A plea to coaches of 12-15 year old teams …. please implement and teach the standard cutoff/relay system that young players can learn and take into high school baseball with them. It makes watching high school baseball a lot more fun. Not sure I can watch another pitcher standing in the middle of the field or a first baseman hanging around first. Everyone has a job to on every play. For everyone except catchers, this means sprinting somewhere 90% of the time once the ball is in play.
I forget where I got the attached graphics, probably picked them up from somewhere a decade ago. They are pretty good. Please share them with your players. They need to know every position. It makes watching baseball a lot more fun too.
Here is the link:
Below is a chart of data of MLB on-base percentage as hitters pass through different counts. Of course, everyone starts at 0-0, so the MLB OB% average is .324 (note there are some quirks in this data and it is a couple decades old, but conclusions are right).
If the result of pitch 1 is a ball, then the batters on-base % goes to .387. If the result is strike 1, then the on-base % goes to .256. That is a HUGE DIFFERENCE and sets up the rest of the rest of the at-bat. You can see how the results further diverge as the counts play out.
The different between the upper right 1/2 of the box and the lower left 1/2 of the box is the difference between scoring 2 runs a game or 7 runs a game. Pitchers need to throw strikes early, hitters need to swing at strikes early. That creates a perfect match-up!
I need to spend some more time on defining a quality at-bat, QAB.
The underlying philosophy is this — as a hitter, you cannot directly control the actual result of your at-bat. For example, you could do everything right and absolutely smoke a line drive right at the center fielder for an out. OR, you could do everything wrong, swing at a bad pitch and luckily poke a ball over the infielders head for a hit. Which at-bat is better? From a scout’s standpoint, it is pretty clear. It is better to be good, than lucky!
To get to the next level, you need a good approach a the plate. That means, as a hitter, you need to be in control. Quality At-Bats are all about things you can control.
You can control the following 4 ways of having a quality at bat:
1. Hit the ball hard, off the sweet spot. A hard ground ball, line drive, or ball over the outfielders head is hard hit. If you hit the ball hard, it is a quality at bat. We don’t care if the fielder makes a great play, or the ball is smoked right at him. We want you to square the ball up. Any time you do that is a quality at bat.
Note — fly balls are quality at-bats ONLY if they are over the outfielders head. A fly ball is a waste of time, regardless of the cheers and encouragement you get from the stands. If you hit fly balls, you will hit .180. That includes the rare home run. We want line drives and hard hit ground balls.
2. Execute a sacrifice bunt, hit & run, or move a runner from 2nd to 3rd with no outs or score a runner from 2nd or 2rd with less than 2 outs.
3. Draw a walk or get hit by a pitch. Taking an 0-2 curve ball off the back is a quality at-bat. Ducking out of the way is not.
4. Any 6+ pitch at bat, regardless of outcome. If you make the pitcher use up >6 pitches to get one out, it is a quality at bat. Even if you strike out, or make an easy out on the 7th pitch. That is how you get through #1 starters and into the bullpen of teams when you face a good pitcher. Battle, eat up pitches on every at-bat.
As a team, if our hitters put together 15 QAB, we will score 6-7 runs and win 80% of our games. Anytime, we don’t achieve this level of execution, the game is left to chance.
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.
“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.