In MLB, left-handed pitchers are an asset. When they step up on the mount, batters both left and right have difficulties, unable to get a grip on the twists and curves of a left-hand pitch. While pitchers are an asset, there is one place where lefties are typically void, and that’s as a catcher.
Why are there no left handed catchers in baseball? We’ll explore the reason and take a look at the dynamics of a left-handed catcher, seeing just what it is that makes them less desirable on the roster.
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Do Catchers Catch With Their Dominant Hand?
For the most part, catchers will catch with their opposite hand, freeing up their dominant hand to throw. That means that in the case of lefties, they typically catch with their right hand and throw with their left hand. And while left-handed catchers are few, they do need left-handed baseball gloves for catching with their right hands.
That’s not always the case, as some catchers are able to switch it up and use either hand. These ambidextrous catchers are valuable, though they’re encouraged to use their right hand to throw for several reasons.
It’s said that left-handed players have a better grasp on both distance and space, which is critical in baseball. However, it’s their angles and position of their bodies from left handed throwing that makes them less of an asset.
That’s why they are more prominently pitchers, taking advantage of the fact that many batters have never faced a left-handed pitcher. They can throw different angles, curve the ball opposite to right-handed pitchers, and do so without having to put as much emphasis on speed.
Are there any left handed throwing catchers in MLB? The answer is yes, and no, and we’ll tell you why coming up.
Are There Any Left Handed Catchers in MLB?
MLB saw its first left-throwing catcher back in 1871, Fergy Malone. He pitched 27 games in total, giving him a hot reputation and a unique one given his dominant hand.
In 1901, John Augustus (aka Jiggs) played for both the Brewers and the Browns, known as their all-star catcher. Though there wasn’t much to complain about, coaches eventually moved him to first base after realizing his potential there.
In 1980, Mike Squires was another left-throwing catcher and in 1989, Benny Distefano stepped up to the plate, only to catch for three games for the Pirates.
Fast forward to today, and the league has zero lefty-throwing catchers. There are some reasons why lefties behind the plate are cause for concern, most of which deal with their angles and their ability to throw to all bases around the field. Before we get to that, let’s take a look at the most famous left handed major league catchers.
Famous Left Handed Catchers
Left-handed pitchers are valuable in baseball, though they make up a very small majority of the roster. Left-handed batters make up less and left-handed catchers are few and far between. Throughout MLB history, here are the left-handed catchers that broke records and made history.
In the MLB, Jiggs is known as one of the first left-handed catchers, even though there were a few others before him. He was known for his batting average of .255 and his RBI of 327, though he also caused a stir when he made an appearance as a catcher.
In his career, he appeared as a catcher for a total of 45 games, throwing left-handed each and every time.
Dale Long played with top teams like the Pirates, the New York Yankees, and the Browns starting back in 1951. Over the years, his left-handedness earned him a solid reputation, helping him score a long-running home run streak and unbeatable stats on the field.
He didn’t play as a catcher much, though when he did he would throw left-handed, something the league hadn’t seen since Jiggs.
Billy Harbridge was another left-handed throwing catcher. Throughout his career, he pitched and also took a few swings of the bat. He caught for a total of 9 seasons for a total of 159 innings. His RBI is 114 and his batting average was .247.
Mike Squires was a huge asset to the Chicago White Sox, giving them a lefty that they could move around the field. He was well known for his pitching, though he did slide in a few rounds as catcher throwing with his left hand.
Benny Distefano is a name you’ve likely heard, making a name for himself as a first baseman, pinch hitter, and left-handed throwing catcher. He is considered one of the most famous left-handed catchers and, to date, has been the very last of his kind.
Since Distefano’s last game in 1992, there hasn’t been another left-throwing catcher.
Why Can’t Catchers Be Left Handed?
There is a lot of thinking, planning, and strategy that goes into choosing players on a baseball team. A lot of times, coaches will look at several factors, including which hand is their dominant. Lefties are great for pitching, giving batters difficulty when it comes to hitting off of them.
Catchers, on the other hand, are not highly sought after and are mostly avoided at all costs. What is it about left hands that makes them so undesirable for catchers?
For starters, the positions are all wrong. When a catcher gets a ball coming their way and has a running coming in on third base, they have to switch hands, turn their body, and throw, all with an immense amount of speed. Not that it’s impossible, it’s just a lot more to handle than a right-handed catcher.
It’s not just third base but all bases that are a bit more complicated for left-handed throwers. When they get out on the field and are trying to keep an eye out for all bases, they have to switch sides and throw the ball with little to no lag time, something that the angles prevent them from.
That’s not to say that lefties are inferior when it comes to catching the ball. They are, in a lot of cases, strong players both infield and out, which is part of the reason why they’re used elsewhere. For instance, coaches see lefties as an asset, especially when they can throw.
Instead of adding them to the roster as a catcher, they will add them as a pitcher, saving their arm for when it’s needed to go up against top batters on the opposing team.
Lastly, there are no left-handed catchers for another important reason, the stats. In MLB, there are not many left-handed players and most lefties are pitchers as they’re considered valuable in that position. It’s not that they are avoided at all costs, it’s just that there is a much smaller number of those who are left-handed than right-handed.
Why There Should Be Exceptions to the Rule
Not everything in life is black and white, especially when it comes to sports. There are exceptions to the rule, and good reasons why it’s better to not look at things so one-sided. Left-handed baseball players have a lot of advantages when it comes to throwing.
Not only do they throw at different angles, but they also use a different hemisphere of the brain. It’s understood that those who are left-handed tend to have a better means of analyzing special distances and hitting targets.
The thing about left-handed catchers is that they can switch roles, going from the pitching mound to the home plate to bat, and even out in the field. Their diversity is something that’s recognized by coaches, which is why they don’t usually place them as a catcher.
Coaches prefer to have left-handed players (especially those with an arm) in roles where they are more unique. Left-handed pitchers are few and far between and can usually throw off many of their opponents due to lack of practice.
It’s a common belief that left-handed catchers have limitations when it comes to throwing to bases, though that’s not always true. Some lefties are great at catching, throwing, and keeping an eye on bases. Though they are not bad at catching, they are just better elsewhere, which is why coaches look for when it comes to being effective.
There’s More Than Meets the Eye
Left-handed players in the MLB are a minority. Though many of them make it to the pitching mound, there are a few sprinkled across the field. Some make it to the infield while others make it far out, which is why it’s critical to not be too selective when it comes to thinking about why there are no left-handed catchers in baseball.
When MLB teams score a left-handed player, they do what they can to condition them to be their best, which is mostly on the pitcher’s mound. They want them to keep their arm rested and ready to go, switching them in where there is a powerful batter on deck. A left-handed batter vs a right-handed pitcher is especially less threatening.
Lefties are a powerful tool that each MLB team should have for a select few left handed baseball positions, though where they put them depends on their individual talents, the needs of the team, and the weaknesses of their opponents.