Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making the Best Lineup


                                                                                        (photo credit: usatoday.com)


Hitters, like all humans, love to be comfortable. Hitters especially like to settle into a specific spot in the lineup, unless it's the eight or nine-hole, that is.

According to the old standard of lineup construction, the fastest guys bat lead off and the two-hole is some average hitter who can bunt and has a linear, push pattern swing so he can manipulate the ball and "advance runners." Times, they are a changin'.

Any coach with both eyes open should have read by now that there is a more intelligent way to build a lineup, one that literally, figuratively, sabermetrically and even in video games...will score more runs per game.

While many may shun sabermetrics as baseball math for those who have never played the game, those who have played the game and aren't afraid of change are realizing that the hitters with the highest OBP and OPS should hit as many times as possible every single game.

If you don't believe me, check out this article or this one from Beyond the Boxscore. And here's a specific example of Jim Leyland building a better lineup.

If you heard about SS Troy Tulowitzki's trade to Toronto, you may need to check out his first box score here. He went off tonight. And by the way...Tulo, a lifetime MLB three-hole hitter, hit in the lead off role for, presumably, the first time in his career. Despite a lifetime OPS of .885, he was 0 for his last 20 ABs in Colorado. Then he went off tonight in the lineup spot! Thank God he was comfortable!

Let's ignore exactly why he may have started with such a flurry (pun intended) in Toronto, and focus on the concept of being comfortable in a lineup position.

So many hitters believe that they are better hitters in four-hole than the two-hole. Many will claim they don't feel comfortable moving to a different lineup position. But comfort doesn't always equal success. The belief that comfort equals success is a problem for those making out the lineup. "Should I move my best player to a different position in the lineup that he hasn't hit in before? What if he doesn't know how to approach that role?"

What's truly problematic is that many talented three-hole and cleanup hitters would assist in their team scoring more runs if they took their 200 ABs from the lead off or two-hole.

Rather than college and high school coaches feeling hand-cuffed by egocentric hitters who believe they have to hit in the lineup positions they are most comfortable in, let's challenge them to get comfortable as part of the process.

Every intrasquad, every competitive BP and every scrimmage against another opponent, move your lineup around. Play with it. Explain to your hitters what your intent is. Explain to them how the team's lineup construction matters, and explain to them what an ideal lineup looks like and how your team can score more runs by utilizing said lineup.

The Toronto Blue Jays are one of the most forward-thinking major league clubs. They aren't afraid to weigh what is statistically superlative against the emotion and feeling of a player being comfortable. And I bet they've communicated how and why to their roster in an effort to improve the results of their statistical boon of a lineup.

In case you haven't looked at that box score, go check it out. Notice that the bottom of the cellar, noticeably ancient-thinking Philadelphia Phillies are hitting the atrocious Ben Revere lead off. Again.

Revere can flat roll. He's a speed demon. Yet he holds only a .711 OPS.

Sure, he's on pace for 38 stolen bases. Let's not pretend that he's the next coming of Vince Coleman.

The Phillies' 2-hole hitter is Freddy Galvis, he of the .670 OPS. PEOPLE! Five of the seven hitters after Galvis in the lineup have a higher OPS!

This lineup construction only further impairs the ability of the Phillies to win a game. As if they needed help this season!

Don't be afraid of the truth. And, remember, beliefs are not truths.




Thursday, July 16, 2015

"I Hate Slow Pitchers"


                                                                                          (Photo credit: livestrong.com)
                                 
"I hate slow pitchers," said no true competitor ever.

Great hitters make adjustments, including the most elementary of adjustments: timing.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Take it easy. I know timing isn't easy...but it is simple.

Most hitters gobble up the average fastball: average velocity, average spin, average movement and average location. Crushed. Boom. See ya.

Most hitters also enjoy the challenge of a hard thrower. And most hitters hate facing guys who throw really, really slow. Especially when their arm action deceives them, indicating they should have at least modest velocity, and then it just nev-er-gets-there. Pop out. Weak ground pull side. Strike three, swinging, 74 mph fastball.

Most hitters...are average. But you don't want to be average!

Great hitters understand that adjustments in timing can be controlled by the hitter.

A hitter dictates his readiness to be in rhythm with a pitch and crush it by the point in a delivery at which he begins his load. Read the last sentence again.

So, if you're early on a fastball because it's really slow, delay the start of your load.

If you normally initiate your load when the pitcher throwing an 85 mph fastball is breaking his hands, and now you want to sit on his curveball, don't be a fool and get ready for 85 and then freeze and wait for the 72 mph CB to get there. That's just stupid. That's average.

Delay your load.

Conversely, when you are used to facing an 83 mph LHP and they bring in a dude chunking 90-plus, don't speed up your load...start sooner!

Here's a great drill for working on rhythm, timing and delaying your load:

"3 Plate Drill" (I stole this drill from a coach who is much smarter than me.)

In a cage, or on the field, align three home plates, all facing the same standard direction, one behind the other, with one foot of space between them. One will be closer to the pitcher, and one will be even closer. The hitter should take 2 swings at each plate, beginning in back, then advancing forward, thus increasing the relative velocity of the pitch. Hitters will have to acquire the skill of starting their load earlier as they advance forward. Finish the round by jumping from the most forward plate to the rear, and "climbing the ladder"again.

Now, for round two, start this hitter at the front plate, and move them backward for each round. Front, middle, back, front, middle, back. Now hitters must delay their loads.