Fans of the Astros might’ve have been very ready for catcher Brad Ausmus’s departure from that team. The available numbers from Ausmus’s last six seasons in Houston all point to the aging catcher as something like replacement-level.
That said, he was excellent for a number of seasons, was always highly regarded for his ability to work with pitchers, and — as you might expect from a grad of even a lesser Ivy like Dartmouth — is rather articulate.
All the reasons in that second paragraph are reasons the curious baseballing enthusiat might care to listen to Ausmus’s recent appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air. The full audio is available at the NPR website, but you can find some excerpts from the interview transcript below.
Here’s Ausmus discussing his strategy for questioning an umpire’s ball and strike calls:
DAVIES: And what does it – tell me what it sounds like when you admonish an umpire or work him in a circumstance like that, where you think they’ve, you know, they’ve changed their strike zone.
Mr. AUSMUS: It would again, it would depend on the situation. If it’s the first time I disagreed with him, it would – it’d be very congenial. And one general rule I stuck to was I didn’t really admonish an umpire or argue or question an umpire while there was a hitter within earshot.
Even if it was only the second pitch at the at-bat, and the at-bat went eight pitches, I would wait till that hitter was gone before I said something to the umpire, and usually if it was one – the first or second pitch that I disagreed with it, I’d ask him: Hey, where did you have that curve ball that he threw second pitch?
And the umpire might say: Oh, I had it outside. And I said: I thought it caught the corner. That right there sends a message, all right? He thinks – he knows that I thought it was a strike, even if he had the pitch being outside.
Now, if this happens again and again, or he consistently misses pitches that I think are strikes, or he consistently – or I should say not consistently, if he later in the game doesn’t call something a strike that he had called early in the game, then it could get a little bit more volatile.
And believe it or not, sometimes you don’t even have to say anything. You can just hold the pitch a little bit longer, not throw it back to the pitcher as quickly. Body language speaks as loud as words.
And here’s Ausmus on the art and science of working with a young pitcher:
DAVIES: There’s a moment in [Bull Durham] where [Crash Davis’s] young pitcher, “Nuke” LaLoosh is shaking off his signs. And he says I can’t believe this guy is shaking off my signs. And after conversing with him at the mound, “Nuke” wanted to throw his fastball against a guy who always looks for a first ball fastball. The catcher then Kevin Costner, tells the batter what’s coming.
Did you get irritated when young pitchers would shake your signs off?
Mr. AUSMUS: I did. There were times where I did get irritated, especially later in my career when I felt like I had a generally pretty good knowledge of the hitters in situations. I don’t mind being shaken off and I would never make a pitcher throw a pitch he doesn’t want to throw because if he doesn’t believe in it it’s not going to be successful even if it’s the right pitch. I’d rather have him throw what he wants to throw even if it’s the wrong pitch. But it would bother me at times when a young pitcher who had never seen the hitters before would come up and start shaking.
It would also bother me sometimes when a pitcher would come out of the bullpen for the first time in a series, and maybe it’s the third game of a four-game series and he hasn’t pitched or seen any of these hitters and I’ve seen them for three straight days and he’d come out and start shaking.
Does that make me right and them wrong? Absolutely not. Like I said, I would rather they throw the wrong pitch with conviction than throw the right pitch halfheartedly. That being said, there are times too where I’ll put a sign down and they’ll shake and I’ll put it down again and they’ll shake, and I’ll put it down a third time and they’ll go okay.
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