Working the Count

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!

OBP vs Count

Adjustments to 60/90 Fields — 4 Things That Work

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.

Surprising Seven Secrets about College Prep Baseball

harvard-business-school-5.4 Three key factors drive the college baseball process for high school age players:

1. Talent/Skill level – basically you need to look the part and be able to play.

2. Good grades – a lot more important than most people realize

3. Being a “good kid” – hard worker, committed, able to overcome failure, coachable, etc.. (i.e. are you a Gamer?)

The only thing a college prep, select baseball program can do for you is to help you develop along those three dimensions and to give you the opportunity to play in front of college coaches.  NO COLLEGE PREP BASEBALL PROGRAM “GETS” YOU A COLLEGE BASEBALL SCHOLARSHIP!! (this is secret #1 – don’t tell anyone) College prep programs either help you directly with a these three things or they don’t.  If they don’t then … ?

If you are 6’3″, throw 89, have a 29 ACT and are good kid => you are going to play at a high-end Division 1 program.  Of course, it is a very competitive world and there are literally hundreds of HS players out there that fit this criteria. If you are in this group, congratulations!  There are a lot of people lined up to take credit for your success.

Here is surprising secret #2 : for the clear, high-end D1 players… your actual success in college (i.e. actual playing time, having on-field success, having off-field success and graduating) will depend almost entirely on #2 & #3 above, not #1 that you are being recruited for. This is why so many highly recruited and early-commit players do not make it through (or to) college, switch programs after one year, etc..  This is why a lot of D1 recruits get passed by before they even show up on campus.  A lot of SEC recruits never play in the SEC.  This is especially true for players who look the part and matured early but were never challenged or taught the importance of #2 and #3.

So, the long-term success of the high-end D1 recruits will depend primarily on how good of a student they are and if they are a “good kid”.  This is very counter-intuitive and very top-secret.  Many high-end D1 program have bullpens & benches  full of kids that throw 90+, but cannot get outs or hit curve balls or are academically ineligible.

But, the clear high-end D1’s do not represent most players in college prep, select baseball.  The majority of players are either borderline D1 players, or are more likely to play at D2/D3/NAIA or Juco.  That is right — the majority of players playing college prep, select baseball are not going to play high-end D1 baseball.   (that is secret #3). This is true for almost EVERY program in the country — maybe 8-10 total exceptions across the country (you can usually find one in our pool at East Cobb).

In the Gamers program, 90% of our players go on to play college baseball.  But, a little less than 1/2 go to D1 baseball programs.  It sometimes changes year to year, some years 60%, some years 40%.  But on average, a little less the 50% over 6 years of graduating players to college baseball.

So, here is a surprising secret #4 for this majority of players … the NCAA level of the baseball program DOES NOT MATTER nearly as much as whether the college is a GOOD FIT with your overall goals.  

Here is some good info on college baseball “fit”:
college fit

The single most important goals for you are to:

– use baseball to learn what it takes to be successful in life

– recruit yourself into a baseball program that fits with your academic and baseball levels — i.e. where you “fit”

– have a great college athletic and academic experience

That should be the focus for every player, but especially the players that do not fit clear high-end D1 profiles.

The misguided notion that Division 1 baseball is always the best option is flat-out wrong for LOTS of players.  

Here is surprising secret #5 …. At the end of 4-5 years, a player that goes to a high-end academic D3 college and plays baseball is usually BETTER OFF than a player that goes to a high-end D1 baseball program.  Not always, but most of the time.  

Degrees from schools like MIT, DePauw, Rhodes, Wheaton, Wash U, etc.. matter A LOT.  Some of these academic experiences are life altering.  These degrees matter more than Division 1 baseball.  If you play baseball and successfully graduated rom a college like this, you will have great opportunities in front of you.

The chances of ever earning a living playing baseball are REMOTE (is there a way to make this text larger? — this is secret #6). What matters is having a good experience, developing as a person and emerging from college with the capacity to succeed in life.

I have incredible respect and affection and am VERY proud of the handful of former Gamers now earning a pay check in professional baseball.   They are awesome young men.  But, I am equally proud of the kids that played college baseball and are graduating from great schools with good degrees that set them up for success in life.

Finally — secret #7 — this process is not about baseball.  This is about learning how to work hard at something, fail, get back on your feet and keep working. It is about learning how to succeed.  Baseball is simply the best platform invented to teach this to young men.

Are Club Sports Evil?

Sandlot1I am not happy with the anti-club sport mantra that has emerged as conventional wisdom in the sports media.  Here is one of the milder examples recently re-circulated by the ABCA:

The article is titled “Sports and Money” to fit with the storyline that it is “all about the money”.  I rarely post comments on articles, but I did this time.

I am not sure why some professional athletes and coaches are playing along with this.  My speculation is that they are out of touch with the competition level in HS sports OR are just parroting something that sounds good and people seem to want to hear. But to me, it sounds a little like “I was so good I didn’t need club sports.  I just played in the sandlot with Smalls, Squints and Bennie.”  Well, that was a long time ago.

Here is the comment I posted:

24 March, 2015, 14:45

I find the line of thought, now conventional wisdom that:

a. Travel, club sport coaches and paid instructors are evil

b. Parents who choose to spend discretionary money on sports training are short-sighted and/or are fools

c. Sport specialization is contributing to injuries

d. Young players are somehow victims in the process

to be out of touch with reality, with heads firmly planted ostrich-style in holes.

The world is different now than it was 20 years ago — sorry John Kruk and Curt Schilling. It is a lot smaller world, if you have not noticed.

Players, starting around high school age, figure out if they are pretty good or not at a sport. If they are pretty good, they often want to play the sport a lot, at the highest level they can. They don’t want to just compete with kids in a 50 mile radius. They want to compete against the best from 500 miles, or more. What is wrong with that?

(Please note that I am referring to young men in the HS age group — not elementary and middle schoolers.)

Go check out some HS age competition that is based on a 500 mile radius. You have to be incredibly talented to be on that field. Average does not get you on that field. Kids that want to play on that field know that it is not easy. They are pretty smart.

So, the counter argument is this — “no, little Johnny, let’s be average at three local sports instead of exceptional at the regional level at the one sport that you really like.”

That decision is really up to little Johnny since he has to do all the hard work. And, he probably makes the right decision 95% of the time.

Given the player’s desires, parents with discretionary income then spend money to train their young athletes to compete against the top kids from 500 miles around. That’s what parents do if they can. 95% of the time this represents a significant commitment on the part of the parents to allow their kid to achieve something he/she wants to do. It is players pulling, not parents pushing 95% of the time … especially at high school ages.

Travel, club programs and professional instructors emerged because players/parents want their services and they enjoy working with young people. 95% of these coaches/instructors are incredibly dedicated, good people that do not get paid that much and are great mentors to young men and women. What is wrong with this?

The conventional wisdom implies that the club sport world is supply driven.  Somehow, a mass conspiracy formed to convince parents and young players to pay for something they do not need or want.  Like pet rocks and sea monkeys.   That is very wrong.

This market is demand driven — driven by young athletes that want to compete at a high level.  Young athletes want to be trained and developed to compete at a high level.   Their parents think that is a worthy endeavor and support it.  That is why club sports exist 95% of the time.  It is demand, not supply.

95% of players are not victims, 95% parents are not stupid and 95% of coaches/instructors are not “all about the money”.

When people use that phrase, I think they should be forced to set in a dugout with 15 year olds for 2 hours.  It is NOT all about the money 95% of the time.

Finally, the injury point. Guess what — if you play sports at a higher and higher level, the risk of physical injury goes up. When you run faster, are bigger, throw harder and hit harder, you are more likely to get hurt. Why is that such a big surprise to everyone?

The chances of an arm injury throwing 90 are a lot higher that the chances of an injury throwing 75. Good players playing at a very physically challenging level tend to get hurt more. People are now actually writing books and making speeches on this absolutely obvious fact.

The only true way to avoid sports injuries is to not play.  Playing more, harder and faster leads to more injuries.  How’s that for stunning insight.

So, do we tell players to throw easier and run slower? To not compete as hard? That’s just not the way young athletes think.

The entire argument against sports specialization and club sports is focused on the 5% …

… the 5% of players who really do want to play 3 sports but are forced into playing one …

… the 5% of parents who are re-living their own lives through their kids or are being fed BS by coaches/instructors …

… the 5% of coaches/instructors who are in it for the money and do not live up to their end of the bargain …

.. the 5% of coaches that put players at risk for injury by improper warm-up, improper training or letting them continue playing when the risk for injury goes up …

OK maybe its 10%, not 5%. But it is not even close to 50%.

The days of 3 sport athletes dominating their 50 mile radius is LONG GONE … disappearing about the same time as cell phones and the internet made our world a lot smaller.  In a lot of areas, it was gone before that.  In European soccer is disappeared 5 decades ago.

Club sports and specialization (at HS ages) are not going away. It is a natural and healthy evolution, 95% of the time. Let’s focus on fixing the 5% instead of telling players not to play hard, work hard and have lofty goals, or telling parents not to spend time and money on their kids, or telling coaches not to coach.

Because, I am pretty sure that is not going to happen.

Coach Fitz – Lessons on the Game of Life

{B2632C27-ACDE-4868-91C2-5E10692017E3}Img400-2For the past five – 14u teams I have coached (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014) I gave them the book “Coach” by Michael Lewis to read — about 75 books.  I do it for two reasons:

1. Because it is about a baseball player their age that they can relate to

2. It reflects my single biggest fear in coaching teenagers.

So, most players dutifully read the book and send me the one paragraph or one page book report.  The impact of the story is not long-lasting.  Attention spans are short, and it usually takes 1-2 years for life experiences to catch up with the book.   Here is the Amazon link to buy the book, 90 pages, $9 worth every penny.

My favorite passage in the book is:

“It was as if this baseball coach had reached inside me, found a rusty switch marked: ‘turn on before attempting use’ – and flipped it.”

Flipping switches is not pretty.  Sometimes the switch is hidden kind of deep and you have to dig around and it gets messy.  Sometimes, the switch turns back off and needs to be flipped back on again a couple of times.  And, ocassionally it does not switch on at all.

If you have just 10 minutes, please read the story about Coach Fitz that Michael Lewis wrote for the New York times  (it’s free — although the book is a lot better).

Even though the story is now 10 years old now, it provides good insight into the coaching challenge in 2015.  Flipping switches is 10x more challenging (and more important) then teaching kids to throw hard or run fast.

Sometimes when I interview people for jobs, I explain the Coach Fitz story and ask the candidate “who is your Coach Fitz?”   The answers vary between incredible stories and just blank stares.  It’s about 50/50, but with declining numbers for Coach Fitz.

Sadly, the NY Times article ends like this:

“And when I think of that, I become aware of a new fear: that my children might never meet up with their Fitz. Or that they will, and their father will fail to understand what he’s up to.” 

Activity vs. Achievement

Activity vs. Achievement

Deja Vu All Over Again

Blog post from 4 years ago. Yogi Berra >> Stephen Hawking. Literally 4 years ago.

Selling the Easy Way To …

Since the days of snake oil salesmen, people have been trying to sell the “easy way out” potions and formulas to a willing audience. It is human nature to look for the easy way out, the easy weight loss diet, the easy way to get in shape, the easy way to make money, the easy way to find a mate, the easy way to do about anything ….

This now includes the easy way to play baseball at the next level.

The Gamers program is built around Hard Work and Passion. These are the cornerstones of our pyramid of success. Along with Commitment and Loyalty.  We practice a lot, work hard and have high expectations on and off the field. We depend on each other to succeed.  In our opinion it is the right way to do things, regardless of how talented players may be. Even the most talented players need to work hard — because being talented in St. Louis does not translate into being talented and successful at the next level.

There is “no easy way out” in the Gamers program. This is our image and reputation in the youth baseball market, and it is true.

But, snake oil salesmen have ridden into town (actually, they have been here a while). They target talented baseball players and sell them a magic potion that looks like this:

“Come to our program. We don’t practice as much, have friendlier coaches, don’t work as hard and have lower expectations. Don’t believe the Gamers BS about Hard Work and Passion. Plus, because we reduce un-needed coaching and instruction, and no  high expectations.  Fun all around”

This is almost comical. Get better, by working less. Snake oil potions, combined with some multi-level Amway marketing.

Some parents and players fall for this pitch. Like the magic weight loss, hair growth and smart pills from frontier days. Sounds great for parents — a lot less driving around and fewer practices.

Don’t believe the snake oil salesmen. You cannot lose weight unless you eat less and/or burn more calories. Sorry Dorothy, but the Wizard is just a man hiding behind a curtain.

There is no easy way out if you want to be an elite baseball player. Especially, here in the Midwest, where the baseball season is too short and you do not get nearly enough reps by just playing. If you are extremely talented, you may get to the next level on raw talent alone. But, you will not succeed at the next level unless you understand Hard Work and Passion.

There is no easy way out if you are pursuing excellence and competing against yourself to be the best you can be. It takes hard work, a lot of practice, challenging coaches, high expectations and a lot of dedication. It takes commitment, it takes two way relationships. That is the magic formula. There is no easy way out.

Or, I have great deal where you can work from home 3 hours a day and earn $100k …

How to Hack a Stalker Radar Gun

I remember being fascinated by wave theory and propagation calculations back in my engineering days.  It is the technology that we used at British Petroleum to drill for oil and develop the North Slope oil fields.  Shoot sound or pressure waves, measure reflection and time at the surface and you can map what is 20,000 feet underground.  Really cool technology.

Now, 30 years later, all those smarts are now on built into a $1200 radar gun with the Stalker Pro II, an incredible piece of technology.  You can make adjustments and option settings to automatically compensate for lots of conditions.  All menu driven and easy to do. We literally used a Cray mainframe computer for these calculations in the 1980’s.

So, here’s a easy hack to pick up 3mph on your fastball.

1 – Turn on the gun

2 – hold down Menu button for 1 second

3 – select Option 10 called “Cosine Angle” (evidently just called angle with some software)

4 – input 15

exit out of Menu, then voila, the gun will read 3.4% higher. So, an 82 mph fastball will read 85 on the gun display.  If you input 30 with Option 10, the gun will display 94mph for your 82 mph pitch.  At some point is gets out of control.  If you input 45 on Option 10, the gun will read 115 mph.  That might be a little much, but it makes you feel like Aroldis Chapman.

So, a key part of this Stalker hack is to be realistic setting Option 10 and then take a picture of the gun reading to reflect the higher reading. Because, if it is on the gun, it will generally be considered true.

Great news  … Stalker has now made this hack feature available on ALL models, including the $499 Sport II model.  The options are a little different so you’ll to read the manuals online.

The problem with caring


Last night, on the way home from practice at 11:30pm, I was reflecting on how very, very easy it would be to coach and do the college prep baseball thing if I did not care.  If a player is not working hard, just let it go.  If a player is doing something incorrectly, just let it go.  If he is not meeting expectations in the weight room or in fitness levels, just let it go.  Missing assignments, let it go.

Just let it go and focus on having fun, telling players and parents whatever they want to hear and ignoring issues. Let players show up whenever they want, no schedule, just nice and friendly and comfortable.  Convenience and fun are the priorities.  Fun and easy.  Happy.

Bad grades, let it go.  Showing up late, let it go.  Not showing up, let it go.  Crazy college lists, let it go.  No college lists, let it go.  Throwing 50% strikes, let it go.  Rolling over in the cage, let it go.  Being lazy in long toss, let it go.

Gosh, things would be swell.  And easy.  And fun.

Throwing extra BP, let it go.  Writing letters for players, let it go.   Creating recruiting websites/videos, let it go. Editing poorly written profiles, let it go.  Hitting hours of extra fungos, let it go.  Extra practices, let it go.  Pregame work, let it go.  Poor style of play, let it go.  Kid gets hurt, let it go.  Kids doing drugs, let it go. Bus trips, let it go.  Team Rooms, let it go.  Hotel blocks, , let it go. Spending weekends away from family all summer, let it go.  Giving up my downstairs to out of town players for 10 weeks, just let it go. 

Golly, it would be a swell life if you could let it go and not care.

No attachment, no loyalty, no commitments, no problems.  Just cut kids that are struggling,  Just focus time on the easily recruitable players, while ignoring others.   Have 24 players rosters.  Let coaches do whatever they want. Don’t help out people in financial trouble  Just let it go.  Cash shortfalls, let it go,  Investments in new facilities and equipment, let it go.  1am letters to college coaches, let it go.  20 phones calls from college coaches, let it go.  Honesty, let it go … way too hard!!

How is this player? Definite D1, throws 5mph harder that the gun reads.

How’s that player? Definite D1, you can teach him to throw strikes when he gets on campus.

How’s the other player? Has an offer from AR, 30 lbs overweight is very attractive to the SEC, so better offer fast.

It would be just swell to stand on the sidelines, doing the easy stuff, cashing checks living off the efforts of others.  Let other people do the hard work of forming teams, selecting players, scheduling games, developing players, coaching games, traveling with teenagers, being responsible for teenagers, making lineups, helping them compete, dealing with emotions.  That stuff is too hard and not fun.

That’s a nice gig!  Everyone has fun, everyone likes you, no hard feelings, all cheerleading and everyone gets a prize at the end.  Gosh, that sounds great!  No worries.

Dr. Tom Hanson says the three most important words in baseball are “let it go”.  Not what he meant, but golly-gee who cares. Hukuna matata.

Exit Velocity – Seriously?

f2d1d1 Sometimes it is not easy to be an engineer and a baseball coach.  You see and hear things that don’t makes sense — like the talk about “exit velocity” for hit balls.   Just because you CAN measure something DOES NOT mean that it is meaningful or that you should measure it.   Exit velocity is one of those things.   The velocity at which a ball comes off a bat is controlled by Newton’s laws, a function of: 1. The speed of the bat at impact 2. The mass of the bat 3. The material properties of the bat – ash, maple, metal, sweet spot, etc… 4. The speed of the ball, its rotation, its mass and material properties 5. The angle of impact and angle of ball trajectory 6, Other factors too … All of these things matter — a lot.  Click here for the discussion by Stalker Radar which talks about the angle of measurement impact on radar gun velocity.  A 30 degrees angle difference, which would still be considered a line drive, would measure 13.9% different than a line drive at 0 degrees angle from the radar gun.  That’s the difference between 80 mph exit speed and 70 mph exit speed. A fly ball or groundball at a 45 degree angle would have a 39.3% error. So, all the showcases that report exit velocity are primarily reporting whether or not a kid squared a ball up in at a 0% angle with the radar gun.  Angle has that big of an impact.  It is probably just as big of a difference as the players’ actual bat speed. Then, for consistency the exit speed measurement HAS to been done off a tee, not a moving ball, to eliminate the variability of the ball.  Exit velocity off front toss or pitched balls is not measuring anything meaningful about the player.  Too many variables unless the ball is always at the exact location, with the exact spin, trajectory and velocity. And, by the way, the balls need to be exactly the same.  Not a bucket of cage balls with worn balls.  Only brand new baseballs.  And to truly measure apples to apples, all the players needs to swing the same bat. Just because you can measure something does not mean that it is meaningful. Radar guns are great for measuring objects moving at a 0 angle to the gun.  But, using them to measure impact with all the variables listed above has no meaning. Showcase scouting reports make a big deal out of a 5 mph exit velocity difference within players.  ALL OF THIS DIFFERENCE IS WITHIN THE RANGE OF ERROR OF THE MEASUREMENT.  Showcase reports are simply reporting the players that hit the ball close to a 0 degree angle with the gun.  This is luck unless you let players take about 20 swings with the same bat and same ball and only record the balls with 0 degree angles off the tee.  Not the way it’s done though,  10 swings and out with random data reported.

Reminds me of the scene from Moneyball about the ugly girlfriend .. ugly girlfriend