I asked a former catcher and current pro scout for an American League team what he looks for when evaluating a catcher’s receiving skills. Due to team policy, he wished to remain anonymous.
“For me it’s the amount of movement he has while catching the baseball. I want someone that I believe is going to present the baseball in an easy manner for the umpires. Because it’s art…guys throw even harder now these days, not to mention the movement. So I want someone that’s going to be able to be as quiet as possible, and present the baseball slightly in front of their body where the umpire can see it.”
“I always look to see where a guy sets up. And then sometimes you can see where guys will miss a pitch, like if he misses over the plate, he’s set up inside or whatever. I like to see how those guys are able to adjust and how much body movement they have to make to get to adjust to the pitch.”
“I think it’s great [that catchers like Jose Molina] are able to… expand the zone a little bit. But at the same time, Jose’s catching that ball in the center of his body off the plate. So to the umpire, it looks like a strike. Because he’s catching every single ball he possibly can the same way…whether it’s a ball or a strike. If you’re going to hold the pitch there for, whatever, half a second, hold it there, boom, give it back to the pitcher. Next pitch, hold it there, half a second. That’s something I was always taught as well. Try to lull the umpire to sleep. Keep everything the same, and maybe by the third or fourth inning, if you’re catching it cleanly you may get that call.”
“The ability to catch the ball solidly with the same sound—if you’re ever at a game and you’re able to hear the sound, you can tell when a guy didn’t catch it right, because of the sound. But you can tell when he does catch it right, and I think that helps too. If you can consistently catch the ball with the same sound, whether it’s off the plate or on the plate, I guarantee you, that’s—if you listen to Jose [Molina] and his glove during the game, the ball’s a strike, that sound is pretty close to the same. That’s what I call just putting the umpire to sleep. “
On how long it takes to evaluate a catcher: “if you’re going in on a catcher and you have no idea what he is, after two or three games you can find out what kind of catcher he is.”
On projecting a catcher’s future receiving skills: “Especially with young guys that are athletic, can I project their body staying flexible and keeping themselves in a good, relaxed position to receive the baseball? On the younger kids, if he’s already a bad receiver, I want to see if he’s going to be able down the road to maintain some type of flexibility with his body, to at least allow him to be in a good position to catch the ball. I think the lower-half flexibility, the positioning, is huge as far as your comfort level receiving the baseball. If I didn’t feel like my legs were prepared for the game, my hands didn’t work.”
"I do think guys will improve for the fact that the pitching gets better… Guys are able to hit spots. Stuff may become a little better, but at the same time, if I’m a catcher and I know where this ball is going to go 95 percent of the time, I can put my body in a good position to catch that ball."
"A lot of it depends on the pitcher…Because if you don’t know where that ball’s going, ooph."
On the kind of catchers that care about receiving skills: “The guys that care about it are probably your guys that weren’t necessarily the most gifted guys or famous when they were coming up, because they had to do that to get to where they are and to have pitchers want to throw to them.”
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This is an interesting observation- Ben, in your catcher framing evaluations, have you noticed a tendency for "stolen" strikes to occur more often later in games?