Friday, April 11, 2008

Around The Diamond: Catcher

The catcher position is the most demanding position on defense.  Therefore many of todays catchers are not good hitters, they're decent but not good.  This makes total sense, if a position demands that you be great on defense you can lack a little on offense and your team wouldn't care because your defense is more valuable.  A catcher doesn't only have to play defense he has TEN ways to influence the defensive output in a game.

1. He studies the batters therefore calling for the right pitches in the right situation
2. He can use his glove to frame a pitch therefore influencing the umpires call on the pitch
3. He can keep his pitcher comfortable by calling for the pitches his pitcher is throwing well that day
4. He controls the tempo of the game, going at a fast pace when his pitcher's in a groove or slowing things down by going out to the mound to chat with him
5. He can use leadership and psychological skills to keep the pitcher focused
6. He can be skilled at blocking balls therefore letting a pitcher throw low in the zone without having to worry about a passed ball 
7. He can recognize tiredness and fatigue and tell the manager to pull the pitcher before the game gets out of hand
8. He can distract the batter without violating any MLB rules
9. He can call an unexpected pitch, gaining the element of surprise
10. He can prevent baserunners from stealing by throwing them out or keeping them from trying to steal

All these things can be split into four different categories
1. Pitching Management
2. Fielding the Pitch/Fielding Hits
3. Calling the Game
4. Arm Strength/Keeping the Runners in Check

Along with hitting and baserunning this position is the hardest, most fatiguing, most complex and most taxing physically and mentally position to play on the diamond.  Now we can get into discussions about whether it's better to have a catcher like Mike Piazza or a catcher like Brian Schneider.  The former is arguably the best hitting catcher in baseball history but cannot field if his life depended on it and the latter is a .230 hitter but is outstanding on defense.  I, personally don't know but from a fan's point of view I'd rather have Piazza.  This means that a catcher that can hit is a rare commodity and a gift to whatever team wants the extra runs.