A throw down occurs when a catcher throws the ball from home plate to second base (or occasionally first or third base). The intention is to catch a baserunner who is either attempting to steal a base or who has strayed from the bag during a pitch.
The throw down is often used when a base runner has been caught off the bag during a pitch, having strayed too far from their position. In this case, the catcher may step in front of home plate and quickly throw the ball to a base fielder to tag out the unsuspecting player before they can get back to second or third base. The key element of the play is that the catcher usually takes a few steps towards the runner before throwing down, in order to surprise them and make catching the ball an easier task on the other end.
Technically, a throw down can happen at first base, second, or third.
You’re Out! Or … Crime Doesn’t Pay
A throw down is also sometimes used when runners are attempting to steal bases during pitches. In this case, the catcher may step out of their crouch position and quickly throw down to second or third base.
Which Catchers Threw Out the Most Runners?
In Major League Baseball, the catcher with the most caught-stealings in one season was Ivan Rodriguez who threw out 48 runners in 1999. The player with the next highest total is Charles Johnson at 45 in 1991.
The Effect of a Throw Down on Run Production
Since many teams have more than one runner on base when there’s an opportunity to steal, the runner on third base is often a difficult out. One way for teams to improve their chances of success with this type of situation is by using a “steal play,” in which they surprise the catcher with an unexpected throw down. Of course, losing a runner compounds the run-dampening effects of simple out.