Chances are that if you follow catching, you’ve probably seen this gif on the Internet before. It’s from Game 3 of the 2015 NLCS in Chicago when Chris Denforia strikes out looking in the bottom of the 8th.
The pitcher: Tyler Clippard.
The catcher: Travis d’Arnaud
Let’s take a look and see what’s going on…
After watching this clip a few hundred times (literally) I’m halfway convinced that Travid d’Arnaud could have his own magic show in Las Vegas. He does THAT good of a job manipulating the ball here.
If you’ve followed me for any amount of time you’ll know that I’m not a huge fan of manipulating the baseball after it hits the catcher’s mitt. There are a number of reasons why, but I’d say the #1 reason is that most guys are bad at it. Like, really bad.
Travid d’Arnaud is not in that group…
I feel pretty confident saying that he’s mastered the ‘Thumb Roll Technique’ that is described by Jerry Weinstein in his 2015 CatcherCON presentation: Advanced Receiving Techniques.
I think one interesting thing to note is that, according to the lasers, the pitch does clip the bottom of the strike zone.
There is no way of knowing if the umpire would have called the pitch a strike anyway, but it does appear to be a strike even without the impressive technique by the Mets’ catcher.
The sinking fastball seems to be one of the pitches that amateur catchers most frequently have trouble with. Catchers who have weaker hands will allow the pitch to drag their mitt out of the strike zone after contact which makes the pitch appear to be lower than it actually was and usually being called a “ball.”
So, had he just stuck this pitch he may, or may not, have gotten the strike call, but he made it an easy decision for the umpire by perfectly presenting the pitch to him.
However, the biggest take away for me comes when you watch this video from the side:
If you’ll notice, d’Arnaud starts his Thumb Roll slightly before the ball hits his mitt. Go ahead and watch the video a few more times and take note of when his forearm and elbow start to rotate into the Thumb Roll…
This is PERFECT timing!
Mastering the timing of this is extremely difficult, but it’s the difference between an MLB catcher catching a borderline pitch for a called third strike and a Little Leaguer looking like he’s yanking a ball back to the middle of the strike zone.
What d’Arnaud doesn’t do is catch the ball and THEN start his Thumb Roll. That would make it much more noticeable and obvious. By starting his Thumb Roll while the pitch is still in flight he’s able to have a smoother transition into his final presentation.
Timing your Thumb Roll on a 91mph fastball like the one shown definitely takes some practice, but as you can see Travis d’Arnaud does it perfectly here…and that’s why it’s the most famous frame of all time!
I’d love to hear what you think about this technique so leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!