Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/18/14
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Ryan Hanigan might be the most underrated catcher in baseball. He is definitely one of the most studious and verbose. The 32-year-old Cincinnati Red knows the game, and he can break down the nuances of his craft — and his pitching staff — with the best of them. Signed by the Reds as a non-drafted free agent in 2002, Hanigan made his big-league debut five years later and has since become a stalwart on both sides of the ball. A well-above-average defensive catcher who threw out 48 percent of runners trying to steal this year, he boasts a .370 lifetime OBP. Hanigan recently addressed a number of subjects, including where he hits in the batting order, who has the nastiest stuff on the staff, and the challenges Aroldis Chapman will face as a starting pitcher. —— David Laurila: Do you pay attention to advanced stats? Ryan Hanigan: I have an understanding of sabermetrics and a lot of the terms people are using to categorize what matters, and is what is actually going on. There’s definitely something to it, so I’ve thought about it in terms of the type of player I’ve been, and what I’m trying to become. It factors in to the organization’s perception of you, as well as Major League Baseball’s. Some of the new stats are more tangible, at least to the stat-specific people of this world. Baseball is moving more towards that, although there are obviously still a lot of people who don’t believe in that stuff. They look at things more old-school. DL: As a guest on Ken Broo‘s Sunday morning sports show [AM-700 WLW] I’ve suggested you hit second in Dusty Baker’s batting order. What are your thoughts on that? RH: There’s logic to it. That said, I’m paid to play and the decision, ultimately, isn’t for me to make. That’s up to the manager. Dusty is going to hit me where he wants to hit me, and the last thing I want to do is step on anybody’s toes. It’s not my job to try to change the status quo. At the same time, the type of hitter I am… I’ve always considered myself a good hitter. I feel like I’ve always been a good hitter, through the minor leagues and in the big leagues. I haven’t ever developed a power swing, for whatever reason. Coming up, I had to get hits in order to play. I wasn’t a big prospect. I was always one of the better players on whatever team I was on, but I was never really considered a prospect until about the 2007 season, after I had proven myself year after year. In my developmental phase as a player, in the minor leagues, I had to take a strike. That was the philosophy. Dan O’Brien implemented it in the organization. When I was in A ball, we were forced to take a strike. That was a season I played a lot — I had 430 at bats — and I had to learn how to hit two-strike sliders. I had to learn how to hit the ball to right field. Every team in the league knew it, and that’s how they pitched us. They started us right down the middle and then threw sliders or balls on the corners. It was hard for me to learn how to hit, first of all with runners in scoring position in terms of being a damage guy. Second, to be able to hit in hitter’s counts. I was defensive for a big period of my career. You can call it a detriment, or you can call it a strength, in my game right now. It is what it is. I’m still learning. There’s a lot of technique to extra-base hits. I definitely don’t feel it’s a strength issue. With the team we have, especially with guys like Votto and Bruce and Brandon — we have power — what I try to do is get on base. I’ve never been a good bad-ball hitter, but I’ve always had a good eye. I know the strike zone and am able to recognize pretty quickly if a pitch will be a ball or a strike. DL: You have more walks than strikeouts since you’ve reached the big leagues. RH: I can’t chase out of the zone. That’s not going to do me any good. Second of all, I don’t get worried about hitting with two strikes. I feel more comfortable after I’ve seen pitches, because I know exactly how the ball moves and what the spin is. Once a guy has thrown me a couple of pitches, I can see if he’s trying to pitch me soft or if he’s trying to challenge me hard. There’s give and take to that in the big leagues, because you get guys that are just nasty and you don’t want to fall behind them. A level of aggressiveness is always needed, and it’s a matter of figuring out when the right time is to be aggressive. I could talk about that for hours. We have guys that are paid to drive in runs, but I feel I have the potential to do that as well. Hitting in the two-hole is a whole different game. There’s even a huge difference between the seven-hole and the eight-hole, because you have an offensive player behind you. In the two-hole, you get a lot of good pitches to hit. You get challenged. You get fastballs, because you have dangerous guys behind you. DL: Your lack of speed is probably a big reason Baker doesn’t hit you near the top of the order. RH: That’s a detriment they would see, but it’s a matter of what you’re trying to get when you write out your lineup. My on-base percentage, and my ability to get on by drawing walks and getting hits — I get my hits — can work there. You can look at it like, “Okay, he’s slow and clogging the bases,” or you can look at it as, “There are three guys hitting behind him who might hit a double or a home run.” Hitting second would definitely be a change. I’d be hitting early in the game, and I’m usually pre-gaming for the first inning as a catcher. I don’t even worry about hitting until the second inning, I’d have to change my mindset, but that’s just part of being a professional. I’m sure I’d be pitched to a lot more, which would make for easier at bats. I wouldn’t be seeing as many 2-0 sliders, and guys trying to hit the corner, where if they miss, they don’t care if they walk me. That’s a tough way to hit. Not getting challenged can be frustrating. DL: What do you look for when you’re watching film? RH: That’s a huge part of the game — an enormous part of the game. When I look at film, I want to see how he’s pitching to hitters who are similar to me. I’ll look for tendencies and patterns, like what he does in certain situations. I want to know what he likes to throw on a 1-2 count, or if I get ahead of him 2-1, what will he throw then? In terms of percentages, I want an idea of how to load my timing and how to get myself ready. At some point, you have to look for pitches in certain locations. As for the defensive side, that’s where I put in most of my time. Of course, I’ve seen most of these hitters, because I’ve been in the league for so long. I do need to learn about the new guys and what they like. I read swings and try to find their vulnerabilities. I do a lot of that, and it’s something you learn by playing the game. It’s not something that can be taught, or really even learned from a scouting report. DL: Is recognizing a pitch out of the hand similar behind the plate and in the batter’s box? RH: I think it is. I’m really watching how my pitchers pitches are moving — the type of action they have — and his release point. I’ve had a lot of success against pitchers I’ve caught. The more information the better. But at the end of the day, if you can hit you can hit, and if you can’t you can’t. DL: Do you ever recognize, out of the hand, that you’re getting crossed up? RH: Oh yeah, that happens, and it’s not a good feeling. But if you recognize early enough, sometimes that saves you from taking one square. Your instincts and reaction kind of save you. Some guys throw too hard for you to really have time, but with others it’s not as big a deal. With Bronson Arroyo, I just put down a one or a two, and he throws a lot of different pitches off a one or a two. He throws them at different speeds, but it doesn’t matter. For some guys who have both a curve and a slider, and they’re pretty similar, I can just use one sign. But with guys who have big velocity, or a power split, it’s too much movement. DL: Is there such a thing as late movement? RH: Late movement is just a term. What’s really happening is that a guy is getting fooled. He’s not seeing the ball well. There are different levels of seeing the ball. The better you see the it, the better you’re going to hit, and sometimes don’t really pick up a pitch at all. You have to recognize spin. That’s important. If I see spin for a split or a slider, anything that’s going down… I already know what the guy throws. I know he has a slider, so I know what angle it has to start at in order for it to be a ball or a strike. When I see it out of his hand, if I see it in a certain spot, I know it’s not going to be too low and I have a chance of putting the barrel on the ball. Sometimes you’re going to be wrong. You’ll think a pitch is going to stay in the zone and it doesn’t, or you think it’s going to move out of the zone and it stays right there. It happens so fast that you’re going to be right and you’re going to be wrong. The better groove you get into, the more chance you have to connect. Once you get in that zone, it almost doesn’t matter who’s on the mound, you see everything for what it is. When you’re locked in like that, you don’t get fooled. DL: Who on the Reds staff does the best job of disguising his pitches? RH: Johnny Cueto’s split looks a lot like his fastball. He’s got real good arm action. It explodes at you, but then the ball drops. It’s a tough pitch to pick up. With Bronson, you can never tell what velocity he’s throwing. He’s so eloquent with his delivery that everything is just kind of flowing and then comes at you. His curveball looks the same as his fastball. You can’t pick anything up from his arm action, or his delivery, so you have to just see the ball and try to pick it up as early as you can. There are a lot of guys with nasty stuff, because their arm action is consistent with all their pitches. They’re just doing different things with their hand, or they’re pronating their arm. Whatever they’re doing to get movement, they’re doing at t...

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