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Catcher Responsibilities - Calling Pitches

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Setting Up






In-depth Skills
Relays, Cutoffs, and Plays at Home


Calling A Game

Catching Bullpens

Covering Bases

Pre-Game Routine

Umpire Rapport

Misc. Situations and Plays


Calling your own game requires you to pay attention to details. Keep mental notes on hitters, runners, pitchers, as well as opposing team tendencies. Before attempting to call your own game, pay attention to how your pitching coach calls pitches during other games. Why is he calling for certain pitches in certain counts? What is he trying to accomplish? What is the game situation? If you don't understand something, ask the coach after the inning why he is calling that pitch in that situation. *This is assuming the coach has a clue. Once, you understand the reasoning for calling certain pitches; incorporate this knowledge as you call your own game.

Some general rules:
  • A pitch up in the zone will be hit in the air.
  • A pitch down in the zone will be hit on the ground.
  • A pitch with downward movement will be hit on the ground.
  • A hitter has a tendency to roll over (wrists) change ups and will hit them on the ground or hit weak fly balls.
  • A hitter may pull off or be out in front of a curve ball or slider causing him to hit a weak ground ball or pop-up.
  • A hitter who strides into the plate will have trouble hitting hard inside pitches. He will get jammed.
  • A hitter who strides open will have trouble with change ups and breaking balls away.
  • An overly aggressive hitter will chase bad pitches.
  • Stick with the pitch that is working.
  • Mix, Mix, Mix!!!


Gather as much information as possible and apply it to the current situation.

Know Your Pitcher

Know your pitcher and his capabilities. What are his strengths and weaknesses? What is his best pitch? Is he having trouble throwing a certain pitch for a strike? Is he locating his pitches? Has he faced this team or these hitters before? How did he do and what did he do to get each hitter out? Does he get more ground ball outs than fly outs? How fast is your pitcher to the plate with runners on base? Does he hold the runners well? Does he have an out pitch and is it on today? How does he field his position?

Know the Hitters

In most cases your team will have faced the opposing team before. The higher you go and older you get, teams will keep records or scouting reports of every at bat for an opposing player. This helps to correctly position a defense and allows the pitcher and catcher to attack a hitter's weakness.

As a catcher you should have mental notes on every hitter. What are his tendencies? What pitch does he like to hit? What pitch does he struggle with? Does he swing first pitch? Is he overly aggressive at the plate and expand the strike zone (swing at bad pitches)? Is he a pull, opposite field, or spray hitter? What number hitter is he? Does he have a lot of power? Is there a chance he drag bunts? How fast is the hitter? Where does he stand in the box? How close is he to the plate? Is he open, even, or closed in his stance? How does he stride: pull out, straight, dive in? With two strikes, will he cut down his swing and put the ball in play? What has he done in his previous at bats today? What pitch did he hit hard or whiff on?

Know the Other Team

Teams do not play the same style of baseball. Some teams will play station-to-station (base to base). This means they are waiting for the big hit or home run. Other teams will play small ball. Teams that play small ball will move runners with sacrifice bunts, steal bases, hit and run, and pressure the defense. Still other teams will use a combination of the two styles depending on the hitter, base runners, pitcher, and game situation. In general, teams that play station-to-station look for the big inning, while small ball teams will look to score one or two runs an inning every inning. Know the other team's philosophy. What are their tendencies? What have they done in the past in the same situation?

Know the Situation

Throughout the game, strategies change depending on the situation. You could have a situation with a runner on 1st and 3rd and one out in the first inning and the same 1st and 3rd situation with one out in the last inning. Depending on the score and hitter, your objective may be different. Early in the game (1st inning) you are trying not to give up a big inning, so you will probably let the runner from 3rd score and get a force at second or attempt a double play. Late in the game and up a run, the defense will want to cut down the run at the plate on a non-double play ball.

In this example, the catcher needs to know the hitter and call pitches accordingly. With what pitch is the hitter most likely to hit a ground ball? Should we go for the K?

Different Ways to Pitch to Hitters

There are different ways to go about pitching to hitters. One important rule is to mix pitches, speeds, levels, and locations. Do not show the hitter the same sequence of pitches every at bat. Maybe the first two times a batter comes to the plate, start him off with fastballs. Then the third time, use a curve or change up. If you know a hitter has trouble hitting sliders, feed him a constant diet of sliders. Make sure to mix in another pitch, but keep it out of the zone and un-hittable. Change speeds and/or eye level. Then go back to the slider. Some hitters are read-and-react hitters, while others will look for certain pitches in certain counts and situations. Know this ahead of time and out think them.

Going At Hitters

Going at a hitter means you are forcing the batter to swing the bat. The pitcher is throwing strikes and not nibbling at the corners of the plate. Usually, when this term is used, the pitcher is throwing fastballs. This is a very aggressive approach and works well in a lot of situations. You're saying to the hitter, here's my best fastball. Let's see if you can hit it.

Pitching Carefully to Hitters

There are situations that arise during a game where you may want to pitch carefully to a hitter depending on the situation. An example would be a runner on 2nd base with two outs. First base is unoccupied and the other team's best hitter is at the plate. You do not want to intentionally walk him (well maybe if its tied and in the last inning), so you pitch him carefully. Do not give him anything good to hit and work the extreme corners. If you walk him, no big deal, it sets up a force play at second base. If he swings and hits a weak ground ball or can-of-corn, you did your job.

Different Counts

The count during an at bat, along with the game situation, may determine whether you pitch carefully to a hitter or go right at him. In other words, you may change strategies during the at-bat. Maybe you start off calling two sliders and both are balls. The count is two balls and zero strikes. Now, you can challenge the hitter or decide to stay careful and throw a change up or another slider. Most hitters are looking for a fastball 2-0. The game situation and information you know about the hitter's tendencies determines what you call. Though unlikely, the hitter may always take with a 2-0 count. If you know the hitter's taking, throw the fastball. It's your job and your coach's job to know this information.

Pitching Backwards

Pitching backwards is a term used to describe a certain pitching sequence that is the opposite of conventional wisdom. In other words, if most pitchers use the fastball to get ahead of hitters and then throw a curve ball ahead in the count, you would do the opposite. Throw curve balls to get ahead and fastballs when you are ahead. This style of pitch calling can be a useful tool to use when a hitter has seen a pitcher multiple times during a game or a pitcher has outstanding control of his breaking pitch/es.

Saving Pitches for 2nd Time Through the Lineup

This philosophy is useful for pitchers with three or more pitches that they can throw for strikes. The idea behind this philosophy is to not show the other team every pitch in a pitcher's arsenal the first time through the batting order. For example, you may call only fastballs and change ups the first time through the order. The second time through, let them see that nasty slider. The more pitches opposing hitters get to see the less advantage your pitcher has. This style is useful for pitchers with great command of their fastball and a change up that drops.

Set Up Pitches/Setting Up the Hitter

A set up pitch is used to throw the hitter off balance, so the next pitch will get him out. Usually, the set-up pitch precedes a strike out pitch or a pitch that the hitter will not hit hard. The purpose of using set-up pitches is to get the hitter off balance. For example: you may be calling all soft pitches (change up, curve ball) away, away, away. The hitter will be thinking away and then you bust him up and in with a fastball. You were using these soft away pitches to set up the hard inside pitch. Another example: you use that hard inside pitch to set up a breaking ball or change up away. You call three pitches away and then a high and tight fastball just under the hitter's hands. Now the hitter is thinking he needs to be quick if the pitcher comes hard and in again. Many times this will cause the hitter to get out on his front foot or pull off a pitch away (especially if it's off speed). A good catcher will use the set-up pitch to his advantage.

Waste Pitches

Waste pitches are almost exactly the same as a set-up pitch. If fact, they are exactly the same with one slight difference. Both set-up pitches and waste pitches have the same purpose, to set-up the next pitch. Where they differ is that a waste pitch is not meant to be anywhere near the strike zone. The purpose is to get the hitter to chase a bad pitch out of the zone and to set up the next pitch. The most frequent count for a waste pitch is with zero balls and two strikes. A cardinal rule in pitching is to never give up a 0-2 hit. The catcher will therefore call a waste pitch that will set up the next pitch.

KEYS: Mix Pitches, Gather Information, Know: Your Pitcher, the Other Team, the Other Hitter, the Situation, Adjust to What's Working, Different Ways to Pitch to Hitters, Waste Pitches, Setup Pitches

*For an outstanding article on calling your own game, check out "Calling Catchers" by R.J. Anderson. This article appeared in Coaching Management, September 2005
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