No matter the sport a lot of times coaches feel the need to over-complicate the game and baseball is no stranger to coaches making it harder than it should be.
What is the goal of baseball?
Score more runs than the other team.
How do you limit runs as a pitcher?
Strike outs and velocity
My coaching philosophy reflects a lot on what I learned from my college coach, and that is as simple as train what you do the most in games; throwing, hitting and playing defense.
Bottom line is, it’s simple, so keep it that way.
If you tell me you need 75 bunt plays and have to work on PFP’s and picks every day you are wasting time. Again, do not over-complicate the game. Practice what you do most during the game. As a coach, I believe you should not rush your pitchers through the most important portion of their practice. They should focus their time and energy on their throwing.
I’ll admit that creating goals and expectations for the entire pitching staff was something I used to focus on, but through the years I have asked myself, “Why cloud the minds of the players with extra information, when they should be focusing on competing and getting outs.”
Again, keep it simple.
Is it overwhelming to have the numbers thrown at you? Do the unnecessary goals and expectations, heighten the pressure and stress of the players? As I re-evaluated my coaching philosophy, I realized that I used to throw around numbers and set expectations that weren’t necessary.
Do this and do that. Throw 65% first pitch strikes, reach 60% strikes overall, limit walks, pitch inside, zero fielding errors. These are things players shouldn’t have to think about and are not ground breaking at all.
The last 2 years at Augustana and this year at UMary the only thing the pitching staff discussed was throwing hard and striking everyone out. Its a simplistic approach that allows them to focus on themselves and how they can compete with their ability. My goal is to use your strengths to get people out. Saying, “Throw strikes” never came out of my mouth. As a coach, I don’t focus on telling the pitchers to throw strikes. Throwing strikes in baseball is expected, pitchers do not attempt to throw balls.
“Wait coach…so you’re telling me, I should throw strikes?”
Each coach has a plan on how they want their team to look and play. If you have a goal of managing the run game, commanding the strike zone, or fielding your position…practice it effectively. Telling pitchers to throw more strikes, don’t make any errors, or manage the run game will not make them do those tasks. It is the coach’s job to tailor training to each individual to reach your goals.
Instead of stating the obvious, it was my goal to have training plans for everyone. For example, the players that needed command work received a training regimen that allowed them to command the strike zone better. At no point was it discussed with them that they needed to “throw more strikes.”Again, why cloud the minds of the athletes? If a player hears that they are not doing something well, they will most likely over-analyze and dwell on the fact that they cannot perform and eventually accept it.
I do not want these negative thoughts stuck in the athletes’ minds or having it become the norm within the team. I do not want players to accept their faults and believe that they cannot get better. I want them to focus on their training, perfect their training and take ownership in it.
I understand not everyone will be 90 mph or higher with fastball velocity so how do the lower velocity guys rack up the strikeouts?
In the fall of 2018 I purchased a Rapsodo pitching unit with the focus of helping our pitchers obtain strikeouts. If we were trying to create the best staff in the country, we also needed the best secondary stuff and if we wanted that we needed the technology and data to do it.
Earlier I spoke about keeping things simple for the pitchers and with the Rapsodo we can create a plan for each individual pitcher by allowing them to compete with what they have. Once the spring hits and pitchers are ramping up pitch counts my only job is to analyze the data and see how they are getting outs. With the information on Rapsodo the pitchers will have a good idea on how to use their pitch repotoire.
Pitchers also need to see how hitters react to certain pitches in certain spots to confirm what the Rapsodo data is telling us. If your catchers and pitchers are educated enough on the plan of attack you should not have to call pitches in the spring. They can go in to the game with confidence knowing what the strengths are and pitch to them.
Everyone will get outs differently and that is a perfect example of why one single plan of attack for every pitcher on your staff is wrong. A pitcher will have a lot more confidence in his ability to get outs if he takes ownership and has an understanding in how he will attack hitters. Imagine the difference in confidence a pitcher has by him creating the game plan to get hitters out that he is bought in to rather than telling him I want you to pitch like everyone else.
Data from 2018 National Champion Pitching Staff
In 2018 the pitching staff at Augustana was the best in the country and proved it by winning the National title. We had a wide range of talent from lefties and righties who threw 80-82, to transfers who were weekend starters at their previous school, to transfers who barely threw at their previous school. We also had guys who were former walk ons who were getting drafted to one who got cut from another D2 and ended up being a big part of the staff. We all trained to throw hard and strike people out and once the spring came we figured out how each individual can do that based on how they developed over the winter.
I went through the pitching charts from 2018 and compiled data from every single game and here is what the data showed…
Team ERA- 2.85
We threw 64% strikes out of the 7743 pitches
66% of the fastballs thrown were for strikes
42% of the 7743 pitches were off speed pitches. (SL,CB, SPL, CH)
62% of those off speed pitches were for strikes
We threw 3239 off speed pitches, 1996 for strikes, and 1369 of those off speed pitches were swung at which is 69%.
We gave up 375 Hits
67% of the hits were off fastballs
19% off CB or SL
14% off CH or split
We struck out 559 hitters
34% of the strikeouts ended with a fastball
48% ended with a CB or SL
18% ended with a CH or Split
A few takeaways…
I plan on going back to see what counts the hits came in but unless you have an elite fastball with spin, command, velocity, or all of the above having an “establish the fastball” philosophy will lead to more contact and hits. Not ideal for the coaches looking for strikeouts.
We had 14 guys around 90 MPH last year and we gave up 67% of our hits off of fastballs. Everyone shoots for the big radar gun numbers with fastballs but gaining velocity also means your breaking balls get better and a lot of times will increase your spin rate. 69% of our off speed pitches (CH, SPL, SL, CB) were swung at and 66% of our strikeouts ended with one which tells me they were plus pitches.
Only 31% off speed pitches were taken for a strike…This shows swing and miss stuff and if you have fastball velocity and good off speed pitches you don’t necessarily need to live in the strike zone. Less reaction time for the hitters means they will swing out of the strike zone more often. Just because we threw 64% strikes it doesn’t mean we were in the strike zone 64% of the time.
What we noticed last year was hitters started swinging early in counts at fastballs most likely because of the velocity. Typically this happens in college when you face a high end arm because the hitter doesn’t want to get to 2 strikes. The aggressiveness early in counts was a big reason our whiff % on off speed pitches was so high.
Trying to strike out hitters does not have to mean more walks or nibbling corners. With higher velocity you can miss more and get away with it and if your secondary stuff is better you will get more swing and misses chasing. Our BB/9 was 15th in the country.