Detroit Tigers’ bat Miguel Cabrera took on pitcher Sergio Romo at Comerica Park.
The characteristic playing field of the San Francisco Giants Reliever was a slider, a peppy, breaking ball that moved from right to left like a scurrying frisbee. Romo started the attack with five straight sliders on Cabrera, an unusual sequence for most pitchers but not for Romo, who threw the pitch 77 percent of the time this season. The fifth slider started outside and came off for a ball. In the evening he counted with two balls and two punches.
Rookie San Francisco catcher Curt Casali watched from the bench as Cabrera stepped onto the pitch with little interest in swinging.
“I swear I thought, just throw a fastball in the middle and he’ll take it,” says Casali now, looking back on one of the most memorable pitch sequences of his career. “When it didn’t swing and dirty it, it was because it was taking an automatic shot.”
In the next place, the start of Giants catcher Buster Posey made a brave decision and signaled Romo to throw a fastball in the middle – brave because Romo’s fastball was below average compared to the Major League and Cabrera is a future Hall of Fame hitter. Yet Cabrera was unprepared for the greatest moment of his career. He watched the perfect pitch go by without offering a swing, and the Giants bullied Romo on the field to celebrate the team’s second championship in three seasons.
“Are you excited on the plate? Won’t they vibrate? “Casali says he watches the batters’ reactions to fastballs, sliders, curveballs and changes.” You only know in your gut that it will work. “
From game theory to scouting reports and data analysis to real-time observation in the game, a lot is invested in pitch calling. We were excited to see what a salesperson could learn from the art and science pitchers and catchers used in selecting the ball in a given situation. Which skills of this craft could be transferable to an actual business field? We spoke to major league coaches and catchers to find out.
Minnesota Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson is widely recognized as one of the game’s most creative teachers. While he was practicing the college ball, he made his catchers wear earphones during practice. He used a walkie-talkie to talk to them in real time and talk to them about a pitch calling strategy. Johnson still teaches in the majors, working primarily with the Twins catchers so that the team’s pitchers aren’t overwhelmed when attempting to throw strikes.
Hours before a game, Johnson has a meeting with that night’s starting catcher. They review data, videos and scouting reports of the opposing line-up, looking for weaknesses that can be exploited and strengths that need to be avoided. They discuss how the skills of the starter mug align themselves on this day. Twin catchers then have a laminated card with pitch calling data in their back pocket during games, which they occasionally refer to. There’s a lot to digest. But Johnson never wants to be too married to a script.
“We’re going to have a general plan, but I want to build in the customizability,” says Johnson. “[Twins pitcher José] Berríos has a phenomenal breaking ball but maybe he’s really struggling to command it and that can break the plan. “
Customization is key for baseball and sales.
Leadership and business coach Ben Fairfield has had a career teaching sales technique improvement. He sees many parallels to diamonds.
“I have to read my audience very quickly, like the pitcher reading a batsman, and assess how likely their behavior is,” says Fairfield. “You have to have a pretty good idea of who that other person is and how they think and process information. That is also why you are seeing a huge void in salespeople. That’s why you have the top 1 percent making a lot of money and then you have other people going into sales and getting out just as quickly. It’s not that they can’t make it, it’s that they haven’t been taught. “
Fairfield is waiting for the ability to customize recorded calls while coaching clients.
“Do we mirror and adapt the rate of speech to the person we are speaking to?” Fairfield says of a characteristic that he values. “[Maybe] I have to slow down to make it as comfortable as possible for the customer at the other end. “
As shown in the Romo sequence to Cabrera, unpredictability is another key.
Kyle Snyder is the pitching coach for the Tampa Bay Rays, perhaps the most analytical team in the sport. “We always try to maintain our unpredictability,” he says, noting that the task is far more an art than a science.
Ray’s catcher Mike Zunino always asks questions during the game: What kind of swings are the opposing batters taking? Does a batsman seem to be waiting for a certain pitch? Is his starter jar too full?
Quality issues are also of central importance in sales.
“We get bad answers when we ask bad questions,” says Fairfield. “We’re all paid in direct proportion to the quality of the questions we ask.”
Fairfield wonders how I usually react when a sales rep asks “Need help?” After entering a store.
“No thanks. I’m just looking,” I say immediately. It’s like the seller threw a fastball a predictable number of fastballs and I crushed it 550 feet. Too easy. Fairfield offers the seller an alternate approach, the one Customer may not be expecting.
“‘Hey, I’m so grateful that you came in. How’s your day going?'” Says Fairfield. ‘What can I help you find? ‘You will still hesitate, but now you’ve suddenly built a relationship. “
Building a rapport is also vital between pitchers and catchers.
For a plan to work, pitchers must trust the catcher’s signs. Casali notes that when he played for the Cincinnati Reds, he easily gained the trust of right-hander Sonny Gray, whom he had known since they played together at Vanderbilt University. But with other weapons, he went out of his way to speak to them during pre-game meals or on charter flights to build relationships.
Ultimately, says Fairfield, pitching a pitch is a WAG – a “wild guess”. But some guesses are better than others. Adjusting quickly, building a relationship, and asking good questions can make all the difference.
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by Beto Chagas / Shutterstock