Josh Thole’s Catching Stance
RED FLAG ALERT!
Take a look at the above photo, taken in Port St. Lucie from yesterday’s intrasquad game by Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog. It’s Josh Thole in his “runners on” catching stance.
Notice the flat back, weight forward on the balls of the feet (and off the heels), arms extended out in front. It’s classic, 1970s positioning, made famous by the likes of Johnny Bench.
And it’s wrong.
That’s right — Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher who ever lived — used an improper, inefficient catching stance.
If you didn’t think I was off my rocker when criticizing Sandy Koufax last week, then surely you believe I’ve gone bonkers on this one.
But it’s true. Yes, Bench was the best. Ever. (Though, all around, Thurman Munson was a close second.) However, he succeeded IN SPITE OF his catching stance. As it turns out, Bench was such an incredible athlete, he was able to field his position starting from a stance that his body naturally fought against.
Don’t believe it? Try this at home: get into the stance you see above. Tell me what direction your body is going (there’s only one possibility). I’ll wait …
OK, so, where did your body go? If you said “it fell forward”, then you understand what I’m talking about. If you said “ouch! I just slipped a disc!” then please go see a chiropractor, and mention “L5”.
Besides eventually herniating a disc (or multiple, in my case), that old-school catching stance is absolutely unathletic, inefficient, and ineffective for 99% of the movements a catcher has to make. Yet, this stance has been taught for the last 30+ years by “expert baseball people”. The fact a stance or movement is illogical has no effect on whether it is handed down from generation to generation — baseball is very slow to learn, and “baseball men” are too quick to accept (or too lazy to question) what is taught to them by the men they respect.
And unfortunately, it appears that Josh Thole is being taught the “old school” way. In my opinion, the only way to succeed from that position is to be incredibly athletically gifted (like Bench). For mere mortals, such a position will only cause the body to fight itself, and make every action unnatural, inefficient, and most likely ineffective.
The RIGHT catching stance is more balanced, with the back perpendicular (rather than parallel) to the ground. The head, back, and hips should all be more or less aligned — or “stacked”, as former MLB catcher Brent Mayne preaches. I met Brent Mayne’s dad way back in 1993, when he was first discovering and teaching the best catching mechanics. More than 15 years later, we’re just now starting to see a few catchers in MLB utilizing this more efficient (and less stressful on the back) stance. With the head and weight over the hips, the catcher is in an ideal position to move laterally very easily — to do things like move toward moving balls, both in flight and in the dirt. It’s also a better position from which to begin efficient footwork for making throws to bases on steal attempts. The “old school”, forward-leaning stance forces a catcher to either step forward to start a throw (usually with a jab step), or to shift his weight back and “load” on the back foot (Bench did this). In both cases, precious tenths of a second are lost, and the movements can throw off timing and/or balance.
Using the “modern” and more athletic stance, the throwing mechanics begin with a very quick, short, slide of the right foot toward the middle of the body and underneath the butt — just enough to align the left / front hip toward second base. It’s a much quicker, simpler, and more efficient action — and much easier to repeat with consistency — than one that requires a jab step or significant weight shift.
Additionally, by staying “stacked”, the catcher is already in a good position to block pitches, because he can very easily move laterally by starting with his hands and letting the body follow. Whereas in the “old school” stance, again, the catcher either must shift the weight back before moving toward the ball, or attack the ball in a forward movement. Both of those cases require more reaction time and promote “stabbing” at or “attacking” the ball — which in turn causes the ball to bounce further away from the catcher’s body (and thus allowing runners to take an extra base).
There’s more to it than that, but it’s hard to explain without showing you — so I’ll point you to a pro. Check out the video below to get an idea of the theory and fundamentals behind the “modern” stance, as told by none other than Brent Mayne himself:
I’m not 100% in agreement with everything that Mayne says, but what he teaches is light years ahead of the old school. And yes, I do teach the proper, more logical and effective catching fundamentals — but I’m expensive. Email me if you are interested.