Wolters' catching prowess is well-received

Rockies backstop emphasizes flexibility, study to improve pitch-framing

Wolters' catching prowess is well-received

DENVER -- Catcher Tony Wolters joined the Rockies as a waiver claim last February, but by the end of his rookie season in the Majors, he had become a folk hero in the science of pitch-framing.

According to Baseball Prospectus, Wolters finished fifth in the Majors in called strikes above average at .017. That means out of every 100 pitches, his ability to handle borderline pitches amounted to just under two extra strikes. But Wolters, who was claimed from the Indians at the start of Spring Training last year, sees pitch-framing as a flesh-and-blood act, not just a soulless calculation.

"I think it's kind of in that awkward stage, like, 'Is this really going to be something, pitch-framing?' But I think it truly is," Wolters said. "It makes the game more competitive. It's a cool new little stat thing. I appreciate it. I have fun with it, because I want to get better."

As the roster stands, Wolters and rookies Tom Murphy and Dustin Garneau are candidates for the Rockies' split of catching duties. The Rockies don't lean on one catcher -- Yorvit Torrealba caught 112 games in 2007 and no Rockies catcher has exceeded that since, but last season 11 teams had catchers exceed 112 games. But a skill such as pitch-framing could help Wolters earn more than the 59 games he saw last season.

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Wolters discussed what he believes are factors -- beyond just catching the ball -- in which his receiving can help pitchers.

Inhale ... exhale: "One of the biggest things to me is breathing when you're back there," Wolters said. "When you're breathing slow, nice and easy, you slow the pitch down when it's coming to you. When I'm catching bullpens, that's the first thing I focus on, my breathing. You can get all out of whack catching if you're not breathing right."

There's always time for flexibility: "I've been kind of taking it easy with my legs for the holidays, so I haven't been really in my routine. So I'll be hitting it this week, doing a lot more flexibility work, more for my hips, my knees, my ankles and making sure everything is loose and ready for the season."

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Flexibility doesn't stop when the season begins ...: "Usually I'll start from the feet up. You want to start massaging your feet, with your ankles, your shins, your calves and then you want to roll out around your knee a little bit and your legs. You want to start from your feet up. That's how I usually do my flexibility stuff and my rollout routine."

... or away from the park: "Sometimes in the mornings, if I feel something sore in my legs and I have a couple hours to spare, I usually sit around on a baseball [in much the way folks use a foam roller], watch TV and just kind of stretch. It won't be like an everyday thing. I try to do it in the mornings, every other day or whenever I feel I need it."

And there's hydration, which aids with what? Flexibility: "In Denver, you're losing water real quick, so you need to make sure you're hydrating enough to where you're never thirsty."

Studying your pitchers can be fun: "When the Rockies picked me up, my fiancee, Katelyn Bielli, helped me. She would show me a picture of a guy and I would tell her the name of the guy and some keys about the pitcher."

 

And, back to flexibility: "A low target is best. You need flexibility in your legs, getting down low, and your flexibility in your wrists to get your glove up and you can show your whole pocket. I'm still working on it. I drop my glove a lot. It's a tendency I have and it helps me sometimes. A big key I want to work on is keeping a more still target and making it easier for the pitchers to see.

"A lot of times I'll go down on one knee. It's not that I'm tired but I don't need to be in my full stance -- and I know the guy that's throwing it doesn't really care if I'm on a knee or not. It's from guy to guy. Some guys want an early target, and you just have to know that."

Pitchers are people, too ...: "I think about being prepared not just for the pitch that's coming to you, but another pitch, wherever he's going to throw it. There will be some times where his command just isn't there. Don't just be prepared for one that's going right to your glove."

... so are umpires: "Honestly, it's not pitch-framing. It's just catching strikes, making sure they're strikes and the borderline pitches make a case for yourself, catch the ball in the spot it comes and try to get a strike. It's not making a ball into a strike. Just make him see it as well as possible.

"There have been times when the umpire was like, 'Come on, what are you trying to get?' But not a ton. We work well together. All the umpires are really easy to talk to and are good guys, and they want to do their best."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.