Tips on Calling a Good Game Behind the Plate
It’s safe to say that as a catcher, you are the quarterback of the baseball team. I Say this because you are the one person on the field that knows where everyone is supposed to be, you call the pick offs, you call the 1st and 3rd situations, and you always dictate where the ball needs to go in every situation. Now, with that being said, as you get older, catchers are also in charge of calling the game. When I say calling a game, I mean you get to decide which pitch gets thrown and in what situation. Well, for the most part. There’s always going to be that time when a pitcher shakes you off and goes with what he wants, but for the most part, it’s on the man behind the dish. For younger players, and even in high school and sometimes in college, you have coaches to all the pitches. But regardless if someone is giving you the signs, it’s important as a catcher to be able to read the batter, know your pitcher, and known when you should and shouldn’t throw certain pitches. Here are a few tips for catchers (and coaches) to help you call a good game.
Tip #1: Know your Pitcher.
This one is almost a given. As a catcher, no matter what age level, it is beneficial to know who you’ve got on the mound. When I say know the pitcher, I don’t mean you know who he is or what he likes to do when he isn’t playing baseball. I mean know his strengths and his weaknesses. For example, you may have a guy who can spot up like no other. He can throw his fastball in and out, up and down. Wherever you need it, he can put it there. But, on the flipside, he is super inconsistent with his secondary and off-speed stuff. So, you have to work with your advantages. With a guy like that, getting ahead in the count is key. Then you can have some wiggle room with some of the other stuff and you may even get some chases or off-balance swings. Point is, play to your pitcher’s strengths and set him up for success. Don’t start working backwards and dig yourself in a hole where you have to start piping fastballs. Help your guy out!
Tip #2: Know the Hitter.
As a catcher, not only is it beneficial to know who’s throwing, it’s also beneficial to know who’s standing in the box. Some examples would be is his stance closed or open? Does he pull out or stay through on his swings? Where is he standing in the box? Is he far away or up close? These are all questions that you can answer just by looking at him when he gets in the box, and you can see after 1-2 swings. This is important because these characteristics can help determine your pitch sequence. If he is far away from the plate, pound the outside corner as much as you can. If he is crowding the plate, bust him inside to make sure everything is fisted. If he is a pull hitter, throw him outside and make it hard for him to square it up. If he throws his hands, bust him in so he can get jammed. All these things play a role, and by analyzing swings and stances, you put your team in a good position by pitching to the batter’s weaknesses. By pitching to his weaknesses, you can even give your fielder’s a chance to play in the right spots, putting the odds in your favor.
Tip #3: Pitching to a Situation.
Let’s say you are going into the bottom of the 7th (9th if you play college or other leagues) and a guy gets a lead off double and he is the winning or tying run. Then he steals third and you can’t throw him out. What do you do? You have to call and get your pitcher to throw everything away or induce nothing but ground balls. You by no means can let this guy hit one to the outfield and have the opportunity to tag up. Let’s say you have a runner on 1st and a runner on 3rd with 1 out. Your pitcher is going into his last inning of work and has thrown a gem, but he has run into some trouble here in the late innings. What do you do? Start to pitch backwards, throw outside, give the hitter nothing but junk. You want to do everything you can to induce a ground ball to get a double play up the middle to get your pitcher out of it without throwing more pitches. Normally, when you’re calling pitches, you want to focus on the batter and get him out. But as the game gets more complicated and situations arise, you have to throw to the situation. Knowing when to throw certain pitches at certain times is a key factor.
Tip #4: Know when you can waste pitches.
Ever heard the term “waste a pitch”? Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. It’s basically throwing a ball on purpose in lame terms. But though it is a ball on the scoreboard, it can be extremely effective in certain situations. Let’s say you’re ahead in the count 0-2 and this dude is a good hitter. He already has 2 hits, and he has your pitcher’s number, but miraculously, you’ve got him in a hole 0-2. A good idea here is to change his eye level. In other words, throw one either in the dirt, just inside or just outside, or just a little high. This makes him not only sweat a little but makes him second guess his batter’s eye. Now, let me be clear in saying that if you throw by definition a wild pitch, this is not what we want. You want it close, not so crazy that he spits on it the second it leaves your hand. Make it close and then come back with your best stuff. Odds are you have him guessing, on his heels, or off balance. Either way, you’ve just induced an out and all you did was throw a ball. Cool, right?
Tip #5: Sequencing.
The last tip is something that should be done no matter what the situation – especially for starters. One thing that you expect from a starting pitcher is that he can go deep into games to preserve the other arms on your team, or as you get older, your bullpen. The way you do that is by always switching up your sequencing. One way to do that is by hiding pitches. For example, maybe your pitcher is a 4-pitch guy. But maybe the first time around, you only use 2 or 3 of those pitches. Then the second time, maybe you go off-speed dominant. Then the third round, you introduce a pitch they hadn’t seen yet. Then in his last go ‘round you start pitching backwards. The key is to always change up your sequence and not get predictable. When you start doing the same things repeatedly, batters pick that up and that’s when the hits start rolling. You no longer have them on their heels because they can guess what’s coming. Switch up your sequencing and keep them on their toes and keep them guessing.