Big League Secret
Pudge Rodriguez: 14 All-Star selections, 13 Gold Glove Awards, 46% Career Caught Stealing.
Pudge Rodriguez is arguably the best catcher to have ever put on the gear. He competed at the plate and behind the plate. He was a natural leader on the field, with a pitching staff, and in the dugout. When you think about a catcher as a manager on the field or a general, he was it. Pudge was awesome. And he was my favorite catcher to watch growing up. He was a big reason for much of what I did behind the plate. From the Wilson gear I wore in high school, to the Pudge A2403 mitt that I used up until my second year in pro ball, the passion I displayed behind the dish on every pitch, my hustle, my ability to lead a staff, and the way I set up and threw the ball. I had other influences in my catching style, but Pudge absolutely was by far the most influential catcher for me growing up behind the plate. Whether he wore a Marlins uniform or pin stripes, I didn't care. When Pudge was catching, I was watching. No questions asked. But, enough about my adoration for Pudge Rodriguez, on to the big league info I learned back in 2008.
You may or may not know, but I played baseball at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill from 04-07. We had some great players on those teams who made it to the big leagues, many of whom were pitchers and one of them had the opportunity to pitch to Pudge Rodriguez when he was with the Tigers. His name is Andrew Miller, current pitcher with the New York Yankees, and in my opinion, one of the best left handed pitchers in the big leagues. When I caught him he was an amazing talent, a lot of fun to catch and he continues to excel at the major league level today.
Back in 2008, I was in my first spring training in Orland, Florida with the Atlanta Braves at Disney’s Wide World of Sports and the Tarheels happened to be in Florida for a 3 game series against Florida Atlantic University. My roommate from the previous season, Adam Warren, was pitching for the Heels that day, and I had a short day at camp and decided to make the trip down to FAU to catch the game. Little did I know I would miss seeing Warren pitch as he didn’t get out of the second inning that day but would see my former teammate Andrew Miller in the stands. Miller was in spring training with the Marlins in what was his second spring training as a professional ball player and made his way over to FAU to catch the guys play too. After the game, Miller and I ran into each other and started discussing the game and our experiences at spring training when I remembered to ask him about what it was like to pitch to Pudge Rodriguez. I was obviously excited as Pudge was my catching role model. Andrew told me it was great pitching to such a talented catcher and he gave me one piece of information that I thought was incredible and something that I think can help a lot of young catchers still today.
While Andrew was telling me about the experience of pitching to Pudge, he revealed to me that Pudge would consistently call fastballs away with runners on base. This may not always be the best thing to do as hitters could pick up on it, but, you as catchers know that throwing out a runner at second vs. giving up the bag could be a game changer. With Pudge being one of the best catch and throw guys to play the game, I think he was on to something. Not only is it easier to make a clean throw to second base on a fastball away, but it is often times the best pitch for a pitcher to make a quick delivery to the plate. In my experience, many young pitchers slowed down when throwing off speed pitches, and this may have been one reason Pudge called fastballs away, to help his pitcher have a quicker delivery and to give himself the best chance of throwing out the runner. I would say that if Pudge did it, then you should at minimum give it a shot and see how it may or may not improve your game. If it helps that is great, if not, you can always go back to calling different pitches. The key in doing this is to make sure you are not making too many fastball away calls which would be obvious to the other team, allowing them to start sitting on pitches.
I for one used this technique in high school without even knowing Pudge did it. It was a tremendous help to me in my pursuit of throwing out potential base stealers. After talking to Andrew about Pudge using that strategy, I adopted it again in pro ball and had greater success throwing out runners when calling fastballs away than any other pitch. My suggestion is to call a fastball away within the first three pitches of a runner reaching first base because base stealers typically take off within the first three pitches. Do not get in a habit of calling a fastball away on every single pitch with a runner on first though, because that would be obvious to the other team.