Thursday, August 14, 2014

AJ Writes About the Art of Being a Catcher

AJ Ellis wrote another great guest-post at ESPN Insider (no subscription required) that provides some key insight on how they prepare for a game.  Specifically, he details the preparation and outcome from Clayton Kershaw's most recent start against the Angels.

In a pregame meeting AJ writes that they discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the Angel batters (especially right-handed), and decided they would attack their hitters on the outside of the plate; while ignoring Kershaw's strength of "pound(ing) right-handed hitters inside." 
The trouble is the Angels have a bunch of great hitters who feast on pitches on the inner half. So in our pregame meeting, we decided to scrap Kersh’s strength and try to work the outer half of the plate toward those hitters' statistical weaknesses. Three innings and three earned runs later, we both realized we compromised our typical game plan in favor of the numbers our computer spewed out regarding hitters' results versus left-handed pitchers who probably do not own two Cy Young Awards or pitch with the will and ferocity Kersh does.

Realizing the error of our ways, we went back to what Kersh does well, and he cruised the rest of the way. After giving up seven hits and striking out just one batter in his first three innings because of our dumb game plan, Kersh allowed no hits and struck out six in his final four frames. Lesson learned.
As you would recall, Clayton got shelled in the early going of that game.  He allowed seven hits in the first three innings; four of them for extra bases.  However, after their adjustment Kershaw cruised, and the Dodgers would eventually win the game on a walk-off flub (fielders choice) to score Juan Uribe by Andre Ethier.
It's always great to get this kind of information about the process pitchers, along with their catchers, go through for each start.  It's like getting a little glimpse at the "game within the game" that fans rarely have an opportunity to see or experience.

And surprisingly, this wasn't even the best part of the article.  AJ Ellis sings the praises of former Dodger catcher Brad Ausmus for letting him in on a little secret.  Ausmus details for AJ how best to approach each batter with the following checklist:
1. How aggressive is the hitter on the first pitch?
2. Does that change with runners in scoring position?
3. Where exactly does the hitter do his damage?
4. On what types of pitches?
5. In or away?
6. Ahead in the count only?
7. What are the hitter's two-strike chase zones on both fastballs and off-speed pitches?
And he writes that this list is to avoid information overload... Oy Vie!... I think my mind just exploded.

I absolutely suggest taking some time to read the entire thing.  (For the moment, at least, no ESPN subscription is required)  AJ goes into much greater detail on the process he goes through when calling pitches, and some of the specific tendencies of certain pitchers.

In the end, I'll leave you with one quote that I believe encapsulates why I believe AJ is so great behind the plate.
I've learned there has to be a marriage of stats and strengths. I try to find that balance every time I throw a sign down.
Photo at the very top, via Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers 2014.

* Please follow on twitter @ernestreyes *
* Dodgers Blue Heaven home page *

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