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Nov 18

                Image result for Free pictures of Aroldis Chapman

            Flame throwing Aroldis from the Sportsmockery web-site.

               DEVELOPING CATCHERS

THE REAL REASON CHAPMAN THREW A HANGER

       If You Can’t Block, You Can’t Catch

I’m not going to beat up on Gary Sanchez.  No point.  I feel sorry for the guy.  Apparently, the New York Yankees have no idea how to develop a catcher.   

And this is really about the importance of Blocking.

Aaron Boone tells us Sanchez has really improved.  He’s cut down his passed balls and he calls a good game.

But let’s take a closer look.  

                    Yes, he hammers every once in awhile.  But...

For openers, catchers don’t call the game.  They put down fingers as  suggestions.   And then the pitcher either accepts or rejects.  Pitchers call the game.  When they shake their head they're not telling the waiter they're passing on dessert.

Okay, so what about the passed balls?  Sanchez had 18 in 2018 but chopped that to seven this season.  Eighteen passed balls last year.  Eighteen.  Hard to get past that abysmal stat.  Even seven is barely acceptable.

But it misses the point by four or five hundred miles.  Sanchez thinks blocking is for guards and tackles.  More baseballs scoot under his glove than conspiracy theories hatched by Internet loonies.

None of these are counted as passed balls.  But in most cases they should be.  Instead they’re notched as wild pitches.  Which means the dude on the bump takes the rap every time Sanchez fails to block a breaking pitch in the dirt.

This, of course, is as asinine as blaming Microsoft for your kid’s addiction to video games.  Catchers simply must block curveballs that bounce.  Yes, framing and receiving and throwing bullets are crucial.

But, if you can’t block, you can’t catch.  And Gary Sanchez often doesn’t even try.  Instead of driving his knees to the ground with his glove between his legs, he just picks.  And breaking balls skip past him like the roadrunner in full flight.

Image result for Free pictures of catchers blocking pitches

              Brian McCann anticipates this breaking ball in the dirt.

Now you might argue that a pitch that bounces is definitely as wild as the wind.  And you would be right.

But…

Outstanding catchers are like brick walls.  For my money Mike Matheny was the greatest blocking catcher since Genghis Khan buckled up his shin guards for the Mongol Marauders in the Dark Ages MLB.        

Getting a Rawlings through Matheny was like invading the White House carrying an AK-47 and a bag full of grenades.  Matheny didn’t just block.  He smothered.  He even put up the Berlin Wall when the pitcher was tossing his eight warm ups at the start of each inning, which is great psychology.  See, dude, you can’t get a pitch past me.  Not ever.  NOT EVER.

Ryan Dempster told me pitchers loved throwing to Matheny because they believed nothing would get through him.  The two aces catching in the Series, Martin Maldonado and Kurt Suzuki, are also blue chip.  Their mission is simply No Ball Shall Pass.

On the flip side, when the receiver is a sieve there’s an inevitable Domino Effect.  If you’ve never pitched you probably won’t understand.  So pay attention.

When you stand on the hill with a runner on third and the guy back there puts down two fingers and you agree, you better be damn sure.

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Damn sure it’s the right call.
Damn sure you’ll get on top and pull down.
Damn sure you won’t hang it.
Damn sure you’ll break it off.
And damn sure if it bounces it won't get through.
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Because your catcher will block it like the Maginot Line.  Damn sure.

You have to believe that.  Totally.  Without reservation.  You need 100 per cent certainty your catcher will block anything and everything you throw up there.

If there’s even the slightest subliminal DOUBT lingering in your cerebral cortex you’ll be as reluctant to break off a filthy slider as a vegetarian served a steak dinner.

This is not a conscious thought.  It’s not up front and personal.  It’s just this lurking, stalking DOUBT that infects your subconscious like a virus.  Break one off and watch your catcher chase it to the backstop while the runner scores.

  • Image result for Free picture of Mike Matheny

               Matheny also tracked foul pops like radar

Just ask Aroldis Chapman.

Moments after he hung that second slider and Jose Altuve drove a cannon shot into the left field stratosphere one of the 4,921 cameras zeroed in on Chapman’s mug and captured what looked like a forced smile.  Anyone familiar with pixels knows you can freeze frame just about anything you bleeping want to get any expression you want.

Chapman says he was just shocked and couldn’t believe it.  Sounds reasonable.

But Social Media is far from reasonable.  Chapman’s psychotic. Altuve is on his Fantasy team.  He was betting on the Astros.  Such Droll Trolls.

I know it’s hard to understand why a guy with a 100 mph four-seamer would throw sliders back to back.  But Altuve starts so far off the plate he’s almost in the dugout.  Then he Sky Dives in almost three feet.  The idea was to jam him up like a sardine with razor sharp sliders on his hands.

As a concept it makes a lot of sense and it certainly doesn’t compare to Russell Wilson throwing a Super Bowl pick with Beast Mode ready to Smashmouth the Patriots.  That one has to rate as the worst decision since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.

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“We’ve been working on reacting to unexpected pitches.  I mean location. You always want the pitch where you call for it, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. So how do you react so you can receive those?”
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But…again…

There’s a runner on first and you don’t want a wild pitch in the dirt skipping him along to scoring position.

So you have to believe, you have to know, you have to be 100 per cent certain, you have to be absolutely committed to this breaking ball.  You have to KNOW your catcher will BLOCK.  Not HOPE he’ll block.  Not MAYBE block.  FOR SURE he’ll BLOCK.

If you don’t have that certainty you have a sliver of DOUBT.  Without really knowing it a tiny part of your brain isn't totally sure.  So you let up just a little bit, you don't pull down a shade hard enough, and you don't bury your slider deep enough.  And that translates into one word.

HANGER.

Now I won’t tell you that’s the only reason Aroldis Chapman threw a lollipop and Altuve licked his lips and crushed it.  But I know this for sure.  When a catcher can’t block he sends his pitchers en masse to their friendly neighbourhood psychiatrist.

Sanchez is a big guy, 6-2, 230 and the Yankees seem to use that an excuse for his inability to get down.  But that’s pure rationalizing bull shit.  Matheny is 6-3 and he blocked like concrete.  Size is not a detriment.

Sep 7, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto (11) throws to first base to retire Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chris Archer (not pictured) during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports (Charles LeClaire)

J.T. Realmuto frames like Van Gogh, throws lasers, and blocks everything.

Catchers are my favourite players.  They work their butts off and seldom get the credit they deserve.  I’ve coached some good ones, including Chris Dempster, a tireless worker, and Kenny Scott, the heart of the Delta Tigers, and one of the toughest blockers I’ve ever seen.

Sanchez always seems embarrassed when a pitch blitzes through him and he obviously wants to improve.  “We’ve been working on reacting to unexpected pitches,” he says.  “I mean location. You always want the pitch where you call for it, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. So how do you react so you can receive those?”

That’s a framing conundrum and always a challenge.  But today we’re talking about breaking balls in the dirt.

You want to teach blocking?  Get your receivers into the cage and shoot bouncing spinners from a curveball pitching machine loaded with soft incrediballs.  Over and over and over and over.  Until blocking becomes automatic.  High school and college and pro teams do this all the time.

Maybe somebody should tell the New York Yankees.