I talk to youth baseball coaches frequently about their catchers. These discussions usually involve conversation around how well (or poorly) their catchers throw on attempted base steals. It is quite common that a youth coach will place a greater weight on their catchers’ throwing ability than they do receiving or blocking. There are a few issues with prioritizing throwing ahead of receiving and blocking.
A catcher is expected to receive every pitch. This means the catcher’s ability to properly receive a pitch impacts every pitch that isn’t hit throughout the game. In a youth game, a team may throw 70+ pitches of which we’ll estimate 75% are received by the catcher. The catcher’s ability to properly receive each of these pitches can result in more strikes being called for the pitcher. Things as simple as the position of the glove when the ball is received can make a difference.
Passed balls are a free pass to a base runner. Blocking isn’t required on every pitch in a game (at least you sure hope not!) but it is definitely a required ability, especially at the younger levels where pitchers varies significantly. As your catcher progresses up through youth ball into high school and possibly beyond, the frequency of the need to block a ball in the dirt will decrease but the level of difficulty will increase (harder to block faster pitches and breaking pitches). At any level though, the more you can prevent a runner from advancing the better a chance your team has of winning. If your catcher can’t effectively stop balls in the dirt (ranging from one batters box across to the other) than your opponent will run freely around the bases all day.
Bases are stolen off of pitchers at youth levels. Many (from what I have seen the large majority) of youth pitchers aren’t taught to slide step when delivering the pitch with a runner on base. Instead they incorporate a high leg kick. This high leg kick gives the base runner a huge jump making it very difficult for a catcher to overcome in attempting to throw out the runner. And, to put this into perspective, even at the MLB level, the best catchers only throw out ~50% of attempts.
Yes, at the youth level there are commonly more steal attempts than at higher levels but, at least your catcher has the chance to throw them out vs on a passed balled the runner gets the base (maybe two) virtually free.
The bottom-line is, there are more opportunities in a game for poor receiving (virtually on every pitch) and poor blocking to cost your team a game than whether or not your catcher can throw out a base runner.
If you would like your catcher to develop solid receiving and blocking skills, check out our catching clinics and private instruction: cocatchers.com