Baseball is a game of numbers.
Numbers that can be analyzed every which direction, until you end up paralyzed in place.
Numbers that can tell you everything about anything.
This is still a game played by human beings, and as long as Robot Players aren’t a thing, there will always be emotions to factor in.
“Baseball, as much as we want to say it’s this cool, calculated thing, baseball is affected by emotions, and any little thing that adds or subtracts, makes a difference,” Pirates farm director John Baker said. “Although it’s not measurable, it’s important for us to be aware of. This, to me, has always been one of those things.”
Last month I wrote about Pirates’ catching prospect Endy Rodriguez for Baseball America. Rodriguez was one of five prospects the Pirates brought back in the three-team Joe Musgrove trade. Up until the selection of Henry Davis, and the trades for Carter Bins and Abrahan Gutierrez, he led a very thin catching group in the Pirates’ system.
Rodriguez is having a fantastic season this year. He’s hitting for a .276/.359/.459 line with eight homers in 295 plate appearances in Low-A, jumping up from rookie ball in 2019. He’s got the athleticism and the bat to play all over the field, though he’s got the skills to stick behind the plate, where he’s got the most value.
This isn’t about Rodriguez, his future, or the measurable numbers he’s putting up.
This is about the unmeasurable factor of emotions that he contributes toward.
When I talked to Baker about Rodriguez, he had some interesting comments about pitch receiving and framing. The Low-A Southeast League has automated balls and strikes — a system that might find its way to the majors one day in the upcoming years. Under that system, the initial thought seems to have been that the catching position will be devalued for defense. After all, what good is steady receiving and framing if you’re no longer having to factor in the human element of the umpire behind you?
Baker, a former big league catcher over seven seasons, brought up how receiving can still impact the other human element — standing 60 feet and six inches away from the catcher. According to Baker, even though the balls and strikes are automated, there can still be a confidence boost for a pitcher when he instantly sees a well-received pitch.
“You realize when the pitcher pops his head up after he’s thrown the ball, he wants to see a well-received pitch,” Baker said of his experience behind the plate. “There’s a confidence thing involved in there, even if it’s going to be a ball or a strike regardless of the way the catcher makes it look like now.”
This topic came up in regards to Rodriguez’s defense, with Baker praising how Rodriguez steps into the role as the quarterback on the field, and puts in extra effort to engage with and lead the pitching staff.
It’s a good reminder of how there are still unmeasurable factors inside the game. Human emotion will probably always be one of those unmeasurables. Even without the ability to measure that emotion, you can still find ways to impact it in small and big ways.