Sure, pitchers have to make pitches and ultimately they’re held responsible for success or failure, but it’s the catcher who usually dictates what those pitches are and where they are thrown.
Catchers also have to deal with speedy base-runners, umpire-specific strike zones, and making sure errant curveballs don’t get past them. It’s a lot to have to think about.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that former catchers frequently make good managers. Mike Scioscia of the Angels, Joe Girardi of the Yankees, and Bob Melvin of the Diamondbacks are just a few of the former backstops having success in the majors right now.
So how does a catcher prepare for a game? Portland Beavers backstop and 15-year veteran Shawn Wooten talks about his technique before he straps the mask on.
Do you keep a notebook on pitchers?
Shawn Wooten: No, basically, I learned a lesson a long time ago when I was in the big leagues. I faced Andy Pettitte when he was throwing 95. The next time I faced him he was throwing 88, 89. He absolutely killed against us, and then the next time I faced him he didn’t fare as well as he did the start before. Every start could be different from a pitcher, depends how he feels that day, depends what’s going on.
As a catcher, do you keep one on hitters?
Shawn Wooten: As a catcher, I don’t necessarily look at notes as opposed to looking at their swing. I will occasionally look at how they’ve done the last ten days. Let’s say if they have a stat sheet that comes out that says a guy’s hitting .320 but his last ten games he’s hitting under .200, well he’s not a .320 hitter right now. That’s what I like to look at. [Or] if it’s a big, tall lefty and if his swing path is down and in. A lot of guys, now, I’ve had an opportunity to play against, so, I remember a lot of stuff.
Do you compare notes with teammates?
Shawn Wooten: I know that there are a lot of guys that do keep notes, and I know it’s kind of their type of game, but what I like to know are certain things. I pay attention to the game. If a guy gets 1-0 and likes to throw a changeup, I’m going to make that mental note and maybe the next time I face him it might not be 1-0 when he throws that changeup, it could just be a game situation thing. It’s like if [it’s] second and third 2-2 count, in that situation I might [get] a slider but the next time I face him if the situation’s completely different it might not be a slider. That’s why a lot of times I think stats and reading up on players are important, but I think going out there and playing it, getting a feel for the game is way more important.
Do you watch game film?
Shawn Wooten: In the big leagues, I used to look at it a lot. Opposing pitcher, my swing, good swings. I try to stay away from my bad swings, which happen a lot. [Laughs] Mostly with the good swings. Down here [with the Beavers] you don’t have as much video, and a lot of time it’s usually of your own team not of the opposing team coming up. Maybe if you have a guy that’s struggling. I like to do that type of stuff. I think it’s very important. I think, at this level, when you start struggling, it necessarily isn’t your thought process, it has something to do with mechanics, that’s the way I think. When I start struggling I like to look at video and take a good swing and take a bad swing and try comparing them and see where things are going wrong.
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