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.

About 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.