In my younger and more vulnerable days, also known as high school, I was a catcher for my school’s baseball team. It wasn’t an easy job, but I loved it. I would go over the game plan with my pitchers and work with them through lineups we would see multiple times over the course of a season. By the end of my stint playing baseball in high school, I had a pretty good sense of how the other players in the league liked their pitches and how they didn’t, and I certainly could tell which pitchers preferred throwing what pitches in certain situations.
In professional baseball, the job of a catcher is far more complex. Although catchers have to be aware of the scouting reports and their opponent’s strengthens and weaknesses, they have a whole slew of pitchers they must shepherd through a grueling 162-game season. The preparation that goes into catching is immense. Backstops scour scouting reports and are often the manager’s and pitching coach’s eyes and ears on the field during games.
It is, then, little wonder that so many catchers become managers. In fact, three of the four teams currently left in the playoffs are helmed by former catchers, and a few days ago, Marc Carig explored just why catchers make good manager. As field generals, the catchers are just supposed to know baseball (which is why Jorge Posada‘s gaffes last night were a bit surprising).
Carig’s piece on the whole is well worth the read. I want to highlight a selection concerning Joe Girardi:
Indeed, when looking back at his own experience, Girardi said catching helped prepare him for what he considers one of the most important parts of his job: handling pitchers. “As a catcher, that’s what you’re trying to do,” Girardi said. “You understand what you have in the bullpen, you understand which guys you’re going to use for which outs, how far you have to get your starter, who your starter matches up against, who you can’t let beat you.”
Dealing with pitchers, he said, developed the same skills he uses when handling the players on his roster.
“Different backgrounds, different nationalities, different personalities,” Girardi said. “You have to learn to handle all of them, relate to all of them. Learn to get the best out of them and that’s what you’re doing with your players.”
Over the last few days, Joe Girardi has come under fire for seemingly overmanaging his bullpen on Monday. He used David Robertson for all of 11 pitches in the 11th inning of a tie game and replaced him with the inferior Alfredo Aceves. Two batters later, the Angels had their first win of the ALCS.
But that game was Girardi’s first bullpen mistake of the postseason. In fact, he has now used relievers 30 times over the Yanks’ seven October games with fantastic results. In 23 innings, the Yanks’ pen has a 1.96 ERA. The bullpen has walked 10 and has struck out 21. As the Yanks go for the series win tomorrow, all pen hands will be deck.
Girardi, I believe, enjoys going to pen so much because, as a former catcher, he has confidence in his relievers. As he said, he knows which guys he wants to use for which outs and who can get certain opposing hitters out. It might infuriate us as fans to watch him use a lefty for one pitch only to replace him for another lefty, but so far, it’s worked. His approach may be a bit unorthodox, but the former catcher in Girardi certainly knows his pitchers.