In baseball, some people are just programmed to understand the game better than others. We call those people catchers, and deep down they’re all the same, too stupid to pick a different position, and too smart to play one. To be a great catcher you need a feel for the game. It’s not easy to explain what a feel for the game looks like - it’s not tangible. Have you ever looked at a catcher right before he calls a pitch and he’s looking up at the batter’s face as if he’s trying to read his mind? If you ask a catcher what they’re trying to do, they probably won’t have an answer for you. But they’re getting a feel for the hitter and taking in whatever they can to get an advantage. Whether it works or not, they’re teaching themselves something about the game. They’re learning the intangible things about baseball that only experience can teach you. This is a pivotal part of the learning process that there’s no substitute for.
Coaches could make the argument that a catcher has so much to deal with physically, that calling pitches gives them a sense of relief that may help their physical endurance. I believe it’s the exact opposite. When you take that mental focus out of their game, you’re going to lose them a bit physically as well. Not only will their limited opportunity to think affect their physical awareness, it can limit the amount of necessary mental and physical preparation a catcher has before a pitch. When a catcher decides what pitch they’re calling, it can sometimes be up to 20-30 seconds before the pitch is thrown. In that time, they’re thinking about how that pitch is going to look, and what they need to do with it. Whether they need to focus on sticking it, blocking it, or throwing behind a runner, they’re consciously or subconsciously preparing themselves. By the time the catcher receives the sign, relays it to the pitcher and sets up, there’s been no time for the catcher to get themselves ready for the pitch. A catcher will be physically and mentally more prepared if they’re given the time to plan and visualize the upcoming pitch.
You can’t underestimate the importance of visualization when it comes to catching. All catchers will visualize the upcoming play like all athletes do. They will visualize and prepare at their own pace, a process they’ve developed through years of catching. They might not even know they’re doing it but that’s because it’s become second nature. That process gets disrupted when a coach calls pitches and the catcher is forced to execute someone else’s plan with less preparation time. In case you think that preparation time isn’t important, try blocking an 88mph split finger fastball, having less time than you wanted to prepare for it. It’s not easy, let the catcher and pitcher develop a rhythm together instead of adding another variable to the equation.
If you’re calling pitches for your catcher, you need to ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish as a coach. A coach’s goal should be to prepare their players for as much opportunity as possible and to try and get the most out of them. If you’re trying to make a catcher better, don’t call pitches for them, teach them how to call pitches. Teach them what to look for and how to adjust to a situation. Teach them a thought process and let them learn from their mistakes. Once that’s accomplished, you’ll have a catcher that’s learning the game which will ultimately make them and your team better. Remember coaches, as much as you might know about calling pitches, you can’t see what your catcher can. Try and get the best of both worlds and teach them the game, instead of just showing it to them.
Yours in baseball,
Kevin Hussey, yes, you guessed it - CATCHER