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I have been reading few baseball related comics and, in all the comics what I have observed is that,the catchers always signal what the pitcher has to throw. It is as if the catchers are the brain behind the variations in the pitches thrown at the batter.

Is it always the case or can a pitcher simply throw without asking for signals from the catcher ?

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There's a few reasons. 1. The pitcher and catcher obviously must be on the same page to prepare for the pitch, certain pitches require large amount of catcher movement/anticipation. 2. The catcher is not in view of the batter, but the pitcher is. Because of this, the catcher is a better option to give signals so the batter cannot see them - same goes for the opponent's dugout vision of the catcher vs the pitcher. –  Nicholas V. Aug 26 '13 at 14:09

4 Answers 4

Most Major League starting pitchers have between three and four different kinds of pitches that they can throw throughout the game. Examples are

  • Fastabll
  • Changeup
  • Slider
  • Curveball
  • Cut Fastball
  • Kunckleball

The break and speed of these pitches vary quite dramatically so it's important for the catcher to know what's coming.

The reason that a pitcher has so many pitches is so that he can vary the speed, rotation, location and break to the batter. If the batter knows what pitch is coming they can largely negate the advantage that the pitcher creates by being able to mix their pitches.

Generally you want signs to be simple between a pitcher and a catcher. This is due to the fact that miscommunication with signals can lead to passed balls, wild pitches and even injury to the catcher.

This means that most of the time it makes sense for the catcher and pitcher to communicate via a simple system. The catcher shows the sign between his legs and the pitcher either nods to accept the sign or shakes his head to tell the catcher to change pitches. Then the catcher places his glove in the intended location and that becomes the target location for the pitch.

However, this is not the whole story. The catcher is generally not just calling pitches. Generally pitch selection is either the result of prior planning and discussion with the pitcher (they will generally meet before a game to work on how to get specific hitters out). Or the pitches are relayed by the manager or pitching coach from the dugout to the catcher and then to the pitcher.

Some specific situations where this system changes:

  • When a runner reaches second base the catcher will almost always go to the mound to tell the pitcher that he will be switching to a more complicated signally system so that the runner (who has full view of his signalling) has a harder time determining the signs and cannot relay information to the batter)
  • In late and close games with runners on base you might see the catcher go to the mound every pitch or every couple of pitches. This is because the margin for error is very slim and they want to avoid any potential confusion due to signals getting crossed.

This mostly applies to starting pitchers. When a reliever enters the game usually they throw fewer pitches (some great ones only have a single pitch, see Mariano Rivera with the cut fastball), and they will likely not have as well developed of a gameplan with their catcher. This is where having a veteran catcher who knows a pitcher very well is really important. He potentially knows the hitters better than the pitcher does and is the guide for the reliever to get outs.

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does a catcher also pick locations of a pitch? People say Mariano Rivera has 1 pitch, but I would think there are variations on the theme. I would think the catcher helps set up the hitter by working him on locations and trying to trick the hitter. Is this accurate? –  Bob Aug 27 '13 at 14:26
    
@Bob Yes. Part of this is going to be working with the pitcher in practice and bullpens to know where he feels comfortable throwing, and understanding how he likes to sequence pitches. The catcher makes the call, but it's not without the pitcher's input. –  wax eagle Aug 27 '13 at 14:36
    
@waxeagle So it is a practiced partnership between the pitcher and catcher. Can there be any signs to feign pitches so that the pitcher will get other player on other pitchers out,when they leave their base before the pitcher pitches the ball ? –  kartshan Aug 30 '13 at 5:34
    
@kartshan If you're talking about pickoffs, then, sometimes yes. See the chat following here for more information. –  wax eagle Aug 30 '13 at 10:55

Here's 3 quick things to keep in mind

  • The pitcher can decline the given sign, in which case the catcher will have to give another sign.
  • Since different pitches behave differently, the catcher needs to know what pitch is being called so he can compensate. Passed balls are never a good thing.
  • It has to be the catcher that calls the sign, because that's the only player in the field the batter cannot see.

A pitcher just throwing without a sign is a no no and will most definitely bring quite a bit of anger from both the catcher and the pitcher's manager. The only time you'll see a pitcher not get a sign is when multiple pitches have been called, say after a catcher's trip to the mound, often in a close game situation.

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The pitcher has the final decision, since he is the one throwing the pitch. Before every game, the pitcher, catcher and pitching coach meet to discuss pitching strategies. They already have an approach before the batter steps into the batter's box.

The catcher then signals the pitcher (sometimes, the coach will signal the catcher first). This is primarily done to make sure, on any given pitch, they are in agreement. Trying to catch a 95mph fastball up and in when you are set up for a slider down and away can lead to a lot of wild pitches. The catcher does this because if the pitcher did it, the batter will see the signs.

The pitcher then decides if he is comfortable with the pitch called and either nods or shakes it off. Knowing a strategy before a game starts doesn't take into account a pitchers feel and comfort level with the pitch once he starts pitching in-game. In most cases, the pitchers agree because they have a relationship with the catcher, they both prepare in advance.

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The catcher is the one to make the call because the sign can be easily stolen if done by the pitcher directly.

Secondly, the catcher also needs to give the sign to the pitcher to pick off any runners on base if any as the catcher is the only player that can see the entire infield and outfield.

This doesn't necessarily mean the catcher makes all the decision, before the games, they already discussed the pitch patterns and the pitcher can choose to reject the pitch by body signs so the catcher makes another sign.

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