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.

Is the Westfield Mayoral Election Already Over?

WSC is following the Westfield mayoral election because of our interest in the improvements to Bullens and Jachym fields for the Babe Ruth World Series. What we found so far, however, goes beyond sports. We are compelled to reveal what is happening.

Mr. Roeder, what are you doing? The more you talk the more voters you alienate. You win elections by getting more votes than your competition. Not by giving large parts of the electorate reasons why not to vote for you.

At WSC we were looking forward to a competitive election but early in the game it looks more like a blowout.

Here is what we mean….

In his brief interview in the Westfield News published on 13 February Roeder managed to alienate the following blocs of voters:

  • Parents of school children for his lack of support for a new school and the new science wing at the high school
  • Teachers and school administrators for the same reasons
  • City workers by characterizing them as unproductive “Knapik supporters.”
  • Firefighters by pulling his support for the Little River Fire Station expansion
  • Biking enthusiasts for his lack of support for improvements to the Colombia Green Way Bike Path
  • Downtown businesses and residents by not supporting redevelopment and riverfront projects
  • And…most important to us…..baseball players and parents for his lack of support for improvements to Bullens and Jachym fields for the Babe Ruth World Series

Who has not been alienated by him so far by what he saying? This is no way to win an election.

We understand Mr. Roeder you are positioning yourself as a political neophyte—-an anti-politician—but you are not going to win saying what you are saying.

Mr. Roeder it’s obvious to us at WSC what you need to do to win votes and get elected but we are not going to insert ourselves to swing the election one way or another. What we do know is the people of Westfield should not vote, and do not want to vote, for a de-evolutionist—-someone who wants to de-evolve the city without future benefit.

Baseball Rules Makers Massing Against Pitchers —- Part 1

This is a series of articles to help pre-college age (ages 14-18) pitchers improve, get noticed by college coaches, and get a scholarship to play baseball.

Pitchers, you have demonstrated your superiority against hitters. Offence is at an all-time low in the MLB and in colleges. What is happening now is the rules makers want to change the rules to help out the poor state of hitting these days.

Over recent years pitchers have improved their capabilities and their strategies of how they pitch. Now we are likely going to be penalized. Penalized because hitters have not improved over the same time period. You hear the whining from hitters all the time now how difficult it is to hit a baseball. Instead of manning up and improving they are lobbying baseball’s  governing rules guys to change the rules. Look at what is happening in the MLB. It will likely flow down to colleges in short order. Below is an excerpt from Yahoo Sports:


 MLB could alter strike zone as response to declining offense

Major League Baseball is considering altering the textbook definition of the strike zone for the first time in nearly two decades, fearful that the proliferation of the low strike has sapped too much offense from the game, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Concern around baseball about the strike zone filtered down to the MLB’s Playing Rules Committee, which must formally adopt a rules change before it’s implemented. The committee will pay close attention to the size of the strike zone in 2015 with an eye on change as early as 2016 after studies showed it has expanded significantly since 2009, coinciding with a precipitous dip in run scoring. Of particular concern, sources said, is the low strike, a scourge not only because it has stretched beyond the zone’s boundaries but is considered a significantly more difficult pitch to hit.

Runs per game fell to 4.07 in 2014, the lowest mark since 1981 and the 13th fewest since World War II, and studies from The Hardball Times’ Jon Roegele and Florida professor Brian Mills pegged the low strike as a significant culprit.

Since 2009, the average size of the called strike zone has jumped from 435 square inches to 475 square inches, according to Roegele’s research. The results: Pitchers are throwing more in the lower part of the zone, and hitters are swinging at an increased rate, knowing the tough-to-drive pitches will be called strikes. The strike zone has lowered about three inches since 2009. (Hardball Times)

Strike Zone

Roegele’s study estimated 31 percent of the offensive drought could be attributed to the strike zone while Mills estimated it’s between 24 percent and 41 percent. After seeing a strong correlation among the size of the strike zone, all-time-high strikeout rates and historically low walk rates, members of the committee now are fairly certain the relationship is causative, too, and seem primed to do something about it.

The problem, sources said, stems from technological leaps that caused unintended consequences. In 1996, when the league last changed the strike zone to extend it from the top of the knees to the bottom, beneath the hollow of the kneecap, it did so to encourage umpires to call knee-level strikes. The lower end of the zone, in practice, was about three-quarters of the way down the thigh, so the idea was that by adjusting the eye levels of umpires to look lower, the result would be a more traditional strike zone.

Then along came Questec, the computerized pitch-tracking system, followed by Zone Evaluation, the current version tied in to MLB’s PITCHf/x system. With a tremendous degree of accuracy – especially in recent years – the systems tracked textbook balls and strikes, and the home-plate umpires’ performances were graded on a nightly basis. Over time, not only did umpires’ strike zones move down to the knees, they went to the hollow and even a smidge below.

“I don’t think the Playing Rules Committee at the time of the last change ever expected that the umpires would call strikes at the hollow of the knee,” said Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, the current chairman of the committee. “To their credit, the umpires now are.”

Most agreed that raising the strike zone almost certainly would spark offense. The potential issue: More offense equals longer games, and with pace of play one of new commissioner Rob Manfred’s priorities, balancing the two remains a difficult proposition


Pitchers, the strike zone has not increased as this article wants readers to believe. Low strikes are being called as low strikes. An alternate way of looking at this—as we do—is hitters had way too much of an advantage before. Offence before was inflated. Now a strike is a strike.

Anyways can’t hitters learn to hit the low strike? As we cited in a recent article hitters train on tees almost exclusively set low in the strike zone. It’s not like they have not seen low pitches before. What are hitting coaches doing about this inability to hit the low strike? We think very little. We have not noticed anything on web sites by the hitting experts about new strategies to deal with the low strike.

What is next? Making the bats bigger? Maybe they should make the bats flatter.

Pitchers, continue to throw the low strike. Also—-as we have said on this site—-get your catchers to get as close as possible to the hitter so the umpire has a good look at the low strike.

We are going to start a few rules movements ourselves like this one. We suggest the holes in golf be enlarged to the size of a manhole. This will help our poor scores on the links. Also we are all for basketball hoops to be larger too. We want more scoring in basketball. Scores like 210-190 will make us happy.

Hitters come on. Do you really have to change the rules to compete? Isn’t this an embarrassment for you?

Another rule change that is going into effect this year in college baseball is a new ball with lower seams. The new balls are designed to help hitters too. We will address this in another article.

Local Sports, Local Politics —- Will the New Mayor of Westfield Support the Planned Improvements to Bullens and Jachym Fields for the Babe Ruth World Series?

Mayor Knapik has announced he will not be running for reelection. Come November Westfield will have a new mayor. Also coming soon after —- in the summer of 2016 —– will be the Babe Ruth 14 year-old World Series. The Babe Ruth players, parents, and local businesses are counting on the improvements to Bullens and Jachym fields for their event. The following is an excerpt from the December 2014 CH 22 announcement about the World Series:



The [World Series] will likely have a ripple effect as the decision will put into motion a series of capital improvement projects to Bullens and Jachym fields that Ruthers and high school players will enjoy for decades to come.

Plans call for bleacher-style seats to be installed along the large concrete steps located behind home plate at Bullens Field, state-of-the-art LED lights to replace the ones currently housed on the light poles, and fencing to be brought in along the third base line. It is possible the press box area could be expanded. The entire park is expected to be handicap accessible per the Americans with Disabilities Act by game time in 2016.

According to Karen Gomez, athletic director for Westfield and Westfield Vocational-Technical High Schools, there are also plans to install dugouts at Jachym Field and expand seating there as well.

“All three high school athletic programs (Westfield, Westfield Voc-Tech, St. Mary) will benefit (from this decision),” Gomez said.

Westfield Mayor Daniel M. Knapik has said the city will put those projects out to bid next summer [summer 2015].


 

So Westfield Sports Center readers we have an issue: Will the new mayor carry through on what was started by Mayor Knaipk?

The view of WSC is Brian Sullivan likely will due to his background coaching baseball in Westfield for many years. As for Mike Roeder—the only other announced candidate— it is unknown. The WSC view is Roeder likely does not know about the World Series; the improvement plans; or what it means to the sports people and local businesses of Westfield. The press to date portrays him as out of touch with local issues due to not living in Westfield over the past few years. That may not be fair but that’s what been said to date.

This issue needs to be addressed during the campaign. Ideally both candidates come out in support of the improvement plans. However if only one candidate supports the plans the WSC will support that candidate and encourage our readership (a significant voting bloc) to vote for that candidate. If neither candidate supports carrying through on the plans the Babe Ruth Committee, players, parents, and local businesses have to know as soon as possible so alternatives can be found. Stay tuned to WSC for updates about this issue.

By Westfield Sports Center Editorial Board —- the leader in sports-centric political issues

Pitchers: How to communicate your value to college coaches

This is a series of articles to help pre-college age (ages 14-18) pitchers improve, get noticed by college coaches, and get a scholarship to play baseball.

Let’s start off with the basics: How do you win baseball games?

You win with pitchers that keep runners off base, pitchers that dominate hitters, and pitchers that keep batted balls in the park and off the walls.

So how do you communicate to college coaches how good you have been winning games? Here are the metrics:

  • Team games – how many games your team played
  • Pitching appearances – how often they used you
  • Innings pitched – how much they used you (this along with appearances will tell the coach the average length of your outings)
  • WHIP – walks + hits per innings pitched (a measure of how well you keep hitters off base.) Anything under a 1.0 WHIP is excellent.
  • Ks per 7 inning game – Shows your dominance over hitters. You should have at least 10 SOs per 7 inning game on average.
  • GB/FB ratio – ground balls verses fly balls. (measure of how well you keep batted balls in the park and out of the outfield). You want to be at least 2-1 ground balls to fly balls.

That is it. You can include wins and losses but coaches know this metric has little value. For instance a pitcher that has a good winning record and a high WHIP is just fortunate. His team likely scores him a lot of runs.

For the major leaguers it’s a bit different. It’s on base percentage plus slugging—–or OBS. The importance of OBS for measuring pitchers is demonstrated by the new GM of the LA Angles. He created a handbook for his minor league system to develop players. A sports reporter interviewed him and he said for pitchers he has exactly one sentence in the book highlighted: “Limiting OBS will be one of the main considerations in evaluation of minor league pitching.”

The basic equation is: OBS = OBP + SLG

You do not have to measure OBS at your level but it shows the emphasis on keeping players off base in the majors. It should be your main emphasis at your level too. WHIP is fine for your level of baseball. It is a strong indicator of your ability to keep runners off base.

Here are some other comments I found about the best measures of pitching performance:

Trent Rosecrans: Strikeouts/Strikeout rate (K, K/9, K%): One of the silliest things in baseball now is the idea of a war between scouts and the “numbers guys.” In the end, that war was settled peacefully long ago. In the end, both are looking for the same thing; they might just be using different terminology and looking in different places. If you get the most grizzled scout out from behind his JUGS gun and the nerdiest, palest stat guy out from his mother’s basement, both would tell you they’d prefer to find a pitcher who misses bats. If the batters can’t put the ball in play, they’re not going to be hitting a pitcher, and that’s a good thing. How do you determine that? Well, strikeouts, of course. Strikeout rate (whether it’s K/9, as in strikeouts per nine innings or K%, as in strikeout percentage) tells you just that — how often you strike out the batter. The more strikeouts, the less likely a hitter is putting the ball in play and the fewer things that can go wrong. Sure, as Crash Davis [Bull Durham] said, “strikeouts are fascist. But you know who likes fascists? Those who benefit from the fascist. And you know who likes strikeout pitchers? Everyone on their side.”

Matt Snyder: WHIP My first answer is anything but wins and losses. Saves aren’t overly helpful either. After that, unlike with hitters, I don’t think there are one or two stats head and shoulders above the rest. Like I said in the record entry above, the best pitchers need to do a combination of things to help their teams win. I haven’t totally gotten on board with FIP, so I would look at ERA, IP, K, K/BB, K/9, CG, SHO and WHIP in deciding who to endorse for Cy Young in a given season. At fictional gunpoint to choose the best overall, though, I’ll go with WHIP, due to it being the kind of like the pitcher’s version of on-base percentage (which you know I love).

Trent Rosecrans: WHIP Like Dayn says, I’m not a big believer in a single statistic to tell me everything. Sure, it’d be nice to have one, but I don’t think there is one. And as much as I like strikeout rates and strikeout to walk ration, strikeouts aren’t the only way to record outs. Now, if you can strike out a ton of batters and not walk many, I want you on my squad. But I’d also like a guy who might give up a few more hits but still finds ways to get outs and can throw 220 innings in a year. In the end, though, I love the simplicity of WHIP and it tells me one of the most important things I can determine about a pitcher — how many guys he puts on base (and thus, how many outs he converts). It’s like the pitcher’s version of on-base percentage. If you only let one guy on base per inning, chances are you’re not giving up a lot of runs, and that’s a sound strategy for winning.

As a final comment, parents be honest about the statistics. It will be obvious once your son is on the mound whether your son’s statistics support his capabilities. College coaches know each other and word will get around fast if your statics are inflated.

Never deliver the hitter’s pitch —– Using their “wait for your pitch” training against hitters

This is a series of articles to help pre-college age (ages 14-18) pitchers improve, get noticed by college coaches, and get a scholarship to play baseball.

 As a pitcher your brain and the strategies you use are paramount to being successful. Hitters become more knowledgeable as they progress up the 14-18 age groups. Understanding hitters and how to get them out is important for you as a pitcher as you progress too.

My motivation for writing  this article is I have not seen very much from the experts about pitching strategies. I especially do not see anything about what we are going to discuss in this article: understanding hitters  (your competition) and using this understanding against them. I believe this is because of the backgrounds of the experts. Pitching coaches focus on pitching. Hitting coaches focus on hitting. There is nothing out there about the essence of strategy—-understanding your competition and using this information to defeat them. It’s really in the space between pitching and hitting where it looks like no one dwells.

I have 31 years in strategy in industry. We spend a lot of time and money understanding the strengths, weaknesses, motives, tendencies, and capabilities of our competitors. Do we understand everything all the time—–no but we are always fighting for an edge. You as a pitcher should too.

I understand this competitive analysis is done at the pro level but there are things we can do at this level to give ourselves as advantage as pitchers. Also do not tell your hitter friends about this paradigm we are using. They will start trying to understand pitchers better. It’s best to have a passive competitor with a lack of understanding about who they are competing against.

Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”

If you do not know who this guy is you should find out. You also need to read on…….

In a previous article I explained you have to study and understand hitters as a pitcher. One way is to troll the hitter’s web sites that teach them how to defeat you. Below is one of those articles from a hitting expert. (I found it because one of my son’s teammates that is a good hitter has a link to it on his Twitter site)

What we are going to do is use their teachings against them. As an aside….you will also be surprised how you as a pitcher is referred to by these “hitting experts.”

Read this…..


Learn how to swing, then learn how to hit a baseball By Guest Author on November 14, 2012

Having been a hitting instructor for the past 11 years working with players from MLB down to the high school player, I can tell you that I have seen a lot, and learned a lot.  I have thrown a lot of things against the wall and seen what has stuck for guys at the highest levels and for those who are just beginning their careers. The most glaring thing that I have personally seen over the past 11 years is the how the younger hitter may know how to swing, but they do not necessarily understand how to hit a baseball. Have you heard somebody say “Man, that guy is a good 5 o’clock hitter.”  I know I have!  Do you know what that means?  Simply put it’s a hitter who can really swing that bat during BP (which for a 7pm game takes place roughly around that 5pm time), but can’t sniff a hit or make decent contact during the game. You may be thinking, how can this happen?  His swing is obviously good if he can take a good BP!

Herein lies the problem I see with most young hitters.  They have been privately trained by a hitting instructor, They work tirelessly on the mechanics of their swing.  While there is a priority and honor to getting the player’s swing as good as it can be, many don’t get to, or lose sight of the fact, that they need to teach the player how to USE that swing during the games! Their swing looks great for the Perfect Game Showcases that many young ballplayers attend.  They will pass the showcase “eye test.”  In 10-15 swings during BP they can look like the next Albert Pujols.  But some of them, once they get into games, will look like they are facing Justin Verlander.

So where do you begin?  That’s a bit of a loaded question, but in my eyes I like to begin with explaining to a hitter who is really in charge here.  Is the pitcher in charge?  Not in my eyes.  Is the hitter in charge?  Yes indeed.


Let’s take a time out….

So this is what they tell the hitters? They are charge? As a pitcher this should piss you off. Read the other articles on this site. You are in charge NOT the hitter. There are many ways in the articles on this site to assert control over hitters. Use them when attacking hitters to take advantage of their false sense of control. But that is not why I cited this article….read on.


Executing A Plan

I believe there are two things that a hitter should walk up to the plate trying to execute during a game (not including some situational hitting opportunities of course).

Put the best swing on the best pitch you can find.

That’s it!  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  Almost too simple to most the first time they hear it.

No matter what level you play at (MLB or HS baseball in South Dakota) you can have this plan when you’re in the box and will have more Quality At Bats then you’ve ever had before.

Hit What You Want

Most hitters get themselves out.  The good hitters are making outs because the pitcher gets lucky and gets them out. 


Let’s take another time out….

So hitters really believe the pitcher is lucky to get them out? I can hear the coaches say: “that’s alright little Johnny. It’s not your fault the pitcher was just lucky.” I’ll have more about how to take advantage of a hitter’s lack of understanding about pitching in a subsequent article. Again that is not why we are here……this just amazed me.

Read on…..


There is no rule in the rulebook stating that a hitter has to swing at everything that comes towards them.  When we are going badly at the plate, we tend to swing at everything and get ourselves out.  When we are going well, we tend to square everything up and hit balls out of a certain “area.”

Where is that area?  I can’t really tell you because that’s something that I tell the hitter to pick out.  It’s not a postage stamp sized area.  It’s an area (or zone) in which we like to make contact with the ball.  This includes allowing the fastball, curveball, change-up, slider, cutter, sinker, etc  to get into our “area.”  If these balls do not enter this area/zone, then we simply lay off them (even with less than 2 strikes and it’s called a strike).


Alright…now we are on to it. Hitting instructors tell hitters not to swing at some pitches that are strikes. The mantra is “wait for your pitch.”

Read on…….


Let Balls Run Into Your Swing

Most young hitters want to swing hard and drive the ball.  While in theory this sounds good, in practice this can get the young hitter in trouble. For one thing, most hitters lose control of their barrels. They won’t see this as being much of a problem when they are younger, until they enter a level where the ball runs, dips, dives and moves on them like never before.  Simply put, the ball has no chance of running into their barrel because the hitter has taken it out of the zone just as quickly as they have put it in. What the hitter quickly finds out is that they need to put their best swing on the ball and let the ball naturally run into their barrel. 

The end.


Alright…..so what did we learn and why does it matter for us as pitchers?

You must have heard “wait for your pitch” all the way back to little league. That is what this article is about. First of all most hitters at the lower range of the 14-18 age group are just swingers. Their hitting instructors and dads lack the ability to teach what is being said in this article. Also the rationale may be that they do not want to teach younger hitters to look for a specific pitch yet. They really likely do not know what “their pitch” is. As hitters progress to the high school level they will likely have an approach as explained in the cited article. They will likely have a pitch that they consider THEIR pitch.

So it’s easy…just figure out what type of pitch each hitter likes and do not throw it—-easier said than done.

As a pitcher you may get a sense in your local leagues what type of pitches individual hitters like. Many times you can just ask the hitters you know and they will tell you. As for tournaments and playoffs against other high schools you have little to no information about each hitter. This is not true in the pros and colleges. The pros and colleges spend a lot of time understanding hitter’s strengths and weaknesses. That is why a hitter can be successful when he is new to the league, but as time goes on pitchers figure them out. Pitchers stay away from what they like and stay on their weakness, (This is known as Jackie Bradley syndrome),

So what can you do? The first way is to go back to how hitters are developed. Little Jonny has been hitting straight fastballs since he was an embryo in batting cages. Also he has practiced forever on tees with settings that are low strikes. (I have never seen a tee set up for a high pitch—never. My bet is this is never or rarely done.) Hitters are also taught to swing down on the ball to induce more line drives. Look at the picture below….individual hitters have practiced swinging at low strikes tens of thousands of times. Not knowing anything else about a hitter you encounter for the first time you can say——hitters love low pitches. The reason is this is just about all they have seen in practice over many years.

Hitter

So what do you do as a pitcher? Learn how to throw a high strike—-both inside and outside. Also stay away from straight fastballs (see the article on this site that addresses the type of fastballs to throw).

Why? In this age group (14-18) high strikes are likely not “their pitch.”

Also here is a tip. Know where the top of the strike zone is defined by the umpire. Umpires are trained to set their eye level at the top of the strike zone. The reason is if they have to move their eyes up the pitch is high and out of the zone. Know where the high zone is defined by the ump. Look at the umps eye level every pitch. That is where you need to hit to get hitters out with the high strike.

What else can you do? The answer is late movement. As the article says it harder for hitters to square up their barrel on pitches that are not “their pitch.” The ultimate best situation for the pitcher is a pitch that starts looking like “their pitch” and turns into not their pitch late in its path. If you can discern where a hitter likes the ball start out your 2 seamer or change in that area. The ball will move from one he likes to one he doesn’t at the end of its path to the plate. What you are doing is manipulating the hitter’s emotions (you are in control —–like the Outer Limits. The baby boomers will understand this). He gets all excited that this is “their pitch” and then it’s not. Many times the hitter will have started their swing based on their excitement.

So why should I incorporate what is said here as a pitcher? Not throwing hitters “their pitch” will lead to a path being worn out back to the dugout of hitters that waited for “their pitch” that never came.

How do you like that hitters? Keep thinking you’re in control and pitching is just luck.

I’ll have more about understanding hitters and ways to use their thinking and training against them.

Ground Balls Induced —- A Measure of Pitching Value

 

This is a series of articles to help pre-college age (ages 14-18) pitchers improve, get noticed by college coaches, and get a scholarship to play baseball.

Are the Red Sox on to the next wave of measuring pitchers future success? Read this article from Baseball Musings:

January 22, 2015 Not Big on Big Game – The Red Sox appear uninterested in James Shields:

More than a month later, Shields remains unsigned and the Red Sox appear utterly disinterested despite their lack of a proven No. 1 starter. So, what gives?

Based on conversations with multiple industry sources over the past few days, this is the best we can gather: The Sox simply don’t believe Shields’ style suits Fenway Park.

It appears that James Shields does not induce enough ground balls to satisfy the Red Sox. I would argue that Shields isn’t what passes for a number one starter on the Red Sox. He was an innings eater with the Royals, helped by an excellent defense. I see him as a 3.50 ERA pitcher on a normal defensive team, and with run scoring low, that’s not that great. Shields would be another #3 starter. If the Red Sox want a true ace, they would be better off making a deal for one of the Washington pitchers that might be available now.

What does this mean for upcoming pitchers in the 14-18 age groups? It means learn how to induce ground balls.

Ground balls do not sail out of the park. Ground balls don’t rattle around on the walls in the gaps in the outfield. Ground balls usually mean an out or at most a single. (With the exception of the somewhat rare ground ball down the lines that make it past the corner infielders.) Ground balls also turn into double plays.

So how do you induce ground balls?

Pitches low in the strike zone are a start. The lower the strike the better. At the knees is best. Nothing above the hitter’s mid-thigh. The next is spin. The cross seam fastball, a pitch that is rarely taught these days to pitchers, is one weapon. It spins backwards and sinks inducing hitters to hit on top of the ball. The next is a two seam fastball with the seams. It sinks and breaks away or in to/from the hitter. It induces the hitter to also hit on top of the ball and away from the sweet part of the bat.

Another way is to throw downhill. What this means is your pitch should not be on a straight plane as it travels to the hitter. This is why colleges look for pitchers that are tall (6 feet +).The rationale is the taller the pitcher the higher the release point creating a downward path to the plate. Also pitchers with at least a ¾ arm slot are sought after (refer to the article below titled: Pre-College Age Pitchers – Achieving success in the years before college). Here is the reason why this downward action is wanted: the chance the hitter will solidly contact the ball with his horizontal swing on a downward moving ball is greatly reduced. Also what the batter sees with this type of path is the top of the ball. This induces him to hit on top of the ball more often.

The Red Sox this off-season focused on signing pitchers that induce ground balls. Keeping the ball out of the gaps, off the wall, and in the park is their strategy. The result will be lower run production for opponents. We’ll see…..

Your metric to watch is your ground ball to fly ball ratio.

The average GB/FB in the in the MLB 2014 season was 1.55. For example in the major leagues you are considered very good if you GB/FB ratio is 2 to 1. You are considered great if it is 3 to 1.

Who are the top Ground Balls to Fly Balls Allowed Ratio Leaders for the 2014 MLB season?

Out of all the MLB players, Dallas Keuchel led them all in 2014 with a GB/FB of 3.63. Who has the least Ground Balls to Fly Balls Allowed Ratio Leaders in the MLB 2014 season? Chris Young had the worst GB/FB in 2014 with 0.42.

Learn how to induce ground balls and you and your team will be more successful and attractive to college coaches. Also make sure you play for a team with good infielders.

 

The importance of framing pitches – first and second order affects

This is a series of articles to help pre-college age (ages 14-18) pitchers improve, get noticed by college coaches, and get a scholarship to play baseball.

The importance of framing pitches – first and second order affects

Pitchers: we both know it’s the catcher that frames the pitch—not you. My objective is for you to communicate to catchers the need to be really good at framing. This article is a must read for you AND your catcher.

Framing is a lost art. I have seen very little of it over my years in the 14-18 year old age group. I do not know why. It’s an important skill for catchers and it’s easy to learn and implement.

Here’s my rationale why catchers don’t frame enough in this age group: most parents of catchers were never catchers themselves. The number of catchers gets reduced as you move up the age groups. By the time your son is playing high school baseball there are 2 maybe 3 catchers on the team. Most travel teams also carry only 2 catchers. This numbers situation was true when the parents played just as it is true today. What this translates into is a reduced number of parents who were actually high-level catchers resulting in few parents to pass down good catching practice to the next generation. Very few coaches and parents know what it takes to be an excellent catcher.

Below are some excerpts from an article in FanGraphs by Neil Weinberg on December 29, 2014 about the value of framing pitches in the major leagues.

“The essence of pitch framing is well-established and relatively simple. Due to the imperfect nature of human eyes and the lack of a uniformly enforced strike zone, the way a catcher receives a pitch can influence whether that pitch is called a strike. Certain catchers have the ability to make balls look like strikes and to make sure that very few strikes look like balls. And certain catchers obviously lack this ability.

The way a catcher receives the ball influences the call, meaning good framers reduce the number of runs scored against their team and make their pitchers look great in the process. Jonathan Lucroy, catcher extraordinaire, is someone who seems to do this very well. The two leading framing metrics (via Stat Corner and Baseball Prospectus) mark Lucroy among the best in the business. And while the metrics are feeding the reputation, Lucroy also has a public reputation as an excellent framer. Players and coaches who don’t spend much time reading sabermetric blogs also consider Lucroy to have a talent for stealing strikes.

Also Lucroy doesn’t just get better calls on the same pitches, he would guides his pitcher to throw pitches farther and farther away from the center of the strike zone, even if he’s essentially calling the same pitches. Call it “second-order framing.”

In general, the pitcher, at some point in time, develops an opinion about his catcher’s ability to frame pitches (his reputation) and also observes the actual, tangible results (his statistics). [As a pitcher] if you’re throwing to someone you think is a bad framer, you would presumably throw the ball closer to the zone than if you were throwing to someone you think is an excellent framer.

Not only does Lucroy get better calls on the same pitches, but that fact creates more pitches in the areas around the plate in which a pitch can be framed. And those pitches are also usually more difficult to hit, which is another point in favor of the great framers.

It might not seem like Lucroy should be able to find a couple of wins per season above average by stealing extra strikes, but if great framers are also creating more opportunities for themselves — and poor framers are creating fewer. The bottom line is this indicates pitchers have tons of confidence in Lucroy and in framing numbers, but what’s hiding behind that is the idea that good framers don’t just steal strikes — they keep the ball away from the heart of the plate simply with their presence.”

So what does the mean? The first order affect of good framers is more strikes. The second order affect is the pitcher becomes more confident in the expanded strike zone and better at keeping the ball away from the hitter’s prime hitting zone.

Framing is an even more valuable capability in the 14-18 year old age group. Umpires are not as skilled at this level (obviously) when compared to the pro umps. Umps at this level are loathed to call a strike that does not look like a strike to the players on the field and the people watching the game. The umps want to be correct AND look like they are correct. A good framer makes pitches—especially close pitches—look like obvious strikes and easy for the umps to call strikes.

Your catchers should emulate Jon Lucroy. He is the recognized best in the business. A strike call in a critical spot in the game can mean the difference between winning and losing. A confident pitcher with an expanded strike zone is a much better pitcher.

Pitchers: get a catcher that is an expert at framing. You, the catcher, and the team will be more competitive and win more games. Both you and the catcher will also look better to a college coach that could be watching.

 

Pre-College Age Pitchers – Achieving success in the years before college

This is a series of articles to help pre-college age (ages 14-18) pitchers improve, get noticed by college coaches, and get a scholarship to play baseball.

Pre-College Age Pitchers – Achieving success in the years before college

Your Pitches  

Your competition as a pitcher is the hitter. There are 9 of them and one of you. The more you understand them the more you can use your capabilities to get them out. Think about the guys you know that play baseball with you that are hitters. They have trained–since they were young–in batting cages with machines that threw straight fastballs. Their parents progressively cranked up the machines and little Johnny got very good at hitting fastballs. What this means is just about every hitter in the 14-18 age group can hit straight fastballs.

Pitchers hit a wall as they progress up the levels because of over reliance on the straight fastball. Too many times I have seen “great” pitchers in the lower leagues with fastballs few hitters could hit. I have also seen many of these same “pitchers” stick by their fastball too long as they moved up the 14-18 age groups. They got clobbered. These players became ex-pitchers very quickly. Straight velocity only got them so far. You need to be able to use movement to be successful as you move up the age levels as a pitcher.

The 4 seam fastball is your highest velocity, straightest pitch. It’s the most hittable pitch for hitters in your age group because it’s just like the batting cage fastballs hitters always have seen in practice. Pick your spots for your 4 seam fastball. It must be located properly when thrown for a strike. Throw it sparingly. I’ll have more about just how much you should throw it shortly.

The 2 seam fastball should the core part of your pitch-set. The 2 seam fastball can be 3 different pitches. The with-the-seams version breaks late and sinks away—or into–hitters depending on your finger pressure. The cross-the-seam version breaks straight down. Learn all three.  The 2 seam fast ball—all 3 versions of it–should be your primary pitch. Very few hitters in this age group will be able to tell a 4 seam fastball from a 2 seam fastball. The late break and sink make it very difficult for them to hit. A good pitcher can start the 2 seam off the plate and have it come back over the plate for a strike. Perfect it so you can get it to move either way. That will really have the hitter guessing. Use the cross seam fastball when you need a ground ball. Most hitters will hit on top of it.

The circle change-up is the most powerful pitch from ages 14-18 (it’s also a powerful pitch in college and pros). The problem is it’s hard to throw well. Even major leaguers struggle to throw one. The change up is more important than a breaking ball because—and remember this—speed harder to read than break for hitters. Hitters—even in the major leagues—have a hard time reading a changeup. The change becomes more important as you move up in velocity with your pitches and play against more mature hitters. The reason is reaction time. The higher a velocity on a pitch the less time a hitter has to decide to swing. A hitter’s swing-decision is on an increasingly narrower hair-trigger the more he progresses up the levels due to the increased speed of the pitches. The change-up takes advantage of this tension. It gets the hitter to commit on what he perceives as a fastball when it is not. The hitter ends up starting his swing too early. It gets him off-balance. As for pitch action, a good circle change tumbles and falls off a bit when it reaches the hitter due to the loss of velocity and the effects of the seams at lower speeds. Learn to throw a circle change early as you can. It will keep the hitters guessing about whether your next pitch will be on or off speed. Keep it low in the strike zone too. A high change can be hit well. It’s okay to bounce the pitch too. You’ll know you have a good change when hitters swing at pitches that end up in the dirt. A good change will “fall off the table.”  There is nothing better as a pitcher than striking out the number 4 hitter and making him look bad at the same time. Don’t be afraid to throw 2 changes in a row either; and either to a left or right hand hitter.

The next pitch is your breaking pitch. Learn to throw both a slider and a 12-6 curve. The 12-6 curve will both break and drop (it used to be called a drop pitch in the old days). Its two-dimensional path makes to very difficult for the hitter to square up. Most will hit on top or on the bottom of the ball creating a lazy pop up or grounder. I would suggest, however, you throw the slider more than a 12-6 curve. Many umps at this level do not know how to call a curve—-especially a good 12-6 curve. Just like hitters, umps at this level are also used to straight, hard pitches. They do not wait for the full break to make their call. Also catchers at this level usually do not wait for the pitch to come to them with a full break thus not giving the ump a good look at it. A slider has break on a single plane but a hitter at this level will have a tough time with it because it looks like a fastball for a good part of its path. It is also easier for the umps to call it a strike. Another thing is throw your 12-6 curve mostly the first time through the order then your slider the second time through.  The reason is the opposing coach will tell hitters at this level to lay off the “big” curve and wait for a fastball (the straight one I was talking about) the next time they are up. The slider looks somewhat like a fastball at first and it will fool the hitters. Also the hitters at this level do not know how to quickly tell a fastball from a slider so you will have them right where you want them. Be sure however you always can throw both your breaking pitches for strikes. This will take away the situation where the hitter will lay off the pitch anytime they see spin. Speaking of spin learn to throw a 2 seam slider not a 4 seam. The reason is hitters look for the telltale red dot on the spinning ball to indicate a slider. The 4 seam creates a red dot. The two seam slider does not. It’s axis of rotation is about a white part of the ball. Unlike the 4 seam where the axis is about part of the red laces.

Here is what I recommend for a pitch mix per game for this age group:

2 seam (includes all 3 types)  – 50%

Change – 20%

Breaking pitch – 20%

4 seam – 10%

Here is some more advice for the rising pitcher:

Nothing turns off coaches more–especially college coaches that may be looking at you—than lack of command. Throw strikes or quit being a pitcher.

Mound presence is important. Look like a pitcher—not a hitter. Act like pitcher too.

Put the back of your drive-foot heel against the front of the rubber. You will be closer to plate and not affected by crap rubbers or holes. If opposing coaches or the ump gives you a hard time about it tell them the rule book says you just have to be in contact with the rubber and you are—with the back of your heel.

Warm up like someone you want to watch you is watching you (like a college coach).

Study hitters. Understand various hitters’ strengths and weaknesses by looking at them. Look at their place in the batting order, then their stance, and then their baseball image. Observe what other players and coaches say to them when they are at bat. Get a look at them in the on deck circle too.  Good hitters will try to sync up their load with your wind up when they are on deck. Use this against them when they are up hitting with changes in your delivery timing. I will say more about this in another article. Pitch selection is an advanced topic that needs much more coverage.

Use fear to your advantage. Throw inside both high and low. Hitters should know how to get out of the way. If they do not they should not be playing. Set up your inside 12-6 curve with a high and tight 4 seam fastball. The hitters will think the curve is another pitch high and tight and flinch while the pitch curves over for a strike.

Hitters are taught to look for a first pitch fastball low and outside. Avoid throwing one of these for a first pitch. Throw a 2 seamer on the inside for a strike to cross them up.

Get your catcher to be close to the hitter. If he is far away umps have a hard time seeing and calling the low strike. I see this all the time at this level.  Ask the coach to help weed out poor catchers that do this.

Get a catcher that can catch and block the ball. Your pitches will move a lot and will sometimes end up in the dirt—-especially your change.

Play for a coach that was a pitcher. Avoid coaches that were hitters. Ex-hitters have no idea what it is like to pitch. Ex-hitters will over pitch you, do not understand what is needed to warm up, and leave you in too long when you are tired or struggling.

Do not pitch for at least 3 months out of the year. You are growing and need to rejuvenate. Avoid playing fall baseball as a pitcher.

Do not pitch when your arm or shoulder hurts. (See do not play for ex-hitters above)

Pitch quickly. Use no more than 5-7 seconds between pitches. Hitters dwell on the last pitch in their minds. Pitching quickly can catch them still thinking about the last pitch when the new on is on its way. Hitters like a lot of time between pitches. Cross them up and use the timing between your pitches to your advantage.

The more the ball looks the same color the more advantage for the pitcher. The better hitters get a tell on the type of pitch from the variations of red and white as the ball comes out of your hand. Straight red lines across the ball mean a 4 seam fastball. Two red lines straight up and down are a 2 seam fastball. A red dot on a spinning ball slightly off-center is a slider. A red dot further off-center is a curve. So my point is the less the hitter can discern between the red and white of the ball the better for the pitcher. Make the ball the same color as early as possible in the game. How you do it is up to you and your catcher. This should be relatively easy at this level of baseball since there are a limited number of balls used during a game. Dirt is your friend. This is also one of the reasons the pros use many baseballs during a game.

In summary, notice what I did not discuss: pitching mechanics and pitch grips. The reason is there is a lot of information about this on the internet and from coaches. To master these parts of pitching you need to actually do it. No amount of writing will teach you good mechanics or how to grip different pitches. My suggestion is to experiment with various grips and find what works for you. Learn good mechanics through actual pitching not reading about it.

Coming articles are:

Showcases as a pitcher

Summer team selection

Reading hitters and selecting the correct pitches

Pitching from the stretch

Playing 2 positions, one being a pitcher

Marketing yourself to college coaches

Producing videos

Dealing with college baseball coaches

Playing up