Before Tyler Baker could get the most out of his throwing arm, he needed to get his feet right. He needed slower feet and quicker hands.
“You can’t really teach the arm strength that he has,” Wichita State assistant coach Brian Walker said. “But he was always so worried about being fast with his feet, and that would cause his arm to be out of sync with his lower body. We spent a lot of time on slowing down and letting everything sync together.”
Baker and Walker started working last fall and the results are obvious to the runners on base. Baker’s arm is more accurate and he is growing more confident with his throws. Sometimes Baker calls the pick-off play. Sometimes it comes from the dugout. In either case, it is a tool the Shockers are using more often over the past month.
“You can trust him to throw the ball to the bag, any bag,” coach Todd Butler said.
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Baker, a junior from Topeka, has thrown out 14 of 32 base-stealers (43 percent) this season after nabbing 1 of 2 against Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Last season, he threw out 17 of 48 (35 percent).
“It’s way better than last year,” Baker said. “I was relying on my arm too much.”
The improvement comes from a quicker transfer from glove to throwing hand. With Walker demonstrating, Baker learned that his feet will naturally follow when he grabs the ball and begins his throwing motion as he is coming out of his crouch.
“I don’t even worry about my feet,” Baker said. “I’m getting the ball out of my glove first. I thought, being a catcher, you had to have your feet set first. Well, you don’t.”
Walker, then a volunteer assistant Arkansas, watched Baker play last season at the NCAA’s Manhattan Regional. As a former catcher, he always keeps an eye on the men behind the plate and he liked Baker’s arm. Soon after, Butler hired Walker at WSU and he got a chance to mold Baker and improve his accuracy.
“We spent a lot of time just worrying about getting the ball in the bare hand,” Walker said. “The quicker the ball gets into his hand, the quicker the feet are going to get down because the arm is going to be ready to throw.”
Walker, who caught at Arkansas and played in the minor leagues for four seasons, is giving Baker a personal catching instructor for the first time. They worked on a blocking technique that Baker credits with helping his knees.
“I’ve always felt like the catching position is a neglected position,” Butler said. “You have to be a catcher to teach catching.”
Butler is slowly seeing the Shockers put on more plays defensively as Baker grows more aggressive. Moving Dayne Parker to shortstop gives the infield an experienced fielder who can recognize situations and think in tune with coaches.
“We’re not confident enough to do things that we need to,” Butler said. “We’re just now starting to do pick-offs, halfway through the season. You’ve got to teach players the smart decisions. You’ve got to let them play.”