Better Pitching? Mets Think It’s in the Wrist, and the Preparation

Better Pitching? Mets Think It’s in the Wrist, and the Preparation

“I’ll be there when they run the meeting, and if they miss something, I’ll speak up,” Eiland said. “But that’s part of the ownership we’re talking about.”

It might seem a subtle change, but the Mets will argue that giving more responsibility to the catchers has multiple benefits. The team’s third-base coach, Glenn Sherlock, who handles the catching instruction, said the catchers’ past preparation was good but in need of taking the next step. By talking more about the art of pitching, the goal is to help the catchers develop the confidence of the pitching staff.

“It’s not just about getting through the game and not discussing it,” Sherlock said. “There’s going to be a lot of discussion about effectiveness and pitch selection this season.”

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D’Arnaud, 29, said he welcomed his new responsibilities; in the past, he said, he has made mistakes he regrets when he has put a scouting report ahead of his instincts.

Credit
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

By studying the information and presenting it, d’Arnaud said he would have faster recall and better memorization.

“It’ll help us learn the information better,” d’Arnaud said. “Not only do we hear it, but we’ll have to say it. It’s two ways of remembering it.”

In spring training games, d’Arnaud and Plawecki have been testing play-calling wristbands, similar to those worn by quarterbacks in football. A flap hides the team’s secrets from the prying eyes of batters and cameras.

But in this data-driven era of baseball, there is so much information to remember that the wristbands can also serve as an in-game reference. And with new Major League Baseball rules limiting the number of mound visits to six per team per game, the wristbands can be a guide when hand signals between the pitcher and catcher need to be changed.

“It’s a bit of trial and error right now to see what’s comfortable and see what’s working,” Sherlock said.

Although pitch calling is a joint effort between the catcher and pitcher, Eiland said the final decision on what to throw will continue to fall on the man on the mound. Eiland said he would serve as a guide from the dugout only if the battery was in trouble and asked for his help.

D’Arnaud said he appreciated the new responsibilities; in the past, he said, he has made mistakes he regrets by putting a scouting report ahead of his instincts.

Eiland said the catchers also needed “to know that pitcher’s personality, know which buttons to push and what catchphrases are going to work.”

D’Arnaud, 29, and Plawecki, 27, have been around most of these pitchers for years. But d’Arnaud, once the centerpiece of the 2012 R. A. Dickey trade, has been injured and much maligned, and Plawecki, a compensatory first-round pick in 2012, has developed slowly.

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The Mets plan to platoon Plawecki, above, and d’Arnaud behind the plate for now after a similar strategy worked well at the end of last season.

Credit
Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Statistically, both are average major league catchers, a hard truth about their grueling position. Last season, the league average catcher posted a .720 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, the lowest of all the nonpitching positions, according to FanGraphs.com. Including strong finishes to the 2017 season by both, d’Arnaud posted a .735 O.P.S. over 112 games, and Plawecki notched a .764 in a third as many appearances.

Defensively, though, d’Arnaud is considered a better pitch framer and receiver than the analytics give him credit for. But he and Plawecki have room for improvement, especially in preventing stolen bases, another Mets weakness.

“I’m expecting more out of them, especially a team like this and Mickey’s philosophy on pitching,” said the Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza, who spent a few days late last month in his annual role as a Mets spring training instructor. “There’s nothing wrong with challenging yourself to take the next step.”

During their roster overhaul in the off-season, the Mets did not upgrade at catcher, preferring the potential of their in-house options to the cost of adding a new player.

The final month and a half of a disappointing 2017 season offered the Mets some hope that a combination of d’Arnaud and Plawecki might just work. After the team let the veteran backup Rene Rivera go as part of its late-season sell-off, d’Arnaud and Plawecki platooned and flourished.

Perhaps it was the competition or the regular rest, but d’Arnaud hit .297 with six home runs and 20 runs batted from Aug. 19 on. Plawecki hit .303 with three home runs and 12 walks in the same period.

The Mets plan to play either catcher based on the matchups this season, and neither player said that would be an issue.

“It’s a competition, but a friendly competition, where we can turn it into a positive and benefit from it,” Plawecki said. “We’re not going to sit there and wish bad things on each other. We’re ultimately rooting for each other and want to win.”

Each also knows that the most important work will still be done at the other end of the battery. Callaway, a former pitcher and pitching coach, said that he wanted his catchers to rely on the pitchers’ best two pitches, instead of getting beat on their third or fourth option.

“We really have to hone our pitch selection,” Callaway said. “We’re really going to be looking to those two guys to take ownership of that and start getting guys to use their pitches the right way.”

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