Rays Cautious on Catcher Positioning After Contreras Injury

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash discusses the team's cautious approach to catcher positioning, prioritizing safety while seeking a competitive edge in pitch framing. The team makes data-driven adjustments to catcher positioning, balancing aggression with caution to avoid injuries.

Nitish Verma
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Rays Cautious on Catcher Positioning After Contreras Injury

Rays Cautious on Catcher Positioning After Contreras Injury

Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash has spoken about the team's cautious approach to catcher positioning, which aims to frame low pitches and convince umpires to call strikes. This strategy has been in the spotlight after St. Louis Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras suffered a broken arm due to a J.D. Martinez swing.

The Rays are not the leading practitioners of aggressive catcher positioning, and in fact, the team is more likely to err on the side of caution. Cash, a former catcher himself, emphasized that the Rays are mindful of hitters with big backswings and advise their catchers to back up to avoid potential injuries.

Catcher interference calls have been on the rise in recent years, increasing from 62 in 2021 to 74 in 2022, and are on pace for 146 this season. The Rays have had nine such calls against them since 2021, placing them in the middle of the pack among MLB teams.

The current conversation around pitch framing techniques seems to center on Yankees catching coordinator Tanner Swanson, who worked with Rays catcher Ben Rortvedt in the Twins minor league system in 2018. Swanson helped Rortvedt develop a one-knee-down stance to better handle low pitches and cut the angle on breaking balls to get more called strikes.

Rays catching coach Tomas Francisco acknowledged the benefits of this technique but emphasized that the team does not expect their catchers to drastically change their style. Instead, the Rays focus on making situational adjustments to catcher positioning based on factors like the hitter's swing path, the pitcher's repertoire, and the game situation.

Rortvedt noted the importance of these marginal adjustments, stating that a six-inch change in setup can significantly impact the game by altering the count and potentially the outcome. Swanson also pointed out that being slightly closer to the plate can help catchers handle foul tips before they become problematic.

The Rays' approach to catcher positioning prioritizes the safety of their players while still seeking to gain a competitive edge in pitch framing. As Cash stated, "We're trying to be as aggressive as we can to get strikes, but at the same time, we're not going to put our catcher in harm's way." The team will continue to make data-driven adjustments and grade their catchers' performance in getting called strikes, but not at the expense of risking injury in an era of increasing catcher interference incidents.

Key Takeaways

  • Tampa Bay Rays prioritize catcher safety in pitch framing strategy.
  • Rays err on side of caution with catcher positioning, especially with big backswings.
  • Catcher interference calls are on the rise, with 146 projected for this season.
  • Rays make situational adjustments to catcher positioning, not drastic style changes.
  • Team seeks competitive edge while avoiding harm to catchers.