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Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

BC Catcher

Catcher Tony Sanchez taking the signal from the Boston College bench

I have noticed a trend of coaches relaying pitch signals to catchers. I’ve seen it at many high school games. And, I’ve seen it at almost all college games I’ve attended. While watching a Boston College game this season, I noticed BC catcher Tony Sanchez wearing something on his forearm resembling a quarterback wrist coach. Sanchez receives the sign from the bench, consults the paper taped to his arm, and then relays the sign to the pitcher. The system works for being competitive in a given game, but I wonder what sort of an effect this has on the catcher over the long term.

One of the major responsibilities of the catcher is to call the game. Know the pitcher’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. Know the scouting report on the opposing hitters. Take that knowledge and orchestrate a perfect combination of pitches and locations over the course of the game that will keep the hitters off balance. This is no easy task, and one of the reasons why the catching position is the 2nd toughest on the diamond. I can see how college coaches would want to take control of this responsibility. Winning is king and their livelihood might be on the line. But…high school? Are we taking too much away from these kids?

Clemson catcher

Allowing high school catchers to call the games could accomplish three things:

1. Keep them in the game. When you’re calling a game, you constantly have to be thinking and on your toes. When you are relaying signs, you could fall into a less focused mode.

2. Teach them to think for themselves. Do we want to be sending these kids out into the real world with this notion of taking orders and being fed all the answers? I know…it’s deep. Think about it.

3. Prepare them for the next level. Maybe if catchers were allowed to call the game at the high school level they would be better catchers at the college and professional levels.

What do you think about this trend? Is it good for baseball? Is it good for the kids? Does it have anything to do with the shortage of good catchers in major league baseball? I would love to hear from some current or former high school/college catchers on this.

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contactplay














You are the runner on 3rd base. The infield is drawn in. How do you give yourself the best chance to score? You will score on a hit, a sacrifice, and possibly on a passed ball/wild pitch. Another way to score that run is by breaking for home once you see the ball hit on the ground. This is commonly known as “the contact play.”

What I like about the contact play is that it puts pressure on the defense. Even with the infield playing in, breaking on contact will force the defense to make three successful plays: 1. The infielder must field the ball cleanly. 2. The infielder must make an accurate throw to the catcher and 3. The catcher must receive the ball and tag you OUT.

Keys To Executing The Contact Play
1. The third base coach should communicate the play to the runner at third base and any other runners on the bases. This is key. If there are runners on 2nd and 3rd, the runner on 2nd will be able to get a better jump if he knows the runner in front of him will be breaking for home on contact.

2. The runner on third should take as much of a lead as he can at third base and get a good secondary walking lead.

3. The runner on third should break for home the instant he sees the ball hit into the ground.

It Could Get Busted
The most common way that the contact play gets busted is when the ball is grounded back to the pitcher. In this case, it’s the runner’s job to get in a rundown long enough to allow the batter to get to 2nd base. Of course, the batter’s gotta be bustin’ down the line to make this happen as well.

Pick Your Spots
Like any baseball play, there are no hard fast rules. You need to consider the situation. How much of a risk are you willing to take given the score and timing of the game? How fast is the runner at third? How strong are the infielders? Etc.

In general, there are two situations when it makes more sense to put on the contact play:

1 OUT–With 1 out, there will be less chances to score that run so you might want to be more aggressive.

RUNNERS ON 2ND AND 3RD–Even if the play gets busted, you will still have a runner in scoring position for the next batter.

What sort of success has your team had with the contact play?

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BrandonPhillips

After the Reds-Royals game, Brandon Phillips was disciplined by Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker for ignoring a take sign on a 3-0 count. Phillips popped up to end the inning. Baker claimed it’s the first and last time it will ever happen to him as a manager. Phillips claimed he was trying to break his team’s offense out of a slump.

Should you disregard your coach’s signals? NO. Should batters swing on a 3-0 pitch? SOMETIMES. There are situations where it makes sense and others when it’s not worth the risk to give batters the green light. Every coach has their own risk tolerance for 3-0 counts. My observation is that power hitters tend to get the green light more so than other batters in the line-up. Do you agree with this observation? And…should power be such a dominant factor in this decision?

I understand there is a greater upside with a guy that has a higher likelihood of hitting a homerun or a gap double for you. On the flip side of the coin, power hitters could have a stronger likelihood of over-swinging or chasing a bad pitch compared to my singles hitter who has that consistent swing and disciplined approach at the plate.

take_a_pitch

Obviously…every player has a unique profile of characteristics and decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis. But… in general…are coaches too quick to dismiss the idea of giving a singles hitter the green light on a 3-0 count?

At the end of the day, your strategy should be formulated in a way that gives you the best chance to score runs. If there are men in scoring position and a single will likely score my team 2 runs…why should I not consider giving the green light to one of my contact hitters?

Coach’s Tip

When thinking about giving a green light on a 3-0 pitch, consider the following factors:

  • Urgency of the at bat
  • Discipline of the batter
  • Pitcher’s track record of control
  • Recent performance of hitter and pitcher
  • On deck batter and other batters due up that inning

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There were many scenes like this one at the BC-Clemson game, but the Eagles didn't take their big lead for granted.

There were many scenes like this one at the BC-Clemson game, but the Eagles didn't take their big lead for granted.

It is rare that you see a team sacrificing with an 8-run lead, but that is exactly what the Boston College Eagles did on Friday in their game against Clemson (ranked #20 in the country).  In fact, they attempted to do it on two occasions. In the bottom of the 4th up 8-0, DH Matt Hamlet advanced Robbie Anston to 2nd base with a sacrifice bunt.  With the same score in the bottom of the 6th inning, the Eagles tried it again (this time with a runner on 2nd base with 0 outs).  Was this unconventional? Was it a sign of respect for the Clemson Tigers? Should teams with big leads take this approach more often?

boston-college-vs-clemson-012

In this game, I think we had a case of a coach understanding that a team like Clemson could put up a lot of runs in a hurry. By bunting, BC Coach Mik Aoki sent a message to his kids that there was a lot of game left to be played and they still needed to fight for every run. It was even more important to send the message in this game seeing that 7 of their 8 runs had been scored on homeruns and the fact that it was the first game of a three game set. Losing a lead like that in game 1  could have been a devastating momentum shift. Rest assured Eagles fans…BC extended its lead and rolled to a 13-1 win.

I’d like to see more coaches manage in this fashion. Don’t think just because you put up some crooked numbers early in the game that it will happen again. Play for one. Those insurance runs can really drain the opposition emotionally. Do you agree?

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“The Book”

Question: What book is read by all baseball players?

Hint: It’s not the Bible. And, it’s not the Da Vinci Code.

Answer: THE Book

If you play baseball, there is a book on you. It dissects you as a ballplayer. The book on Vlad Guerrero will tell you he’s a free swinger. The Book on Dice K will tell you to work the count because he will hit his pitch count in the 6th inning if you do. These examples are pretty broad. The Book at professional levels is amazingly thorough. It could tell you that Josh Beckett throws an inside fastball to righthanded power hitters when he is behind in the count in close games.

The Book at amateur and scholastic levels lacks that level of detail. I’ve seen many pitchers take advantage of this. Consider a pitcher with 3 pitches (fastball, curve, change-up). My pitcher throws all fastballs and curves for the first 5 innings of the game. Now, the batting order is going to turn over for the 3rd time. Hitters have their timing down. They think they’ve figured out my pitcher. Now, my pitcher starts mixing in his change-up. They didn’t see it coming and that third at bat feels more like a 1st at bat for these hitters. Before they know it, the game is over.

Next time you are pitching or preparing a pitcher for a game, don’t just read “the book” on the hitters. Think about what book the hitters are reading. It could win you a ballgame.

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Runner on 1st base. Steal is on.

You’re on first base with the steal sign. You take off a little bit too early and the pitcher fires over to 1st base. What should you do?

Don’t stop! Run hard and run directly at the middle infielder covering 2nd base to put yourself in the throwing lane. More often than not, you will be safe at 2nd base. By taking this approach, you will force the 1st baseman to make a perfect throw.

Coach’s Tip
With a righthanded pitcher, runners should not be leaving before the pitcher has committed himself to the plate. However, you might consider going on a lefty pitcher’s 1st move because it is much harder to swap a base off a lefty. If you include the first move steal in your strategy, be sure to stress the Pick & Go approach.

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How should the leadoff hitter approach the 1st at bat of the game?

The leadoff hitter’s role is to get on base. It helps if he has decent speed, but the most important attribute of a leadoff hitter is his ability to reach base so the strongest hitters in the lineup can drive him home.

Traditional strategy suggests the leadoff hitter take the 1st pitch. I also like this approach. In fact, I like to take at least one strike when leading off the game. Taking pitches gives you some education. You start to learn the speed and trajectory of the pitcher’s stuff. This will be helpful for you in this at bat and later at bats. You set the precedent that the pitcher will need to earn his outs. In the absence of reaching base, a good leadoff hitter will gain information and share it with his teammates.

Switch It Up
Any strategy should be dictated by situation. There are no hard fast rules.

If I’ve faced a pitcher before and know his stuff well, I might pick a spot in the strike zone where I will swing if he puts it there.

If the pitcher is a stud with good control, I might also swing at that first pitch.

What approach do you take as a leadoff hitter of a game (or an inning)?

Book Reference: Ted Williams talks a lot about taking pitches in his book, The Science of Hitting. Williams took a lot of pitches, but of course he was one of the greatest hitters of all time.

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