Many of you know Russell Martin to be one of the best young catcher’s in baseball. He constantly gets praised for his defensive abilities and his arm behind the plate but I have another opinion. He is LAZY!!!!
He receives well and he has a quality arm but there is another aspect of his defensive ability that is SEVERELY lacking and it’s something that can EASILY be changed if he put the time in to work on it. This aspect of catching also plays a HUGE role in your pitchers success, as well as whether or not your pitchers want to throw to you. I am talking about his blocking ability.
As a catching instructor one of the most important aspects of catching I teach to my students is the ability to block a ball in the dirt. The first thing I give them, is an understanding of is HOW to block a ball in the dirt. I teach them how to lead with the glove and gain ground to cut the distance on the hop. I teach them how to be soft while attacking the ball to deaden it in front of the plate. Most importantly I teach them how to block the ball back into the plate because most of the balls they will be blocking are offspeed pitches and predominantly curveball/sliders. Due to the rotation of the ball, when a pitcher throws a curveball or slider, after hitting the ground the ball will bounce back to the arm side of the pitcher. This is not negotiable, it is a fact. Due to the ball bouncing on an angle back toward the arm side of the pitcher, not only must the catcher slide to the ball, he must adjust his body by angling his hips and shoulders towards the plate. Due to all pitcher’s having different degrees of breaking stuff, the catcher must get to know his pitcher so he has an idea of how much “kick” the ball will have. Knowing how much “kick” the ball will have, helps the catcher to know how much to angle his body. If the catcher just shifts and does not angle his body, the ball will bounce off of his chest projector and kick off to the side and the harder the spin, the farther the ball will go.
Earlier this year I was watching a game in which the Dodgers were playing the Cincinnati Reds and I believe it was the 6th inning of a 1 run ball game with a runner on 3rd. Clayton Kershaw was on the mound and it was a two strike count to the hitter. He threw a curveball in the dirt which Martin shifted for, but did not angle his body properly, resulting in the ball going in the dugout and the run scoring. Now Kershaw has an absolute HAMMER!!!! After catching him all season and in spring training Martin should know the break, ANTICIPATE the ball in the dirt every time and get his body angled properly to block it. To make matters worse, 2 days later against the Reds in the 6th or 7th inning of a tie game with a runner on 3rd and 2 outs with Billingsley on the bump, HE DID IT AGAIN. Billingsley threw a curveball in the dirt and Martin failed to block it properly by not angling his body AGAIN, resulting in the ball going into the other dugout and the run scoring. Billingsley is another guy with an absolute HAMMER and again, Martin had caught him more than enough times to get to know the break.
The reason this is so important is that as a catcher, if your pitchers don’t have confidence in fact that in the bottom of the 9th in a tie game with a runner on 3rd and a 2-2 count with Albert Pujols at the dish in game 7 of the NLCS that their catcher will block the ball, the pitcher will be AFRAID to throw the ball in the dirt. This lack of confidence will result in a hanger and we all know what happens to those, YAHTZEE!!!!!!!
The bottom line is that players should always be striving to get better and if you have the opportunity to be a catcher in the Major Leagues, PUT IN THE TIME TO MAKE YOURSELF THE BEST YOU CAN BE. Martin has been in the league for a few years now and there is just no excuse for his inability to block balls in the dirt. I literally have 14 year old catchers who do a better job than Martin at this aspect of catching and it’s a shame to see a guy with that much potential, not put in the time to make himself better. Maybe Matt Kemp is rubbing off on him too much, but I’ll get into my issues with Matt Kemp in another article. Until Martin learns how to block balls in the dirt properly, he will be hurting his pitching staff tremendously. With the Dodgers having such a talented team we will most likely see them in the playoffs, or at least playing in important games for the next few years. Let’s see if he makes an adjustment, or he ends up costing his team an important game because of his laziness!!!!