Westfield Baseball Named #8 in State — ESPN Boston Pre-Season Poll

Westfield High School baseball was named #8 in the ESPN Boston Pre-Season Poll.

Here is the article and listing of the first 15 teams. Note also the opinion of the Westfield team and program.

This poll carries more weight than MassLive and is recognized state-wide as the authority on high school sports.

Brendan C. Hall, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

Tonight we unveiled our first statewide MIAA Top 25 baseball poll of the 2015 season. [Here are] a few notes and observations about the first poll of the season:

 St. John’s Prep on Top: With an arsenal of heavy bats led by Penn State commit Keith Leavitt and Boston College commit Nick Latham, reigning Catholic Conference champion St. John’s Prep comes into the season as the No. 1 team in the land. While the Eagles graduated a ton of pitching talent from last year’s Super 8 run, there is enough power in the lineup to make many happy. Super 8 runner-up Braintree, with All-Staters Bobby McNiff and Connor Columbus back in the fold, come in at No. 2. Silver Lake has been one of the most talked-about teams of the preseason, behind a star-studded junior class, and they come in at No. 3. Rounding out the top five are St. John’s of Shrewsbury (4) and Catholic Memorial (5).

 West is the Best: With at least nine confirmed Division 1 commitments in the region, this is going to be a high-watermark year for Western Mass. Four teams from the region dot the poll, led by No. 8 Westfield, which features a trio of D1 recruits in Chris Sullivan (Hartford), Craig Lacey (Bryant) and Kenny McLean (UMass).

 Our preseason top 25 MIAA baseball poll of 2015, as selected by our panel of staff writers, correspondents and area coaches (last year’s record in parenthesis).

  1. St. John’s Prep (17-6): Eagles lost number of key arms after an earlier-than-expected departure from last year’s inaugural Super 8 tournament. But a talented hitting lineup led by Keith Leavitt (Penn State) and Boston College commits Nick Latham and Jacob Yish should buy some time for the new staff.
  2. Braintree (20-5): Wamps return a number of integral pieces from last year’s Super 8 runner-up squad, none bigger than returning All-State selections Connor Columbus and Bobby McNiff. Keep an eye on junior Scott Creedon, who’s bound for a breakout season.
  3. Silver Lake (20-5): A pair of prized junior righthanders, Hartford commit Jason Johndrow and returning All-State selection Anthony Videtto, look to lead the Lakers back into the Super 8.
  4. St. John’s (Shrewsbury) (17-8): As usual, there is star power here, led by Notre Dame-bound righthander Shane Combs and Virginia Tech-bound junior shortstop Jake Rosen. But to get Super 8 consideration, they will have to fare much better against the Catholic Conference than they did a year ago.
  5. Catholic Memorial (14-8): Nobody seems to know for sure which way the Catholic Conference is headed this spring, with considerable parity expected. But with junior Tyler Bell on the bump, Knights are in good position to return to the Super 8.
  6. Bridgewater-Raynham (20-4): On the mound, there isn’t a better 1-2 punch in the state than returning All-State selections Jack Connolly and Andrew Noviello. The questions in the Trojans’ quest for a return trip to the Super 8 semifinals lie in the offense.
  7. Xaverian (9-11): Hawks are expected to bounce back strong after uncharacteristically missing out on the postseason last spring. Northeastern-bound senior Jake Farrell, whose 2014 campaign was shortened by injury, is healthy once again.
  8. Westfield (15-6): This is routinely one of the most consistent programs west of I-495, but the Bombers boast an especially star-studded lineup in 2015, led by Division 1 signees Chris Sullivan (Hartford), Craig Lacey (Bryant) and Kenny McLean (UMass). A big tilt with Billerica on April 18 could go a long way towards determining if a Western Mass team gets into the Super 8.
  9. Plymouth North (13-8): If all goes well for the Blue Eagles, they could make the strongest case yet for a Division 2 team’s inclusion in the Super 8. A trio of quality arms, led by Boston College-bound junior Joe Walsh, accompany a solid hitting lineup.
  10. Lincoln-Sudbury (20-6): As always, the Warriors are among the best-coached programs across the Bay State, a point underscored by their surprise run to the Super 8 semifinals a season ago. Keep an eye on middle infielder Scott Holzwasser, one of the better gloves in the region.
  11. Malden Catholic (12-9): Lancers made a quick exit in last year’s Division 1 North tournament, but they return stronger this spring with Boston College signee Austin Batchelor finally healthy after Tommy John surgery.
  12. Billerica (14-6): Another Division 1-bound Murphy – this time, Northeastern signee Kyle – leads a staff that figures to once again garner Super 8 consideration.
  13. West Springfield (16-6): After recording one of the best turnarounds in the state a year ago, Terriers primed to follow up on that momentum with a promising core of underclassmen, led by UConn-bound junior shortstop Connor Moriarty.
  14. Newton North (23-1): Tigers have a lot of arms to replace after winning the inaugural Super 8 title. But this was one of the best teams last spring at manufacturing runs, and Columbia-bound outfielder Ben Porter makes them strong in that department again.
  15. Leominster (21-4): Feeling slighted by the Super 8 committee, the Blue Devils channeled that frustration into the program’s first Division 1 State Championship since 1996. They’ll turn to UMass-bound shortstop Ryan Lever in their title defense.

The poll will be updated week to week.


The case for a non-parent coaches and selection process for the Westfield U14 Babe Ruth World Series team

Parents of players should not coach the Westfield U14 team that will participate in the 2016 Babe Ruth World Series; nor should they be involved in the player selection process.

Why you ask? The player selection process should be overtly fair—-devoid of biases parents of players bring with them either overtly or covertly. The same rationale holds for the coaching staff.

The reason why WSC is speaking out on this is the World Series is important for players. It will be a time to play very competitive baseball and showcase their skills for high school and college coaches that will be watching them. Putting the team on the field with open and fair selection and coaching processes are critical first steps.

What should happen first is the creation of a non-parent selection process. No parents of potential players would be allowed on the selection board. A selection board should run the process and be comprised of baseball people from Westfield and the other towns included in the Babe Ruth league (e.g., Southwick, Hill Towns, and Agawam). Standard evaluation criteria should also be developed to guide the selection process. The evaluation criteria should be made available to players, teams, and parents at the start of the 2016 season—-if not before—so everyone knows the factors for selection.

As for coaches….no parents of players should be allowed to coach. This will ensure fairness once practices and games are underway. Coaches should be selected for their Babe Ruth coaching capabilities (obviously) and their willingness to structure a fair and open competition for playing time.

From a WSC point of view, a fair and open approach that excludes parents of players is a good thing. The coaches and selection board that brought us the results of last year’s Little League All Star thrashing to arch enemy Leominster in the sectionals are the same ones that will have players on the U14 Babe Ruth World Series team. To those who do not know, Westfield was ousted from the sectionals quickly—-out-scored by about 45 runs over two games. The teams in the World Series will be much better than Leominster. Clearly different selection and coaching approaches are needed.

The bottom line is an overtly open and fair selection process; and fair coaching is essential for the 2016 Babe Ruth World Series team. This process should be instituted soon so parents, and parents hoping to coach, understand the process and its rationale.

Pitching strategies for the higher level pitcher

As we said before, understanding hitters will pay off for you and your team. It requires paying attention to how hitters approach their at bat and pitching to the holes in their approach.

All hitters have holes. Spend your time on the mound paying attention and it will pay off. Compose your pitching approach to exploit each individual hitter’s hole.

Here is an excerpt that does a great job at the basics. We looked high and low and this is the best we have found.

Remember these principles:

  1. Every hitter has weaknesses (a hole). Those weaknesses can be exploited. It’s your job to find them.
  2. Every hitter gives you information on what they can and cannot do at the plate. It’s your job to collect that information.
  3. Every pitcher has weaknesses. That means you too. Know yourself and what you can and can’t do on the mound.

These baseball pitching tips will give you a guideline of what to look for in a batting stance, when to look for it, and how to look for it. Try them in your next outing and see the difference it can make in your performance.

  1. Front or Back?

Look and see where the hitter’s batting stance is in the box. The chances are that he stands in the back of the box generally to have more time to see the fastball. If he’s in the back of the box, a good curveball will be tough for him to hit.

If he sets up in the front of the batter’s box, consider using your fastball. The closer he is to you, the less time he has to react to your fastball.

Also remember hitters that struggle with breaking pitches tend to scoot closer to the pitcher to hit the pitch before it has time to fully break. So you can also use the breaking pitch effectively to this hitter as well.

  1. In or Out?

Does the hitter setup his batting stance a considerable distance away from the plate? Stay away from hitters who setup away from the plate and who don’t dive in to the outside pitch. These hitters want to get their hands extended and they typically can’t get around on inside fastballs, which is why they setup off the plate.

Does the hitter crowd the plate? This hitter can be one of two things: a weak hitter who wants to get hit and get on base; or he can be a good fastball hitter who wants you to challenge him. Either way, you must develop the skill of pitching inside. Also, breaking balls and located fastballs are in order for the good hitter who crowds the plate.

  1. Open Stance Hitter Who Stays Open

This hitter wants the ball inside. He has a better chance of getting to this pitch if his hips are already pre-set to be open. Pitch this batter away until he proves he can hit the ball to the opposite field. His swing path is not setup to take the ball the other way which will cause him to miss hit and roll-over pitches for weak ground balls and easy outs.

  1. Closed Stance Hitter Who Stays Closed

This type of hitter generally likes to go the other way and overall wants to make contact. A closed stance is a great opportunity to establish the inside part of the plate. Closing the stance creates a significant hole in the swing and makes it very difficult to hit the inside pitch. A moving two-seam fastball would be an excellent for this hitter until he proves he can handle it.

  1. Hitter with a Low Stance that Stays Low

This type of hitter is typically not a power guy and is most interested in a short swing that produces contact. This hitter still has two options: He can try to pull the ball, like most hitters do. Or he can try to go the other way predominantly.

Most hitters now are training themselves to go the opposite way and therefore will gear their swings only to go that way. Bust those hitters in. If a hitter stays low in his stance and still tries to pull the ball, keep your pitches away from him and up in the zone.

  1. Hitters Who Have a Normal Stance

The hitters who have normal stance without much excessive movement typically are your better hitters. They don’t give away clues as to what pitches they struggle with. Although these hitters may be harder to read in the box by their stance there are other ways to get an idea of their abilities.

Ask these questions: Where does he hit in the lineup? What are his stats? Where did other pitchers on my team pitch him in the past? What body type does he have? If he’s short and stocky, he can probably handle the low pitch. If he’s left handed and strong, I might not start him off with pitches low and inside.

  1. Hitters with a Long, Slow Swing

Most hitters will struggle keeping their hands inside the baseball when hitting. That means that the hitter’s hands go away from his body during his swing. This provides a great opportunity to throw fastballs inside and establish your presence there.

Even if a hitter has quick hands, if the path of his bat ends up going around the ball, he cannot handle the inside fastball well. If contact is made, it will likely result in a foul ball.

Here is another message to remember from this article…..learn to throw inside. Many pitchers—as WSC has seen over the years—- stayed too long with the instructions they learned in little league to pitch hitters outside to get them out. The reason this was taught  at the lower levels is younger hitters have a hard time catching up to the outside fastball. Pitchers–especially those with good little league fastballs—-found success using this strategy and carried it over to the high school level.  Throwing outside, however, does not work as well as hitters become more skilled.

Here is even another reason to pitch inside. Hitters spend endless hours in the cage practicing to hit outside pitches. “Take the outside pitch the other way” is the hitting coach’s mantra drummed in to them from an early age. Little time is spent on how to handle the inside pitch. That’s an opportunity for us pitchers. Many of the strategies cited in the article  mandate inside pitches. Pitch inside and you will be a more successful pitcher. There will be more about throwing inside in a following article.

Spin is in: Why spin matters as much as velocity for pitchers

Due to the application of Doppler radar technology [the same technology that is used in weather forecasting] to baseball we are getting a new look at what makes pitchers successful—-even if they are not the highest velocity throwers. The importance of fastball spin is a new concept in pitching. It’s always been there but until now it has been difficult to measure. Now that Doppler is in use we are finding out just how important it is. What we are going to prove is the efficacy of spin and show you how to get more spin on your fastballs. To start here are some excerpts from the seminal article about fastball spin.

Fastball Spin

An average MLB fastball makes 2200 revolutions per minute (RPMs) on its way to home plate. What’s a good fastball spin? As evidenced by the chart below, the spin put on a fastball directly correlates to ground ball rate and swings-and-misses.

Fastball SpinMLB 2010-2013
RPM (00s) SwStr% GB %
<- 20 5.5% 47.3%
20 – 21 6.1% 43.0%
21 – 22 6.8% 40.3%
22 – 23 7.7% 38.7%
23 – 24 8.7% 37.4%
24 – 25 10.4% 36.3%
25 -> 13.4% 37.2%

Velocity isn’t the only way to get whiffs with the fastball—you can now throw high spin into that equation. “Sneaky” is one of the terms often used to describe a fastball with average to below-average velocity that hitters still swing at and miss at an elevated rate. High spin gives hop or sneak to your fastball. [The] research is now revealing that average fastball spin has a higher correlation to swinging strike rate than average fastball velocity……Boston’s Koji Uehara is a great contemporary example of a pitcher with a high-spin heater.

Pitcher MPH RPM
Average MLB FB 92 2200
Koji Uehara 89 2427

A ball thrown with true backspin that spins at a high rate will work against gravity [due to the aerodynamic effects of the seams], causing it to sink less quickly than a ball with lower spin. As a result, hitters’ eyes are deceived, because the ball doesn’t sink as much as they expect it to. No one can defy gravity completely and throw a rising fastball, but pitchers can work with and against gravity as a form of deception. Want to test this out? Set up a pitching machine to throw an 80 MPH fastball with 3000 RPMs and see how hard it is to hit. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself swinging through and fouling off pitches. You won’t see this offering in actual games—no current pitcher throws a fastball with 3000 RPMs.[but it will give you an understanding why spin matters so much].

This concept is gradually being taken on in the pros and colleges. If you use these concepts at your level you will be way ahead of the hitters you are facing.

You ask….WSC ……“How do I create backward spin on my fastball?”

Here’s how… The tips of your fingers are key. One of the reasons Pedro Martinez was so effective was his long fingers. He released the ball using the tips of his fingers in a quick, downward motion creating backspin on his 4 seam fastball. You need to learn to do the same. It takes some practice however. The more you do it however you will build up confidence in the delivery. You will also with time build up calluses on the tips of your fingers that will help you get even more spin.

Another way is to throw a cross seam fastball. This where you hold the ball with 2 fingers across the two closest seams. What you do is place the tips of your fingers just beyond the front seam. When you throw you use the front seam as leverage to create downward whip with your fingers and the backspin you want. This grip is not taught these days. I could not even find a picture of it on the web. I do not know why it is not taught because it’s a great way to get backspin on your pitches.

Why are pitches with spin hard to hit? It’s a round bat trying to get square contact with another round, fast rotating object — the ball. If the hitter misses direct, square contact by just a fraction of an inch high or low it will cause a pop up or ground ball. Spin greatly decreases the probability of solid contact by the hitter. Also, if the ball is hit, the bat must first overcome the fast spinning ball to go anywhere. The more spin the harder it is for hitters to hit the ball fair and deep.

One last thing…..you have to stay with these high spin pitches. You have to follow through to get the downward whip you need. Also keep the pitch either high or low in the strike zone. High because the hitter will swing under it thinking the ball will be lower than it actually is (as the article cites). Low because the hitter will think the pitch will be out of the strike zone when in it actually keep its height and be a low strike.

Pitchers: learn and use spin. The more you use it with your fastballs the more success you will have. Hitters at your level do not see pitches like this.

What we are going to see is spin will soon be an important factor in the evaluation pitchers.

Besides a high spin fastball a  lower spin fastball is also important to understand and incorporate into your arsenal. That topic will be in another article.

This is another example of the value of WSC. It not only tells you the whats and whys but also the how tos. The how-to part was left out of the cited article about spin. How to put baseball research into practice is one of our strengths.

Too much pitching is not a good thing

As tryouts start for baseball we thought it was a good time to remind pitchers, parents, and coaches about over pitching. We found an excellent set of short videos about the perils of pitching too much—–especially when you are younger.

The videos show the effects on arms of too many throws. Parents and coaches….don’t be like the dorks shown in these videos. Your son or player will be done being a pitcher before you know it if you are not careful.

The videos explain the increase in risk if you pitch and play another position—especially catcher. All of the throws you do add up. They cover warning signs of arm problems, Tommy John surgery, and the after effects of Tommy John surgery (it talks about why it’s not true—as many believe—pitchers are better after they have Tommy John).

On the down side too we found out through these videos they don’t cut your arm open as much these days. The days of a 6 to 8 inch scar is gone. It’s done arthroscopically. We don’t think this is good because you can’t show off your cool tattoos you integrated with the scar to your friends in the bar when your 30, telling them what a great pitcher you were when you were 14 but you had to quit.

Be careful. Serious arm problems are happening to younger pitchers at an increasing rate. You don’t want to be like the pitchers in the videos.



How to Pitch to Hitters That Choke Up With 2 Strikes

Hitters are usually looking to drive the ball. With 2 strikes desperation sets in however and hitters become more conservative. The hitter’s two-strike syndrome is:  “something is better than nothing.” The nothing being striking out. The something is putting the ball in play and hoping it results in a hit.

Due to this desperation some hitters change their approach. Think back to your little league days. Coaches told hitters with 2 strikes to “choke up and get a piece of the ball.” Here is an article by a hitting expert telling hitters what to do with 2 strikes:

Two Strike Hitting

There has been a lot made of two strike hitting over the last 10 years or so. Strikeouts have been climbing for hitters which is a result of trying to drive the ball for extra bases. Many hitters that have potential to hit the ball out of the park would rather take a chance to drive the ball and strikeout on a good swing than choke up and take a good pitch and hit a ground ball to the second baseman.  I understand not wanting to completely change who you are as a hitter, but I also believe we can cut our swing down, make more consistent contact and still drive the baseball. There are 3 common physical adjustments that can be used at the plate when hitting with 2 strikes.

Choke up on the bat

This will increase your bat control, by making the bat feel lighter in your hands, your bat will feel more balanced, but you will give up a little whip.

It will give you a shorter swing. The distance from your hands to the barrel is closer, thus making the distance your bat has to cover a little shorter.

It will give you a quicker swing. This is because your bat path and the distance your bat has to cover a little shorter, making your swing time a little quicker.

Spread out your stance.

This will give you less body movement. Which is good when trying to make contact, the less moving parts in your swing the easier it is to hit the baseball.

It will give you less head movement. Anytime you can limit the movement in your head the better hitter you will become. You can’t hit it if you can’t see it, and the more your head moves the harder it is to see the baseball.Will help you cover the outside part of the plate better. This can be a good approach because most of the pitches that a pitcher uses to get you out, are on the outer part of the plate.

Get closer to the plate

Being closer to the plate will give the pitcher less room for error on an inside pitch. Standing closer to the plate will force the pitcher to make a good pitch if he tries to come inside. If he makes a mistake, you may get a good pitch to hit, or the ball may hit you and you will be awarded 1st base. Moving closer to the plate [however] opens up a potential hole for the hitter, because now if the pitcher can throw the ball inside for a strike, it may tie up the hitter and make it more difficult to hit.

So this is what hitters do (the unmanly ones): choke up, move closer to the plate, and spread out their stance.

The first issue is: why don’t they do this all the time? It’s likely they think they are manly and want to impress everyone by driving the ball. That’s a good thing for us pitchers because can exploit it.

So what do we have to do as pitchers? First watch what the hitter does when he has 2 strikes.

Hitters that move closer to the plate and choke  up call for inside pitches that run in on their hands. If they do make contact it will be on the shaft part of the bat. It will also give them a sting that will last for some time. You can use your 4 seamer too as a set up pitch for hitters close to the plate. Throw it inside to back them off the plate if you have a waste pitch to give. When they move back in the box—-afraid of getting hit—-come back with an outside pitch they will have trouble reaching now they are further away and choked up.

As for the spread stance hitters are off balance somewhat due to the stance being different than their normal stance.  A change in this case will get them off balance more easily.  If they do hit the pitch they will likely hit on top of the ball causing a weak ground ball.

Your fielders should be paying attention too. They can move in—-especially in the outfield—-expecting a shorter length hit if the hitter ends up making contact.

As a note, straight fastballs will not work here. The hitter’s bat is quicker due to the reasons cited above.

Use these methods and get out more hitters with 2 strikes. What’s strange however you will not see very many hitters in the 3-6 slots in the order doing this—-they are too manly. Pitch those guys as normal.

Maybe that is the reason hitting is down. Hitters these days are taught to use one swing and to stick with that swing. Not to give away to the enemy but that is one of the reasons why there is a hitting drought. Pitchers on the other hand have an arsenal of many different pitches and locations. What the “hitting experts” need is a paradigm shift in what they teach hitters. Hitters should have a variety of swings for different pitches and situations. Until they do the drought will continue. The current environment is great for us as pitchers. Keep it up hitters and “hitting experts”—–your own teachings are leading to your own demise.

Westfield’s Brent Houle Wins First College Game as a Pitcher

Congratulations to Brent Houle (Fr RHP) for winning his first college game 4-0 against a very good Otterbein team. He gave up only 4 hits and no runs. It is Otterbein’s first loss of the season. Here is the line on the game.

Eastern Nazarene vs Otterbein University @ Fort Myers, Fla. | PDC #4    

3/7/2015 at 12:15 pm

Final 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 R H E
Eastern Nazarene (1-1) 2 0 0 0 0 2 0 4 6 1
Otterbein (9-1) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0

Eastern Nazarene 4           Otterbein 0 4



Eastern Nazarene
Pitchers IP H R ER BB SO HR
Brent Houle (W, 1-0) 6.0 4 0 0 7 3 0
Doug English 1.0 0 0 0 2 0 0
Totals 7.0 4 0 0 9 3 0
Batters Faced: Brent Houle 28; Doug English 5 HBP: Brent Houle

Westfield High 2015 Baseball Team: Roster and Line Up Predictions, Strengths and Challenges

Here are our predictions and challenges for the 2015 Westfield High varsity baseball team.

The team features 3 D1 commits with Sullivan (Hartford), Lacey (Bryant), and McLean (UMASS). With 3 D1 commits Westfield is tied with St John’s Prep for the most D1 commits in Massachusetts. Making up the core of the team with experience also are Colin Dunn (SS) and Cody Neidig (OF).

After this core, however, there are a lot of unknowns and challenges for Westfield. Pitching depth is an issue. Besides McLean all potential pitchers have thrown less than 50 pitches in a varsity game—-combined. Two positions will have varsity newcomers: 2B and 1B (when McLean is pitching). The catching ranks have also taken a hit with Connor Sullivan being out on IR.

Here is the roster for 2015:

Dunn IF

Neidig OF, P

Lacey P, OF

Chris Sullivan IF

Clark C, 1B

McLean P, 1B

Murphy 2B

St Pierre OF, IF

Heinz C

Murray P, IF

Plasse OF

Tom Flaherty OF, IF

Iglesias P

Moorhouse OF, 1B

TBD (likely a pitcher, Schwartz?)

TBD (likely a pitcher, Mochak? Towle?)

TBD (likely an IF, Walsh?)

TBD (likely a catcher)

IR Conner Sullivan C, IF

Here is the opening day line-up:

  1. Dunn SS
  2. Neidig LF
  3. Lacey CF
  4. Chris Sullivan 3B
  5. Clark 1B
  6. McLean P
  7. Murphy 2B
  8. Plasse RF
  9. Heinz C

Strengths: Proven left side of infield and 2 of 3 outfielders, starting pitching

Weaknesses: Ability to score runs, lack of varsity playing experience for 13 of 18 players, unproven pitching, and unproven right side of infield

Strongest competition in 2015: West Springfield, Chaug

Weakest competition in 2015: Ludlow, Holyoke

What has to happen is the newcomers have to perform right away. The team will also have a lot of close games due to their lack of run scoring ability. If the pitching depth comes around and they string some hits together Westfield will be a force in 2015.