Catching involves many skills that are difficult to explain on paper… Things like receiving, framing, blocking, mental toughness and leadership have to be OBSERVED to be evaluated.
That’s why pop time has become such a hot metric.
It’s one of the few objective measurements that gets written down on catcher evaluation forms.
But pop time is more than just a number to show off.
When your team can trust you to control the running game…
…when you have confidence that you can SHUT DOWN any one who would DARE to steal a base on your watch…
…it’s a good feeling!
(Even better is when the other team is afraid to even try running, because they KNOW you’ll nail ’em every time. )
So, how can you improve your pop time?
Here are 5 common mistakes that could be holding you back:
The stop watch doesn’t stop until the infielder catches the ball.
if they have to reach
…or jump for the ball
…or wait for it to hop
those are precious fractions of a second ticking up on your pop time.
Maybe you knew that already.
The thing that most catchers DON’T know is that the reason they’re struggling with accuracy is happening long before the ball leaves their fingertips.
For example, most catchers have no idea that as they “pop” they’re actually creating momentum in the WRONG DIRECTION (with sloppy footwork, drifting to the side etc.).
Other times the body mechanics aren’t lined up properly, or the arm mechanics are wrong (especially if you pitch play or play outfield, because those throwing motions are totally different).
So when a catcher is frustrated because his throws aren’t always accurate, he tends to think “oh man it just slipped off my fingers.”
But that’s actually not the problem at all.
Smart catchers know how to “cheat” (no, I don’t mean actually cheating) by moving their body into a coiled, ready, powerful position long before the ball hits the mitt.
If you wait until you’ve caught the ball to start your throwing motion, you’re already behind.
Getting the ball from your glove to your throwing hand quickly SEEMS like the most basic thing in the world… but it’s not.
Especially when the pitch is coming fast and with movement, or to an awkward location, there are several VERY common ways that catchers are wasting time. Some common ones include:
3) Too rotational
4) Not transferring it cleanly
5) Bad grip
Something as simple as better transfer technique can have an immediate and noticeable impact for improving pop time.
Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious, we all want more velocity on the ball.
…the solution to this problem is not so obvious.
Sure, lifting weights and getting stronger helps.
But there’s a LOT more to it than that.
Just like with hitting, more strength does NOT automatically mean more homers.
For example, in 2016 Brian Dozier hit 42 homers. His teammate Joe Mauer, who is 6 inches taller and 30 lbs heavier, only hit 11 homers that year. Obviously, there are multiple reasons for this, but the main point I want to make is this…
A smaller guy like Dozier can create world-class bat speed IF he knows how to use his body correctly.
And the same goes for throwing!
In other words, even if you are lifting weights all summer, you’re still going to have an arm that’s weaker than the guy who is using his whole body correctly.
Bad footwork can do more than make your arm look weak, it also makes the whole exchange period take much longer (The “exchange” is the time from a catcher receiving the the ball to releasing it, and it’s makes up a big chunk of your overall pop time).
Some of the most common footwork mistakes that cost time (AND btw, also cause a weaker, more inaccurate throws) are:
1) Too many steps (many catchers don’t realize how many unnecessary steps they’re taking)
2) Wrong rhythm
3) Inconsistent (They don’t really understand what good footwork is, so it ends up being different every time)
4) Not synced properly with throwing motion (This cause problems with both power and accuracy)
5) Body pops up too quickly
7) Not gaining ground
8) Gaining too much ground
So there you go. Hope this gives you a starting point for how to improve pop time.
Fix any one of these and your pop time will be better.