There’s a Sonny side to selecting your own catcher
Sonny Gray wants Romine to be his catcher and the Yankee plan to honor that request.
I’m not certain why New York Yankees starting pitching Sonny Gray’s subtle request to have Austin Romine behind the plate for his starts is so controversial. Baseball has a long history of special marriages between pitcher and catcher. There have been catchers that might not have even earned a spot on the 25-man roster, if not for their special connection with the man on the mound.
Pitching is an art and requires the utmost focus, therefore a catcher that gets a pitcher out of his rhythm because of the way they deliver the signs, or the way they block a potential wild pitch, can make a huge difference. Quite often games can be decided by just one run, thus making the margin of error something every pitcher focuses on.
Ask any pitcher and they will tell you that one of there primary goals is to get into a rhythm. Shaking off pitch after pitch or seeing a ball they thought should have been blocked hit the backstop does affect the rhythm of the pitcher and for some hurlers it only takes one miscommunication or mishap to get them off their game.
It’s clear that Sonny Gray is more comfortable with Romine behind the plate. Romine has long been touted as a defensive specialist with a light bat. Gary Sanchez didn’t earn his way to the majors because of his defense. Rather, Sanchez earned his spot in the starting line-up because he’s one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Some might even say that Sanchez is simply one of the best overall hitters in the game, regardless of position. Sanchez has almost double the amount of home runs versus his peers that don the tools of ignorance as they are sometimes referred too.
The catching position, just like shortstop has evolved and teams that can find that delicate balance of defensive skills combined with power believe they have an advantage.
Catchers like Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, Ted Simmons, Salvatore Perez have proven that catchers can be deadly hitters and make a significant difference in the line-up.
The history of personal catchers goes back many years and includes some greats. Although Sonny Gray has not achieved greatness just yet, we shouldn’t frown upon his strategy to align with a catcher that improves his game. The pitcher-catcher relationship is built upon trust and if a pitcher “believes” he’ll achieve a better outcome with a certain catcher, it’s more than likely that he’s right.
Jon Lester, a future hall of famer, preferred to pitch to David Ross, before Ross retired and the results spoke for themselves. Lester’s lifetime ERA was 3.58, but when he pitched to Ross that ERA dropped to 2.77. Clayton Kershaw prefers A.J. Ellis behind the plate and together they combined for a very impressive 1.94 ERA. If you can keep the opposing team to under two runs, you’ll certainly win the vast majority of your games.
But Lester and Kershaw are not alone. R.A. Dickey requested that Josh Thole be his personal catcher while with the Blue Jays. Greg Maddux, another hall of famer, preferred Eddie Perez and was willing to sacrifice the bat of Javy Lopez, a much stronger hitter, for his starts. Moody left-hander Steve Carlton wanted Tim McCarver as his battery mate, Andy Pettitte preferred Jim Leyritz, instead of Joe Girardi and Randy Johnson wanted John Flaherty behind the plate during his time with the Yankees.
Just like Lucy needed Ricky and Ralph needed Norton, there’s a special chemistry between partners and some pitchers prioritize this effect. Are they right or wrong? Well, history does support this philosophy, because when you break down the numbers, you’ll find that pitchers that throw to their preferred battery mate will get better results and pitch to a lower ERA.