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Week 2: The relationship between pitchers and catchers

Week Two Blog
CB Lineup
During our early bye week, I have been playing particular attention to our pitchers and catchers.
Pitchers, as many of us know, are stereotyped as odd, quirky, different and “non-athletic.” Whether or not these stereotypes are true for your staff, we can agree that each pitcher has different stuff, a different routine and a distinctly different personality. Position players often look out at the bullpen like it is another planet. Throw “stuff” out the window for a minute and think about the individuals on your pitching staff. Each guy on your staff has a certain amount of potential. Reaching that potential does not only depend on his throwing program, his arm care work, or what he does in the gym or between outings for his conditioning. All of that is crucial—and there are many philosophies in that department. However, figuring out what makes each guy on your staff “tick” is just as important as all of the physical aspects that go along with preparing to pitch. No one can help a coaching staff prepare your arms between the ears like your corps of catchers can.
Catchers act as a bridge between position players and pitchers. They are the position players who have to travel to that “other planet” and get to know the other life form living there. The dynamic between catcher and pitcher is fascinating. Catching, at the Big League level has recently affected the free-agent market. A few pitchers have actually turned down millions with one team in order to pitch for a another lesser paying team that has the catcher that they trust. What about the pitching coach? What about the long toss program? What about the money? Throw them out the window. Catchers can make the difference in one’s career on the mound.
College teams average somewhere between 16 and 18 arms on a pitching staff. That is 16-18 different personalities that a catcher must know in order to help his staff become they best that they can be. A catcher must not only know what pitches to call when—it is important, don’t get me wrong. But, what tends to get overlooked the most is that a catcher must become a chameleon that blends into a pitcher’s routine during their mid-week bullpen session, during their pre-game routine and during the game in which they are pitching. At the same time, a catcher must be able to effectively communicate, which includes both critiquing and complimenting. The effective communicator will pick his spots, knowing when to criticize, when to compliment and when to keep his mouth shut—all while keeping a guy from getting out of the comfort of his routine.
Pitcher’s routines are fragile. How many times have you seen a pitcher get out of sync with their routine, only to have a miserable outing as a result? One pitch in the bullpen or during his warm-up session is all it takes with some guys to get out of whack. Good catchers see it or feel the instant it goes wrong and can get inside the guy on the bump’s head at that moment. Bad catchers further disrupt the pitcher’s routine, only making the situation worse. The best behind the plate figure out a way to prevent the routine from going bad before the others at the park even realize it could have gone bad.
As a catcher, handling a staff is far more important than receiving, blocking or throwing out runners. The 16-18 guys on any given staff are individuals and need to be treated that way. Catchers who figure this out are the guys that the majority of arms on a pitching staff start asking to throw to and that is the best compliment that a catcher can receive (no pun intended).

Jon Shehan
Head Baseball Coach
Millersville University