University of Pittsburgh catcher Kevan Smith estimates that more than 50 percent of big-league catchers—including Twins superstar Joe Mauer—use knee savers, which sell for roughly $24. Softball catchers use them, too.
“I’ve caught four or five doubleheaders this year,” said Smith, who swears by the product. “It feels like I’m sitting on pillows.”
Smith wore them in high school, but gave up baseball in college to play football. When that career did not work out, he switched back to baseball and found that then-Pitt catcher Cory Brownsten didn’t use knee savers.
It was seen as a badge of courage to not wear them. But after Brownsten injured his knee this year as a rookie in the Braves’ organization, he is now a believer in the product.
Meanwhile, Smith “tweaked” his knee to start this season and has now returned to the equipment he wore in high school.
“I will definitely keep knee savers in my arsenal for the rest of my career,” Smith said. “It helps me catch longer and more efficiently.”
But not everyone is convinced the device belongs on the field.
Some coaches do not allow their catchers to use knee savers because they say the gear does not allow them to squat all the way down as needed to block pitches in the dirt. They also say the gear makes catchers lazy and advises that they instead build up leg and knee strength.
Smith admits knee savers hinder slightly his range of motion and that he needed a few games to adjust to using them again. But the pluses, Smith said, far outweigh the minuses and help make a hard position a little less difficult.
What makes catching so taxing?
Try squatting for nine innings while wearing all that equipment, usually in hot weather. Then add the foul tips that mash your fingers and the collisions that smash your body.
It’s no wonder only 16 of the 289 members of Baseball’s Hall of Fame are catchers.
You simply get too beat up at the position to consistently put up big offensive numbers. Even catchers who enter the majors with speed don’t exit that way because of all the wear and tear. “Leg hits” that other players get are rare for catchers.
Knee savers won’t change how the position is viewed, but it just might make catchers more durable and well-rounded.
Kevin Villa, a former catcher for Division II Florida Tech, used knee savers throughout his career and never had an injury. He also caught bullpen sessions without the device and felt a tremendous difference.
“When I didn’t wear knee savers, I felt a lot more stress on my legs,” he said. “I’d have to get up every few pitches and stretch out. It was very tiring.
“But with knee savers, I could sit back there very comfortably without a problem.”