Why do catcher’s throw to third base?

In baseball, the catcher plays a critical defensive role in controlling the running game and preventing stolen bases. When a runner attempts to steal a base, the catcher must quickly react and make an accurate throw to the base the runner is trying to reach. One of the most common plays is the catcher throwing down to third base to try to catch a runner attempting to steal third.

The Importance of Controlling the Running Game

The ability to control the running game is hugely important in baseball. If the opposing team is able to run wild on the bases, stealing bases at will, it can be devastating to a team’s chances of winning. Stolen bases put runners in scoring position and make it much easier for the batting team to drive in runs. Additionally, the constant threat of a steal can be distracting to the pitcher and disrupt their rhythm on the mound.

For these reasons, the catcher is charged with limiting the opposing team’s running game as much as possible. If a catcher has a strong and accurate arm, it will deter runners from attempting steals in the first place. When runners do attempt steals, the catcher must be quick to react and deliver a strong, on-target throw to the base to nab the runner. Controlling the running game starts with the catcher.

Why Throw Down to Third Base?

Of the bases runners typically try to steal, third base tends to be the most common target. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Stealing third base represents the biggest marginal gain for the batting team. A runner on second can already score on a single. But a runner on third can score on an out, expanding run-scoring opportunities.
  • The distance from home plate to third base is the longest of any base, giving the catcher more time to deliver the ball on a steal attempt.
  • Runners often get a bigger lead off second base given the shorter throw distance for the catcher. This bigger lead makes it easier to steal third.
  • With first base open, the defense must still protect against the runner breaking for second. So the first baseman can’t always cover the bag at third on a steal attempt.

Due to these factors, the catcher must be especially vigilant about plays at third base. Catchers work extensively on making strong, accurate throws to third during training in order to control the running game by shutting down steal attempts of third base.

Making the Throw to Third Base

When a catcher recognizes that a runner is going to attempt to steal third base, either through careful observation or being tipped off by the pitcher, they must execute the throw perfectly to have a chance at catching the runner. This requires following several key steps:

  1. Quickly moving into throwing position and establishing a firm stance.
  2. Receiving the pitch cleanly in the glove.
  3. Pulling the ball out of the glove and gripping it in the throwing hand in one smooth motion.
  4. Taking a short stride toward third base as part of the throwing motion.
  5. Transferring body weight and generating power from the legs to make a strong throw.
  6. Releasing the ball at the optimal point to send an accurate throw right to the third baseman’s glove.
  7. Following through fully after the release for maximum velocity.

Catchers spend countless hours practicing every part of this throwing sequence to ingrain it and make sure they can execute it instantly when attempting to throw out stealers. The mechanics must become second-nature through repetition.

Factors Influencing the Throw

There are several important factors a catcher must consider when throwing down to third base in order to maximize their chances of catching the runner:

  • Pitch location – It’s easier to throw from a crouched position when the pitch is outside versus inside. Catchers want pitchers to hit their glove side on steal attempts.
  • Pitch type – Fastballs are the easiest pitch to catch and throw on. Breaking balls can pull the catcher’s glove away from their throwing hand.
  • Outs – With two outs, the catcher can throw through the base more aggressively, as a miss just means the runner scores. With fewer than two outs, the catcher may need to hold the ball to prevent extra bases on an overthrow.
  • Runner’s speed – Faster runners require a quicker release and more velocity to have a chance at catching them.
  • Game situation – The score of the game can dictate the catcher’s aggressiveness in throwing to bases.

The catcher must weigh all these factors, in combination with the runner’s lead distance, in an instant when deciding whether to throw to third.

Improving the Technique

There are several key techniques catchers can focus on in training to improve their throws to third base:

  • Quick transfer – Working on smoothly transferring the ball from glove to hand results in a faster release and shorter pop time.
  • Short-hop throws – Throwing hard in the dirt in front of the base forces the fielder to shorten the tag time.
  • Pick-off moves – Varying looks and quick throws back to bases keep runners guessing and on their toes.
  • Fielding bunts – Bunts rapidly get the catcher into the throwing position to practice quick reactions.
  • Simulated steal attempts – Having coaches run on the catcher creates more game-like throwing opportunities.

With extensive repetition of these drills and continual refinement of technique, catchers can maximize their ability to shut down the running game by turning and burning throws to third base.

Importance of the Third Baseman

While the catcher bears the responsibility of making an accurate throw to third base, the job isn’t done until the third baseman catches the ball and swiftly applies the tag. The third baseman’s role is critical as well on steal attempts of third base. Key responsibilities include:

  • Properly positioning themselves based on the game situation and runner.
  • Reading the catcher’s throw immediately off the bat.
  • Judging whether to catch the ball in the air or on the bounce.
  • Making the catch cleanly while being aware of the incoming runner.
  • Swiftly sweeping the tag across the runner’s body.
  • Avoiding interference with the runner while attempting to catch errant throws.

The third baseman must be athletic, have soft hands, and possess excellent reflexes in order to convert the catcher’s throw into the out. They must also study the opposing runners and their leads and slides. Constant communication with the catcher is vital so they work in sync on steal attempts.

Drills For the Third Baseman

Third basemen can improve their part of the steal defense equation by focusing on key drills:

  • Taking throws from the catcher from multiple angles and speeds.
  • Working on backhand and forehand tag techniques for swipe tags.
  • Practicing picking short hops by having grounders thrown rapidly in succession.
  • Tagging the outside of a base when a catcher throws across the diamond on a steal.
  • Studying video and spray charts to get to know runners’ tendencies.

With hard work on these skills, third basemen give themselves the best opportunity to complete the caught stealing when the catcher’s throw heads their way.

Impact on Stolen Base Percentage

The success rate of steal attempts is directly determined by how well the catcher and third baseman perform their respective duties. Here is a table showing how stolen base percentage can vary greatly based on catcher pop time and third baseman reaction time:

Catcher Pop Time Third Baseman Reaction Time Stolen Base Percentage
2.1 seconds 0.85 seconds 15%
2.0 seconds 0.80 seconds 30%
1.9 seconds 0.75 seconds 45%
1.8 seconds 0.70 seconds 60%
1.7 seconds 0.65 seconds 75%

This table demonstrates that every fraction of a second is critically important. As the catcher’s pop time and third baseman’s reaction time decrease, the percentage of successful steals climbs dramatically. By focusing on shaving time off their parts of the play, the catcher and third baseman can join forces to thwart opposing running games.

Famous Examples

Some of the most memorable plays in baseball history have involved the catcher throwing out a runner trying to steal third base in a big moment. Here are a few famous examples:

  • Sandy Alomar Jr. throws out Harold Reynolds in the 1995 ALDS – With a one-run lead in the eighth inning, Alomar gunned down speedy Harold Reynolds on a close play that was upheld after an instant replay review.
  • Yadier Molina fires to nab Brandon Phillips in Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS – Phillips had tried to catch Molina napping with an early steal attempt, but Molina unleashed a perfect throw to erase Phillips and deflate a potential Reds rally.
  • Jorge Posada nabs Shane Victorino to preserve Clemens’ 300th win – Victorino broke for third with two outs in the seventh, but Posada spoiled the gamble with a throw that beat Victorino by several steps.

These plays and countless others illustrate how throwing out runners at third base in key high-leverage situations can turn the tide of a game. The catcher-third baseman duo combining to stop a critical steal attempt can save their team a run and even a win.


In summary, the catcher throwing down to third base is an integral defensive play in baseball aimed at controlling the running game by stopping stolen base attempts. Catchers work extensively on making accurate throws to third, where the third baseman must be properly positioned and prepared to quickly receive the ball and apply the tag. While the catcher bears primary responsibility for throwing out runners, the third baseman is equally important as the last line of defense. Mastering the nuances of catching runners stealing and picking up tells of when a steal of third base is coming are developed through dedicated practice and experience. When a catcher and third baseman work seamlessly together, the results can be spectacular plays where runners are caught stealing to save critical runs in tight games.

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