Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy is known as one of baseball’s most thoughtful, analytical pitchers; two years ago, he famously embraced advanced statistics and remade himself as a pitcher by perfecting a two-seamer that helped him get groundballs more often. As a result, he’s pretty popular on the internet. I asked him to provide the pitcher’s perspective on the importance of pitch framing and receiving skills.
On how he likes to see a catcher receive his pitches: “You keep the ball where you’re throwing, but it just feels soft. Like you’re just throwing to something that just—as a pitcher, you can see movement, see stabbing, the head is moving a lot, there’s a lot of movement. You know that the umpire can see that. And if the umpire is reacting to that, then you’re probably losing pitches. There isn’t much of that with [Miguel Montero], it’s soft and it’s kind of comfortable receiving as opposed to some catchers it looks like they’re—not scared of the ball, but they’re just very anxious to go get it. And it seems like with them you see more pitches being taken away from them.”
On what a good receiver is worth: "I don’t want to put a concrete number on it, because that’s what people take away from it, and you can kind of become married to that. But I would say it’s pretty worthwhile. I mean, the difference between being in a 1-1 count and a 1-2 count is big. Sometimes you might have two of those situations in a game or three, and sometimes you might have 10 or 11, and if he’s doing something for you that’s earning calls that you might not usually get… You know, it’s hard to say because it’s not really an easy situation, you don’t know if somebody else would have gotten that call, or if it’s the umpire, or if it’s him, but I would say over the course of a season it’s probably worth a lot more than most people would consider.”
On whether he’d rather have an excellent pitch framer and an average defense behind him, or an average pitch framer and an excellent defense behind him: “I would probably always rather have…I don’t know what way I’d answer that question, because when you have someone where it’s not working back there, you’re super annoyed. And every time you turn around and the ball, someone doesn’t get to it or something happens, then you get annoyed with that. So I want them both. I would still probably say defense, but I could go back and forth on that.”
On whether he would ever say something to a catcher whom he felt was costing him strikes: “No, I don’t know if there’s a diplomatic way to do it. I don’t know, I mean, if I had 10 or 12 years in, you’re a super veteran, then you could do it, but otherwise it’s hard.”
On whether a catcher’s receiving skills could play a role in deciding which team to sign with: “I guess it could. It would be a few bullet points down that list, but I could see it getting to a point where you use it as the deciding factor. If everything else is equal, then you might get down to that point and you’d say that’s a big thing. But again, what if he sprains his ankle on day one? Then you don’t see it.”
On how quickly he can tell if a catcher he’s working with is a good receiver: "Usually pretty quick. Sometimes it takes a little bit more going into the season to figure it out, but usually you can kind of tell pretty quick, just in the way that he—a lot of times it’s just the way they prepare, if they catch in the bullpen for you. There are people that take a tremendous amount of pride in it and they do it and they work with me in the bullpen, and some guys just sort of spot the ball and it’s just, getting it done. So I feel like you can kind of get a pretty good idea pretty quick.”