Baseball Catchers develop a Great Feel for the Game
Many people believe that hitting a baseball is the most difficult thing to do in all of sports. Maybe that is so, but the baseball catcher’s job is unbelievable, too. Perhaps no position in sports has the amount of decision-making a catcher has. The only other comparison may be the NFL quarterback position. The catching position prepares players to manage like little else does.
There is little wonder that catchers make great baseball managers when their careers end. They not only have the whole game in front of them, but they must calculate things faster than other players do. The catching position prepares them to make decisions in an instance, necessary for managing ball games. The list of great baseball managers that once caught is endless. A few that come to mind in today’s game includes Mike Scioscia, Joe Maddon, Mike Matheny, Bruce Bochy, Bob Melvin and Joe Girardi. Obvious to baseball people, that is an impressive list of baseball minds.
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I have never caught behind the plate a day in my life, but I have great admiration for those that do. Not only do they have to “think the game” before every pitch, but they also have to figure out ways of catching and stopping balls that move in crazy ways. The batter can take pitches that are not strikes, but the catcher can’t just observe them. They must catch every pitch and make it look like a strike or risk their body to block the ones that bounce in front of them. They take balls traveling at enormous speeds off every body part. No thanks, I am not that tough, no matter how much protective gear one gets to wear.
The Mindset of Baseball Catchers
Here are just some of the catcher’s thoughts before every pitch:
- Does the pitcher know what signs or series of signs based on the game situation? Different signs are necessary when runners are on second base and at other select times.
2. Is the defense aligned the way they should for the hitter and the particular pitcher? Of course, at the highest levels there are coaches that take help with that.
3. Who is the pitcher and what are his best pitches. Also, what part of the plate does he like to throw to the most when ahead or behind in the count.
4. They must check to see who the hitter is and recall the hitter’s strengths and weaknesses. Experienced catchers know the hitters, but they must know how hitters are swinging lately, too. A hitter’s weakness can turn into a strength when he guesses right.
5. After each at bat, catchers must recall the hitter’s previous at-bats to determine if they want to pitch them the same way or try a new approach. The best hitters make adjustments so the pitcher and catcher must adapt all the time too.
6. Before putting down a sign, the catcher looks to the dugout for any last second instructions. They check the hitter’s setup in the batter’s box to see if he changes his normal stance. Hitters will sometimes change their positioning in the batter’s box to adjust to a pitch or when trying to entice the pitcher to throw a certain pitch.
7. Often, the plan to get batters out involves a sequence of pitches, not just one. Baseball catchers must decide the order and location of each pitch in that sequence. The plan may be to get the hitter to swing at inside fastballs because that is the player’s weakness, but the hitter knows that too. It may be best to start them with a breaking ball off the plate to set them up for the fastball.
8. The swings the batter takes may force a complete change in the plan to get them out. Catchers must notice the quality of the swing or how the batter takes a pitch to see if they want to stay with the original plan.
9. After all this quick calculation, the catcher has to adjust when the pitcher shakes off the pitch suggestion.
10. Once they have agreed on a pitch and location, the catcher must set up just right for the pitch. But they cannot do that too early because they do not want to tip off the location to the batter.
11. Baseball catchers have to negotiate with pitchers and build their confidence when they struggle.
The catcher has all that on their mind before every pitch, which means they have about 15 seconds to process everything. They know that calling the wrong pitch at any specific moment can turn the game around. When a called pitch is a mistake, they must forget about it quickly to prepare for the next batter.
As if all that is not enough, the catcher must look for flaws or changes in the pitcher’s mechanics. They must give signs for specific plays for bunt possibilities, stealing situations and make calls on bunted balls. They have to shake off the pain of getting hit by fouled off balls. The toughness to be a catcher is like few other positions in sport.
Additionally, baseball catchers have to have flawless mechanics to frame pitches and throw stealing runners out. They have to communicate with umpires in delicate ways to help their pitcher. Not only do they have to react to base runners, but at the same time block dirt balls when thinking of throwing runners out. That mental and physical adjustment takes a quick mind and great mechanics.
I am sure I probably forgot other catcher responsibilities too. It is amazing they hit at all on offense with everything else on their minds. It takes a special player to play the position and the ability to squat a whole game takes a remarkable athlete. For proof of that, try it yourself for just one minute.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching, and parenting stories help create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.