Components of Calling a Game
Should I let my catcher call the game or should I? This is a question that every pitching coach or head coach has to answer. Some coaches like to have more control of the game; others enjoy teaching their catchers how to call the game; and for some it’s a way we can still compete. This article will highlight a few of the factors that go into each pitch call throughout the course a game. Pre-series scouting reports, an opposing hitter’s swing, pitcher’s stuff, and adjustments will all be examined.
Pre-series scouting reports, whether generated from previous years or from other coaches, help our guys become familiar with how we are going to attack each hitter in the opposing team’s line-up. I like to know who are the hottest hitters coming into our series, who hits well versus both RHP’s and LHP’s, and who doesn’t. With limited mid-week games at our level, this allows me to structure our mid-week bullpens specifically on our upcoming opponent. If we are facing a power-hitting team, we will focus more on height of the ball and executing our off-speed pitches for both strikes and expanding the zone. If we are playing a running team, we will work more on being quick to the plate while still executing our pitches and hitting spots. In every aspect of college coaching, I feel that generating a solid scouting report for my team might be the most important. It gives my pitchers confidence entering into every series.
Every pitch caller, whether it’s the catcher or the pitching coach, has to be able to read an opponent’s swing to help formulate a plan of attack. I like to watch the pre-game batting practice; I look for a several things. What’s the swing path? Is it up-hill or down to the ball? This helps determine what height of the ball I will call. Is he able to handle the outside pitch? What does his oppo round look like? Does he flip balls to the opposite field or drive them? I may stick to a certain side of the plate depending on the answers. Does he start open, closed, or parallel? Where does he end up after he strides? Is he a front-foot hitter or does he stay balanced in his load and stride? The answers help me determine my pitch sequences and how I will pitch him. Pitch by the book, start away and stay away, work both sides of the plate, work backwards, or throw all off-speed can be determined by his swing. Most times what I see in BP reaffirms what we generated in our scouting; however, some guys will take a different swing with them in the game or they will just have a bad round of BP.
A pitcher’s arsenal factors in greatly when calling a game. Pitch sequences and plans of attack only work if my guy is able to execute his pitches. When he is on and throwing all of his pitches for strikes, it makes my job very easy. However, calling a game gets very difficult when my guy is struggling to find the zone. It’s my job to either develop a second/third pitch or build confidence in my guys to throw those pitches in any count. This is achieved by count specific bullpens, off-speed flat-ground sessions, fastball flat-grounds, and inter-squad scrimmages. I call every pitch in the fall so my pitchers get used to throwing different types of pitches in different counts. The goal is to have pitchers with pitch 1A, 1B, and 1C; not best pitch, second pitch, etc. In pressure situations, I am going to call my pitcher’s best pitch; it may be the pitch that the hitter can best handle. If this is the case, whoever executes on that pitch will win; that’s what makes this game fun. My guy’s best versus his best; that competition! If my pitcher has more than one option to throw, we have the edge.
The last area I would like to discuss is adjustments. Every mound my guys will pitch off of is different; being able to adjust quickly is vital. My pitcher may not have a feel for a certain pitch; this is where warm-up bullpen sessions and the pitches between innings become crucial. We’re not going to give up on a pitch simply because he doesn’t have a feel for it that particular day. This is something he has to consistently work on trying to find. Each pitcher on my staff is different; I have guys that after 10 pitches off the mound are ready to go, while other take close to 40 or 50. Some guys throw better when they are tired while others are better fresh. I have to identify the ideal amount of pitches for each of my starters and structure their pre-game accordingly. Relievers are very similar; if a guy can get hot quickly, I can send him down the half inning before. However, if a reliever requires several pitches, I need to make sure he has ample time to get those pitches in. The weather and playing conditions have to be factored in as well.
Good college hitters make adjustments; this is part of the chess game between hitters and pitchers. A hitter may move off or on the plate if we have worked him a certain location consistently. He may move up in the box to take away a curve-ball or change his approach from pull to oppo or vice versa. This is where the communication with my catcher and pitcher becomes vastly important. I can’t see all of the adjustments from the dugout, so it’s their responsibility to identify and relay those to me.
Calling pitches has always been part of the game and always will be; numerous factors are calculated before a sign is put down. My responsibility is to work through all of those factors or teach my catcher how to work through them. Either way our job remains the same: get the hitter out!