Thursday, July 31, 2008

1st and 2nd, 2 outs offense.

My last post in this year long venture will discuss the 1st and 2nd situation. Typically, when a runner is at 2nd base with 2 outs you don't consider stealing 3rd base. Why? You're already in scoring position. However, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

In amateur baseball 1st and 3rd is significantly harder to defend then 1st and 2nd. So, how could we create a 1st and 3rd? Draw a throw at 2nd.

You can do this with a strong arm catcher by simply getting a large secondary lead and anticipate the throw. When the catcher cocks his arm to throw you could "catcher break" and move to 3B. Obviously, advancing to 3B is predicated on the catcher making the throw.

Once you have a 1st and 3rd, you have significantly more options available. And, if in fact, the runner at 3B is a very important run there is a good chance the defense will give you 2B if you would like it. Now, you have managed a 2nd and 3rd out of a 1st and 2nd.

This blog has discussed many, many 1st and 3rd options. You could certainly choose to use one of those or you could allow the hitter to hit with all forces removed.

The idea here is in amateur baseball you could more than likely create this situation if you can take advantage of the catcher. If you execute the "draw a throw" right, it's very tough for the catcher to not try and record the easy out. It's very tough to betray your instincts.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Why don't they throw curveballs during home run derby?

Do you know that curveballs go further than fastballs? It's not even debatable. The research has been performed and it's an open and shut case. A 75 mph curveball will travel further than an 88 mph fastball. Why?

Well, it goes to reason that a fastball would be hit with more ball exit speed. Absolutely. But, here's the thing. The fastball has backspin from the pitchers perspective. However, from the hitters perspective, it's topspin. So, when a batter hits the bottom half of the ball he changes the direction of the spin. That redirection is important.

Now, let's look at the curveball. The curveball has topspin from the pitchers perspective. That topspin is backspin from the hitters perspective. When the batter hits the bottom half of the ball he accelerates the spin that is already on the ball. This acceleration makes the ball hold its line longer resulting in longer fly balls.

Golfers know that ball spin is king. They are constantly trying to control their ball spin as it dramatically affects how the ball flies. Here is an example that not many people are aware of with respect to baseball.

So, why not have a pitcher simply throw get me over topspin curveballs during home run derby?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Orioles/ Angles. 2nd and 3rd 1 out

I was watching the Orioles Angels the other night and watched something that bothered me. I don't necessarily know if the Orioles mis-managed the play but I certainly know that I would have been more aggressive. I'll paint the scenario and see if you might agree.

The Orioles were leading 5-0 in the sixth inning. They had speed on the bases. The runner at 3rd was Juan Castro (a shortstop with some wheels). Adam Jones (fleet footed centerfielder) was hitting. The Angels recognizing they didn't want to give up any more runs brought their infield in(See Sept. 15th blog).

What to tell the lead runner?

I believe the Orioles have nothing to lose by having the runner at 3rd go on contact. They already have a 5 run lead. They have speed on the bases and speed in the box. Furthermore, there is something else that helps my decision in hindsight. Nick Markakis is on deck.

Adam Jones hits a weak ground ball to the shortstop. It would have been interesting at the plate, for sure. But, the Orioles did not break on contact and the out was recorded at 1st. Nick Markakis then stepped to the plate with the 1B back and in a deep position. If the Orioles went on contact and were in fact thrown out at home plate, at least Markakis would have had the "4 hole" opened up for him as a hitter.

Guess what? Markakis hit a smash that the 1B dove for and gloved deep in the 4 hole.

I watch a lot of Orioles games over the year and Trembley is definitely a conservative manager. Here is a situation that aggressive baseball may have forced a run but also could have bought an extra hit for his 3 hole hitter. And, I never even mentioned the fact that by having a runner on 1st it might prevent an intentional walk to a potential quality hitter.

Then, the next night I witnessed the Mariners and Rangers have the same sitaution. The Mariners were losing and had runners at 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. The Mariners went on contact. They scored the run but that really is irrelevant. What is important is the manager knew that bringing the infield in this situation should not be a deterrent for going on contact. There is simply more to gain by being aggressive here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A tradition as old as baseball. The "beanball"

Throwing at a batter.

Is this tradition based upon emotion or strategy?

It's not like teams do this when the game is in hand. Managers sometimes direct pitchers to put the tying or winning run on base simply to prove a point. That point of course being that - "we are idiots by intentionally placing an important run on base."

I just don't get it. I mean, I can understand if you don't want your players being thrown at. Completely understandable. And, if the game is out of hand, I can understand emotions playing a role in the decision to throw at another player. That's always been a part of the game. Call it self policing.

What I think is absolutely ludicrous is retaliating in a close ball game. Whether manager directed or pitcher directed this is simply an egregious decision in the game of baseball.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Take the bunt sign off?

I've seen it professionally. I've seen it in college, high school, and below.

The bunt sign is given to the batter to begin the at bat. The pitcher throws a ball or two balls and the bunt sign is removed in favor of the batter now swinging away. Obviously, the count has changed in the batter's favor and the coach now believes it's more advantageous for the batter to swing away than give up an out.

When the batter was approaching the plate, the coach thought that the prudent play was to advance a runner. Is an advantage count now enough of an impetus to change his mind? It might be if the batter has the ability to drive the ball. It might be if the pitcher is very hittable. It might be if the batter has some speed(a ground ball might not be a double play ball anyway).

I'm of the opinion that in most cases the count should not change a coach's strategy. There are so many variables that go into deciding a bunt is in order. Too many times amateur hitters aren't disciplined enough to make these advantage counts pay off. They swing at a ball that might be ball 3 or they roll over or pop a ball up and the runner stands exactly where he stood prior to the at bat.

A disciplined hitter might make all the difference in the world but a 2-0 count is certainly a good count to bunt in. Allow him to execute the play that you had intended him to make all along.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

One day baseball showcases

It seems like baseball showcases have simply proliferated in the last 10 years or so. Everyone is offering them and some even gain the title of elite status. Some attach the label of "invite only" to make it seem more prestigious. It really is an ingenious idea. Take supreme advantage of those that are willing to be taken advantage of.

What's a one day showcase look like?

Well, you herd all these "great" baseball players into an environment where you have baseball coaches and scouts evaluating their ability. Now, understand that many of these athletes arriving to participate play baseball for a high school team, a legion team, an AAU team. Needless to say, they have coaches "back home" that have plans for them. So, indeed there is an inherent risk associated with even showing up for these things. Let's investigate further.

Baseball players are then asked to run a 60 yd. dash. Why a 60 is indicative of a good baseball player is beyond me. Then they check they're arm strength from each position. Outfielders first, then infielders and then catchers. The outfielders simply launch the ball home after catching a routiune fly ball. Infielders take about 3 groundballs each and catchers throw 3 balls to 2B. So, ostensibly, these showcases give scouts and coaches an opportunity to judge the speed and arm of each player.

With respect to baseball showcases, the running and the throwing are the most palatable of all the processes. I mean if a kid can run he can run. If a kid can throw he can throw. The one notable exception is the catcher position. A catcher throws under duress after the runner takes off. Often times with batters leaning over the plate.The catcher must also handle all different pitches in all different locations. The catcher's game throw is a very athletic movement based upon adjusting to the ball flight. Showcases rarely stress the catcher in this manner. The catcher knows that he is throwing the ball and he gets to catch a routine fastball preferrably glove side. Not nearly a true measure of the catcher's skill set.

Then what?

Batting practice of course. This is certainly a good opportunity to watch a players "pop." But, it only allows them to assess what a player can do off of a BP fastball. Nothing is gained with respect to adjusting to pitches. As far as scouting a player, you can certainly gauge batspeed with batting practice but gauging bat quickness is much more difficult. One thing that can be gauged and is usually the death knell is the idea of top spin on the ball. If a player hits the bottom of the ball in a manner where the barrel changes direction rapidly (This is topspin at its basics. A barrel goes from below ball to above ball) you know that this player has major swing flaws.

Then the game comes.

Runners must run within the first two pitches. At least, that's been the norm for these processes. But, how about judging pitchers velocity at a showcase? One day to observe how hard a pitcher throws? This is probably the most egregious issue with showcases. The absolute damage that these things can do to a pitcher's arm. If a pitcher has an opportunity to train for a showcase- great. This should be no problem at all. But, many kids do not have that chance. Many kids will drive miles for an opportunity to play in front of a scout or coach. To hell with the consequences! Furthermore, what about the batters.

Each batter might get a couple of at bats. You might get a good draw. You might not. You might get left on left. You might get the best arm in the showcase. Certainly not a true gauge of a players worth.

All of the above are indictments that I have on the process that is the baseball showcase. Yet, of all these problems, it isn't the worst. The worst problem I have with these showcases is that often times the coaches and scouts that make this an attractive offer fail to show or fail to be attentive. I've seen far too many guys show up and make a casual observation about the quality of the players in attendance and then give a half hearted effort in evaluating the players. How frustrating this must be for the parents of these players. You drive 200-300 miles hoping to be seen by a college coach and the coach you want to watch your son is talking to an ole buddy when your son is taking his batting practice swings.

How do you combat this process?

The coach and scout need to be professional when they visit a showcase.
The showcase needs to ask scouts and coaches to put a radar gun away if a player requests this. It might be fatal to that player but he shouldn't have to light a gun up if he's on one day of rest.
The player needs to understand what a showcase really is- a money maker for the college or academy running it.
The parent needs to understand that knowing someone is often the best way to be seen. Showing up at a showcase with so many others can be overwhelming. Giving a scout or a coach a heads up can be all that is needed for your son to be seen.

Whew! Needless to say I'm not to impressed with these showcases.

Friday, July 25, 2008

"Get on, get 'em over, get 'em in"

This phrase can be heard around many batting cages at upper levels of baseball. What does it mean and does it have merit at the amateur levels?

The concept is once you get to 2nd base (it's important that it's 2nd) the batter is supposed to hit the ball to the right side of the infield to advance the runner to 3B. Once on 3B, the batter is supposed to drive the ball up the middle. The ball up the middle can be a ground ball with the infield back or it can be a fly ball deep enough to tag on.

The issue that I would like to analyze is "get 'em over."

With 0 outs and a runner in scoring position is this really worth it? Give up an out to move the runner to 3B? I contend at the amateur level(at least at levels with limited arm strength) this play should be abolished all together. There are simply too many ways to advance to 3B without giving up an out to do it.

Third base break(as the 3B prepares to throw to 1B), shortstop break in the 6 hole, catcher break on a strike 3 in the dirt, bunt for a base hit, fly ball to average depth in center or right. These are all conventional and not so conventional ways to move to 3B rather than an ordinary ground out.

Is it important to move the runner to 3B with 1 out? Yes. All teams that understand offensive baseball should understand this concept. Yet, having a runner at 3B with 0 outs isn't bad either, right?

It also depends on where you are at in the batting order with how you manage this situation. The 8 hole hitter might have a different point of view than the 3 hole hitter.

Professional baseball theories trickle down to amateur baseball. But, we're talking about two totally different games. This is one axiom that should be, in my opinion, thoroughly thought out before uttering. There are guys that just shouldn't "get 'em over" in amateur baseball.

Eliminate the middle man and just "get 'em in."