Purgatory Online

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

In a bit of serendipty, I came across the following passage today in Rob Trucks's book The Catcher, which is part of his "Baseball Behind the Seams" series:

In fact, the most difficult play for a catcher is the base hit to right field with a speedy runner on second base. When this happens, the catcher must receive the throw on his right side and tag the runner on his left, his blind side. It's not a rare occurence for the ball and the runner to arrive almost simultaneously, or as Pete Rose would say, Bam! Bam!

On September 18, 1992, Atlanta Braves catcher Greg Olson was run over (literally) by Ken Caminiti of the Houston Astros...

...The Braves immediately increased their focus on catcher positioning for plays at the plate in the instructional league and spring training following Olson's injury. A young Joe Ayrault was in camp, three years before his major league debut.

"I think the biggest thing with the play at the plate," Ayrault says, "is staying low. Some guys keep their mask on, some guys keep their mask off. I always took mine off. I ended up getting some nice stitches in my chin, but that's personal preference. Just sacrifice your body. Do what you can to save that run.

"Make sure your knee and your toe of your left foot are pointed straight down to third base. Make sure that everything on your left side is going straight toward third base, so if they slide into you at least you've got some give there.

"Basically I would start by having my heel right on the foul line, my toe pointed toward third. Obviously your upper body's going to be angled differently compared to where the ball's hit, center or right field, with right field being the toughest because you have to have that foot there. You stay open, but as the runner's coming in I always took an extra step deeper on the line, so it's actually not right on the foul line. Basically you're showing the runner home plate behind you, and you're hoping that if they slide they're going to go deep, and if they come into you you're going to take that step, one step deeper and stay low underneath them. That is definitely the key when you're getting smoked."

From the replays, it's apparent that Johnny Estrada executed the Braves' positioning instructions perfectly as Erstad came down the line. Take a look at this picture showing the moment of impact - Estrada has received the ball and pivoted back towards the plate - his left foot is no longer pointed towards third, it's pointed towards the third-base dugout as he uses his body to close off the plate and tag Erstad. Estrada is as low as he possibly can get; unfortunately for him, Erstad also understands the importance of coming in low, and so his torso is practically parallel to the ground. Since Erstad is three inches taller than Estrada to begin with, and has all that momentum, Estrada gets the short end of the stick. It's literally a textbook play.

Trucks also has the following observation:
Current Anaheim Angels manager Mike Scioscia was a two-time National League All-Star for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He never won a Gold Glove Award, but Scioscia is almost universally acknowledged as the best plate-blocker in major league history.

Though Scioscia's playing career lasted from 1980 to 1992, he was notoriously old school. He was a sturdy 6', 222 pounds, and facing off against him at home plate was not unlike going against the Green Bay Packers defense in a goalline stand in mid-December.

Lance Parrish coached in the Los Angeles Dodgers system during the time Scioscia served as the organization's head catching instructor.

"His philosophy," Parris says, "is one that you stand right in front of home plate, you catch the ball, and you drop to both knees and you just take the hit."
So it's not like this is a case of "it's okay for us, but not for you."