Baseball Catcher Technique, Part 5: Calling Pitches
High school pitchers can throw a variety of pitches. Catchers need to learn those pitches to help each pitcher develop the confidence to throw the right pitch, depending on the situation. This is the "game within the game," which not many people think about. Fans enjoy watching baseball games, but most never consider the planning that goes into every pitch. Scouting reports, a hitter's tendencies, a pitcher's strengths and other important factors determine each pitch thrown.
Know the pitcher's strengths
A good catcher calls pitches according to the pitcher's strengths rather than some perceived weakness in the batter. Focus on your own team before you attack your opponent.
On the mound, a pitcher's first goal should be to establish a fastball he can throw to both sides of the plate. The catcher visualizes the plate divided into thirds and calls pitches to the inner and outer thirds. This sets the foundation for a good outing. As Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux once said, "I try to do two things: locate my fastball and change speeds. That's it. I try to keep it as simple as possible. I just throw my fastball [to] both sides of the plate and change speed every now and then. There is no special food or anything like that. I just try to make quality pitches and try to be prepared each time I go out there."
Changing speeds is the next challenge for a pitcher. Some throw a good change-up. Others won't be strong with that pitch. It's the catcher's job to ensure every pitch has a purpose and is thrown to achieve a specific result. For example, when a runner is on first base with fewer than two outs, a catcher should call for a pitch intended to produce a ground ball that gives the defense a chance to turn a double play.
Know the batter's weaknesses
When your pitcher settles into a groove, it's to your advantage to know the batter's weaknesses. Learn to read a hitter's feet, hands and swing, which will give you the information you need to call the right pitch.
Study batters. Note how they stand in the box and what plane their bat takes to the ball when they swing. Eventually, you'll develop the ability to call a pitch within a couple of seconds. And you always want to think one pitch ahead.
Become a leader
The catcher must become a true leader on his team, because that helps him develop his pitchers' confidence. A pitcher who has confidence in his catcher trusts him and throws what he calls each time. Good communication is a key to success, but, as in any relationship, it takes time, patience and compromise to develop a strong rapport.
Spend time with your pitcher before each game to discuss strategy, paying close attention to the opposing team's better hitters. During the game, conversations between a pitcher and catcher must be short and to the point. The game is not a time to work on new things. It's the time to showcase the work you put in at practice.
RELATED: Read Brian Smith's entire in-depth series on baseball catcher techniques.