Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Catcher Position

Catcher is a position, like that of the shortstop, that has to be seen as defensively first AND foremost then offensively. Throughout the history of baseball teams have done just fine with a slick fielding shortstop who hit in the low .200s and a catcher who hit an occasional home run or drove in some runs but not much else because it is more important to prevent the other team from scoring runs than to have a team that gives up runs as easily as they score them.

Benjamin Jose Molina, the 2008 San Francisco Giants' clean-up hitter who on occasion does throw out would-be base stealers but for the most part is an offensive-first, defensive-second kind of catcher. (Could it be, he is insulted by the term for catcher's gear, which is Tools of Ignorance?) You can see that by the way it appears- to this casual observer- he doesn't know what to expect from his pitchers. Where he positions himself behind the plate, as to where he'd like the ball thrown looks (to the untrained eye, maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit) like he is in a spot where if the pitcher misses by just that much it could be in the batter's hit me zone.

In other words, instead of putting his pitcher in a position to be out of harm's way he is instead tinkering with the fine line of a hitter's hit me zone and waste pitches which usually leads to a base on balls. This leaves his pitcher with very little margin for error. Of course, baseball like all sports, is a game of inches, but it is the catcher's responsibility to avoid trouble and not lead his pitcher into temptation. A good catcher studies the game and makes sure he knows a hitter's tendencies because he is relaying that knowledge (he has acquired, through all the hours of preparation put into each and every game) to the pitcher by the pitches he is signalling the pitcher to throw. A good catcher does his homework thoroughly enough to be able to distinguish one hitter's idiosyncracies from another. Each and every hitter that has faced his team should have notes on them so when that batter steps into the box the catcher knows what pitch to call for his batterymate to throw. The catcher has to do everything mentally that will help his pitcher physically. Now if his pitcher is as cerebral as he is athletic they can take their abilities, both learned and natural, to another level which makes success that much more possible.

Bengie was on the Anaheim Angels team, in 2002, that defeated the San Francisco Giants 4 games to 3. When I flashback to that memorable Series Bengie Molina's numbers don't come up at all. And when I looked them up I saw mediocrity at best. AB-21, R-2, H-6, 2B-2, RBI-2, BB-3, K-1, AVG: .286. But, he did get a ring while our beloved players in orange and black did not.

I like Bengie's bat but have always scoffed at his defensive prowess. It isn't that he stinks it's that he doesn't do the things that make me feel he is the best guy for the guy on the mound. Which usually sets the tone for how those other seven guys- behind the pitcher- do their job.

Aside from managing the pitcher, he doesn't consistently show the ability to move his body in front of balls thrown- out of the strike zone- by the pitcher. Often you will see him leaning or reaching for these errant tosses rather than getting his entire body in front of the pitch.

But he is the player the Giants' organization has chosen to be their catcher so let's support him nonetheless.

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In other news, Travis Denker got the call up and Eugenio "Cheesy Cheetah" Velez got the bus ticket to Fresno. Denker was who the Giants acquired when they traded Mark Sweeney to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of last season.

The Dodgers, like the Oakland A's, generally are well-stocked in their minor leagues with high quality ballplayers. Here's to hoping Travis Denker is another one of those gifted individuals.

Kevin Marquez