Wieters leads in unique skill behind plate

Manager Showalter noticing backstop's ability to catch foul tips

Wieters leads in unique skill behind plate

CLEVELAND -- When Matt Wieters hits a home run, it's obvious. Nobody in the ballpark is going to miss that it happened. When he throws out a baserunner attempting to steal second base, that's easy to see, too.

But there's a hidden part of Wieters' game that can easily go unnoticed, though it hasn't slipped past manager Buck Showalter. After Friday's 5-2 victory in Cleveland, Showalter made an off-hand remark about one way his catcher provides value to his pitching staff.

"He catches foul tips better than anyone I've ever seen," Showalter said. "He got two or three tonight for strike three."

It's not something that can be perfectly quantified, but there are rough ways to gauge one's ability. The last time Wieters played a full season was 2013 -- he missed most of 2014 following Tommy John surgery. In 2013, he caught 996 strikeouts. Of those, 86 came on a foul tip -- the highest rate in MLB, and one that gives him a rather sizable lead:

• Wieters, 8.6%

Yadier Molina, 7.8%

Brian McCann, 7.7%

It's likely not something that makes a huge difference over the course of a season, but, similar to pitch framing, Wieters is helping steal strikeouts for his pitchers, and they're taking notice.

"I see it, I know it's going on, but I don't know how he does it," pitcher Chris Tillman said. "It seems a little incredible to me to be able to catch a foul tip that often."

Wieters has heard Showalter make the claim before but was incredulous to learn that, not only is there a stat for it, but that he ranked as the best. He said it's not something that can necessarily be learned, calling it "one of the oddities of the game," but did offer up a theory.

"If I had to take one guess, I'd say that it's not trying to squeeze so hard," Wieters said. "I actually think the better chance you have to catch the foul tip is to let the ball close your glove. That way you're not squeezing too early or too late, you just get used to letting the ball close your glove for you. I think that kind of gives you a little bit of an advantage on foul tips."

It sounds similar to some of the techniques that make a catcher a good pitch framer. Wieters has historically graded as a plus receiver, so perhaps the two go hand-in-hand.

"I'm not sure there's a direct correlation between framing and catching foul tips, but I think soft hands are an advantage for both as opposed to guys who really try to squeeze and smother the ball," Wieters said.

Beyond that, there were few theories. Wieters mentioned pitches with late movement generating more foul tips, while assistant hitting coach and former catcher Einar Diaz cited sinkers as the most likely pitch to result in a foul tip.

Showalter said he had his own theories -- though he didn't disclose them -- as to what makes Wieters so good at his unique skill. Regardless of the theories, all he knows for sure is what he sees. And what he sees is good.

"I've asked that 100 times to different catching guys about who's good and who isn't, and it always comes down to him," Showalter said. "The ball just seems to stick."

August Fagerstrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.