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The Basics of Pitch Calling

1. Understand your pitchers strengths/weaknesses

This is definitely number 1 for pitch calling. You have to have an understanding of what your pitchers like to throw, what their best pitch is, what they like to throw ahead in the count, even what they are preferring on the day they’re pitching. Once you know the strengths of the pitcher you are catching you have a foundation for pitch calling. We always want to error on the side of calling to our pitchers strengths.

2. Understand hitters strengths / weaknesses

As you go up in levels of play the scouting reports for hitters get crazy! You can have so much information on a hitter at the professional level. Most colleges and some of the better high schools will probably keep scouting reports of hitters as well and you can use that to your advantage. I would still rather call pitches that are my pitchers strength rather than have him throw a pitch he doesn’t have confidence in because it is the hitter’s weakness. But sometimes you have hitters that just can’t hit off speed pitches or struggle with an inside fastball, depending on what pitches your pitcher throws it may be worth throwing 3 breaking balls in a row if a guy can’t hit that.

3. Know the general idea of the batting order (1-9)

This is something I hope most of you will know just from being around the game. I think most of us learn at some point in time which types of players usually hit in what spot in the lineup. This gets more difficult as you get up in level of play. Some lineups in the big leagues will have a guy hitting in the 2 spot with 20-30 homers, whereas most of your high school number 2 hitters aren’t big power threats. So this list is more for the high school player just learning to call pitches.

  • Leadoff – usually a contact hitter with some speed, not a power threat but puts the ball in play

  • 2nd – usually a 2nd leadoff type of guy; good contact hitter

  • 3rd – best hitter for average on the team; probably some power

  • 4th – Power hitter; may or may not hit for average but this guy looks to do damage

  • 5th – I’ve always thought this to be the RBI spot, Good hitter with some pop

  • 6th -9th – Bottom of the lineup guys, can still be threats but usually these are the guys we want to challenge

When you know what type of hitters are hitting in each spot this can help determine whether or not we want to challenge hitters or if we need to respect their hitting ability.

4. Effective Velocity Chart (pitch perception)

The effective velocity chart (pitchers view) is a great tool to memorize for pitch calling. This chart describes how pitches are perceived by hitters. If you throw a 90mph fastball down the middle, that pitch is perceived as 90mph. If you throw another fastball but this time throw it up and in, the hitter perceives that same 90mph pitch as 94 mph because it is thrown closer to him and therefore he has to react quicker to get to that same pitch. The most important part of hitting is being on time for pitches. We can use the effective velocity chart to our advantage to throw off hitters timing. Let's say we throw a fastball inside and the hitter is out in front and pulls the ball foul. He is early on the fastball. To use the effective velocity chart effectively the next best pitch to throw would be an off speed pitch away. Now the hitter is even earlier with his timing and most likely unable to sit back long enough to be on time. Learn the chart and start mentally going through different scenarios of hitters timing and what pitch would be good to call. If a hitter is early, go slow away, if a hitter is late, go faster in.

5. Reading hitters swings and emotions

Every hitter has a different approach and carries different emotions into the box. You have some guys who are very aggressive, some that are passive / scared, and a few who are supremely confident. We want to use their approach against them. I'll use one example from a recent game I played out here in Australia. The Australian National team catcher was in the box, a very over-aggressive hitter and highly emotional. If you left a pitch over the plate he'd hit it to the moon but he swung at a lot of bad pitches. So we threw him breaking balls early and fastballs out of the zone. He had a tough day against us because we used his emotions and his approach against him. Learning to read what hitters are like takes some time but you just need to pay attention. Look at their body language; are they stressed, aggressive, scared, or passive. You have some hitters who will stand in the box on the first pitch and clearly look like they are automatically going to take a first pitch strike: call a fastball! If he's going to let you have a first pitch strike, take it! If a hitter is going to swing at balls, why throw one down the middle. This can also be used as the at bat goes on, read a hitters swing and his emotions. Is he really early, continue throwing soft and away. Can he not catch up to the fastball, keep pounding fastballs. Learning this at lower levels will go a long way to being a great pitch caller at higher levels. As you get to higher levels, hitter hide their emotions and are better at keeping a cool head, even if they are struggling.

6. Know the zone

Each umpire you have is going to have a different zone, hopefully they are all relatively similar but they are going to be different. Some umpires may give you a couple inches off the plate (some may give you half a foot) take advantage of that with your pitch calling. Figure out what you can get from an umpire and communicate that to your pitchers. You always want to stay on the same page with your pitchers through a game. Let them know, "hey, he's giving us a couple inches on the outside part of the plate". Now your pitcher knows to miss off the plate away, he doesn't need to work so hard to nibble strikes from that part of the zone. Like I mentioned, each umpire is different and that is going to change which strike calls you are going to get some days. You can either work against the umpire and try and make him call pitches you want or you can use "his zone" to your advantage.

These are just some of the main things you'll want to be thinking about as you learn to call pitches. Each one of these points takes time to develop but if you can put them all together you'll be one of the better pitch callers out there. If you have any more questions about pitch calling or want to start working with Catching IQ to better your game please send us a message at catchingiq@gmail.com.

Jeremy Howard

Catching IQ