Tuffy Gosewisch isn’t known for his stick. The 33-year-old catcher had a .522 OPS in parts of four seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks. But he does provide value behind the dish. His defensive acumen — including his ability to work with pitchers — is a primary reason the Atlanta Braves claimed him off waivers earlier this winter.
He worked diligently to turn himself into a big-league asset. Selected by the Phillies in the 11th round of the 2005 draft out of Arizona State University, Gosewisch made his MLB debut with the D-backs eight years later. He’s now in Atlanta, where he projects to serve as the Braves’ backup backstop behind Tyler Flowers.
Gosewisch discussed various aspects of his position when Arizona visited Boston last August.
Gosewisch on learning to call games: “The first time I caught was freshman year of high school. I caught off and on throughout my high-school career — I also played third and pitched — and in college I caught exclusively. I was [at ASU] for four years.
“In high school, they would occasionally let me call games — which is rare — but for the most part, our coach called them. In college, I called all of my games in my junior and senior years. My manager, Pat Murphy, trusted that I could handle the responsibility. That gave me a lot of confidence and, learning-wise, it was huge.
“I don’t think enough guys get to call their own games in college. I think it would be beneficial to the player, for sure. It would help him learn the game a lot better. But I know that the coaches’ jobs rely on winning, and they don’t want to take a chance on losing a game because of pitch-calling.
“I don’t think it ever gets easy, because the game is constantly changing. From pitch to pitch, things change — the reasons you’re calling pitches changes. When I first started, it was very stressful. As you become older, you do get more comfortable with it.”
On learning from shaking: “I think pitchers should absolutely shake. No. 1, it’s their career. No. 2, that’s how they’re going to learn. The best way to learn is through making mistakes. It’s ultimately up to the pitcher what he’s going to throw.
“I want a pitcher to shake me when I start catching them. Otherwise, I’m not going to learn how he wants to pitch. Calling a game isn’t about calling the right pitch every time — it’s about calling the pitch the pitcher has 100% conviction in. Even though sometimes I think another pitch is the right one to call, I’ll go with what I know he wants to throw.
“Brian Schneider was with me for a few spring trainings when I with the Phillies. That’s something he taught me. When you first start catching someone, tell them to shake you.”
On reading hitters and making adjustments: “Scouting reports are important, but sometimes we can get too much information. You can read too much into them and forget that the game is going on. You have to read swings, and read takes. There are guys on every team who will make an adjustment in the middle of an at-bat. You also have to understand that your pitcher’s strengths are your No. 1 priority. You’re going to go with that more often than not.
“You have conversations with your pitchers and the pitching coach. Maybe you saw something in yesterday’s game, or on video. A hitter has been doing this lately, whereas the scouting report says he normally does that. Those conversations happen daily.
“Sometimes a pitcher doesn’t have a particular pitch working. That’s makes for a tough balance. You can’t just go away from it for the rest of the game. You need to find spots to use it, if for no other reason than to show the other team that he has it — you want to at least keep it in the back of their mind. For the most part, I’m going to try to work it in, in counts where it isn’t going to hurt us.
“You also do your best to not be predictable with pitch-calling. You remember what you’ve done to guys in previous at-bats, and you try not to stay in those patterns. Certain guys — veteran guys — will look for patterns. They’ll recognize them, and will sit on pitches.”
On optimizing a pitcher’s strengths: “With an offspeed pitch, if it’s working really well, I might call it a little bit more. If that backfires, we can back off right away. Now, if the guy has a very good sinker that day, I’m going to lean on that more, because a sinker is hard to hit, no matter how many times you see it. If we can get ground balls — we’re not trying to strike guys out — he can go deeper into the game with less pitches.
“You try to exploit a pitcher’s deception as much as you can. If he hides the ball really well, you continue to use the pitch that best utilizes that deception. Same way with the other side of the spectrum. If a pitch is easy to pick up, you might throw it less. You use it more as a surprise pitch.
“Zack Godley’s pitches all look very similar coming out of his hand. He has that good deception. He throws them with the same arm speed. He gets swings and misses with his curveball, cutter, and changeup, because the hitter sees them spinning the same.”
On speed differential: “We used to have Josh Collmenter, and he was highly effective for four or five years with low velocity. His fastball probably topped out at 88. He also had a very slow changeup, and a slow curveball. He was effective because of his arm angle — that’s one way to deceive the hitter — and even though his fastball was slow, he had a big speed differential with his other two pitches.
“The guy who came in for the Red Sox last night, Fernando Abad, is low 90s with his fastball, and his changeup is something like 75, maybe even low 70s. A speed differential like that makes a big difference.
“Zack Greinke is different. His deception is more from movement. Even though the speed differential is very little, he’s got that movement and it looks exactly like his fastball. Guys swing at a fastball — they might not swing and miss every time, but they’ll hit it off the end of the bat — because it wasn’t actually a fastball.”
On framing and blocking: “I’m still up in the air about framing data — how accurate it is — but I work on it. I try to get pitches. It’s something where, when I was younger, I wasn’t trying to turn balls into strikes. I was just trying to make sure that I got strikes called strikes. Now it seems like there are a lot more guys trying to turn balls into strikes. I think catching stats have something to do with that.
“Something people don’t really talk about is blocking. It’s underrated. You can save runs that way, and there isn’t a stat to account for it. Blocking is about technique and feel. You have to have proper technique, but you also have to anticipate. You have to understand where the pitcher is going to throw the ball, and where he might miss with it. When you’re behind the plate, you have to be ready on every pitch.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.