It is really hard to be a consistently good hitter. At the 14-17u levels that our teams play at, the metrics for an elite hitter are >.450 OBP and >.350 batting average. For a good hitter, it is >.400 OBP and >.300 batting average. Note — this is after about 100 plate appearances, so don’t freak out or celebrate for another 2 months.
To accomplish this level of performance requires consistent effort and competing in EVERY at bat (i.e. not giving away at-bats). If you give away at-bats when your team is up 6-1 or down 5-1, you are not going to achieve this level of performance.
Good hitters have a plan when they step into the batters box. What is your plan? In general, it should be “Get a good pitch and square it up”. But, what is your hitting approach in more detail?
Well, the answer should be “it depends …. on the situation”.
Runner on 2nd, no outs => your job is to advance the runner unless you are getting paid to play baseball.
Runner on 3rd, less than 2 outs => your job is to to get a good pitch to hit and hammer it.
Two strikes => your job is to shorten up, let the ball travel and battle your butt off to eat up pitches or get the pitcher to make a mistake.
So, your detailed approach is that it “Depends on the situation”
It also depends on the count.
And, it depends on the type of pitcher you are facing.
Here was a summary from a weekend this past summer:
In Game 1 this weekend, we faced two guys that were #1’s and we kept taking strike one fastballs. We took 14 strike one fastballs. You cannot do that against #1 guys. They have good stuff and they are not going to walk you. The strike 1 fastball is the best pitch you are going to see. Sit on it and compete. You need to take these match-ups personally as a hitter. Your future in baseball depends on beating #1 guys.
In Game 3, we faced a struggling pitcher for 3 innings and scored only 6 runs. In those situations, we need to step on the gas and relentlessly hit and walk our way to double digit runs. But, we starting refusing to walk and got ourselves out by swinging at bad pitches.
Then, in Game 3, we faced a crafty pitcher who got ahead in the count and then made us look foolish. We tried to hit the ball in the air with a 30mph wind blowing out. Instead, we fouled balls off early in the count then chased bad pitches. The result, was 3 innings and zero runs against a pitcher throwing 70 against the wind.
As the season progresses, we need to understand what kind of pitcher we are facing and how we need to adjust our approach immediately. Let’s not wait until the post-game talk to discuss adjustments.
There is a theory in baseball that says:
- you are going to win 20% of your games
- you are going to lose 20% of your games
- 60% of the games are up for grabs
(This, of course, assumes that you are playing at the correct level of competition.)
Another big caveat is that you never know what kind of game it is until it plays out.
Great teams win the games that are up for grabs and end up winning 2 out of three games. Weak teams fail to win games that are up for grabs, and end up with a .300 winning percentage. Average teams kind of just flip coin, win some, lose some and end up close to .500.
Part of team identity is choosing whether you are going to really battle for every game that is up for grabs (like 2 of our opponents this past weekend, sending us home early), or are you going to just settle for a coin flip.
You can learn a lot about yourself by watching other teams.
So, the next time a opposing coach yells “That’s what we needed!!” after a player hits a 2 run bomb when his team is down 6-1, maybe our guys will not laugh and make fun of him. Maybe next time they will strap on their batting gloves and start competing. Going through the motions is not going to work in games that are up for grabs.
One of the reasons I enjoy 14u baseball is watching the transition to a big diamond. Compared to 13u baseball, pitchers are throwing 6 ft. further, bases are 10 ft. further and throws are 10-20 feet longer. Then, you add -3 BBCOR bats to the mix. A lot of things in flux.
Players need to get good at making adjustments at this age.
Here are four things that work in making this transition.
1, Pitchers need to challenge hitters to put the ball in play. It is harder to get a hit at this age — fielders are fast and no one can outrun a baseball. Challenge hitters and see what happens.
2. Infielders need to move through the ball. Bad footwork will not work on a big field.
3. Hitters need to attack the inside half of the ball and go gap-t0-gap and opposite field. You are going to be out front and rollover 10X more than you are going to get beat by a 14u fastball.
4. The value of speed and good base running just got amplified. If that is part of your game, push things hard. If speed is not part of your game, then get to at least average speed and quickness and become a great baserunner. It makes a difference.
Good news is that the fields are not getting any bigger from now on. This is it. This is a good time to make the adjustments.
Every Spring I publish articles on how to win in youth baseball. Click here for links.
Win 3 innings, Hold Walks+Errors to 5 and have 15 Quality At Bats.
Here is how 14u did in the first tournament:
If you achieve one of these 3 targets in a game, you will win a lot. If you don’t, you are leaving things up to chance and luck.
So, how do you win? Win three innings, limit pitching/defensive mistakes to 5 and grind out 15 quality at bats. All three are within players’ control.
“Team identity” is a amorphous term. It is the underlying chemistry and culture that a team develops when they practice and compete. It can be a big positive, and it can be a big negative.
Individual player success and team success improves significantly when a positive team energy emerges. The coaching staff is responsible for setting the overall environment, boundaries and expectations of team identity. That is what John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is all about. But, the players fill in the blanks from there.
Sometimes it takes 2 weeks and sometimes 2 months. But, when it happens, it is pretty easy to see.
As a coach, I can provide my first input on this. Step 1 for this team is to play with high Energy Level and Passion — think Dustin Pedroia & David Eckstein, That will provide a foundation for lots of good things to follow.
In the Gamers program, we talk about ROOTS — Respecting Opponents Officials Team and Self. And, part of Respecting Officials is for players NOT to react to umpire calls. Umpire calls are out of a player’s control. For parents, we ask (demand) that they do not umpire from the stands or make negative comments to umpires.
So, that part is clear.
And for Gamer coaches, we expect the same approach — being respectful of the umpires. We require that our players shake the umpires hands after games for a reason — out of respect and appreciation, just like shaking hand with the opponent (I need to talk to 14u players about this!!).
But, I am personally in a strange situation. The Gamers programs writes large checks to tournament operators, much of which ends up going to umpires. In that regard, as a customer I have certain expectations. I demand that umpires are engaged in the game and pay attention to detail. Basically, do their jobs with some passion and effort in exchange for money and some fun.
When I do not see that happening, I say something — usually after the game (but not always). This conversation does not go well, because umpires don’t like to be held accountable and I am a little too blunt in my criticism. As a customer, I am going to hold them accountable for passion and effort.
When I challenge an umpire, I am not looking for excuses for a loss. If we lose or do not play well, there is no doubt where the finger should be pointed — at our dugout. When it happens, I am just asking them to give an adequate level of effort.
Finally, it drives me crazy when umpires try to interject themselves into the game. The players play for themselves, their teammates and their coaches, not the umpires. If umpires have a problem with the players, they need to come and talk to the coach, not bark orders around like Barney Fife. If an umpire does this, I will defend our players 100% of the time. It is my job and I do it with passion and effort. If an umpire comes to the me to talk about a players behavior, then I will address it.
But, umpires do not get to play dictator and boss teenagers around. That is my job. Umpires need to stick to officiating, not coaching.
So, there is good chance I may be tossed from a game or two. It happens. But, it is not an excuse for not playing well AND it is not a free pass for players and parents to start playing umpire.
Players play, Parents parent, Umpires up and Coaches coach. It is really pretty simple and we need to hold each other accountable for that.
Our 5-1 loss in the playoff game Sunday afternoon was ugly. We had very solid pitching but did not compete at the plate and made too many defensive mistakes. Energy level and focus.
My focus after the game was on two things —
1. Leaving 7 pieces of trash in the dugout after the game
2. The bench players watching the next door game during our game (with the tying run at the plate)
I told the boys that I was asking them to not be typical 14 year olds. Instead, they need to become 14 year old elite baseball players. That is not easy. But, mental discipline and commitment to doing things the right way separates elite players from everyone else.
So, our challenge over the next 15 months is to mold these players into elite baseball players. Going to take a lot of hard work and a little pain. But, I am sure the coaching staff is up to it.
First accomplishment in mental toughness and achieving team goals happened on Sunday. We had throw a shutout to get to the playoff bracket. That is a pretty challenging goal. But our pitchers (Holmes, Schmitt) and defense stepped up and got it done. A significant accomplishment. We will have to do stuff like that a lot over the next 16 weeks.
Our 14u boys will be searching for team identity for the next several weeks. But, after coaching 14 year olds a lot over the years, I am pretty sure that the success of this team will be determined by:
1. Their ability to generate and sustain a high level of energy during competition and practices.
2. Their ability to stay focused and stay “present” during competition. Staying “present” means focusing on what is happening right now, on this pitch. Not on the last pitch, or last AB or last inning. Or the game beside them, or the plane in the sky.
Two big challenges for 14 year olds.
We had a “make-up” practice on Thursday since our outdoor practice was rained out on Tuesday. Our practice was at 8:30. At 7:30 the tornado warnings and local weather enthusiasts starting going off. We only had 10 kids show up a practice because of the weather threat. A was very tempted at 7:45 to put out a message that I expected everyone to be at practice, regardless of the thunderstorms. But, I was afraid that if I did that, a tornado would hit ASP and it would be my fault. So, I just left it vague. Ten kids, to their credit (and their brave parents) showed up and we had a great practice. The other 7 did not show up — without penalty.
There are a million potential excuses to cancel practice. That is a very slippery slope!! Unless fields are too wet, we will practice. If fields are too wet, I will try to move indoors or on the outdoor turf at ASP. We are asking our players to do exceptional things and will give them every opportunity.