How Lucroy’s Receiving Impacts Balls And Strikes | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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In the top of the third inning of Thursday night’s game, Cincinnati third baseman Miguel Cairo managed a weak single to left field to score the Reds’ first run. Some would argue he shouldn’t have even had that opportunity. Cairo’s hit came with the count full, partially as a result of a called ball on this pitch (image via Brooks Baseball)

The easy response is to blame the umpire for missing the call. Instead, the more likely scenario is that Lucroy’s reception of the pitch influenced the umpire’s call. Lucroy didn’t receive the ball entirely cleanly, with the glove horizontal as with the typical strike. Instead, his wrist turned over a bit, which this .GIF should hopefully illustrate (thanks to Alex Poterack for the screencaps):

The fact that Lucroy turns his glove over like this gives the illusion that he’s reaching down below the strike zone for the pitch. If Lucroy simply catches the ball out in front, the pitch is probably called a strike. For example, this pitch from John Axford was called a strike.

This pitch is definitely close enough where it’s understandable that the umpire called it a strike, but it’s unlikely that the umpire will give the pitcher this kind of borderline call if the pitch isn’t received cleanly. As we can see here, Lucroy did just that:

Now, I think there’s a debate on whether or not it’s correct by the spirit of the rules for the reception of the pitch by the catcher to have such an impact on how a pitch is called by the umpire. But umpires are human, and while that doesn’t excuse many of the mistakes they make, they are still subject to the limitations of the human eye. As such, it will always be a necessity for the catcher to present the ball to the umpire in such a way that, at the very least, doesn’t deceive the umpire into seeing the pitch as out of the strike zone. It would appear that is exactly what happened with Jonathan Lucroy’s handling of Narveson’s pitch to Cairo in the third inning. Just remember: even if a pitch is in the strike zone, the catcher still has work to do to insure the pitch actually becomes a strike.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Ross Bukouricz says: July 8, 2011

    You also have to factor in that it looks like, according the picture, that that pitch in question was coming in significantly lower than Lucroy set up for it. This makes it difficult to catch it without moving the glove down a bit. It is the same way that balls on the inside corner are called a strike when a catcher sets up outside and has to reach across the strike zone.

  2. Scott Haltom says: July 11, 2011

    Another factor that I can see is Lucroy’s body position. Notice that in the second image his base is stable (his weight is even on the bottom of his feet) so his body wouldn’t move much. Catching coaches often tell catchers to “be quite” when they receive the ball, meaning try to move your body smoothly and as little as possible (a little side to side sway is as much as you can usually do while still looking like you’re receiving a strike).

    The second image looks like Lucroy is in control of the pitch at all times because his body is quite, but the first image shows a different story. Notice that he dropped his right knee to the ground which caused his body to hunch over. This, more than anything, seems to me the reason for the umpire missing the call. When a lefty is pitching, especially when he throws a breaking ball (this seems to be a slider or something), catchers are often taught to rotate their mitt upwards a little bit to make receiving the pitch easier.

    The pitch from the first image is, in most catchers opinion, the trickiest pitch to catch and make look good. The pitch from a lefty that would hit the catcher’s left knee if he didn’t have a mitt. In order to receive it well you need to consciously keep your knee from collapsing and your body from moving too much (easier said than done), sway a little to the left, and receive the ball firmly (meaning without letting the pitch move your mitt out of the strike zone) with the thumb in your mitt horizontal or slightly up. Catching that pitch with your thumb totally horizontal is risky. If the ball moves further inside (two seam from a righty or a breaking ball from a lefty), your wrist will internally rotate and your thumb will point down and the ball will often hit the “heel” of the glove before entering the pocket. If the ball hits the “heel” of the catchers mitt when his thumb is down, it bends the catchers thumb back (think hyperextended hitchhiker’s thumb) and causes the joint to swell or break. Many catchers use a thumb guard to prevent this (http://www.catchersthumb.com/), I’m not sure if Lucroy uses one or not. My point is, I think his body made the pitch look sloppier than his glove positioning did. If he had kept his base solid, his body quite, and caught that pitch with the same glove positioning, I think he would have gotten the call.

    Well, that’s my catching rant for the day. Good article though!

  3. Scott Haltom says: July 11, 2011

    And when I say “quite” I really mean “quiet”… oops! Little dyslexic in the morning

  4. Geoff says: July 14, 2011

    I would assume in that first GIF there he wasnt set up for a low and in pitch, that will affect the way he attempts to catch it everytime… Would be awesome to see a GIF from the actual pitch that was called a ball on the right side of the plate for comparison

  5. Dill Wavis says: September 26, 2011

    While an interesting article, I believe the author needs to recognize the situational differences of the two pitches in question. In the top photo, there are runners at 1st and 3rd and 1-2 count on the batter. Further, Narveson is left handed, and a left handed, “strike-out” slider should be thrown so as to hit the back foot of the batter. While I agree that Lucroy’s body positioning lost him the strike, he must also be aware of the runner at 3rd. Lucroy’s positioning clearly shows a preemptive maneuver to block a potential ball in the dirt which not only saves a run, but in the event of a swing, should give Lucroy the ability to throw the batter out at 1st.

    The situation is obviously different in the second photo. With only a runner on 1st, a RHP in Axford and, what appears to be a fastball, different physical and mental approaches are demanded of Lucroy. Assuming the pitch was a fastball, it is highly doubtful Lucroy was anticipating a ball in the dirt. Rather, Lucroy would’ve been in a secondary stance in preparation for a throwdown. Yet, when the runner does not break, catchers are taught to sink into a somewhat modified primary stance so that they may be “quieter” upon receiving the pitch. It shouldn’t require a great leap of faith that framing a straighter pitch is less difficult than framing a pitch changing not one but two planes.

    It is my contention that the above analysis is an apples to oranges comparison that begs less variability.

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