BaseballStances by Ryan Lavarnway

Letting go of how things “are supposed to be”

When I was drafted in the 6th round by the Boston Red Sox in 2008, it was because I could hit. NOT because I could catch.

In my first year catching professionally a lot of the people who made decisions about my future assumed I would eventually need to be moved to first base. 

In my second year catching professionally, my single-A manager straight up told me “You aren’t good enough to catch some of our pitchers. Their movement and velocity would expose you.”

Fast-forward two years later, I was named the Best Defensive Catcher in the AAA International League by Baseball America.  And since then, I’ve played in the MLB during 10 of the last 11 seasons.

There was a lot of hard work. Countless hours of practice and focused effort, but do you want to know what made the biggest difference for me? 


Letting go of the traditional catcher’s stance and finding one that worked better for my body made all the difference in the world.

When I finally found a catcher’s stance I could be athletic in, my hips were no longer locked-up. I was more athletic and balanced, and this allowed my hands to work more freely when I received. It allowed my blocking to be quicker and on time. And it allowed me to explode out of my squat when it was time to throw runners out. 

What was this squat that helped me unlock my ability? It was not the traditional / old school squat where my shoulders, hips, knees, and toes were all pointed straight at the pitcher. THAT was what I had been trying to do for so long, and THAT was what kept my body locked up.

You can try exactly what I did, at home, right now. First, start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Knees and toes pointing forward. Squat down as low as you can while trying to stay athletic and not going up on your toes. How far down into a squat were you able to get? Did you feel athletic? Could you catch a guy throwing 95 MPH from there? Me neither.

Now open the toes on your right foot toward the right about 45 degrees and back that right foot up 2-4 inches behind you. As you squat down this time, keep your right foot grounded but allow yourself to go slightly onto the ball of your left foot. How does that feel? Can you get lower into a catcher’s squat? Can you shift your weight around? Do you find yourself in a position that is more comfortable and more agile? Could you catch better from this position than from the first one? Me too.

Did that seem like it was almost too easy of a fix? It does to me now, too. Looking back, the biggest thing I needed to let go of was my attachment to the way I thought things “were supposed to be done.” There has been a revolution happening in the game of baseball, and especially around the catcher position. And it has happened within the same time span my career has been taking place.

When I was drafted, the defensive skill valued most in a catcher was the ability to throw runners out. Pop time and caught stealing percentage ruled the world of catcher metrics. Valued second was blocking. Third was receiving. And when it came to receiving at that point in time, there was no objective way to measure it…. You just had to pass the “eye test.” (Did it look good?)

Now, at the professional level at least, the value placed on those skills has been flipped on its head. Receiving is being objectively measured using StatCast data and advanced Umpire-Strike-Call analysis. Data analytics teams believe that stealing strikes is the number one thing catchers can do to help their team win, so receiving has become the most important catcher skill. Blocking is still number two. And throwing runners out has become less and less relevant because those same data scientists have determined that stealing bases is less helpful to winning than we used to think, and as a result runners are attempting to steal less often.

As the professional game has continued to evolve, and as I grow older and my body continues to change, I’ve recently found another new stance that has helped me “up” my game. The one-knee-down stance. My receiving metrics have improved again. My blocking has gotten even better. And my throwing percentage has stayed about the same.

We could talk about the benefits, detriments, and differing opinions that surround one-knee stances another time… but the point is that if I had never let go of what I thought I knew, I never would have given a chance to something that has made me a better player and extended my career.

My question to you is this: What do you think you know about catching? Is there a chance that there is a better way for you to position your body and be a more effective catcher

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