Catchers: A View from the Mound

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    Catchers: A View from the Mound

    Some pitchers wouldn't know or care whether the object behind the plate is a person or a robot. Some are co-dependent with a particular catcher. Most fall somewhere in the middle. ( When I was the pitching coach at USC, one guy even complained that his troubles on the mound could be traced to our failure to recruit his HS catcher. )
    I once had a catcher whom pitchers would die for. But he couldn't hit a lick, did not have a good throwing arm, and was not a tough guy on plays at the plate. He was a perennial backup, even from his first minute as a pro.
    Here's what he did bring. He set up low and sturdy. For some reason he was able to make his glove seem twice as large as it was. He had such quick easy hands that his framing could steal strike calls. Given a chance to observe during BP or actually behind the plate, he came up with a reliable book on every batter. If they adjusted, he spotted it at once, and he adjusted. Needless to say he called a great game. ( I shook him off once when he wanted a change up, and he let me try to sneak a FB by a lefty power hitter. Our rightfielder later admitted that he kept saying "stay up" as the ball zoomed over his head, over the fence, and halfway across a parking lot. Lesson learned. ) He had the knack of saying the right thing at the right time to each pitcher, before the game, on the field, and between innings. Sometimes what he said had a little mustard on it.
    Here's the topper, IMO. On another thread someone introduced the question of a catcher's knowledge of pitching mechanics. My friend made it his business to learn everything he could about pitching mechanics and grips. He and I talked the subject for hours. 
    As a result, he not only could see that a shoulder was flying open and then tap his as a signal, but he could pick up problems with the stride to the plate, with a lagging or hurried arm, with an elbow in the wrong place during delivery, and so on. Pitchers didn't have to wait for the pitching coach to visit in order to get a correction. They got the word right away from the battery mate.
    This man played only a couple of years of pro ball, got drafted, was sent to Japan, where mostly he played baseball, and became a teacher after the service. One scout, not from my friend's organization, said that HE would have put my friend behind the plate even if he hit only .190 -- which was about it.
    Even with advanced video technology, the catcher's perspective in live time is probably the best from which to view action on the mound. ( Video cameras are not God. They too have a perspective, and, I'm told, even the best optics are liable to distortion, however slight. )
    The best pitching coach for a long time, almost by common consent, is Dave Duncan. He paid attention behind the plate.  Maybe, with this example in mind, it's a little surprising that more catchers are not hired as pitching coaches. 
    I have no first-hand knowledge of how much, say, Berra and Bench knew about pitching mechanics. But I would guess that they knew quite a bit and put it to use one way or the other -- even if only to adjust their pitch-calling when they noticed even the smallest thing. (Ted Williams was once asked the difference between the Sox and Yanks during those years. He did not answer "pitching," as was expected. He said, "That Dago behind the plate." ) 
    I use my friend as an example obviously because I'm familiar up close with the that situation, but also because I think that the case does line up most or all of the variables that bear on the assessment of catching -- and thus for purposes of discussion, should anyone wish to chime in on this topic.
    How much of a difference does catching make? It may not make a critical difference in every case every time or for all pitchers equally. But, IMO, it can and often does make a big difference, even if that difference cannot be indisputably quantified. 

     
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    Man, I luv reading stuff like this. Thanks for sharing it. Too much data and not enough personal input has been covered on this subject. I always felt it comes down to attention to detail. That's what made Teddy the great hitter he was. That's what made your buddy excel in that one area.

    Kevin Cash comes to mind as one not blessed with good physical catching tools, and he certainly was pathetic with the bat, but he always got the most from his pitchers (except Wake).

    I often use this as an example. Jim French, who played for the old Senators, was a short, pudgy catcher who couldn't hit much at all. But pitchers raved about him.
    He combined with a pitcher named Hannah, I believe, to go 10-2 over a couple of years. No small task given that putrid team. And get this: The two losses were 1-0 and 2-1.

    Anybody who thinks catchers have nothing to do with pitching never toed the rubber.
     
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    Great post, ex pitch; I had to do a double take when I saw it wasn't culled from an article, and it would have been a great article.

     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]How come the Yanks moved Yogi to Outfield as he got older?
    Posted by bobbysu[/QUOTE]

    Carlton Fisk played LF to.
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]Wasn't Gene Tenace MVP for the A's when they beat the Big Red Machine. Dont think Duncan played 1 game. Tenace handled that young Pitching staff OK.
    Posted by bobbysu[/QUOTE]

    He played one game.  During the regular season, he was brought in a lot in the late innings.  Tenace was not so good defensively. 

    In the worlds series, it seemed like he hit a HR every other at bat.  I'm guessing that is why Duncan didn't make it in to more games.
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : Thank you, if you cant hit your not going to play in the Majors. One thing I found amusing, the Pitcher is making his delivery, and the Catcher is studying his mechanics? Maybe I read that wrong. Late innings, tough job catching Rollie Fingers.
    Posted by bobbysu[/QUOTE]
    I don't think catchers "study" mechanics during a delivery. The studying is done off camera, so to speak, and preps catchers what to look for in action, pitcher by pitcher, if the catcher has taken the time to familiarize himself with the pitcher's motion. A trained eye from the catcher's angle can see the entire delivery before the ball is released. If the catcher knows what's he's seeing, a flaw is not hard to spot.   

     
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    Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound

    Expitch,
    That was a good read...

    I'd say that begining at the youth level...the two single most important traits for a catcher is their ability to "stick pitches" (framing the ball) and blocking balls in the dirt...Both are fundementals that help build trust between the pitcher and the catcher...

    While there are many more tangles and intangables "calling a good game is among them" and making adjustments pitch to pitch is also a key...Give me a catcher that gives my pitcher the confidence to throw any pitch regardless of the count (whether or not there's runners on base) and more times than not the pitchers gonna execute the pitch and if the pitchers sole focus in getting the hitter out vs trying help the catcher catch the ball. More often than not the pitcher is gonna win the small battles and prevent big innings...

     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : I don't think catchers "study" mechanics during a delivery. The studying is done off camera, so to speak, and preps catchers what to look for in action, pitcher by pitcher, if the catcher has taken the time to familiarize himself with the pitcher's motion. A trained eye from the catcher's angle can see the entire delivery before the ball is released. If the catcher knows what's he's seeing, a flaw is not hard to spot.   
    Posted by expitch[/QUOTE]

    When a guy's throwing 90 MPH you don't have a ton of time to break down his mechanics. Most catchers have spent enough time to "know their tendencies" and can coach that in game...
     
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    As a pitcher myself, all I can tell you is that a good catcher can make your average stuff work. You go how's that possible? Well, here's how. This one guy who caught me was an absolute outstanding catcher. He played college ball, but was another of the too slow, not particularly good hitters of many out there. What he did was take this philosophy. If you spot your fastball inside corner, outside corner, he would frame to get the ump to call it a strike. Bottom line, the umpire follows that catcher around the zone. If he is still, like this guy was/is, he will get a call 2 to 3 inches off the plate at times. Then, and this is what cracks me up because it worked--throw absolute junk, bounce a curve, throw a slider and make the hitter fish at 0-2, 1-2. He blocked the plate like no other (my reasoning for being critical of Saltalamachia).

    I was always around the plate, in fact too down the middle at times on my breaking stuff, so it was easier to time and hit. Well, with this guy, I realized AND LEARNED you don't have to be IF YOU HAVE an able catcher behind the dish. He dictated the game, I didn't have to do a thing but pitch. In fact, I didn't even shake him off once and tossed a complete-game 5-hitter against a very good hitting team. My control that day was terrible too. I missed on fastballs, and I really struggled to throw the curve for strikes, but because we worked in, out, and around so to speak, the hitters were off-balance, the umpire was working on our side, and the game went the way the catcher wanted it to go. So anyone who thinks a catcher doesn't make a difference just hasn't experienced it firsthand. And that's understandable. Also, the other thing this catcher TAUGHT me was walk a guy unintentionally on-purpose if a base is open and you don't want that particular hitter to hurt our team. That's also about using a brain. Even in my last game, I did exactly that and got out of a jam (years later, different not as good catcher) because I refused to let a No. 4 hitter knock in a guy from 2nd with a base open and 2 outs. But you might get that guy to hit a bad pitch and fly out, or he just walks. I realize a lot of this may not apply to MLB where hitters and scouting reports and power pitchers rule the day, but ask Jamie Moyer about how you can get away with no velocity and I bet you his best games in MLB were with catchers who understood what he could offer with his changing of speeds.

     
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    A couple of adds. 
    My friend, Jerry, was physically economical. He made no extraneous movements with his glove or body. He never fiddled around back there. He risked no distractions from his place. He communicated to pitchers a sense of solidity, not just for him but for them too. It was another reason why his overall psychology was so valuable.
    I might have left the wrong impression about that SC pitcher. He was a great kid. He was eager to learn ( he could drive you nuts with questions ), and understood and applied instruction. Since he had scarcely any real pitching instruction in HS, he understandably attributed his success to his catcher. The real reason was attached to his right shoulder and to his smarts.  What he hadn't realized about himself yet -- maybe never did -- is that he had a tendency to fall in love with his catchers. ( "Did you see that guy on
    Saturday?" ) He played an important role in  SC's winning the College World Series, had a respectable pro career, and made it to the Pacific Coast League.
    For a reason I can't recall, a backup outfielder who was also a reserve catcher was mine in a game against UCLA. I don't know why, but in an instant I felt as though we were joined at the hip. It wasn't quite the simpatico I had with Jerry but it was close -- the first time we worked together. I knew he would take good care of me. Call it immediate chemistry. Call it mystical if you're so inclined. The term doesn't matter, and the reality eludes analytic explanation. 
    I use this experience to illustrate that things like this happen on the ballfield as well as in life elsewhere. When it happens between pitchers and catchers, oh, my. What a feeling.
    Make a difference? You bet.
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : When a guy's throwing 90 MPH you don't have a ton of time to break down his mechanics. Most catchers have spent enough time to "know their tendencies" and can coach that in game...
    Posted by Beantowne[/QUOTE]

    You can pick up on some things.  If he's rusing, how he's landing, etc.  I can't always tell what's wrong, but I can often see when things aren't quite right.
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]Great post, ex pitch; I had to do a double take when I saw it wasn't culled from an article, and it would have been a great article.
    Posted by nhsteven[/QUOTE]

    Agreed.  That was a much better 'article' than a lot of what I've read elsewhere.
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]A couple of adds.  My friend, Jerry, was physically economical. He made no extraneous movements with his glove or body. He never fiddled around back there. He risked no distractions from his place. He communicated to pitchers a sense of solidity, not just for him but for them too. It was another reason why his overall psychology was so valuable. I might have left the wrong impression about that SC pitcher. He was a great kid. He was eager to learn ( he could drive you nuts with questions ), and understood and applied instruction. Since he had scarcely any real pitching instruction in HS, he understandably attributed his success to his catcher. The real reason was attached to his right shoulder and to his smarts.  What he hadn't realized about himself yet -- maybe never did -- is that he had a tendency to fall in love with his catchers. ( "Did you see that guy on Saturday?" ) He played an important role in  SC's winning the College World Series, had a respectable pro career, and made it to the Pacific Coast League. For a reason I can't recall, a backup outfielder who was also a reserve catcher was mine in a game against UCLA. I don't know why, but in an instant I felt as though we were joined at the hip. It wasn't quite the simpatico I had with Jerry but it was close -- the first time we worked together. I knew he would take good care of me. Call it immediate chemistry. Call it mystical if you're so inclined. The term doesn't matter, and the reality eludes analytic explanation.  I use this experience to illustrate that things like this happen on the ballfield as well as in life elsewhere. When it happens between pitchers and catchers, oh, my. What a feeling. Make a difference? You bet.
    Posted by expitch[/QUOTE]]

    Carlton had his McCarver; Tiant loved Fisk; Ford and Berra; Gibson and McCarver; Seaver and Grote.
     
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    Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound

    Ex, amazing posts! Your insights are greatly appreciated. I never pitched baseball, but I did have a go as a knuckleballing softball pitcher with pretty good success. I played mostly 2nd base and recognized the value of good pitching and defense. I'll admit, I missed the boat on catcher's relevance until just recently. Guys like you, harness, and danny have helped me realize my earlier mistakes. 
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]Expitch, That was a good read... I'd say that begining at the youth level...the two single most important traits for a catcher is their ability to "stick pitches" (framing the ball) and blocking balls in the dirt...Both are fundementals that help build trust between the pitcher and the catcher... While there are many more tangles and intangables "calling a good game is among them" and making adjustments pitch to pitch is also a key...Give me a catcher that gives my pitcher the confidence to throw any pitch regardless of the count (whether or not there's runners on base) and more times than not the pitchers gonna execute the pitch and if the pitchers sole focus in getting the hitter out vs trying help the catcher catch the ball. More often than not the pitcher is gonna win the small battles and prevent big innings...
    Posted by Beantowne[/QUOTE]
    You bet, bean. You've added an important point. Though strange things can happen to balls in the dirt, and they can get away from even the best blockers, your point holds. The best catchers will make every effort to catch every pitch even with no one on base, short of killing themselves.  For one thing, they are always practicing for the time when a lot is at stake on the pitch. For another, sometimes overlooked, the other team is watching and knows or should know not to assume that a really bad pitch will get away. It keeps them honest -- and perhaps keeps them from getting an extra step on the lead, a step that could make the difference in a close play on the plate or on the bases. One of those "little things" that aren't little after all. 

     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : You can pick up on some things.  If he's rusing, how he's landing, etc.  I can't always tell what's wrong, but I can often see when things aren't quite right.
    Posted by Joebreidey[/QUOTE]
    Right you are. The best catchers are primed to see what you cite and much more. And the really superb ones also know what's wrong -- at least a lot of the time. There are cases when neither the pitcher, nor the coach, nor the manager can quite figure out the problem. Even God is reduced to guessing.
    These masterly catchers are primed not only what to see but are also self-conditioned to replay the event quickly in the mind's eye. They don't "break down" the motion move by move as it's happening, but many of them can when they have that "second look."  Jerry was especially good at that. Three hours after the game he could tell you what you were doing in the fifth inning. Not that you always wanted to to hear it. 

     
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    Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound

    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : You bet, bean. You've added an important point. Though strange things can happen to balls in the dirt, and they can get away from even the best blockers, your point holds. The best catchers will make every effort to catch every pitch even with no one on base, short of killing themselves.  For one thing, they are always practicing for the time when a lot is at stake on the pitch. For another, sometimes overlooked, the other team is watching and knows or should know not to assume that a really bad pitch will get away. It keeps them honest -- and perhaps keeps them from getting an extra step on the lead, a step that could make the difference in a close play on the plate or on the bases. One of those "little things" that aren't little after all. 
    Posted by expitch[/QUOTE]

    If the goal of a pitcher is to upset a hitters timing, when you're ahead in the count you never want a hitter to be able to elimate any of the pitches in your arsenal especially with runners on base. One of the best out pitches for a lefty when you're ahead in the count (0-2 or 1-2) is the back foot slider / cutter...For that pitch to be effective the pitcher has to trust that the catcher will catch it or block it if it's in the dirt. Andy Petite was one of the best at getting righties to offer at pitches off the plate on the inner half...

    The splitter is another of the "modern weapons" that was in vouge during the late 70's and early 80's...Roger Craig was the master guru who taught that pitch and refined to it present status, the best splitters look like fastballs coming out of the hand and fall off the table just as they're entering the hitting zone...with a runner on third the pitcher has to trust his catcher to block that ball and if they don't then the hitter elimantes that pitch and is more likely to get something they can handle or worse the pitcher not trustingthe catcher will leave the splitter up in the zone....

    Perhaps the best comments pitchers can make when talking about their catcher is are those that have the words trust and confident as a key word...
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : ] Carlton had his McCarver; Tiant loved Fisk; Ford and Berra; Gibson and McCarver; Seaver and Grote.
    Posted by dannycater[/QUOTE]

    Greg Maddux liked the backup catcher with the Braves as his personal catcher for a number of years but forget who that was. (Not worth looking up right now.)
     
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    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]How come the Yanks moved Yogi to Outfield as he got older? 
    Posted by bobbysu[/QUOTE]

    Because the wear-and-tear of catching was catching up to him (no pun intended) and it was too much for him catch every day but he still had a productive bat to get in the lineup.

    And they had Elston Howard.
     
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    Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound

    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : Greg Maddux liked the backup catcher with the Braves as his personal catcher for a number of years but forget who that was. (Not worth looking up right now.)
    Posted by royf19[/QUOTE]
    Can't recall the name either. Greg Maddux got what Greg Maddux wanted. Mid-rotation pitchers rarely get to choose their catcher. It would be no surprise to know that some pitchers prefer the backup man, who is often heady and good with the glove. ( I don't state that as a general rule. ) 
    "The rich get richer ( the catcher they like ), and the poor get poorer (  not the catcher who might help them get better )."  ????????

     
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    Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound

    Good point, ex. How many young pitchers might have made it had they had the benefit of that kind of help.
     
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    Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound

    In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Catchers: A View from the Mound : Thank you, if you cant hit your not going to play in the Majors. One thing I found amusing, the Pitcher is making his delivery, and the Catcher is studying his mechanics? Maybe I read that wrong. Late innings, tough job catching Rollie Fingers. Maybe using Duncan for passed balls, I guess. I remember Hunter being pinpoint accurate, Stevie Wonder could have caught him.
    Posted by bobbysu[/QUOTE]

    Then explain how Kevin Cash, with his robust .183 career BA, lasted 8 seasons.
    Stevie Wonder would wonder how one could be so blind with eyesight enough to read the OP.
     
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