The Data that can put you on track to deep playoff runs!
JUST GET ON BASE lots of times and you’re team significantly increases their chances of winning. Sounds pretty basic and obvious doesn’t it? But want quantifies “lots of times” and how can coaches increase chances that it be done? Read on and I’ll break that down for you, but 1st……..
In my 19 seasons of coaching baseball and softball we have done different systems and many different charts (different QAB charts and different + / - charts), but regardless of what we did, none of it seemed to have the desired impact on our players performance. Players like data, but players DO NOT LIKE data they do not understand. Sure a guy understood that if he hit the ball “hard” or if he got a single he would score a point, but unlike batting average and OBP, players were not quite sure what a good QAB score was and players weren’t sure what the best strategy was for arriving at a the best possible QAB score. There are also so many variations of these charts in the baseball / softball world and there is not necessarily a universal agreement from chart to chart as to what a “good” score is either.
Ultimately we abandoned these charts for the reasons listed below:
1. The charts are EXTREMELY subjective…..What exactly is a “hard hit ball” (which are universally scored as a + on most charts)? Without taking exit velo on every ball in play, the numbers on the chart are literally skewed by the bias of the scorer.
2. Why in the world was I rewarding a hard hit ball if it resulted in an out? Hard hit outs DO NOT produce wins.
At the end of the day, I realized I could not trust my own data because data only matters if it is consistently taken. Some days I might judge a ball hard hit when another day I probably didn’t’ judge the same ball as a hard hit. I had to step back and ask myself, what message does this send to our hitters?
2nd If my hitters aren’t trying to MASH, then I don’t want them up at the plate. Hard hit balls are an EXPECTATION, not a rare thing that needs to be rewarded and if a guy goes 0/10 with 10 line outs why am I reinforcing that when I can actually reinforce things that will help the team win.
That leads me back to my 1st statement: JUST GET ON BASE lots of times and your team significantly increases their chances of winning
At Pope I have had the unique experience of coaching both softball and baseball and participating in 11 state championship games. (5 softball; 6 baseball). From these state championship seasons I was able to extrapolate data that differentiated these seasons from others. What I found was interesting and it helped me put a number on LOTS of times reaching base.
Typically, for our teams to reach the state championship game, we had to achieve an OBPE (on base percentage + errors) of .450 or better, and our state championship winning teams almost all had a .460 OBPE or better. There also seemed to be tiers of OBPE that would determine how far we made it in the playoffs.
.420 - 450 OBPE = seems to be good enough to advance past the 1st round of playoffs but not to the state championship* (Unless you’re a softball team with an extremely ELITE pitcher who has below a 1.0 ERA that throws every game – yes baseball folks, that is actually a thing)
.400 - 420 OBPE seems to be the bottom limit of where a team can be to qualify for a playoff spot but these teams seem to be eliminated early on, usually in round 1.
How does a team achieve such a high OBPE?
1. Strike zone recognition
a. Players must be trained to TAKE the strikes they do not want to swing at. Many coaches feel this lessens aggression, but the truth is, if a hitter KNOWS what he or she is looking for, it INCREASES aggression on pitches they can hit hard. As hitters begin to lay off pitches they DO NOT want to swing at, hitters gain walks, increase pitch count, and decrease (subjective) weak contact.
Strikezone recognition is done through eye pattern drills to ensure proper eye usage, live arm batting practice at game speed, and consistent and daily on deck takes that help strengthen the neural ability to predict pitch locations.
Reference: Rethinking the Way a Hitter’s Brain Works: An EEG Case Study | Driveline Baseball
2. Increase HBP
a. Hit by pitches are a NOTICIBLE part of achieving a high OBPE. HBP IS THE ONLY WAY IN BASEBALL THAT REACHING BASE CAN BE GUARANTEED ONCE THE BALL LEAVES THE PITCHERS HAND! We DO NOT encourage players to get hit, but we CELEBRATE the sacrifice they make when they do get hit! Watch you players next game and see how many times they could potentially get their shoe lace or pant leg “ticked” by the ball. Since we have celebrated these HBP’s our players were more willing to barely get knicked then they had been in the past because getting hit by a pitch is one of the MOST IMPORTANT things a player in our program can do! Literally, we have about 20 of these barely “knicked” HBP’s a year and that is 20 guaranteed times reaching base that could have been outs…….
Our hitters earn the “OnBaseArmor” when they are hit by a pitch in the game. Our program purchase a piece of costume armor and a helmet from a Halloween store. When a player on our team gets “plunked”, they get to don the armor and get celebrated on social media as the brave and courageous selfless “warrior” of Pope baseball.
3. INCREASE ERRORS BY DEFENSE
a. Errors by the opposing defense are an uncontrollable……..this seems to be the thought in the baseball world. And although this may be true, I do believe that the numbers of errors a defense makes can be INFLUENCED. In HS baseball, speed pressure can lead to errors. Because exit velocity is not as high as in the MLB and because fielder arms are not as strong as pro players, more errors WILL occur if players simply run as fast as they can to 1st base. Some of our high school players, although potentially not able to hit as hard as MLB players, can RUN just as fast, if not FASTER than MLB players. It is not always the norm for the opposition to practice game speed ground ball reps in a live environment against a full speed runner so hustling out a ground ball actually takes a defender out of their comfort zone a bit.
To ensure we are maintaining max speed to 1st base, we have incorporated some operant conditioning when examples of less than full speed running arise.
4. Implement, demand, reward, and enforce a GREAT 2K APPROACH
a. Just under 50% of all at bats in the season will occur with 2 strikes. At the point our hitters arrive at 2 strikes, getting a hit is no longer the focus of our at bat. On our team, we want to turn the at bat into a battle. It is our goal in a 2k count to see 3 or more pitches once the count reaches that point. In this way, a hitter makes the pitcher work extremely hard to gain an out. Even if the pitcher punches the hitter out, we can celebrate the battle put up by the hitter. By battling and spoiling a pitchers best pitches, your hitter does a couple of things. Protracted battles increase a hitters chances of getting a hittable pitch or conversely, it can increase the amount of dirt balls thrown on offspeed pitches allowing for free bases through dirtball reads.
The combined efforts of relentless hitters on the psyche of a pitching staff and pitch caller is immeasurable. (especially when there are many runners on base) The hitter on our team who sees the most 2k pitches in a game gets awarded the “warriors” sword and if any hitters see 8+ pitches in an at bat, they get the LUCKY 7 award because they just burned through 7% of a pitchers total pitches in 1 AB!
So what do we chart?
1. We make a goal for each hitter to reach base in 46% of his at bats in a game and conversely this is our team goal. We post the players percentage on a chart in our batting cage with a green highlighter in the box for the corresponding game for a successful game and red for a missed goal. Our guys get motivated to see their green highlighter! (as corny as that may sound)
2. We keep a chart of all players who saw 3+ pitches in a 2K count and post their names in the batting cage. Pitch counts win!
3. We post all “On Base warriors” on a chart in the batting cage. HBP’s are essential.
4. We post all player who earned a “Lucky 7”
5. Lastly, we know the cumulative HBP, Hits, BB, and runs we need to get throughout the regular season to accomplish our 46% OBPE and we chart individual game results and keep a running total of each number in our cage.
By keeping this simple to understand data we always know if we are on track to reach our goal of 460 OBPE. If we fall off track, our job as hitting coaches is to figure out what area we are lacking and what skill we need to improve on from the 4 things listed above. This can be a team wide issue or it can be an individualistic issue, but by knowing this data and where our team is in relation to accomplishing this data, it is easier to plan effective practices that address deficiencies!
About the author: Coach Turco is a 6 time state champion hitting coach who coaches nationally recognized high school baseball and softball programs in Marietta, Ga. Coach Turco publishes the blog “Championship hitting” and posts work samples on twitter @championhitter