Guest Blog – Catching: Partly Physical, but Mostly Mental
This is a guest blog entry - blog.baseballrampage.com Admin.
Have you ever wondered why some teams keep week-hitting catchers in the lineup and yet these teams seem to win the majority of their games. The answer is not found in batting statistics nor in throwing out base runners nor in preventing wild pitches and passed balls. The answer is in the way these “good” catchers develop and use game strategy and tactics.
Preparing for a game begins long before the first batter stands in the box. It begins by studying what your opponent has done in the past. A catcher should review the scorebook of what each opponent player did against his team. Because teams within a league play each other several times, the best intelligence is the past. The good catchers keep book on every player in the league. Collecting and filing this information is vitally important. Recalling it is a must. It’s the difference between winning and losing. Start by using a small 3″x5″ spiral notebook, even one with a little loop to hold a stubby pencil. Divide the notebook into as many teams as there are in your league plus one extra for general information; a small tab can separate each team. Keep this notebook tucked within your chest protector or your back pocket when you’re playing your position. Refer to it between batters if necessary, but work hard to recall the details without having to “thumb through your guide.” Bench time, when the other team is out on the field, is great for reviewing the upcoming batters information.
Calling a Game
Some catchers are allowed to do this while others await the coaches signals. Calling your own game begins with understanding the batters and the game situation tactics. Calling your own game requires you to pay attention to details. Keep notes on hitters, runners, pitchers, as well as opposing team tendencies. Before attempting to call your own game, pay attention to how your pitching coach calls pitches during other games. Why is he calling for certain pitches in certain counts? What is he trying to accomplish? What is the game situation? If you don’t understand something, ask the coach after the inning why he is calling that pitch in that situation. Once, you understand the reasoning for calling certain pitches; incorporate this knowledge into your Catcher’s Notebook.
After your defensive half-inning is over enter data on each player that just came to bat. What stance did each use. What was the position of his hands or what were his warm-up swings like. Did he chase certain “bad” pitches or ignore others? Did he get fooled by certain set-up pitches? Was he bothered by base runners seemingly about to steal? Has he changed anything since the last time you met or when runners are on or off base? All of these things should be noted in the Catcher’s Notebook.
A batter with an open stance will probably be strong on inside pitches (his hips are already pointing toward the pitch and he will tend to be weaker on outside pitches). From a closed stance, the batter will probably hit the ball well into right field because he hits the outside pitch well. So, the pitcher should throw inside to him so he can jam him with good fastballs. A batter with a straightaway stance is capable of hitting to all fields. So, you should pitch to him low and favor the inside of the strike zone until you know more about him.
Besides the stance there are many other mannerisms used by the batter that might reveal his weaknesses. The position of his hands will often expose his weaknesses and his strengths. For example, if he holds his hands high with the bat in a perpendicular position, the batter seems to be indicating that he prefers low pitches. One who holds the bat in a horizontal position shows that he favors high pitches. If he holds his hands tight against the knob he probably is trying to reach out for those outside pitches, usually down low, that he can punch into right-center over the second baseman. Verify these tendencies by noting what he did on a pitch.
Warm-up swings can tell a lot. A level swing may indicate that the batter’s best zone is the one that he is practicing. Practice swings in the high part of the strike zone show a preference for high pitches while swings in the low strike zone may reveal low pitch preferences. But, observations during each pitch will reveal more pertinent information that these general warm-up swing tendencies.
Going after out of the strike zone or bad pitches, especially those that the batter misses or hardly makes contact with, are one of the most important notes that a catcher can keep. This little fact can turn a bad Catcher’s Notebook pitch into a strikeout pitch if the batter has been setup right. If, on the other hand, the batter simply ignores a certain pitch out of the strike zone (i.e. a low outside fastball near the plate) then it probably can’t be used for a strikeout pitch down the road. Knowing what doesn’t work is just as important in knowing what works for each batter to your advantage.
Knowing Your Pitchers
Working with every pitcher on your team, over and over during practice and in games, will let the catcher learn all of their strengths and weaknesses. All game strategies must be based on the pitcher’s abilities and strengths. The one cardinal rule for catchers game calling is that pitcher’s strengths must be exploited rather than a batter’s weaknesses. It does no good to know that a specific batter will chase an outside sinker ball for a strikeout if the pitcher can’t throw one or is not in good enough control that day.
If the catcher is faced with a crucial situation he must rely on the pitcher’s strength, even if it means putting this strength against the batter’s strength. If your hurler’s best pitch is a low fastball and one that he has the most confidence with, then go with the fastball even if that’s the batter’s best pitch to hit. If the pitcher’s best pitch fails, then know that the battery put forth their best effort.
When the pitcher and catcher disagree on what to throw and where, then the catcher should go with the pitcher’s desires. After all, the pitcher has to have confidence that what he wants to throw will succeed. If the pitcher agrees to the catcher’s call but doesn’t feel good about it because he doesn’t want to irritate the catcher, then the two should have a mound conference to discuss why each feels the way that they do. Confidence in getting the job done is key to success. Usually good catchers have their notebook that reveals all of the little facts that works to the pitcher’s advantage. Sometimes the pitchers forget or never learned what tendencies or preferences that certain batters have. But, the Catcher’s Notebook will quite often convince the pitcher that he can be confident in what the catcher called and what the pitcher can throw in these situations. The “notebook” becomes the key in crucial situations more often than not.
Know the pitcher and his capabilities. What are his strengths and weaknesses? What is his best pitch? Is he having trouble throwing a certain pitch for a strike? Is he locating his pitches? Has he faced this team or these hitters before? How did he do and what did he do to get each hitter out? Does he get more ground ball outs than fly outs? How fast is your pitcher to the plate with runners on base? Does he hold the runners well? Does he have an out pitch and is it on today? How does he field his position? All of these things should be a part of the Catcher’s Notebook.
Physical or Mental Notebook
In time the Catcher’s Notebook is something that is referred to only in pre-game discussions between the catcher and the pitcher. The good catchers develop their memory recall and it becomes one of their invaluable assets. Later in their progression from Little League through High School through College and into the Professional Leagues, backstops file the Catcher’s Notebook entries entirely in their heads and there is no need to keep an actual little spiral-bound book.
So, now that you have purchased your mask, chest protector, shin guards and mitt from Baseball Rampage and you have practiced, through extensive drills, all of skills required of the job and you have conditioned yourself to the rigors of the position, it’s time to go out and buy that little notebook and stubby pencil. Having done that you’re ready to start the long journey of becoming a “good catcher.”
Encyclopedia of Baseball Catchers