Right now in MLB, there’s a new trend for catchers that’s causing a big stir.
Here it is: Setting up DOWN THE MIDDLE… on every pitch.
I’ll give you a moment to recover.
As a catcher, how often do you set up down the middle? If you’re like most catchers, only with a 3-0 count, or when facing the other team’s weakest hitter.
Traditional logic is to:
- Have your glove as the target, and
- Put that target in the corners (or wherever the pitcher was trying to throw the ball… because he’s definitely NOT trying to throw it straight down the middle for an easy hit!)
A weird new trend for catchers
But in 2021, at least 2 teams… Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles… started using a new strategy of having their catchers set up down the middle all the time.
Most people thought they were crazy!
But the results shocked everyone who was paying attention.
So what were they thinking?
Attack the zone; Get ahead in the count
Geek stuff >>>> The number crunchers for the Rays organization used Statcast data for every pitcher across the league to measure where the catcher called for the pitch versus where the pitch actually ended up. They used laser targeting in slow motion to measure the distance from the glove to the actual pitch location. Over the course of an entire season, accounting for every pitch thrown in the MLB by every pitcher.
After all that number crunching, do you want to guess what the average miss was?
The average miss was 8 inches.
Home plate is 17 inches wide. So the average miss is almost half of the entire home plate.
It turns out that the odds of a pitcher hitting the catcher’s target like a bulls-eye are extremely low, even at the MLB level. So if the catcher set up on the outside corner, the pitch will likely either be a ball outside or close to down the middle.
But if the catcher is set up down the middle and the pitch misses the target, chances are it will end up right on the corner.
Of course, you also run the risk of throwing it to the middle.
That’s why Orioles Manager Brandon Hyde said, “You are going to give up possibly more hits, but you also have eight defenders. We’re playing defense with forcing action with guys to swing the bat, not being in depo counts, behind in the count, nibbling. We’re trying to eliminate the nibble and trying to go after guys.” (source)
Now this doesn’t mean pitchers are trying to throw down the middle. Rather, the Orioles staff sees it as a way of helping pitchers prioritize getting ahead in the count by attacking the zone with some boldness.
Setting up in the middle is about attacking the zone more aggressively, even if it means you might end up with more hits, because…
✴️ It’s ok to put some trust in your defenders
✴️ Being ahead in the count is advantage big enough that it’s worth the risk. ‼️ 👈💯
✴️ Realistically, even if you are TRYING to throw it down the middle, most of the time you miss your exact target… and end up making a better pitch on the corner than if you were trying to hit the corner in the first place.
And this new approach seems to be working.
For the 2021 season, the Rays record was 100-62, finishing 1st in the AL East. (We all know that if you throw more strikes, you will walk less hitters, and end up pitching in more leverage counts. This helped their pitching staff dominate the league.)
And the Orioles… well as of this month, they’re are on track for their highest percentage of pitches in the zone (52.9%) since they started tracking the data in 2008!
The Rays thought outside the box and applied new analytical science to old school trains of thought. Now the intense focus on getting ahead early is spreading around the league like wildfire.
Now, what do YOU think?
As a catcher, this might be a good idea to try and apply in your own game. Some food for thought…
- When your pitchers want you to “set up on the corner”, how often do they drill the glove exactly where the target is?
- How often do you find yourself trying to figure out how to get back into an at-bat because you fall behind in the count early?
Also, if you’re interested in igniting your full catching potential — including blocking, receiving, throwing, the whole 9 — check out my Elite Catcher program for on-demand training. Just click the link below and watch the video to find out more about it .
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