From Paul Dickson at The National Pastime Museum on July 13, 2015:
Before a baseball game can begin, two things must happen: The home plate umpire must signal “Play Ball,” and the catcher must give the pitcher a sign ordering the type and location of the first pitch. More often than not, the latter is a finger sign delivered from the catcher’s inner thigh. If the pitcher is uneasy with the pitch he will “shake it off,” vetoing it with a shake of his head or by some other gesture of rejection.
The catcher gives a new sign . . . or does he?
Maybe that “shake off” was a decoy signal to the lead-off batter intended the give him the feeling that there is uncertainty as to how he should be pitched or that the battery is off to a shaky start. The battery wants to establish its ability to control the lead-off batter—break his concentration—and set the tone for the rest of the inning. A lead-off hit, especially on the first pitch, is to be avoided at all costs.
Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/decoding-game
Originally published: July 15, 2015. Last Updated: July 15, 2015.