A Lesson in Blocking the Plate
by Mike Salk
If you listened to today’s show, you heard a pretty good debate over who should be the Mariners’ #1 catcher. One caller had a problem with Rob Johnson’s defense, and more specifically with the way he blocks the plate. He pointed to a play last week where Johnson was unable to take a throw from Ichiro, block the plate, and tag the runner. My initial reaction was to agree with the caller (I had noticed the same play), but I promised to check with Johnson himself before I fully formed an opinion.
The caller’s specific complaint was that while waiting for the throw, Johnson kept his left foot on the first base side of the plate. It seems obvious that the catcher should keep that left foot on the third base side to best block access to the dish.
But Johnson explained that the thinking changes on throws from right field.
Remember, when the ball is coming in from center or left, the catcher can easily watch the ball without turning away from the runner. But in order to field a throw from right, the catcher would need to turn his upper body in an awkward way if he kept his left foot planted on the left side of the plate.
So, according to Johnson, the correct way to handle a throw from right field is to wait for it just in front of (or just to the right of) the plate and then turn to the runner once the ball is secured.
But that doesn’t mean he did everything right on the play in question.
According to both Johnson and manager Don Wakamatsu (a former catcher himself), the most difficult thing for a catcher to do is patiently wait for the ball and runner to arrive. Remember, the catcher is trying to concentrate on the ball `while bracing his body for a potential collision. It gets even more nerve racking when the runner has a reputation for seeking out contact (like Angels’ OF Torii Hunter). The natural inclination is to go to the ball, cut down the distance, and then bring it back to the plate. Johnson wants to work on waiting patiently for the ball.
So, Johnson didn’t play the it exactly right, but we weren’t correct for the way we critiqued him either. I guess we learned something together!