Baseball is the kind of sport where it’s important for everyone to be on the same page. Your players and coaches must have a plan on how to handle situations so that they are done efficiently and effectively, and to communicate clearly with each other. Nowhere on the field is this more important than between the pitcher and the catcher. This communication can and should be developed beginning at the youth level when kids begin pitching. This article is going to present some thoughts on improving the communication between youth pitchers and catchers in five important situations...
Warming up before a game is an important time to work on communication between the pitcher and catcher. This is where the two can find what pitches are working that day and which should be avoided. They can work on how those pitches are being communicated. It also just helps them to get comfortable with each other before the game.
Every pitcher and catcher combination is different, but this works best by having them start out with catch that gradually becomes further apart. Some pitchers need this time to stay light and to chat with the catcher, some pitchers need to put their game face on and be focused the whole time. The catcher has to learn who needs which approach.
Once pitching starts in the bullpen, the pitcher and catcher need to be on the same page as to how the warmup progresses. For example, are they going to throw ten four-seams then five each two-seams and change ups? Is this the pitcher that is more accurate with the two-seam and has a lousy change up? Even at the youth level the two should be able to talk to each other about this ahead of time.
Even at the youth level, I want catchers to call the pitches. To me it’s about the kids learning the sport, not about showing the kids how smart I am. Having said that, the pitchers, catchers, and the coach need to spend a lot of time learning the coach’s philosophy towards this: how to pitch with different counts, when runners are on, later in the game, earlier in the game, etc. This is what’s going on during pitcher/catcher practices, batting practices, scrimmages, etc. So while the coach may not be calling the pitch, everyone is on the same page about what is done and why. At that point it becomes the catcher’s job to communicate to the pitcher.
The pitcher should never just be throwing and the catcher should never be randomly calling a pitch. There should always be a reason behind it that fits into the game situation. This philosophy is developed by the coach and then ingrained and reinforced in every practice.
Clearly this is going to vary by age. We hope that nine-year-olds can just get the ball over the plate more often than not. But by thirteen and fourteen, we can expect a few different pitches and even some placement, so our selection can become more complicated at that point.
I also want catchers to call most of the pick-off moves since they see the entire field. And yes, youth catchers are going to make mistakes with this, but it will help them learn and make them better baseball players in the long run. Again, establish a philosophy behind how and why you do this. Can the pitcher make a pick-off move on their own? Absolutely, but again have a philosophy about how and why. This has to be developed in practice; in fact it’s important to spend some time in many practices working on the communication as well as the skill of the move.
There’s a problem with passed balls and wild pitches for a catcher. As the only defender facing towards the outfield, there are times where they won’t see where the ball went. But the pitcher is able to see where the ball went. When youth begin to pitch, we train the pitcher how to cover home plate during a passed ball or wild pitch with a runner on third. This is a great time to save fractions of a second and possibly a run by having the pitcher point and tell the catcher where the ball is as the pitcher is running towards home plate.
We don’t have time for long statements. For example, we don’t have time for “The ball is ten feet behind your right foot at a 45-degree angle towards first base.” But we do have time to tell the catcher what side of home plate it is on in short, concise phrases. As the pitcher is running toward home plate I like for them to use the following:
- “One!” The ball is on the first base side of the plate.
- “Two!” The ball is behind home plate.
- “Three!” The ball is on the third base side of the plate.
- “Down!” The ball is under the catcher.
This requires deliberate practice. Combine it with the catcher working on their passed ball skills and then reinforce it in scrimmages and games.
Try to keep this simple with youth baseball. Since they see the field and are generally moving forward towards first base once a bunt is in play, catchers should have priority on bunts. The next best option are your corner infielders, whomever is charging on the play. The catcher calls the ball during all bunts except to the third base side (the third baseman calls them in that situation). This eliminates confusion, collisions, fighting over the ball, or (even worse) the pitcher and catcher just looking at each other. Keep this simple, as the pitcher and catcher are both moving toward the ball the catcher will either say “mine” or “yours.” Again, this has to be practiced and then reinforced in scrimmages and games.
This article was meant to show how important the communication is between the pitcher and catcher during several important situations. Everyone will have a different philosophy and different cues/approaches. The important message here is that there needs to be a plan, it has to be taught to the athletes, and then it has to be practiced and reinforced continuously. If a coach leaves things to chance then they can’t be surprised or upset when mistakes happen!