What is a catcher pop time?
Catcher pop time is merely the amount of time it takes for the ball to get from the catchers glove to the glove of the covering infielder. This process includes three phases. The glove to hand transfer. The transfer from the squatting position of the catcher to a standing throwing position. And lastly, the throw. All three of these phases make up a complete catcher pop time.
What is a good pop time?
Average major-league pop time is around 1.90-2.00 seconds and times begin at 1.85 seconds, 1.77 must be considered plus-plus. If you have been to any high school showcase, you will regularly hear times in the 1.8 to 1.9-second range. This is misleading for a couple of reasons. First, a showcase pop time and a pop time in a game are very different. In a showcase you know you are throwing so you might come out of your catcher stance early, or cheat yourself sideways to reduce glove to release exchange time. In a game there is a hitter who might swing, a runner that you don’t know is running, and a pitcher that may or may not throw the ball in the center of your chest. All of these parts combined make the above pop times of MLB players very impressive.
Breaking down the exchange time
Statcast is fantastic in case you weren’t aware. One of the newer pieces of data collected within the game is the exchange time. This is the time from the catcher catching the ball until it is released on the throw. During this process, the catcher has also transitioned from a squatted catcher stance to a standing throwing position. The best MLB exchange times vary anywhere from .65 seconds to .75 seconds. This means that approximately 1/3 of a 1.8 to 1.9 pop time is made up of catch to release. So where is the other 2/3? The ball is in the air.
Catcher Arm Velocity
For years radar guns have been used to measure the velocity of pitchers. It is now more commonly accepted that given a pitcher can hit the strike zone (Duh), the more velocity he can produce the more successful he will be. All data points to this, so there’s no need to continue that argument. Until Statcast we had no way of knowing how hard anyone else on the field threw. Visually we knew Pudge had a cannon, but never could we put a number on it. If approximately 2/3 of a catcher pop time is comprised of the ball being in the air, doesn’t it stand to reason that if you can increase arm strength, we can lower pop time? This sort of common sense logic isn’t wildly deployed amongst baseball traditionalist. Here’s what I mean; recently I ran a Twitter poll asking the question. “what is the most important part of lowering catcher pop time.” There were three choices to which you can see below
The results were as dead even as a poll on Twitter could be. Which isn’t surprising, but my thought was “This isn’t that hard to understand.” Until you have acceptable arm strength, you should devote 90-95% of your training economy of pop time to DEVELOPING ARM STRENGTH. The problem then becomes, how do you develop arm strength? What’s your plan? Curiously ask “baseball/softball people” this sometime and see the mixed bag of answers you get. You’ll get anything from “just long toss” to “Arm strength isn’t important” or “what is important is x (coaches bias)” which is code for I have no idea.
Having An Arm Strength Development Plan
Failing to plan is planning to fail. At almost all levels of baseball, a full makeup doesn’t exist. It’s an all too common belief that arm strength, like hitting for power, is either something you have or you don’t and if you don’t, sorry.
So how does a plan look? Just long tossing isn’t a plan. It’s part of a plan, but it isn’t the plan. Truth be told if you arm strength plan isn’t 75-80% done without a baseball in your hand it’s not designed correctly. If you break down an hour training time devoted to arm strength development, it should look something like this.
- 20 Minutes – Warm Up Routine. This includes Jaeger bands, wrist weights, and shoulder spinner
- 15 Minutes – Build up throwing. Either indoor using a radar gun or outdoors using distance to manage intent levels.
- 25 Minutes – Post throwing recovery. Critical to keeping the arm healthy as you push the limits of your intent levels. This includes Jaeger band routines, force acceptance, & shoulder stabilization exercises.
As you can see 45 minutes of the hour is spent warming up and cooling down, but if you want to push your limits, this is what has to be done.
Arm strength plays in chaos. Not to discredit the other phases that make up pop time but over devoting training economy isn’t as smart development plan. Develop the raw skills and tools from the bottom up that will help you perform best on the field.
Gif courtesy of MLB.com