The catcher sees everything on the field.
The hitter is focused on the pitcher.
The pitcher is focused on the hitter.
Every other position on the field is watching the plate, waiting on the pitcher to throw.
And the catcher sees it all in front of him, as he waits for the results of the pitch he just called.
The NFL has tried for years to quantify a player’s intelligence with the Wonderlic test. The test is a big focus for quarterbacks, even though there’s no correlation between high scores and success on the field. Tom Brady, for example, scored a 33, and is the best quarterback in the game. Greg McElroy scored a 48 and played two games for the Jets.
The concept is a good one. The quarterback leads the team. He calls the plays, and dictates how to manage the players on the field. Everything that an NFL General Manager does to get players on the field, and everything that an NFL Head Coach does to put the right players in at the right times all boils down to the quarterback’s decisions in the moment.
The catcher is the quarterback of Major League Baseball.
Just like with a quarterback, you want to see a very smart player behind the plate.
The Pirates are fortunate to have such a player in Jacob Stallings, who won his first Gold Glove award this weekend. The award recognizes defensive ability, and Stallings definitely has those skills.
As I wrote last week, what makes Stallings this good defensively, and good enough offensively to be more than a backup, is his mind.
I didn’t play baseball. I can’t think of many of the writers over the years on this site who had played baseball. Our job is to ask the right questions and find answers. That requires finding people with information.
Jacob Stallings always had information.
We ran at least one feature on him per year, typically calling him a future MLB backup. He was well spoken about what he was working on, which told us that he was working to improve his game, and understood exactly what he was doing enough to explain it to people who didn’t have playing knowledge of the game.
When we weren’t writing about Stallings, he was featured in many articles talking about his pitchers. Stallings gave some of the most insightful views of his pitching staff. Honest when they weren’t executing a certain way, but positive on their overall abilities at the same time.
Consider that everything that any human being ever does is think.
It’s our only job. We think. We think about what we are seeing. We think about what we just did. We think about what someone else just did, or what they might do.
Some people have a thought process so vast that they can pick up everything they see in front of them. Other people might only see one or two things beyond themselves, if they’re even looking beyond themselves. It’s like watching LOST for the first time, watching the end, fully understanding it all, and then finding that seemingly no one else understood the show.
I’m betting Jacob Stallings would understand the show LOST.
One of the talents we identified very early with Stallings was his ability to see the field. He knew what was going on with himself, but he knew what was going on with everyone else. He could articulate it sometimes better than the pitcher himself, or the pitching coach or manager of the team.
The catcher sees everyone else on the field. But you can’t just stare at something and learn. There’s a process to receive information. There’s an ability to adjust how much information you are taking in from your senses. There’s an endurance required to have that full-field-focus for an entire game, 112 games a year.
It’s no wonder catchers typically have bad batting averages — especially the strong defensive ones. Hitting for average requires a tremendous amount of focus, and it’s probably difficult to maintain such a high focus on both sides of the ball when your focus is already paying massive dividends on defense.
I believe there’s a value that Jacob Stallings has, which we don’t know how to quantify yet.
Just like when we made the switch from home runs and batting average to on-base percentage and slugging. Just like when we started realizing how important defensive value was. The last 20 years have been about identifying what is most valuable in baseball, and qualifying and quantifying things that we previously didn’t think about, because we were only focused on home runs.
We still don’t know what makes a player turn into a successful MLB player. We don’t know why some players can maintain year-to-year consistency, while others seem lucky to repeat their success.
What if it’s just brainpower?
There’s no good way to test that. We have indicators, such as affluence, or confidence, or accreditations, or tests. But I’ve seen affluent players, and confident players, and players with great accreditations who didn’t make the majors. As for testing, that is meant to demonstrate recall of information, but isn’t a perfect system to show how much information you have, or how you use it in real-life scenarios.
Information is all there is.
The smartest people have the most information. They know how to consume information, and typically can consume massive amounts in a short amount of time.
That’s Jacob Stallings, being able to play a game, develop himself into an MLB Gold Glove winning player, and all along the way seeing and knowing what was happening with everyone else on the field.
Jacob Stallings has information.
He used it to become an MLB starter and win a Gold Glove.
I don’t think it will be his only one.