Catching is a difficult position, it is both physically and mentally demanding. While pop time is just one factor that makes a good catcher, it is the one statistic that receives all the attention when it comes to evaluating catchers.
A good pop time for high-level college and professional catchers is under 2.0 seconds when throwing to second base. Pop time is measured by recording the time elapsed from the pitch hitting the catcher’s glove to the moment the catcher’s throw is received by the infielder at the center of a base.
Pop time is important because a good pop time will give a pitcher and catcher an opportunity to stop the running game of an opponent. That is why college and professional scouts are always interested in catchers with fast pop times. In this article, we will explore pop times compared across different levels, as well as other factors scouts look for in a catcher beyond pop time.
Pop Time by Level
An important disclosure when discussing pop time is that there are a few variables we must consider when evaluating pop time. For example, in-game pop time versus pop time in practice or a drill-type setting. In-game pop times are generally slower than in practice. This is because of several factors. In practice, catchers tend to anticipate a throw and therefore set their feet and body accordingly. In a game, a catcher has to worry about the pitch location, type of pitch, and if the batter is swinging or not. Handling a slider down to the glove side is going to decrease a catcher’s pop time significantly compared to a fastball right down the middle. Evaluating in-game pop time over several attempts is going to provide the most reliable data to determine a catcher’s ability.
Let’s start by looking at the top MLB average in-game pop times of 2021 provided by Baseball Savant.
|Catcher||Avg Pop Time 2B (Sec)|
The average in-game MLB pop times ranged from 1.83 to 2.12 seconds during the 2021 season. This statistic goes to show that a good catcher is not defined by their pop time only. A pop time of 2.12 would not be considered elite at the college or even high school level, but it’s still possible to be a world-class catcher without a sub-2 second pop time. The reason for emphasizing this point is because the data from most showcases and college camps are going to show dozens, if not more, catchers with sub-2 second pop times, and some even sub-1.8 seconds. Does this mean they are better than the average MLB catcher? Absolutely not.
With that said, pop time is one of the first things a scout will measure when evaluating a catcher, and relative to the competition, it is a great way for a catcher to stand out. Most showcases and college camps will simulate a base stealing situation by having catchers receive and throw down to second base. Sometimes the pitch is made by a coach from close range, sometimes it is from a pitching machine, and sometimes even from a live pitcher. Most likely, the players at the showcase will be evaluated under the same conditions, so this is where the player can stand out from the competition.
As a general guideline, the range of in-game pop times by level are evaluated as follows:
- Above Average: 1.80 – 1.96 seconds
- Average: 1.97 – 2.02 seconds
- Below Average: 2.03 – 2.12 seconds
- Above Average: 1.87 – 1.99 seconds
- Average: 2.00 – 2.10 seconds
- Below Average: 2.11 – 2.25 seconds
- Above Average: 1.90 – 2.02 seconds
- Average: 2.03 – 2.15 seconds
- Below Average: 2.16 – 2.40 seconds
Comparison of simulated pop times (e.g. a coach pitching, pitching machine, etc.) is more difficult to set averages since conditions can vary and impact pop times significantly. As a starting point, in a practice scenario, catches may see a reduced pop time of around .1 seconds compared to a live game.
Pop Time is Only One Piece of the Puzzle
Many prospects are interested to know the pop time needed to play D1, D2, D3, and JUCO baseball. While this may seem like a straightforward question, the answer is not. Pop time is no doubt very important, but a catcher is going to be evaluated on many factors by scouts at different levels.
For example, a catcher may have a pop time of 1.9 seconds but has poor receiving skills, isn’t a good hitter, and is a slow runner Another catcher for instance may have a 2.2 second pop time, but is a strong receiver and excellent hitter. The second player will be a more attractive prospect as they are overall a more well-rounded player. We published an article discussing the 5 tools scouts look for when evaluating players to determine if they are well-rounded.
Showcases and college camps usually require a player to stand out somehow to catch the attention of a scout. This doesn’t mean the best players are the ones who do this, but as a catching prospect, the quickest way to stand out is a fast pop-time. This may attract the attention of scouts who will then keep an eye on that prospect to evaluate the other parts of their game.
Become a Well-Rounded Catcher
As mentioned earlier, pop time is a small factor in the overall abilities of a catcher. Receiving, blocking, pitch calling, and leadership are just as important skills for a catcher with the desire to play at the next level. Pop time is just the easiest to measure, and that’s the reason it is often the focus when evaluating catchers.
Spending the time and effort to develop every skill of catching will ultimately serve a player better when it comes to success on the field and opportunities to play in college. It is easy to become overly focused on the skills that can be measured, and revolve our training around these, but that is not in any player’s best interest. While a player may catch the attention of a scout with a great pop-time, the scout will quickly move on if they don’t see any of the other skills required to be a college catcher.