How to call games as a catcher
Calling games as a catcher isn’t as easy as some people think it is. What others don’t realize is that calling games extends to more than calling pitches. There are many factors and variables you have to consider when making decisions to help you how to call games as a catcher.
When standing on the field, the catcher is the field captain for his team. He is in the only position that has view of the whole field. They have to be able to see everything that happens and make the best calls for his team in an instant. This quick decision-making is what makes catchers stand apart from another. Here are some tips to help you improve your decision-making:
Defense Calls – Be Loud and Vocal
Everyone on the field needs to hear you when you make a call. You can’t let out a timid call that will be swallowed up by the other sounds of the stadium that’s going on. Especially if the ball is coming from an outfielder, they need to hear the call and know where to throw when they come up from fielding it. The time they can waste picking it up and then looking to see where the play is can be the deciding factor of the runner being safe or out.
This confidence you will need will have to be practiced on. Be loud in practice. If your calls are wrong, don’t worry about it and shake it off. That is what practice is for; fixing your mistakes so you are better in the games. No one is perfect and everyone will make mistakes. If you don’t work on your mistakes, how you will never improve?
Always be looking for the future play
What I mean by future play is to run scenarios in your head of what could happen if the ball is hit in a certain place. Let’s say there is a runner on first, you must think about what happens if the batter hits a double in the gap. If the batter actually does hit it to where you thought about, you will be prepared to tell the fielders to get the ball to home to stop the runner.
An easy way to know what base to throw to on plays like above, think about it this way is to add the bases to the runner and batter depending on what kind of hit it is. That may sound confusing so I will try to break it down a little bit. If we have the same scenario as above, runner at first and the batter hits the ball into a gap in the outfield, you will think that’s a double. Since the batter will get two bases on that hit, you can assume the base runner will at least get two bases. So the runner will ultimately be given third base on the hit. That means to prevent the runner from advancing anymore; you need to call for the ball to come home. Now there are many variables that can happen here, such as the speed of the runners, how fast the ball is returned to the infield, and etc. This is where you have to use your judgment on what should happen next. But in general, just add how many bases the batter will get to the runner and throw to the next base to prevent him from advancing.
If you continually think this way, you will always be prepared for the next play. It will become easier for you to make your calls faster and help your fielders out. It will be hard at first to think about all the possibilities that can happen. You will run into mistakes or be slow at preparing for them. But as the more you do it, the more you will feel comfortable with your calls. And when you start calling them out right when the play happens, your teammates will start to trust in your calls and their response will be faster.
Pick off Plays
If you are a catcher who trusts in their arm, you may want to set up a few defensive pick off signs with your infield. Being able to back pick a runner who is leaning too far to the next base can turn the tide of a game very quickly and it will also make the runners worried about your arm.
Sometimes you can have the first baseman call the pick off play, I have personally used both methods. If you as the catcher feel like you can throw him out every time, then I would say let the first baseman call as you’ll always be ready. But if he does make the calls, make sure he knows he should call it early in the count as a fastball is the best pitch for back picking. I’m not saying you can’t do it with any other pitches, it’s just the fastball brings it to you quicker and makes the runner panic as he doesn’t have much time to think about it.
I suggest the first baseman to call the play because after the pitch to the plate, the first baseman comes off the bag and goes into his fielding stance. They could play in front of the runner or behind, but most of the time it’s in front of the runner near the grass. Playing in front of the runner blocks from seeing the front of the first baseman and makes it great for him to call the signal. Having him call the signal makes sure that he is ready for the throw and won’t be caught off guard. In high school, my first baseman would open and shut his glove a couple of times after the pitch as I would always look down to first base to check the runner. If I saw this sign, I would give a subtle sign back such as the same thing or pick up dirt pretending to create a better grip on my throwing hand.
Being on the same page with your teammates can create fantastic plays. Just remember that you both have to be on the same page. If not, you shouldn’t go through with it if they aren’t expecting it. This could cause more harm than good.
This section will be dedicated to the art of pitch calling. Sometimes catchers will have the ability to call pitches, but sometimes not. A coach may give signals from the dugout and tell the catcher what to call. But if you are one of the lucky catchers who the coach believes you can make the right calls, here are some aspects you should learn and employ to help you succeed.
Hide Your Signs
I first off want to get this easy topic out of the way before we get too deep into pitch calling. When you give your pitcher signs, you don’t want the other team to see them. Make sure you have your signal hand in the correct spot between your legs so the first base or third base coach can’t see them. This also applies to holding your hand high enough to not be seen under your legs. You can block this with your glove on your left side, but not from the right side.
If you have a problem with this, it is easy to fix. Just have someone stand in the coaches boxes on the third and first base side and have them call out if they can see your pitching signs. When you get to the position where neither of them can see them, remember that spot and continually place your signs at that spot. This is mostly a problem with newer and younger catchers who don’t have much experience. But it is an easy fix so you shouldn’t worry about it.
Reading the batter is also important for a catcher to learn. I won’t go into much detail on this topic as I have written about it before and can be found here.
Base runners Picking off Signals
When you have a runner at second base, you have to be careful they aren’t tipping off your signals to their batter. Some teams have signals that their runner at second will give when they see what pitch is coming. This helps the batter prepare for what pitch is coming and gives them a huge advantage. When this happens, you need to have a signal system set up for you and your pitcher so the runner can’t decipher the pitch calls.
For example, I used to use a touch system for my pitcher when calling pitches with a runner at second. I would give a fake pitch signal and then touch a part of my gear afterwards for the real call. For fastballs, I would rest my throwing hand on my right knee shin guard. This is such a normal and non-obvious area to touch, so it is hard for the opposing team to catch on to it. For a curve ball, I would bring my throwing hand right into my glove right after giving a pitching signal. Once again, this is another action that does not stand out and doesn’t scream there is something going on. You can create your own areas for signals, but remember to make them look comfortable and a normal movement. If it’s too different of a movement, others will catch on to it.
Make sure you do these actions throughout the game when there aren’t runners on second. If you do them throughout the whole game, then those unique actions will look like a natural movement for you and no one will catch on.
I hope this article will help newer, and possibly older catchers, realize what they need to think about when controlling a game.