Coaches: Let Catchers and Pitchers Call Their Own Pitches

Catcher getting Pitching Sign from Dugout

A baseball coach’s job is to teach players how to play the game the right way.  However, the teaching component is often lost when it comes to calling pitches.  Many youth coaches, lots of high school coaches, and even some college coaches have taken the decision-making out of their catchers and pitchers hands by not allowing them to call their own game.  There are two reasons why this usually occurs:

  1. The coach wants to be in control of every aspect of the game including what pitch is being thrown.
  2. The coach is too lazy to teach his players how to call pitches.

If you are a coach who calls pitches from the dugout, it’s time to stop.  Clear your head of the mindset that you must be in control and start teaching your pitchers and catchers how to handle pitching signs, sequences, and patterns.  Here’s why.

The Pitcher’s Confidence

Most pitchers have a specific pitch that they like to throw in certain situations.  Let’s say the pitcher is on a roll and just went ahead in the count 1-2.  The pitcher wants to go back to his fastball low and away because he believes he can spot it up well and get the hitter to swing through it.  However, the coach calls for a curveball in the dirt.  This is where uncertainty and tension begin to creep into the pitcher’s mind because he does not feel comfortable throwing that particular pitch in that situation.  And when he doubts himself, often the result is a poorly executed pitch – even if the curveball in the dirt is the correct pitch for the situation.  In other words, it’s better to throw the wrong pitch with confidence than to throw the right pitch without any conviction.  Don’t underestimate the power of belief.

Tempo and rhythm are also important to a pitcher’s confidence.  Pitchers do not necessarily have to work quickly, but instead find a nice steady tempo from pitch to pitch.  This is evident in a pitcher’s thought process as he begins to select his next pitch the moment the last pitch hits the catcher’s mitt.  If a catcher has to constantly look over to the dugout, decipher the sign from the coach, and relay it to the pitcher, this rhythm can be disrupted.  Again, causing the pitcher to be uncomfortable.  When a pitcher and catcher call the pitches it can do wonders for the tempo of the ballgame and effectiveness of each pitch.  Pitchers who have solid tempo and rhythm have more confidence on the mound resulting in better quality pitches.

The Catcher’s Leadership

Whether they are up for the task or not, the catcher is the team leader.  He can see the whole picture as a play develops.  He will need to be able to direct his teammates on the field, handle a variety of different pitchers, and know the strengths and weaknesses of opposing hitters.  To take away his ability to call pitches tells the catcher that he is not good enough to be a leader.  It allows him to slide on his responsibility of knowing the abilities of both his pitching staff and the opposing hitters.  How can you teach this aspect of the game to him if he does not need to know it?  How can you hold him accountable if you do not give him responsibility?

When a catcher and pitcher call their own game, a special bond begins to develop over time.  Soon, the catcher will know what the pitcher wants to throw next before the pitcher even knows.  Imagine what this does for the pitcher’s tempo, rhythm, and confidence.  Step up on the mound, look in for the sign, give a nod, and execute.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

This special bond also allows the catcher to help his pitcher when he may be struggling.  The catcher himself must become a coach and psychologist if he needs to visit the mound.  Does he need to calm the pitcher down, get him fired up, or just talk strategy about the current hitter?  Whatever it is, the catcher has to know what his pitcher is capable of, how he needs to approach the pitcher, and what he needs to say in order to illicit the positive effect the situation calls for.

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Moving Up to the Next Level

As mentioned before, your job as a coach is to develop and teach your ballplayers how to play the game properly.  If you take away the ability to call pitches, you are not setting your players up for success at the next level.  How is a pitcher or catcher supposed to call his own game if he’s never done it before?  Use bullpen and chalk talk sessions to coach your players on the intricacies of calling pitches.  In effect, you’ll be teaching them many important aspects of the game:

  1. Pitchers will learn what pitches are most effective in certain counts.
  2. Pitchers will learn that it’s not always about the pitch type, but rather pitch location. (This is a huge lesson that many pitchers do not learn until really late.)
  3. Pitchers and catchers will learn how to read a hitter in the batter’s box.
  4. Pitchers and catchers will learn how to scout opposing players and use that information for pitch selection.
  5. Catchers will learn how to handle a pitching staff – when to make a quick mound visit, how to set up behind the plate for different pitchers, and what different pitchers like to throw in certain situations.
  6. Pitchers and catchers will learn to trust one another.

These are just a few of the many areas that you can coach a player on just by allowing them to call the game.  If you call every pitch yourself, these teaching moments slip away and the players do not get to learn more about the game.  This is not fair to the player.

Bottom line, your coaching responsibilities are to teach the game of baseball and manage your team well during a game.  It is not to control every aspect of every pitch of every game.  Calling pitches from the dugout is not coaching.  It’s being a dictator.  By teaching your pitchers and catchers how to properly call pitches, you will no doubt learn how to coach more effectively and your players will enjoy the game of baseball even more.

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About The Author

Phil Tognetti, CSCS

Phil Tognetti, CSCS, is the founder and editor of The Full Windup. He has written the eBook ARMing for Success which teaches players and coaches how to set up a proper throwing program. You can learn more about him here and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Mweber49

    Interesting. I would say that in a perfect world, yes the players should learn the game and build trust, friendships etc. Unfortunately, the world and the game has changed to such a degree that the ‘learning curve’ in most cases, cannot be accelerated to a point where catchers are as competent as the coach at calling pitches. If the catcher is as competent as the coach at this skill, I would say go for it. In 99% of the cases this is just not the case. News flash: They call pitches in the Majors/Minors/College. I believe youth baseball is a place where you can teach catchers/pitchers about pitch selection vs a wide variety of hitter skills and field conditions, etc., but to suggest that these students of baseball know more than the coach is simply wishful thinking. 

    I must admit that I was a proponent of letting catchers call pitches. However, after learning the hard way (loses), I realized that these students of the game cannot match the wisdom and years of experience that I have and I should not expect that of them. If we are going to win or lose on a pitch, I want it on me, not them. I will take the responsibility. My pitchers and catchers have long discussions about this. From time to time I will let them call pitches but like everything that happens in the program and on the field, the buck stops with me.
    If we win they get the credit, if we lose, I am more than willing to take the blame.

    By the way, our program has gone from 50% success, to 75% since I made the change to coaches calling pitches.


    • basher61

      I guess that all depends on your definition of success. Is it winning ballgames or developing players? Don’t say both because there are many things coaches do to win that get in the way of developing ballplayers. Ask a minor league manager about that.

      As coaches, we’re often way too anxious to “take the blame”. My philosophy is to teach in practice and let the kids learn the hard way during ballgames. If they screw up, they’ll learn more from that than anything.

      And, your newsflash? According to Brent Mayne, former big league catcher for 15 seasons,  coaches and manager in professional baseball don’t call games. A
      pro catcher glancing into the dugout is looking for instructions to
      control the running game.

    • Thanks for the comments MW and Basher.

      MW – I can see why a coach would want to call pitches if he is more competent than his catcher, but the coach does in fact know more than his players.  That is why he is the coach.  And that is exactly my point – he should be passing his knowledge of the game on to his players.  Teaching, not dictating.

      Will mistakes be made by the pitcher and catcher?  Absolutely.  But, now you have these great teaching moments that they can learn from.  The more they learn, the better they become at calling pitches.  The better they become at calling pitches, the more success they have executing.

      If the coach always calls the pitches, where is the opportunity for the pitcher and catcher to learn?

    • Beagamer

      I’ve never met a MLB pitcher or catcher that was told what to throw by a coach or manager. Or any professional player for that matter.

    • For younger players, I think that a blended approach to start with is the best route. I agree with Phil in that it is the job of the coach to teach catchers and pitchers the science of calling pitches/keeping batters off balance. Yet at the same time, its hard to learn situational calls since there are so many factors to consider. As a former catcher, what worked for me was my coach and instructors first teaching me the foundation of pitch calling, yet still calling the game for me. This only lasted for less than a season. By the end of the season, they would only chime in during high-stake situations. Their pitch calls during this time helped me connect the dots on WHY they called these pitches in these situations, making me much better at calling them myself.

      For the rest of my career I called my own games. Every once in a great while the coach would get my attention for a signal, but this would only improve my own pitch calling. Finally as a side note – I agree, college/minor/major league catchers do occasionally take signs from the bench, I’ve seen it many times. Again, however, this is usually only in very special situations. To suggest it never happens is just ridiculous (how many times do you see a major league coach adjusting the shift or depth of fielders between pitches, why would catchers and pitchers be immune to some intervention during the game?).

    • BLC

      MW, I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but nearly 100% of pitches in professional baseball are called by catchers/pitchers, not coaches. There is a process of going through a scouting report which involves coaches, but the in-game pitch calling is all on the catcher and pitcher.
      Also, based on your statement, you measure success by wins and losses. While there are important lessons to be learned from striving to win and dealing with losing, if you are measuring your program’s success at the youth ball level on wins/losses, then you may be missing some important edicts of your chosen calling. Just saying …

  • Great article! Made me think a lot about recent coaching decisions I have made. During the past 10 years that I have been a head coach, I have moved toward being an athlete centered coaching style where athletes learn the game, and I try to teach through tactile games. Ironically, I have actually gone the other direction on calling pitches. When I was a control freak, I didn’t call pitches. Now that I have turned a lot of responsibility over to my athletes, I have started calling pitches. I give the pitcher the right to shake me off if he is more confident in a different pitch. He is the one throwing it after all. I view calling pitches similar to an offensive coordinator calling plays in football. Ultimately, the quarterback can audible if he sees or feels something different, but players are distracted from seeing small subtleties by playing the game. My job is to teach players in practice and catch those subtleties during the games. That’s why while giving more and more control to my players, I have taken over pitch calling responsibilities.

    Loved the article. I am certainly not saying my way is correct, and I agree with many of the philiosophies you present in the article. Different strokes for different folks.

    Kyle Nelson

    Cornerstone Coaching Academy

    • Kyle,

      Thanks for the comment. Glad it had you considering your coaching philosophies and decisions. One way or another, the players have to learn the game. Allowing pitchers and catchers to call the game gives the coach more teachable moments where he can impart his knowledge of the game to his players.

      Glad you enjoyed the article!

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