Don’t Shake the Catcher

Chris Sale, LHP, Boston RedSox

There was an interesting article recently in the Wall Street Journal (I read the WSJ every day and I love it!).  Columnist Jason Gay wrote about Chris Sale of the Boston RedSox, one of MLB’s most dominant pitchers.  The premise of the article was that Sale never “shakes” his catcher, meaning, he never disagrees with the type of pitch or the location of the pitch that his catcher signals prior to the pitch.  With most other pitcher/catcher relationships, there is a “conversation” – catcher puts down a sign (one finger for fastball, two for curve, or something like that, and a wiggle for inside or outside), and pitcher nods his head Yes or No.  Sometimes they can’t agree, so catcher pays a trip to the mound and they have a normal, verbal conversation instead of sign language.

With Chris Sale and his catcher, the conversation is one-sided.  Catcher puts down his sign, and Sale always agrees.  Sale throws what catcher wants and tries to throw it where the catcher wants it. Simple.  The result is Sale works more quickly – no debate between pitches – and the fielders stay alert and don’t fall asleep between pitches.  Sale has natural ability and a strange left-handed delivery, but undoubtedly his success (he is one of the best) is helped by his rapid work.

It works for Sale because of Preparation and Trust.  Sale delegates the pitch type and location to his catcher.  He trusts that his catcher has prepared – he knows something about the hitters, and he knows what types of pitches Sale can throw.  Since he has delegated pitch selection, all Sale needs to do is execute his pitches – throw what the catcher called, and throw it at his mitt.  The KISS method of pitching.  Sale becomes a machine – not thinking on his own, just executing, pitch after pitch.

It is also Process-oriented as opposed to Results-oriented.  Most pitchers are Results-oriented – what result do I want with this pitch?  Sale is Process-oriented.  He trusts that if he and his catcher hold true to their process, the results will follow.  Successful coaches are Process-oriented – John Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood” (UCLA Basketball) and Nick Saban (University of Alabama Football) are famous for their processes.

Pitching vs. Investing

What, you may ask, do Chris Sale and the Boston RedSox have to do with investing?  Successful investing is also Process-oriented.  Buy-and-hold is Process-oriented, even if Buy-and-hold doesn’t always outperform.  Indexing is Process-oriented.  Algorithmic investing is Process-oriented.  Preparation – do research, do back-testing of investing strategies, know what you are investing in, and know what your objectives are.  Trust – work with an advisor or a broker that shares your objectives, and that you are sure is not conflicted and is not out for him or herself.  If you have an algorithmic or rules-based approach, and you hit a rough patch, you stick with it – you trust that you are in an anomaly period and that the market or the situation will mean-revert and the investing decision will work again going forward.


All of this is true, but it is easier said than done.  Successful investors and investment managers do prepare and trust, but it takes a lot of work, as well as a steady disposition and approach.  Once you make a decision or take an action, stick with it, and you will probably be ok.  The relationship between investor and manager is key – you really have to trust each other, and be satisfied with what the manager is getting paid.  If the manager is good, it is worth it.