If you watched the Chicago Cubs vs. LA Dodgers game last night, you most likely saw the close play at the plate in which Adrian Gonzalez was called out both at the time of the play and after the umpire review. Although this was a close and exciting play, there is a key takeaway catchers can get from watching this. “What is that,” you ask? Go for the plate, not the runner.
In situations like this, where the catcher has to adjust to a throw a bit off the plate and then dive back to get an also diving runner, the catcher needs to go directly to the plate.
See full replay here.
Of course this is easier said than done. During a play at the plate, all you are thinking “is make the tag.” You see the runner. You go at the runner. Last night, Contreras was just trying to make sure that he could get a good tag on Gonzalez without missing him before he scored. However, if Contreras would have dove to the plate aiming to block Gonzalez’s hand from touching it, it would have been a little less controversial of a play.
Think of it as what infielders do on tag plays, the glove blocks the bag from the slide. The plate is a little harder because it is even with the ground, but as you can see from the picture above the tag is up on Gonzalez, where ideally, Contreras should have went straight down for the plate to use his glove to block Gonzalez from touching it.
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Wrapping up, catchers need to always think to go to the plate, and coaches should stress that. Think about it, if the runner can’t touch the plate the catcher wins. That’s the game. The runners only objective is to advance, and score, by touching the plate. Therefore, the catcher’s instinct should always be to protect the plate, not tag the runner. The runner is coming to the plate. He’s coming right for you, so there is no need to go to him. Just protect and block the plate and that will result in a tag. That’s the defense of it. Remember, don’t let anyone touch your plate!
P.S. I’d love to hear comments from catchers and coaches about your approach on these plays. I know there are coaches out there that teach a different method on this exact play where the catcher moves to get a throw up the first base line. I didn't mention it here, but I would be willing to discuss it if you’d like. Leave your comments below.