If you are around this game long enough, you will pick up little tricks of the trade. Small modifications that can be made to give you even a slight advantage are part of the game. But have you ever used a magic trick?
What if I told you that I could make home plate grow and/or shrink? A good magician never reveals his secrets, so be thankful that I am not a good magician…and that this really isn’t magic at all.
A post by Baseball Toolshed was making the rounds yesterday addressing players and their body language. I completely agree with the article, stating that poor body language will have a negative impact on your performance and send you spiraling downward. Having a positive attitude and reaction toward failure will allow you to be more confident. That confidence will help translate into production.
Now, let’s take it a step further with Player A vs Player B after striking out looking on a questionable call.
Immediately turns and jogs back to dugout
Sets his bat and helmet down
Gets ready to play defense
Turns to look at the umpire
Shakes his head as he slowly walks to dugout
Throws bat or helmet
Pouts alone on the end of the bench
Umpires are human. They see how players and coaches react to their decisions. When Player A comes up for his next at-bat, the umpire may really bear down because he knows he missed a call last time. Player B will not get the benefit of the doubt. That borderline pitch will definitely be a strike. The pitch two or three inches off the plate will probably be a strike too. Player B’s home plate just widened by about six inches.
How can home plate shrink? Let’s compare Pitcher A vs Pitcher B after a borderline pitch is called ball four.
Receives ball back from the catcher
Focuses on the next batter
Stares down the umpire
Shakes his head or makes a gesture with hands
Pitcher A realizes that the umpire might have made a mistake, but it happens. There is nothing he can do so he focuses on the next batter. Pitcher B won’t get another call if he keeps up that behavior. In fact, his plate will shrink. That fastball two inches off the black that has been a strike might be seen a little differently next time by the umpire.
Umpires are not cheating. Most of the time, these situations aren’t even intentional. An umpire can see home plate in different ways depending on the actions of those around him. It’s human nature. Or is it magic?
Chances are, there will be a youth baseball tournament held near you this weekend…and next weekend. Tournaments take on all shapes and sizes…from end of the year local recreation league tournaments to week long excursions against teams from all over the world.
The most common type of tournament is the travel ball “3-Game Guarantee”. Travel teams within a couple hundred miles will face off with two pool play games on Friday and/or Saturday. They are then seeded and begin single elimination bracket play on Sunday.
So, teams could play anywhere from three to six games in a weekend depending on how far you advance. Most travel teams in the 9-14 age range carry about 12 players. Let’s say you go the distance and end up playing approximately 36 innings. By the time you reach the championship game, your kids are dragging. Pitchers are limited to a certain number of innings, but with 11 or 12 players on a roster, those pitchers have to play another position.
How many catchers do you carry? That eliminates another kid from taking the mound. Unless one player is capable of catching three games in a day, it probably eliminates two kids from pitching. Now you are down to 10 pitchers. I have yet to see a team with 10 different kids that can toe the rubber and consistently get outs.
My point is that you don’t get a true representation of who the best team is at the end of the tournament. Baseball isn’t meant to be a single elimination game. Anybody can beat anybody on a given day.
What is the solution?
I know this won’t happen because of the almighty dollar, but humor me for just a minute. Have a three week tournament with eight teams. Each round will be a best of three game series. All teams would play a minimum of six games. This would give a true representation of which team is clearly the best.
There are many problems with the way youth baseball tournaments are set up. One of the biggest issues is how pitching limitations are enforced.
Occasionally, you will get a tournament that trusts each coach not to abuse a child just to win a game. But for the most part, tournaments limit the time a kid can spend on the mound one of two ways.
The first way is limiting the number of innings pitched. A kid can pitch “x” amount of innings per day and “y” for the entire tournament. The number of pitches thrown are not taken into consideration. A pitcher can labor through an inning with 30 pitches or come in with two outs and throw one pitch to retire the final batter. Both would count as one inning pitched.
The other way tournaments “protect” pitchers is by limiting the number of outs recorded. This is slightly better than one pitch counting as an inning, but still doesn’t give an accurate account of how much the pitcher is actually working. This method will say a pitcher can record “x” amount of outs in a day and “y” for the tournament. What if your pitcher is a power pitcher that records a lot of strikeouts? He may average five or more pitches per batter. A pitcher that relies on control and changing speeds may pitch to contact and average three pitches per batter. You could also have a pitcher performing mop-up duty who records six outs but faced 18 batters in the process, throwing 50 or 60 pitches.
How do you fix it?
Obviously, not having an idiot coaching a team is the best way. A good coach should know his pitcher and monitor his pitch count. You should also remember that each kid is different. Throwing 40 pitches for one kid may have a completely different effect of another.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a coach using a pencil and paper scorebook. These days, everyone uses some type of program or app to keep score and track statistics. These apps track pitch counts automatically. Have the scorekeepers compare numbers at the end of the game. Take the average if there is a difference.
There are a lot of clichés in baseball. One that makes me cringe, especially at the youth level, is the coach that tells his hitters to “take a strike”.
When you come to the plate, you have three strikes to work with. If the pitcher paints the inside corner on a pitch that would have jammed you anyway, I have no problem with the hitter taking it with less than two strikes. It is a borderline pitch that the umpire may or not call a strike. The important thing to remember is that this is the hitter’s decision. He should be looking for a pitch to drive. If he wants to use one of the strikes by taking a borderline pitch to start the at-bat, fine. But I am never going to tell one of my hitters to give away one of his three strikes.
I rarely give the take sign on a 3-0 count. I hope that I have taught the players to be smart and disciplined at the plate. Most of them will take the pitch anyway. But again, I want it to be their decision.
The bottom line is that you only get three strikes per at-bat. Why give one away for free?