Tag Archives: Pitch framing

UIndy’s Ready talks about principles of catching

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Al Ready was a catcher at the University of Indianapolis and now he instruct receivers as the NCAA Division II Greyhounds head coach.

Ready shared elements of playing the position at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville hosted by Greg Vogt.

Ready says catcher is the most under-coached position in baseball.

“It’s probably the most important position on the field next to the pitcher,” says Ready. “However, in a practice setting, a lot of times there’s not enough time to work with those guys.

“Their responsibilities in practice tend to be in the bullpen or whatever.”

One area of catching that Ready sees as something of a lost art is “umpire management” aka building a positive relationship with the officials.

“It’s a job you should be teaching your catchers to do,” says Ready. “The umpires are human beings. There’s a lot of screaming and hollering at the umpire and I’m as guilty as anybody.

“As the catcher, you have the ability to control some of that. You want to put yourself in a position where calls that could go one way or another are going to go your way.”

Ready encourages his catchers to talk with the umpires, making joke around with them a little bit.

“You’ll get some guys who are a little hesitant to talk and some that will want to talk your ear off,” says Ready. “The ones that don’t like to talk, it was a goal of mine to get the guy to laugh or talk to me a little more consistently throughout the game.

“When you do those types of things, the game becomes more fun.”

Ready addressed the sequence of events that happen before the pitcher releases the baseball.

With no runners on and no outs, the catcher assumes a relaxed position.

Before giving the signal to the pitcher, Ready says the catcher should look at the base coaches who may try to creep in toward the lines to pick up the sign.

“You also want to take a look at the hitter to make sure he’s not peaking back,” says Ready. “Now you’re ready to give your signal.”

Ready says only three people should be able to see the signal which is given high with the glove in front to shield it: pitcher, shortstop and second baseman.

“After the first inning, I check with my first baseman,” says Ready. “If he can see them, the runner can see them.”

Ready says the timing of the catcher’s shift is important.

If the pitcher is in the wind-up, about the time he breaks his hands is when the catcher shifts. Depending on which direction he intends to go, he turns in his right or left knee and slides over.

“You don’t want to bounce,” says Ready. “With bouncing, the hitter can sense which side of the plate you’re moving on.

“You want to be quiet. You want to be smooth. You don’t want to give up that location.”

Ready has his catchers use two stances — primary and secondary.

Primary is with no runners on base. The catcher gets low and presents a nice target to the pitcher.

“If there’s a ball in the dirt, I’m still going to try my best to block it because I want to keep it off the umpire,” says Ready. “I want to work hard for him because he’s going to work hard for me.

“But if it gets past me, it’s not the end of the world with nobody on-base.”

Secondary is with runners. The catcher’s posterior is a little higher and his thumb is cupped behind the glove. He is ready to block the ball and to throw it.

“Anytime you do a drill progression, you should work your catchers in the primary stance and the second stance,” says Ready. “That’s very important.”

Ready likes his receivers to present a low target.

“I also want to be consistent with not dropping my glove on the pitch,” says Ready. “Even with the guys in the big leagues, it’s gotten bad. A lot of those catchers are very talented. They can do a lot of things physically.

“But a lot of them are way too far back. They reach out. They set up differently on different pitches.”

Ready says the disadvantage of dropping the glove comes when the pitch is up and the catcher has to cover a lot of distance to catch the ball.

The idea is to make a target and leave it there.

“What if it’s a border line pitch and I’m going try to frame it?,” says Ready. “That’s going to look maybe not as good as if (I was moving the glove a short distance).

“The less distance you have to cover, the best it’s going to look on border line pitches.”

An absolute for Ready when it comes to catching is throwing.

“If you can’t throw, you can’t catch,” says Ready. “You can be the best receiver, block and be able to call a great game. You can do all of those things.

“But if somebody gets on-base, they’re going to run. They’re going to steal second. They’re going to steal third.”

Being careful not to interfere with the hitter or be struck by the follow-through of the swing, Ready wants his catchers to get underneath the hitter to decrease the distance the ball has to travel from the pitcher.

“The pitcher is going to like that look,” says Ready. “Sometimes (the catcher) might be back two feet.

“There’s a lot of benefits with being closer to the hitter. You’re going to get more pitches down called strikes because you can stick them.

“If you are far back and you reach out to catch a low pitch and as soon as you catch it — no matter how strong you are — it’s almost impossible to keep it right there. It will go down.”

When sticking pitches, Ready looks for catchers to have a little flexion in their left arm.

“You’re going to get that call more times than not,” says Ready.

Recalling a fall game against a junior college where there were six 1-1 counts on both sides during the game where the next pitch was low, Ready says UIndy catchers got all called for strikes while the opponent’s receiver, who was too far away from the plate, got all called for balls.

“Going from 1-1 to 1-2 can be the difference in the ball game right there,” says Ready. “Let’s say there are two outs (with a runner on second) and it’s 1-1 and you didn’t get that pitch (making it 2-1). Let’s say the next swing — boom! — it’s a double. The next guy hits a little bleeder. The run scores. The next guy jacks one. That’s three runs.

“You probably could’ve been out of the inning if you could’ve gotten that (1-1) pitch (called a strike).”

When he was a player, Ready learned how to be close to the plate and not get hit by a back-swing and he shares it with his catchers.

“Only three things can happen. Either the hitter swings, checks or he takes,” says Ready. “Two of them you have to frame. You have to stick. You have to make it look good. That’s the take and check swing. There is no risk of getting hit by a back-swing on a take or a check swing.

“You don’t frame pitches that guys swing at.”

When there’s a swing, catchers catch the ball and get out of the way.

When it comes to framing, Ready wants his catchers to frame only border line pitches.

“Anything else, we catch it and throw it back,” says Ready.

Ready says many catchers these days get as wide as possible and uses slight of hand to receive the ball.

“It use to be ‘skinny sway,’” says Ready. “The skinnier you make yourself, the further off the plate you can go.

“We use both and test out the umpire. The strike zone is what the umpire says it is. It’s going to change from day to day. It’s your job (as a catcher) to figure out what it is. If it’s expanded, you should exploit it. There’s no question about it.”

When it comes to stopping pitches in the dirt, Ready teaches his catchers to block and recover.

“Get the ball back in your hand as quick as you can,” says Ready. “All you want is a chance to make a play.”

Catchers must anticipate where the ball is going to go if it hits the ground and be ready to move in that direction without giving away location.

When blocking, Ready asks his catchers to drop to their knees to plug up the 5-hole.

The catcher rotates around a small imaginary arc.

“If I’m straight, it’s like Pong,” says Ready. “The ball is going to come in this way and ricochet that way.

“I want to be turned just slightly.”

Another key: Be a pillow and blow your air out. In other words, the catcher should not be rigid when the ball strikes his body.

“The ball can hit you and its going to deaden,” says Ready. “Then you can reach out and grab it.”

When it comes to throwing, footwork is important.

“Know the limitations of your catchers before teaching them footwork,” says Ready. “It all depends on how good the guy’s arm is.

“If his arm is not good, he’s going to have to gain some momentum (with a jab step) to get the ball down to second base.”

Ready teaches his catchers to have the thumb tucked behind and transfer the ball from the glove to the throwing hand out in front of their bodies.

“If I don’t get a perfect grip on it, I can adjust it in my hand as I get it back here to throw,” says Ready. “Getting a perfect four-seam grip on the ball is a bad expectation.

“It’s a quickness. You get it and get rid of it. You have to have arm strength and put it on the base.”

Ready says bullpens are not just for pitchers. They present a good opportunity for catchers to work on blocking, framing, shifting, footwork, signal-calling etc.

“In (the Great Lakes Valley Conference), I can tell you this, if you roll with the same set of signals with a runner on second year in and year out, you get what you deserve,” says Ready. “You should have multiple sets of signals.

“You should have a verbal where you can switch them on the fly where you don’t have to waste a trip (to the mound).”

Ready went over blocking, receiving and throwing drills he uses as part of a 45-minute progression in developing catchers at UIndy:

• Face Off. Catchers are paired up. They catch the ball and throw it back.

• Rapid Fire. A coach feeds balls to a catcher who receives them bare-handed one after the other. This helps with hand-eye coordination and reaction time.

“Training at a high rate of speed is how you slow the game down,” says Ready.

• Weighted Ball. They are delivered underhand with catchers receiving them with or without their glove.

“It will help your catchers stick the ball and not take it out of the position where they caught it,” says Ready.

• Receiving. Catchers field throws from various positions.

• 3-Ball Blocking. Catchers will get into a secondary stance and then go down to where the coach points. There is a slow and deliberate round followed by a fast one.

• Hands Down/Chin Down. It helps with catchers who like to flinch on blocking balls. A pitching machine will deliver the ball in the same spot each time.

• Block and Recover.

• Cheat. A version of block and recover where the catcher gets the ball in their hand as quickly as possible.

• Machine Receiving. The catcher starts from 60 feet, 6 inches away and sees how close they can get to the machine with each pitch. It becomes a competitive thing among teammates.

• Long Toss. Ready likes his catchers to do this in some form everyday.

• One-Knee Throwing.

• Hands Transfer.

“The transfer is key,” says Ready. “If you want to get people out, you’ve got to be able to transfer the ball.”

• Coach In The Middle. Done at the distance home to second base (127 1/2 feet) and at 150 feet with a coach in the middle, catchers deliver throws to a moving target. It also helps build up arm strength.

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Al Ready, a former University of Indianapolis catcher, is now the head baseball coach at UIndy. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

 

UIndy’s Ready talks about offensive approach, pitch framing, defensive shifting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are less than two weeks before the University of Indianapolis is scheduled to open its 2019 baseball season (the NCAA Division II Greyhounds host Wisconsin-Parkside at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15).

UIndy head coach Al Ready took the time to discuss offensive approach, pitch recognition, catcher pitch framing and defensive shifting.

Ready says probability can be applied to anything in baseball. He wants to put his players in the best position to have success and for hitters that translates to their approach.

“I have them watch the pitcher and what he’s throwing in certain counts,” says Ready. “We want guys sitting on the pitches they’re going to get, not the ones they want to hit.”

Pitch recognition — knowing a fastball from a curve, slider or whatever — is a valuable talent for hitters to possess.

“It’s a skill,” says Ready. “It can be improved on.”

Ready, who was a switch-hitting catcher for Indianapolis and still holds school records for most walks in a career and in a season and played in independent professional baseball, notes that most pro hitters adjust off the fastball because of the high velocity at that level.

He says that most high school hitters are timed for 80 mph with those in college for 85 to 90 mph and pros for 90 mph-plus.

“If you’re not ready for it, you’re not going to hit it,” says Ready. “If you don’t have pitch recognition, you have to be a fastball adjust hitter. You sit on pitches.”

In other words, you wait for a particular pitch to swing at.

Ready talks daily with his UIndy hitters about approach.

“I used to be a cookie-cutter approach guy and teach the same approach to everybody,” says Ready. “That simply doesn’t work.”

The Greyhounds employ an approach spectrum. For some, it as simple as “see ball; hit ball.”

“If that’s what’s going give that kid the best success rate,” says Ready. “I’m going to get behind that 100 percent.”

Others will sit on a pitch based on count, read pitcher tendencies in certain counts, look for grips, tipped pitches and take into consideration the game situation. How many outs? How many on base? What’s the score? Is it the first inning or the ninth?

While some hitters can rely on their physical skills for success, they are in the minority.

“The majority of us at this level have to be a smart hitter,” says Ready. “The best place to be on the approach spectrum is in the middle.

“If the (pitcher’s) throwing hard and you’re indecisive, you should be fastball adjust.”

To improve on this process, UIndy hitters do a lot of vision training and things of that nature.

They learn to recognize pitches thrown in pitcher-friendly and hitter-friendly counts.

“If it’s 1-2 and you have a fastball/slider pitcher, there’s a good probably you’re going to see a slider,” says Ready.

The coach would like his hitters to swing at pitches they can handle and hit with authority.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of kids at this level if they’re fooled on a pitch, they don’t swing through it,” says Ready. “They still try to make contact and hit in weakly.

“Swing through and go to the next pitch.”

Vision is of utmost importance to a hitter.

“You can work on your swing all you want,” says Ready. “If you’re not seeing the ball, you’re not going to hit it.”

One way, UIndy hitters work on their eye strength is with a concentration grid test.

On a laminated 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper, 100 squares contain numbers 00 to 99 placed randomly.

With a dry erase marker, players are asked to find each number in order for time.

A quick time would be 3 to 4 minutes. For others, it might take 6 to 10 minutes.

“At the end of that 6 to 10 minutes, their eyes are extremely tired,” says Ready, who notes that there are two basic kinds of eye focus — soft and hard. “You can only stay at hard focus for a split second before you blur up.”

These concentration grid tests done in different ways — sometimes counting by threes and getting as far as you can in five minutes — are done each week and posted for team competition.

The Hounds also do this with some distraction training.

Players will have a partner who will stand next to their partner say random numbers during the test.

“The main point is to improve the strength of your eyes,” says Ready.

UIndy also uses the colored ball drill.

While throwing regular batting practice, balls with red and green squares on them are thrown.

It used to be that players were supposed to swing at green and take on red.

“But with a good four-seam fastball with a high spin rate, you’re going to see red,” says Ready. “So green is take and red is swing.”

The pitching machine the Hounds use goes up to 100 mph.

“We train at a high rate of speed,” says Ready. “For our guys 88 is the new 82.”

Ready is more interested in quality at-bats and hitting the ball hard than what he calls the “internet statistics.”

“I don’t judge success by batting average,” says Ready. “I judge them by contact. Are you hitting the ball hard?”

It often comes down to pitch recognition/selection by the batter.

“I laugh when one of our young hitters have a great at-bat (hit a ball hard) and next time they come up and they fly out or strike out and say, ‘coach, what’s wrong with my swing?,’” says Ready. “It’s the same swing. You may have swung at the wrong pitch or didn’t see the ball as well. The first question you should ask: Are you seeing the ball?

“If they say they’re seeing the ball well: Are you swinging at pitches you should be swinging at or swinging at the pitcher’s pitches?.

“As coaches, we get a little to quick to fix problems that aren’t really there.”

Another way some teams help identify pitches is with occlusion training (GameSense is a company that offers tools for this visual reaction training).

Hitters watch videos of pitchers. They may be allowed to see half or three-quarters of the pitch and cut it off or when the pitcher is about to let go of the ball. This allows hitters to look for the release point, see the grip or spin or how it pops out of the hand.

“If it’s a slider, you’ll be seeing a dot at the halfway point,” says Ready.

With a senior-laden roster, Ready says pitch recognition is no necessarily something he is worried with his current team.

As a former catcher, Ready knows about framing pitches.

“Pitch framing’s important,” says Ready. “But you don’t frame everything — only borderline pitches.”

Catchers who try to jerk pitchers several inches outside back into the strike zone will quickly lose credibility with the plate umpire.

Ready says some catchers apply the “skinny and sway” method. But umpires are starting to recognize that and calling balls when they sway outside to catch the baseball.

Other catchers stand wide and only move their glove.

The Molina brothers — Bengie, Jose and Yadier — played behind the plate in the big leagues and it was Jose who was especially good at framing.

An overlooked aspect of catching is how far back they squat from the plate.

Ready contends that most are too far back. He understands that in pro ball, there a good reason because many hitters have a big back swing and catchers are at risk of getting hit by the bat so they get out of the way. But that does not happen as much at the college or high school level.

“The closer you can get to the pitcher the better,” says Ready. “That’s less distance the pitch has to travel.

“You’re going to get more calls. You’re in a position to stick that low pitch.”

By being too far back, catchers can miss out on some opportunities to frame some pitches and it’s a longer throw to a base when a runner is attempting to steal.

Ready says being up on the dish can make the difference in turning a 1-1 pitch into a 1-2 pitcher-friendly count or 2-1 hitter-friendly count.

He kept track in a fall game and noticed that his catcher was up where he needed to be and the opponent’s was too far back. There were a dozen 1-1 counts — six for each team — the next pitch was low and UIndy got all of them called for strikes and the other side got them all called as balls.

Spray charts like those produced by Indiana-based Diamond Charts are helpful for teams in placing their defenders. Taking published play-by-play accounts from NCAA Division I and II games and data gathered from televised contests, opponents’ tendencies can be traced.

Ready says most coaches place their fielders where the majority of the balls are hit.

“I like to take it a step further,” says Ready. “I want to know how the ball was hit (fly ball, line drive, in front of the fielder or over his head).

“I like to place my fielders to take away the hits, not where the likely fly-ball outs are. That’s the logic I use when looking at a spray chart.”

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University of Indianapolis head baseball coach Al Ready pays attention to probability in many areas of the game. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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Al Ready is the head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis. He played for the Greyhounds and was a longtime assistant before taking over as leader of the program. (University of Indianapolis Photo)