Just curious to get some thoughts on catchers calling games at youth level. Son’s team are 13 yr olds and coach has catcher call games, pitcher has freedom to shake off pitch. Haven’t thought that much about it until recently when my son went in for an inning to finish a game with an inexperienced catcher behind the plate. Didn’t know until afterwards my son requested coach call pitches. Noticed a much better mix of pitches. Since then I’ve read a newspaper article interviewing coaches of D I conference about game calling. Very mixed philophesies with some coaches calling and some letting catchers call, some depending on personel in game.
I prefer to let kids call the game. Of course, coach has to teach them what they need to know to be able to call a game effectively. But young kids will learn quickly what works and what doesn’t.
Some will say kids learn by what the coach calls when coach calls the game. But if that’s a substitute for really teaching them then it falls short, IMHO.
Either way, everything is tempered by youth pitchers’ inability to throw what’s called.
I agree Roger.
I’ve seen it first hand around here. There’s a 18U team here that the Coach controls EVERYTHING. His team plays well, but if you get one of those kids one on one and start asking why they did this or that in a certain situation, they have no clue for the most part their answer is “I just threw or did what the Coach called for” end of meaningful discussion with said player.
I’m all for having kids call the game. When I played HS and younger we were allowed to call the game, once I got to College out Coach had total control during conference games and we had control in non conference games.
My son’s HS coach usually calls the game until we get a lead. He then will let the catcher call the game also giving the pitcher the right to shake off the call. Of course he allows it with a short leash.
There are so few good catchers in our local youth ball. They seem to be kids who can hit but can’t play the other 8 positions.
Most coaches ask, “So…who wants to catch this inning?”
I look at catching differently. It’s too important to let them all do it.
Anyone interested in catching must first do it in practice and show at least minimal capacity to improve. If you suck eggs, I’m not putting you behind the dish. It’s not fair to the rest of the team.
Why invite extra passed balls, dropped strikes, and stolen bases. To me, when you put someone like that behind the plate, you are telling your pitcher you don’t care about him being successful.
Coaches have taken over calling the games because they don’t want to invest the time to properly train their catchers. It takes sack to teach in practice, then truly observe the game and let the kids play. Most coaches don’t have it.
Besides, if you are calling all the pitches your focus is on that one aspect, how can you be lining up your defense, paying attention to the base runners and doing the mental side of situational awareness?
Some might argue that other stuff is easier when you know what pitch is going to be thrown, but I think you’re missing many teachable moments for your other 7 players when you are dialed in too tight on the battery.
I love catchers to call the game! Talk to them between innings, listen to what they have to say about their choices and offer suggestions for the future. That’s the way to develop a catcher.
And there’s another problem with having coaches calling the game.
Too many of them have no idea what to do in certain tight spots, so they call fast balls all the time, unaware of the fact that the batter is looking for such a pitch. And there goes the ball game. A pitcher who has at least a good changeup and maybe a breaking pitch would have an advantage, but if the coach won’t let him throw anything but fast balls—arrrggghhh!!!
Interesting this post has come up again. When I originally posted it was after coach called pitches in an outing for my son due to an inexperienced catcher. Had recently talked to him about little to no change ups called so he called quite a few and they were very effective mixed in with other pitches. I believe the cause for the lack of mix is few pitchers in our teams age group (13yrs old at time of original post) have an effective change and coaches and catchers tend to stick with 4S FB, 2S FB, and curve. I had been telling my son to talk to his catcher and let him know to call more often. Prior to my mentioning to coach he was unaware he threw it, our fault for failure to communicate. He plays travel and typically they practice once a week, other times kids work on their own. It’s an hours drive for us and a few others to get to the practices but kids are supposed to work on their own as mine does including private lessons. When they do practice they seldom throw a bullpen. I guess this is one of the disadvantages of travel although I still believe he gets more out of this than league. His pitching coach put it very well when we discussed his lack of throwing the change up in a game, he told him to use it or lose it.
I’ve always felt that when it comes to youth baseball:
The fewer adults the better! Let the kids have fun and develop. If they can figure out video games, the internet, and computers, I’m guessing they’ll be smart enough to come to sites like this and figure out baseball things on their own.
Doc, I’m with you there!
I remember when I first got into playing, what we used to do was choose up sides and just play the game for the sheer joy of it, and that was how we learned the game. That went for catchers as well. There were no adults present, other than a couple of umpires—we did have to have them—and that was how we learned the rules of the game. And we played until it got dark outside and our parents yelled out the window for us to come in for dinner. And we had fun. We made up signs and signals for such pitches as some of us had, changed them as need be, and that was how the catchers learned to call the games.
As I see it, the problem lies squarely with particular adults, the Professor Je-sais-tout types with the idea that they have to control everything about the game. They are the ones with no imagination, just a “Because I said so” mentality, and what happens is they take all the fun out of playing the game—is it any wonder that so many kids drop out and give up on the game? I was lucky; at age 14 I hooked up with a very good team that would have been called semipro if the players had gotten paid. The manager was a former semipro infielder with good baseball savvy, and we played major league rules all the way, which pleased me very much; our regular catcher made it a point to get to know the pitchers and the stuff they had, and he would call the games all the time. 8)
Good stuff! When I look at youth baseball today, sometimes I think the kids are more mature than the adults…
The one thing I noticed with kids calling games is they get very predictable…predictably so I guess. A kid will swing miss late on two fastballs and they call 0-2 change up because thats what they have been told to do. Why give the hitter something he can catch up to? That is a simple tweek. I really do agree let the kids call it. Guide them between innings or make a mound visit if needed, but, it is a great way to learn the game. Also, if the catcher makes a bad call or a pitcher misses “his” pitch there wont be any whining about the coach making bad pitch calls…own it kid.
The only youth league team my son played on that won a title of any kind was a team with a coach that was the least baseball experienced of any he had…the result? Shorter more focused practices that got to the actual practice. No fancy or silly drills. Catcher called the game, SS set the D ect. Rough start but by midseason they were engaged in every game. Allowing the kids (they were 14) to take some ownership in the team gave them great pride. No one missed practice, no one missed games. If you were late to practice you would see your innings cut the next game, that rule was put in by the kids. One of the best teams I have seen with guys picking each other up after an error or a strike out. They faced off vs. the big favorite in the state tournament. A team with the same coaches for 8 years and a hand picked team. They had the spiffy uniforms and very micromanaged…they had their set up guy, their lefty specialist ect. Anyway, my sons team had the most gaudy red pants I have ever seen, looked like mens slow pitch uniforms. They said they wanted to have fun. So, they put on the terrible red pants, had fun, beat the “elite” team twice and laughed all the way to the state title.
In other words…lets the kids play and learn. Teach where you can and let the game teach where it can. The term “coach” doesnt mean micromanaging every pitch in every game.
That’s great. I wish more youth coaches and for that matter HS coaches would follow that path.
There’s a lot more at stake when the players have to own it and can’t push off every responsibility to a coach. Let’s face it, I’ve seen a good many coaches who could learn a lot from their players.
This is a big problem at all amateur levels because there’s seldom any way to associate an actual pitch type and location to the situation and what happened on the pitch. Even most of the teams that chart pitches don’t have access to a way to take all the information and analyze it, and without that, there’s really no valid way to quantify what took place.
I agree with you about the pitches called, but I’m curious. Are you saying your pitchers actually get a different sign for a 2 seam as opposed to a 4 seam FB?
I hate it when people blame themselves for some failure of a coach. Any coach worth the powder to blow him to the devil, and that goes double for any coach calling pitches, should be checking to see what pitches each of his pitcher’s throws, long before he sticks them out on the mound! Not doing that would be the same thing as making out a lineup without knowing who could actually hit the ball when they swing.
Fearsome, you mentioned something about catchers (particularly in the lower levels) falling into predictable patterns, such as calling for a changeup on the 0-2 count. BIG mistake. Everybody and his/her Uncle Charlie and Aunt Susie know that the batters are looking for it. I’d like to mention something that Eddie Lopat told me when he was introducing me to strategic pitching, the how, why and wherefore. He cited an example: the pitcher is facing a batter for the third time in the game. He got the batter out the first two times—but now here it is the seventh inning, the batter is up for the third time, and you can bet your sweet bippy that he’ll be looking for the same pitch that got him before. And now it’s up to the catcher—is he aware of this situation, or does he go ahead and call for a changeup on the 0-2 count just because his coach said so?
Therein lies the difference—between getting this batter out for the third time in the game, or giving him a nice juicy pitch that he can blast from here to Timbuktu, or at least out of the ballpark, across the street, into Aunt Minnie’s kitchen window and smack into the roast turkey on the table. Gee whizzikins!
As Lopat told me—and he would repeat this from time to time—"Figure out what the batter is looking for, and don’t give it to him."
What I would do in this situation is shake off the catcher’s sign, no ifs, ands or buts. I am NOT going to throw this guy a changeup on 0-and-2. I’m going to
blow him away with my best pitch. 8)
Very true Zita. These are good teaching moments. There is something very satisfying watching a batter sit and watch a thigh high fast ball go past for strike three because he is waiting on the curverball…which he struck out on last time. The mental part of the game is such a big part of moving up to whatever the next level is. Funny how many kids who can throw hard never learn how to pitch…and how many that depend on junk never learn to throw hard. Few things drive me nuttier than watching a kid throwing knuckleballs. But, thats just me.
And it’s very likely that the kids who throw nothing but knuckleballs don’t even know how to use them. So they shouldn’t be surprised when the batters learn how to time them, get a good read on them, and blam, over the fence they go. Even someone like Hoyt Wilhelm, one of the greatest knuckleballers of them all, had to learn how to use that confounding pitch.
And here’s a cautionary tale of how easy it can be for the batters to solve that pitch. Back in the late 40s the Cleveland Indians had a pitcher named Gene Bearden who had one of the most devastating knucklers in existence. He used it to help the team win the AL pennant and the World Series against the then Boston Braves. This was in 1948. But the next year a couple of batters figured out how to hit that pitch. It was a matter of timing: when Bearden threw it, it would dance on its way to the plate, and the two guys who had figured it out figured that the way to beat this seemingly invincible pitcher was to go after it early and swing at it before it started to rumba or whatever dance it would do. In no time at all the rest of the league picked up on this information, and next thing you know Bearden was being driven from the mound in the third inning, again and again. Because he didn’t have a secondary pitch to fall back on, he lost his effectiveness and a lot of games.
Even R.A. Dickey, who throws a hard knuckler and does well with it, has a couple of other pitches he uses to set up that knuckler. So, kids, be warned—don’t rely exclusively on it. Have a couple of other pitches at your beck and call! 8)
I love the stories from the “old days”, although in terms of baseball that is fairly recent history. My grandfather played in the Cardinal organization in that same time frame.
I think a lot of youth coaches will have kids go up and throw it because they want them to get outs. With a lot of younger kids I think it is more of a palm ball actually as their hands are probably too small to throw a true knuckle. Part of the problem is human nature. We all enjoy doing what we have success with and enjoy less working on the things we are not good at. So, you end up with 14 year olds heading into high school with bad mechanics, a bad approach, no fastball and floaty knuckle type thing and get a rude awakening when they cant hang. Ive told my son when he started pitching a few years ago, try to learn everytime your out on the mound. If you dominate, try to learn, if you get hit, try to learn, if your off and walking guys you have to be able to know why (mechanically) and fix it yourself. Ive said for awhile once a person gets their mechanics solid and physically can pitch the hard part of the game is between the ears.
Between the ears…ay, as the Bard once said, there’s the rub.
Eddie Lopat once said that a good pitching coach really has to be some kind of psychologist. Very often a pitcher who’s having a problem doesn’t recognize that the problem has nothing to do with mechanics or repertoire but what’s going on between the ears, and very often the poor fish of a pitching coach has his hands full with the situation, not recognizing that such is the case. Take a look at a pitcher (or any position player) who suddenly gets a bad case of the “yips”. Someone like Steve Blass or Chuck Knoblauch. Or Rick Ankiel—although in his case the problem was solved by getting him off the mound and into the outfield, where he found that he could make those long throws: he became a very good outfielder. But Blass is a classic case—the “yips”, or his sudden failure on the mound, finished him.
But all is not lost. There was an outfielder named Paul Lehner, who played for the hapless St. Louis Browns and a couple of other teams. He was a very good outfielder. But suddenly he got the idea that he couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield on Sundays. It had nothing to do with religious or other scruples; he just couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield on Sundays, and as is so often the case Sunday is a day when crucial games, like doubleheaders, are so often played! Well, one day the trainer got Lehner to talk about this so-called “Sunday jinx”, and then the trainer told him that he had heard about some new pills that were supposed to help hitters. He said that a famous doctor had discovered them, and that a whole supply of these pills were on order, and that when they arrived "Let’s give them a tryout."
The pills came, and before the first game of an upcoming Sunday doubleheader Lehner went behind the dugout and gulped down two of them. He went 0-for-3 and started to wonder if they were any good, but then in his fourth time at bat he walloped a tremendous three-run homer into the bleachers. And in the second game he went 4-for-4, including another homer. So much for the “Sunday jinx”.
The classic placebo, and it worked.
So maybe if someone’s stuff isn’t working…and hasn’t been working…the problem might be upstairs and needs to be explored from that angle. 8)
I never trusted my catcher. One thing I always remembered was that he wasn’t going to lose any sleep that night if my ERA doubled.
They do use seperate signs for 2S/4S FB’s