When they're quicker to the plate, pitchers give catchers a chance

When Orioles backup catcher Craig Tatum threw out two key baserunners in Saturday's win over the Angels, people were buzzing about the defensive night Tatum had behind the plate.

Nobody spoke of how Brad Bergesen helped him do it - except Buck Showalter.

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"Bergy was 1.22, 1.23 (seconds to the plate last night.) Gave Tater (Tatum) a chance," said Showalter.

If you want to see steam come out of Showalter's ears, bring up delivery times to the plate. It's a skill he feels is grossly overlooked, especially in the minor leagues. This season, Showalter and his coaches have tried to change that.

"We have one of the best in the game behind the plate throwing runners out (Matt Wieters), and we're going to give them 90 feet?" said Showalter.

The speed in which a pitcher gets the ball to the plate from first movement to the catcher's mitt can make the difference in a game. Without a quick delivery, catchers have no chance of throwing runners out.

Pitchers who aren't quick to the plate catch the attention of first base coaches who time deliveries. If a time is slow, it's off to the races.

"(At) 1.6 (seconds) and over, you have guys like me that are even trying to steal a base off of you," said O's catcher Matt Wieters. "When you get guys in scoring position, guys in the big leagues are going to get hits and drive them in and that's just costing you runs and your ERA and everything."

A pitcher can help his cause with a quick delivery. The result is simple - more outs, less pitches thrown, quicker innings. It can allow a starter to go deeper into the game.

It's no secret, Orioles starters have struggled to eat innings this season.

According to Showalter, too many minor league pitchers arrive at the major league level without any awareness of their times to the plate. It's a point of frustration for the O's skipper, who wants his farm system pitching coaches to start teaching quick deliveries in rookie ball, if not sooner.

"Guys come up here 1.7, 1.8 (seconds) to the plate and think they can survive in the big leagues. You can't survive up here over 1.6. You just can't," Showalter said.

Jake Arrieta came to the big leagues as one of the Orioles' hottest young arms. He learned quickly he was too slow to the plate.

"At a certain point that wakeup call really came," said Arrieta. "What Buck and Rick (Adair) have really stressed to me is finding a delivery you can be quick to the plate with every time no matter who is on first base or second base. It's something that I've really put a lot of emphasis on and it's kind of paid off - you know, keeping guys from stealing, taking 90 feet for free."

Wieters has noticed the difference.

"Arrieta was a guy who was 1.5-1.6 (seconds) and now he's cut it down to 1.4-1.45 and even the 1.3's, which has definitely helped the catchers out," said Wieters. "Our guys have done a great job of adjusting to it this year, but it's something that would be a lot easier if you could learn it at a younger level and just something that's more natural than having to learn at the big league level."

Arrieta said adjusting to the big leagues would have been easier had he practiced quicker deliveries earlier in his career.

"I think the earlier, the better because if you don't really harp on that or put an emphasis on that until you get to the big leagues, that can be a huge hurdle to overcome for guys, including myself," Arrieta said. "It has been tough in the past, but I'm starting to get comfortable and to the point where it's kind of second nature."

It seems like a simple fix: Start earlier. However, there is a philosophy that young pitchers have so much to process that focusing on times to the plate might be too much early on.

I side with Showalter on this one. Arrieta told me how difficult it was to get his upper body moving in one motion with his lower body once he tried to speed up his delivery. It seems like a no-brainer to have a pitcher go through that adjustment the minute he signs to play professional ball rather than in the big leagues.

Judging by Showalter's passionate reaction to my questions while doing this story, I have a hunch minor league pitchers in the O's farm system will be very aware of their times to the plate going forward.