Tryouts Coming

January 28, 2010

Tryouts are coming and kids on the borderline are nervous.  Here are some things to do to help.

Hustle.  Obvious but it needs to be stated.  Don’t goof off, don’t stand out in the field looking bored, run everything out.  Coaches looking at kids with almost equal talent will take the hustlers.

Warm up thoroughly.  Obviously to avoid injuries but also to show the coach you know what you are doing.

Don’t make excuses.  Don’t strike out and give a reason why.  You don’t have to like it but you don’t have to whine either.

If you can, go out for the position with the fewest players.  You may love first base but if there are 20 kids there and 6 in the outfield where do you think your best chances are for playing time?  Unless, of course, you are assured of making the team at first base.

Don’t argue with the coach.  I have come across many incompetent coaches but you won’t win arguments against them regardless of their lack of knowledge.  You have nothing to gain.

Don’t criticize other kids.  They could be your teammates and this doesn’t look good in front of the coach.

In fact, cheer on other kids.  Don’t go nuts but congratulate someone who makes a good play or hit or whatever.  It shows you can be a good teammate.

None of the above will ensure you make the team.  However, they can help you if you are on the borderline.

Good luck!

Front Toss

January 5, 2010

I’ve never been an advocate of front toss,  i.e. sitting in back of an L screen and tossing the ball underhanded to the batter.  First of all, the angle of the ball pitched does not mimic that of a pitch and the focus of the batter’s eye is lowered unnaturally.  It is better, but far more danger to flip the ball in overhand.  Be careful!

However, it is important to swing, swing, swing.  I’ve heard it said that you must repeat a motion 1000 before it becomes automatic.  I feel the best way to accomplish this is to set a tee up at five areas of the strike zone.  Inside and outside high, down the middle and inside and outside low.  

Care should be given to how the swing is performed.  It is nice to think that a player could take 5000 swings in one day to automate the response but that is neither feasible or advantageous to development.  Ten swings taken at each point perfectly is far better than simply performing the swing.

How They Do It

January 4, 2010

People often view major leaguers as superhumans able to perform feats far beyond those of mortal men…  Well, many are supremely gifted but it isn’t just athleticism thats allows them to hit or pitch at a high level.  For many of them it is an understanding of how the game works.

For example, hitting.  Successful hitters must be able react to the speed of the ball, the angle at which it is thrown, its movement and location.  No small feat.  However, for most hitters it is a matter of understanding tendencies of the pitcher and of himself as a hitter.

First, pitch recognition.  There are a few ways to prepare yourself for the pitch.  One way is to attempt to recognize the pitch as it is coming out of the pitcher’s hand.  A couple of ways in which this can be done is to look at the pitcher’s wrist (huh?) to see if it is a thin wrist or fat wrist.  A breaking ball is thrown with the side of the wrist showing to the batter as the ball is being delivered.  A fastball is thrown with the full underside of the wrist showing.  Of course, this doesn’t work for every pitch as you can’t easily recognize a curve from a slider or a fastball from a change up using this method.  But it does give some hitters a start at recognition.

Another method to be used is to simply guess.  Well, lets make that an educated guess.  If, for example, a pitcher has started the last seven batters with a fastball, what do you think the odds are of the eighth hitter seeing a fastball.  Pretty good!  Another pitcher may always throw a curveball on a one strike count.  And on, and on.  It is always in a batter’s best interest to observe how hitters are thrown to based upon other hitters’ styles (power, slap hitter?) and the count in which the pitch is thrown.  Young hitters can really clean up when they pay attention as younger pitchers have fewer pitches and lack the ability to throw all of them for strikes consistently.

Which is why command is such a big thing in the major leaguers.  Pitchers with command of at least three pitches are so valued.  The minors are filled with pitchers who can throw 95 mph.  However, few of them have the ability to throw other pitches with good movement for strikes.

Another way hitters can increase their odds of hitting the ball hard is to understand themselves and their abilities.  Ever see Ted Williams’ hitting chart?  he places baseball in a strike zone that you can see as his estimate of his batting average against balls thrown in that area.  What this means is he understands the balls he can hit well and those he can’t.  For example, against the low and outside pitch  he estimates he hit about .240.  This ties into his philosophy of “get a good ball to hit”.  Taking that a step further, if you are a batter and know you can’t hit the low and outside pitch, why in the world would you swing at it with no strikes?

I’ve always advised young hitters to expand their zones as the strike count increases.  With no strikes look for your pitch.  With one strike, expand the zone but exclude the pitches you can’t hit.  With two strikes, hit a strike.  This is why the philosophy of taking the first stike drives me nuts.  If you are selective and only swing at pitches you love you will only swing at first strikes you can crush.

This also ties into Ted’s advice about hitting very fast fastballs.  He says to start your swing a little earlier than usual and look for the fastball in a zone.  If you see it coming in that zone, swing and hope for the best.  Sound advice and it works.

As for being able to adjust to different speeds of different pitches, this is perhaps the most difficult to overcome.  However, you can increase your odds a couple of different ways.  Ever been told to keep your hands back?  Well, there are mechanical reasons why this is an important tip.  However, there are other reasons as well.  Once you get out of little league you can’t start your swing when the ball is halfway to the plate.  Nobody, major leaguers included, are that fast.  You start your movement at certain points in the windup of the pitcher but the key is to keep your hands back.  It is the last part of the swing that moves forward and is only thing you can adjust at all to the speed and location of the pitch.

I assure you that you could start your swing five seconds before the ball is delivered but if you keep your hands back till the last moment you have a reasonable chances of making contact.  For several reasons, you won’t hit the ball far but you can make contact.

Another method, used by Mike Schmidt, was to set your expected speed from the pitcher just below his fastball.  He figured he could catch up to a fastball and be better prepared for breaking pitches.

When you see major leaguers fooled it isn’t for any other reason than they were expecting one pitch based upon tendencies or appearances and got another.  Virtually any major leaguer can hit any strike (how well is another story) if they know the type, speed, location, consistency of movement and have seen it from the pitcher once before the at bat.  Rarely does this happen so they have to increase their odds.  Try using some of the “tricks” above and you’ll increase your odds.

And pitchers should learn the same things…command, tendencies, movement, changing speeds are all important tools to trip up hitters at any level.  Again, why has Jamie Moyer been able to get big leaguers out with a fastball speed that wouldn’t get him looks from a college scout, much less a major league scout.  Unless you throw 100 mph you won’t make it to the major leagues and stay without something else.  Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan are great examples of pitchers with unbelievable fastballs when they first broke in but didn’t achieve success till they developed command, movement and other pitches.  How is Kyle Farnsworth doing, anyway?  Ever hear of Steve Dalkowski?  Why not?  Google him and find out why he never pitched in the major leagues despite what is considered the fastest fastball ever.

Braves sign Glaus

December 23, 2009

As annoyed as I was about the Cabrera trade yesterday, today is a little brighter with the signing of Troy Glaus.  Who knows whether he will be the player he was before his shoulder injury but it was a good, economical deal.

I am still annoyed they have not tried to sign Matt Holliday or Jason Bay.  Either one would have been the righthander needeed by the Braves.  With Freeman and Heyward coming on next year or the one following, 2010 would even be brighter.

Frank Wren still seems to be unsure as to what kind of team he wants to build.  Though he has stated before he wants speed and defense we all saw his idea of that last year.  And it wasn’t enough.  We all kinda forget the great job he did with Orioles in 1999.  Yeah, those O’s, considered one of history’s most underachieving teams considering their payroll.

Here’s the problem; Wren is now trying to have it both ways.  The obvious deficiency was power, right handed power.  Though Glaus could be very, very good he’ll probably be just okay after his injury.

That pitching with a decent offense would be an extremely formidable team.  Without more punch I’m afraid the Braves will fall just short again.

Cabrera for Vazquez

December 22, 2009

Are you kidding me?  Where’s he going to play, a corner?  With his lack of production?  Centerfield?  McLouth is probably not a better centerfielder (though he has won a Gold Glove) but is way more productive.  In fewer games McLouth had more rbi’s, homers and steals.  And the Braves have to throw in lefhander Boone Logan to get the future hall of famer, Melky Cabrera?  You mean Darryl Strawberry wasn’t available?

You mean to tell me Ryan Church wasn’t a better option?  Does Cashman have naked photos of Frank Wren?  I can’t throw enough insults in the direction of the Braves over this one.

When did George Costanza start working for the Braves?  He should tell Wren that the jerk store called, they’re running out of you.  And if that doesn’t work he should just say he slept with his wife.  Seeing as how she is not in a coma, that may just work.

Stephen Strasburg

August 20, 2009

Wow – over 15 million for Strasburg.  Is he worth it?  No amateur pitcher is worth that price.  Remember Brien Taylor?  Oh, that’s right, you never heard of him.  Todd Van Poppel – can’t miss, right?  First round draft picks who…weren’t worth it.

Here’s my beef.  You can sign two quality pitchers for the price paid for Strasburg.  If Washington had let the deadline pass they would’ve received a compensation pick.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying teams should avoid tough signs.  I’m saying the Nats paid too much.  Strasburg alone won’t solve the Nats’ problems.  They have a potent offense but lack pitching.

While this seems to contradict my statement about Strasburg not solving their problem it really doesn’t.  They aren’t one quality pitcher from contending.  They lack a lot of good pitchers.  Two or three quality relievers or starters would make a difference.

That’s all I’m saying.

Knob to the Ball

July 5, 2009

I haven’t posted in a long while yet people sometimes find this blog…they don’t comment but they read a little.

One thing that bothers me is when coaches tell kids to take the knob to the ball.  Proper hip rotation pulls the hands in an oval/circular hand path.  Neither power nor bat speed is facilitated by taking the knob to the ball.

I’ve used a boxing analogy before and it is apt here as well.  Imagine throwing a right handed punch directly at your opponent and then veering it off to the left as contact is made.  Huh?  Doesn’t make sense.  No, it does not.  You’re trying to combine a jab with an uppercut or roundhouse punch.  While the jab is quicker it lacks the power of the latter two types of punches.

The best swing is one where the hands are held back with hips rotating before the hands.  With proper torque the hands more or less go along for the ride when the turn of the shoulders takes place after hip rotation.

This definitely does provide more power and it gives the added benefit of giving the batter more time to judge the speed, type and location of the pitch.  Your hands and resulting swing are the only thing that can be adjusted to those three factors.  Because movement is initiated before the pitch leaves the pitchers hand you cannot adjust your stride or anything else besides the hands and when they move.

Yankees versus Red Sox

April 26, 2009

I’ve posted before of my disdain for the Yankees’ club building methodology.  Sadly for Yankee fans, nothing has changed.

“But mentalbaseball,” you say, “it’s early.”  Yes, it is only April.  However, they are old, their pitching staff is suspect and they have the highest payroll in baseball.  Here’s the sad fact that stands out like a sore thumb.  They have not developed an important every day player since the mid 90’s.

“Oh,” you say, “they’re success has worked against them in the draft.”  I don’t buy it.  First round talent falls to lower rounds in the draft EVERY year due to signability issues, agent issues, perceived college desires, etc.  Dexter Fowler is a great example.  He fell to a lower round, was signed by the Rockies for $900k and they have what looks to be a good every day player.

And the players they have developed…they have traded away for older stars.

Compare them to the Red Sox.  Ellsbury and Pedroia.  I could stop right there.  The acquisition of Bay.  Not a name to those out of baseball but solid as a rock.  Not an every day player but Papelbon.

I am not a Red Sox fan.  But I wish they were my team (Braves and Tigers).  Theo Epstein knows what he is doing.

Here’s my classic two lines; it’s not as if I could do better.  But clearly someone else can.  If you spend the most money you should get better responses.  If the Yankees believe their fans only attend games to see “names” they are insulting their base.  Truth be told, if you could guarantee a world championship by trading Jeter away, most fans would take that deal.

Ground Balls – Gotta Love ‘Em

April 25, 2009

I heard from a D1 college player the other day that his team was told by the coach that the reason they weren’t scoring more runs.  It was due to a lack of ground balls and too many strikeouts.

Well, he was half right.  Strikeouts never help.  However…more ground balls?  You mean the ground balls that are desirable as a pitcher are also more desirable as a hitter?

You have to be kidding me.

One of the great things about baseball is the way it can be broken down via statistics.  Though none of the quantifiers used to define success are perfect, I like OPS or on base percentage plus slugging percentage.  Players must get on base to score and the more bases you accumulate in an average at bat, the better.

And it comes down to this, a player focusing on hitting grounders will not accumulate more bases than one who looks to drive the ball.  Assuming, of course, relatively equal ability in on base percentage.

What makes Albert Pujols great is NOT just his batting average or on base percentage.  It is those things in combination with his slugging.

Old Yankee Mickey Rivers was a very good player with a good on base percentage.  But there will never be a discussion of him as an all time great because he was just a good singles hitter.  Part of what made Rickey Henderson an HOFer was his ability to drive the ball.

So why do some people still love the ground ball?  Mike Epstein, ex player and great independent hitting instructor explains it well.  To paraphrase him, larger ballparks, in vogue in the late 60’s and 70’s were bigger and had astroturf on them which was, at that time, little more than carpet on concrete.  Think Astrodome or Phillies’ Veterans Stadium or Old Busch Stadium with astroturf.

I never played on such a field but walked on them several time.  You could hit a simple grounder and have it roll all the way to the fence.  Choppers would bounce higher and grounders had more velocity.  You could be successful with grounders.  The Cardinals of the late 70’s, early 80’s were very successful with speed and defense and singles hitters.  Jack Clark was their power hitter averaging, I think, around 25 to 30 homers a year.

Most fields now, whether artificial or not, are not carpet on concrete.  Ground balls don’t work as well.

Teach kids to hit well AND drive the ball.  The ground ball era is dead and buried.

Hal Steinbrenner

November 21, 2008

I’m not sure if this actually changes anything for the Yankees.  They will continue to spend money like a drunken sailor on shore leave.  You wonder if there will ever be a day when they spend the money with a plan in mind.  As in like Theo Epstein and the Red Sox.

With their proposed spending on Sabathia and Burnett they seem to want to go back to their “throw money at free agents till we win” plan that has helped them make the playoffs but has failed to capture the brass ring.  I doubt next year will be any different.

Think about it, the Twins have been more successful that past few years than anyone by drafting properly, recognizing who to get rid of and when, not tying themselves to foolish long term contracts and fantastic amateur and professional scouting.

The Steinbrenners would be better off if they spent the $140 million on purchasing the entire Twins organization…not the club, but the GM, personnel people and scouts.  Or perhaps the Rays.

Oh yeah, it helps having the number one pick in several recent drafts like the Rays.  However, you have to draft and spend properly at that number one position and that’s not always easy (can you say Padres and Homer Bush?). 

You might say that players like Joba and Hughes et al, mean they are focusing more on player development.  However, the problem is that they should have been big time players for Peavy and they weren’t.  Simply because the cupboard of minor leagues is bare.  Who were they gonna trade for Peavy?  Or Matt Holliday or…anyone.  I’d rather have Peavy than Sabathia because he is cheaper, his numbers over the last three years are comparable and he is younger.

I’ve said it again and again.  With the Yankees’ money they should have the absolute best organization from top to bottom, including scouts, personnel, etc. in levels below the major leagues.  There truly is no excuse.  That’s why the Red Sox have improved so much recently.  They’re a better organization than the Yankees with somewhat the same amount of money to spend.  And they should own other countries with their money.  They could leave no stone unturned for offshore amateur talent.

It isn’t Yankee hating.  After all, if I hated the Yankees I would keep my mouth shut and let them screw up.  Again and again and again and again and again and again and again.