***The following article was written by Jeremy Dowdy, a catcher in the Chicago White Sox system, as a guest of Future Sox. This is part of our ongoing Prospect Perspective series: articles written by the players themselves. Jeremy, who has caught for every full-season affiliate, discusses the important relationship between pitchers and catchers. Having seen nearly every arm in the system, he plays a crucial and under-appreciated role in developing the organization’s pitchers. We hope this gives our readers a unique view into a player’s perspective on life in the minors.***
By Jeremy Dowdy
2-2 count, bases loaded, up by a run with the tying run 90 feet away. We’ve gotten this guy out finishing him hard in the past 2 at bats, but our guy on the mound currently is way more comfortable with his slider. What do we do? It’s only the game on the line.
These are some of the pressure cooker moments that make me realize how important pitch calling and the pitcher-catcher dynamic are to the success of the club.
Being a catcher is so much more than just catching a pitch and getting it back to the pitcher. There are numerous ins and outs that your average fan doesn’t see. Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of catching is forming the relationship with your pitching staff. Taking it a step further, it is about forming a trust factor with your guys. They need to know that in a “game on the line” situation, they can trust you to know their strengths, as well as have an idea of how we can put away the guy that stands 60 feet, 6 inches away from the pitcher.
Having been in the White Sox organization for four seasons, I have gotten to know pretty much every arm in the system. Through countless hours of film study, bullpen work, and scouting reports, I have formed a mental “vault” of all their strengths and weaknesses. I know what a guy likes to throw in a certain count in a certain situation. On top of the physical side of each pitcher, you also need to know how to get through to each individual personally. Some guys need a pat on the butt, while others benefit from a more firm and direct approach. Whichever method works best, it will all be for naught if that pitcher doesn’t have some degree of trust in his catcher.
One thing I take pride in is being able to adapt from level to level, where I will see different arms potentially every week. Being able to adjust and rely on your knowledge of each guy will determine the level of cohesiveness you have with the pitching staff.
This all starts in Spring Training. What makes Spring Training unique is that you handle so many different arms from so many different levels each day that it forces you to constantly adapt and learn. That is the key word when it comes to what we do behind the plate: learning. Each day is an opportunity to learn something about a certain situation or determine a new tendency with a hitter. Aside from being a quick study, being open to criticism is also a great attribute to have. Many times after an inning, a pitcher likes to meet with you and discuss certain things that may have occurred that inning, and see where he can get more on the same page with his catcher. These discussions may range anywhere from pitch selection to where I was setting up on the plate.
As many of you have probably heard while watching a baseball broadcast, game plans are a huge part of the preparation process. Usually the way it works is, before a series, both catchers and the pitching coach will meet briefly to discuss how each guy on the pitching staff has been throwing lately. They will also discuss the opposing club’s hitters’ tendencies, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
Once this meeting has taken place, the bulk of new information comes from catcher feedback during the game. Hitters make adjustments all throughout season. The best hitters make adjustments pitch to pitch. This is why it’s so important that the catcher recognize when a hitter has made an adjustment and the catcher must now adjust. I have learned that reading swings is the easiest way to determine how to attack a hitter. Not trying to outsmart yourself and just seeing what the hitter is doing and adjusting accordingly. Too many times you see guys trying to trick a hitter instead of just reading his swing and attacking the bottom of the zone.
I am a strong believer that there needs to be a sense of pride in game-calling ability. There are few things on a baseball field that bring me greater satisfaction than getting a starter through seven innings. If he gets through 7, then I know I did my job. It is my job day in and day out to make sure I’m putting our pitching staff in the best position to succeed.
I remember a specific example this year where I was paired up with a very young starter. It was his first start at a new level and we had seen the opposing team at least three times prior to this series. It was such an awesome feeling to be able to guide this kid through seven strong innings. I give all the credit to him, he threw his tail off and made pitches all night long, but it was so gratifying to be able to take a game plan and execute it with only 1 or 2 shakes on the night.
I hope this article helped shed some light on the pitcher-catcher dynamic that exists within every ball club. This dynamic is often overlooked in lieu of stats and other measurables, but I firmly believe that those stats, good or bad, are a direct reflection of the relationship that exists between pitcher and catcher.
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