Well, the wait is over. This week marks the day when pitchers and catchers report to spring training to officially welcome in the start of another season of baseball in America. The tradition of pitchers and catchers reporting a week before the rest of a team has gone on for almost 100 years, but ironically few really know the reason behind this practice. I will give a brief history of this tradition and will explain why it is particularly important for the new look 2019 Yankees pitching staff.
Charles Ebbets required his 1914 Brooklyn Baseball Club pitchers and catchers to report early for "baths and road work," but honestly there is no definitive answer to the question of why pitchers and catchers report early. Even some current players have reported that they do not know the real reason behind the early arrival. Surely a week’s worth of baths are nice, but I don’t think Chapman is doing any road work this year. The most realistic answer according to Major League Baseball Historian John Thorn, is simply that the extra time gives allows pitchers and catchers time to build a rapport with each other, I will discuss this later, and that there are just so many pitchers that need to get ready. The Yankees have 22 pitchers listed on their 40 man roster heading into this year. The extra time allows every pitcher to get in his work.
But surely these players have been preparing for weeks, if not months, before this week by stretching, conditioning, playing long toss, throwing flat grounds, and maybe some have even thrown off a mound a few times. However, pitching isn’t the same as any other position on the field. To quote the great Yogi Berra, “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.” This is not truer than when it pertains to pitchers. Pitching in a warehouse in New Jersey is easy. There are no fans, no hecklers, no coaches analyzing your every move, no competition with the guys next to you, no hitters, no stress. Now put the spotlight of pitching in front of thousands of fans with everyone looking at you and only you and it’s an entirely different ball game, literally. Just a week earlier they were able to locate a ball within an inch in that warehouse, but now they may be missing their spots by six inches. Why? Because that stress tightens your muscles just enough to throw off the fine-tuned machine that is the body. Spring training is as much about mental training as it is physical. Now, this is all more relevant to the guys trying to make roster spots, of course. CC and Tanaka shouldn’t have these problems, but for the other 10 or so young pitchers showing up, this is a big deal. It takes time to get over the nerves, get your groove back, and start throwing like you know you can.
Arriving early also gives the coaches and catchers a chance to learn the new arms. How their pitches are moving, what kind of life the ball has. As Thorn stated, the chemistry between a catcher and pitcher is particularly important and it takes time to foster a successful relationship. The catcher calls the game, but he calls the game based on the pitcher. Sanchez obviously isn’t going to call the same type of game plan for CC as he would for Severino. The catcher also needs to understands how each pitcher’s pitches move so that he can anticipate where the 85+mph breaking ball is going to go. And this all takes some time. It is not something that can be figured out in one or two bullpen sessions. Additionally, the pitcher needs to feel confident with who he is throwing to. Most pitchers don’t like shaking off pitches every time. They like seeing what the catcher puts down, agreeing and going for it. In a great pitcher and catcher relationship, the catcher should know what the pitcher wants to throw and they should both know what the right pitch should be without any disagreement. This also takes some time.
This year’s pitchers and catchers have a lot to gain from reporting early this year. The Yankees added two big arms in Ottavino and Paxton who both need to build that rapport previously talked about with Sanchez. These two guys are also going to get their first taste of New York baseball and New York fans, which even though it is just spring training, will be much different than they are used to. CC is going to have a lot going on at Spring training this year after his frightening heart issue this off season. The coaching staff will need to keep a close eye on him to ensure he is healthy and not over exerting himself too early. He may also have to overcome any mental blocks, if there are any, from going out and doing what he has always done after such a scary incident. For Chance Adams, Stephen Tarpley, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Domingo Acevedo it is an opportunity to prove themselves. What can they do to make the opening day roster. The staff for the 2019 Yankees is looking terrifying. The mix of young talent and veteran experience will provide a great combination and learning environment and should lead to a winning dynamic.