher prepare for the impact of the runner it can be helpful to use an exercise ball like in the video above. This will help the catcher feel an impact as they are tagging and also helps the catcher to learn to tag/block the plate with the ball with authority and force. The runner will be running full speed and sliding hard so its important that the catcher is aggressive with the tag.