How differently do pitchers and catchers think? They work hand-in-hand, but do they approach pitch selection the same way? Do they interpret the quality of a pitcher’s stuff the same way? Do they see the same things when reading hitters?
I’ve posed that question(s) to a number of pitchers, catchers and coaches over the course of the season. Selections from those conversations will be featured here in the coming weeks. First up is Tampa Bay Rays bullpen coach Stan Boroski.
Currently in his fourth season with the Rays, Boroski understands the pitcher-catcher dynamic as well as anyone. He played both positions in the minor leagues — “I couldn’t hit” is Boroski’s explanation for moving to the mound — before joining the scouting and coaching ranks. He was a pitching coach in the Astros system before coming to Tampa Bay.
Stan Boroski: “Catchers sometimes look at things more offensively. By that, I mean they perceive pitches as a hitter, as opposed to how they perceive them as a catcher. Those can be a little different. Watching their own pitcher throw, they can get a pretty good idea of what he has on any certain day from a hitter’s mentality. They’re looking at it through a hitter’s eyes, as opposed to through a pitcher’s eyes.
“What sometimes doesn’t appear as being very good from a pitcher’s standpoint… you’ll hear a pitcher say, ‘I just don’t feel good; it doesn’t feel like it’s coming out well.’ But to the guy back there catching it — looking at it through a hitter’s eyes — it might be pretty good. He can convey that to the pitcher: ‘I don’t know what it feels like to you, but I know what it looks like to me, and as a hitter it would be tough to hit.’
“The catcher sees a pitch more as it actually physically is. The pitcher sometimes sees it more how he perceives it, or feels it, coming out of his hand. How it actually is and how it feels can be two different things.
“I think pitchers give hitters more credit than catchers do. Catchers know how hard it is to hit. When you’re in a bullpen with pitchers, and they’re throwing, and they hang a curveball, or throw one down the middle that wasn’t meant to be down the middle, a lot of times their first reaction is, ’Oh man, that would have gotten killed; that would have been out of the ballpark.’ Then you ask them, ’How many home runs did you give up last year, and how many pitches did you throw?’ You try to bring some reality to it. Not every mistake you make gets hit out of the ballpark; they don’t all get smashed. Catchers can give them that perspective, because they know how tough it is to hit anything.
“That said, you have to throw a pitch with conviction. A lot of times, when pitchers give up big hits, afterwards they’ll convey to you, ’Well, I thought about doing this, and I really wanted to do that, but I saw this, so I just threw that.’ There was a lack of forethought, and you try to use that as a learning experience. With every pitch you throw, if it’s not thrown with 100 percent conviction, there’s a much better chance you’re going to make a mistake. Any pitch, with conviction, is better than any pitch without conviction.
“It is rare that we ever question which pitch the pitcher threw, whether it was a fastball, a curveball, a changeup, or whatever. If you go back and look at pitches that got hit hard, very rarely was it the type of pitch; it was where in the zone it was thrown. Did you really get it where you wanted to get it? If it was hit hard, the answer to that is usually no.
“If you’re delivering a pitch with any doubt whatsoever, you’re more likely to make a mistake with it, whether it’s up in the zone, or out of the zone, which advances the count. You need that conviction.
“Going into a game, you have a general idea of what you want to do. You have starting points as to what you want to do to hitters from both a pitching and a catching standpoint. But there’s nothing more valuable, during the game, than actually watching the game. You have to watch how the hitters react to what you’re doing on that particular day. The idea might be, ’I’m going to attack this guy with fastballs early, and late with curveballs.’ But he might be right on that curveball, so you may need to change that plan on the run. Ideally, the pitcher and catcher are on the same page with what they‘re seeing there.”