Tanner Swanson, the Yankees new quality control coach and catching coordinator, hosted a webinar on Zoom as a way to raise money for COVID-19 research. The call featured about 130 people, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. But before I begin relaying some of the things he said, here is the link to donate to his fund if you would like.
Let me start off by saying that Tanner Swanson is a nice guy and this was a really cool thing that he set up for the public. He talked about the current baseball catching development trends and the practices that go into it. The call was a Q&A format, and he did an amazing job at not only answering questions, but giving descriptive answers. Here are some of the most interesting things he said during the webinar.
The “one-knee” catching stance
As many of you know, Swanson was with the Minnesota Twins last year and helped Mitch Garver redefine his catching position behind the plate. Swanson believes that one of the most important things for a catcher is to be a good receiver, more commonly referred to as pitch framing. Garver became one of the better defensive catchers in the league last year after he implemented this new approach.
If you are wondering what the big deal is about having one knee down when being a catcher, Swanson explained that it helps “steal strikes,” especially at the bottom of the zone and said it is the catcher’s job to get as many strikes as he can for his pitcher. The goal of the stance is to merge the blocking stance and receiving stance into one, which would make it easier to do both.
An interesting thing he brought up was the way the umpires see the strike zone. Normally, most umps use the catcher’s knees as a way to tell the bottom of the zone because their knees are usually level to the batter’s knees. With the knee down stance, it eliminates the ump’s imaginary line and creates more of an open zone. Swanson jokingly added that umps like bad framing catchers because it makes their job easier.
Twins minor league catcher Caleb Hamilton was also in the Zoom session. He mentioned that he’s not the most flexible guy, but once Swanson taught him this new stance, he became much more fluid behind the dish.
When talking about the Yankees’ catchers, he noted that New York’s pitching staff is one of the hardest to catch. A lot of them throw in the upper 90s and if they don’t, it’s because they have nasty movement on their other pitches. While Gary Sanchez gets used to the method, Swanson did bring up a list called “Yanꓘees Strike School.” It had the top four catchers in pitch framing last season and it turns out that Kyle Higashioka was third-best in the league, while taking into account that he only played 18 games. The list stated that Higgy stole two extra strikes per game, which saved 0.22 runs per game. It may not seem like a lot, but it definitely helps.
Glove set up
Swanson stressed that the less movement of the glove before a pitch, the better. Along with that, he talked about not giving the pitcher a target when in the windup, which is something that has been done in the game forever. Instead, the glove should be set up on the ground. You may be confused, but there’s logic behind it and it makes a ton of sense. If the glove starts on ground, it allows the glove to work towards the strike zone and is a lot easier to frame.
Think about it like this — if a catcher were to set up in the zone middle-middle and the ball is thrown outside, it’s difficult to receive and make it look like a strike. The catcher would be going from the set up, then moving outside the zone, then breaking it back in. If the glove starts on the ground, it eliminates movement and all the catcher basically needs to do is catch it. Look at how Garver sets up with his glove on the dirt and steals a strike at the bottom of the zone.
Position with runners on
Swanson says there are mostly three things that a catcher is thinking when a pitcher is in their windup: blocking, receiving, and getting ready to throw. The key is to eliminate one of those three as soon as the ball is released, and eliminate one of the remaining two when the ball is getting closer so the catcher can shift their focus to executing the one option left.
If no one is on base, it’s up to the catcher which knee he wants to put on the ground. But when runners are on, the stance matters. The catcher needs to be ready to burst into a throwing position, especially if speed is on the basepaths. If there’s a man on who doesn’t have the wheels, the catcher should have their focus on blocking and framing. That seems pretty self explanatory.
During the Q&A, I asked Swanson what his approach would be to teaching catchers how to receive pitches if robot umps are instituted in a few years. He responded by saying that it would “retool” the catcher position if that were to happen. However, it would be his job to still find a competitive advantage somehow. He did add that he believes the robot umps are a long ways away, but would obviously have to adapt if it is implemented.
A lot of things depend on pitch location and the pitch itself, but Swanson seems to be onto what could be something revolutionary here. The catching position is one of the hardest to play in all of sports, but he is seemingly finding ways to make it easier on them, and harder for the umpires. Let’s also not forget the main point of the Zoom session. That was to raise money for coronavirus research. By the end of the two hour webinar, over $1,000 was donated! Well done, Mr. Swanson!