The need for speed in baseball

In response to the short attention span of the ‘need it now’ society that we live in, several sports are faced with decisions on shortening the length of their games.

As our national pastime is often maligned for being too ‘old-school,’ it has been taking measures to investigate whether speeding up the game is a reasonable objective. Major League Baseball’s pace-of-game committee came up with six experimental rules quicken the pace of its game, enacted in this year’s Arizona Fall League:

  1. Hitters must keep at least one foot inside the batter’s box at all times, barring exceptions like foul balls, wild pitches, or if the umpire grants him time out.
  2. Pitchers must throw a pitch within 20 seconds of receiving the ball. Clocks posted in each dugout will count down the 20 seconds.
  3. There will be a maximum break between innings of 2:05, with a clock keeping track. Hitters must be in the batter’s box by 1:45. If the hitter’s not ready, the umpire can call a strike. If the pitcher doesn’t throw a pitch by 2:05, the umpire can call a ball.
  4. Teams will have a maximum of 2:30 to change pitchers, with the clock starting as soon as the reliever enters the playing field.
  5. Teams are limited to a maximum of three mound visits per game, not including pitching changes. This applies to trips to the mound by managers, coaches, and catchers.
  6. Pitchers no longer have to deliver four balls for an intentional walk. The manager can simply signal to the umpire.

Starting on May 1, the MLB will begin to fine batters who don’t keep a foot in the box and pitchers who don’t complete their warm-ups in time. As with anything in baseball, the changes have come with mixed results:

“I don’t think it’s going to be that big of a deal. I really don’t,” said Indians manager Terry Francona in an AP article by Tom Withers. “It’s going to be that day and it’s hot and everyone’s a little on edge, that’s when you’re going to see something. But that’s what you see during the games anyway.”

“It’s a work in progress,” MLB umpire Tom Hallion added in the same article. “It’s the first game and we’ll go from here. It’s going to take some work. It’s a change for everybody. It’s not going to get fixed on the first day.” –MLB umpire Tom Hallion

Other baseball leagues around the country have also experimented with pace of play rules. The Atlantic Independent Professional Baseball League has enacted several rules over the past few years, including calling the ‘high strike,’ a pitch clock and 90 seconds between innings. Further, any game that lasts more than two hours and 45 minutes requires a written report to be filed by the umpires, managers, the official scorer and home team general manager and sent to the league office explaining why the game took so long.

If that wasn’t enough, the Atlantic League has also experimented automatic intentional walks, closer enforcement of the traditional strike zone, batters keeping a foot in the box, mound visits and offensive timeouts, a 12-second pitch clock and six warm-up pitches between innings instead of eight. Continue reading

New faces, new places

new facesWith the ever-changing landscape of the college baseball coaching industry, the winter offers a time to take a look at the ‘coaching carousel’ and check in on how some of our game’s new head coaches are doing at their respective programs. Inside Pitch caught up with some of the best and checked in on how they are implementing their philosophy and foundation at their new landing spots:

What are the challenges to moving from one place to another and taking over the reins at a new program?

“Most young coaches want to be a head coach one day, so they’re working towards that goal with everything they do. There are so many good coaches out there nowadays, it’s tough because there are only so many head Division I jobs to go around. So when you do get that opportunity, you have to jump on it. It didn’t come as quick for me as I thought it might, but this is an incredible situation at Sam Houston State; we’re very, very blessed to be here at a proven winner and place you can win at a high, high level. The program that Mark Johnson and David Pierce built here speaks for itself, with six regionals in the last eight years and three straight conference championships. There’s a lot to live up to and there are gigantic shoes to fill.”

-Matt Deggs

“It’s always hard to leave a place. You normally have relationships with players for 2-3 years before they ever step on campus. Then you get to work with them each day. It was really tough to leave the players and the coaching staff at Ole Miss. Coach Bianco, Carl Lafferty, Stephen Head and Andrew Case weren’t just co-workers, they’re friends as well, so it’s hard to leave them. The players and coaches were my family. Ole Miss & Oxford will always have a special place in my heart. It’s my second home.”

-Cliff Godwin

“The new job was bittersweet in the fact that Louisville was such a special place. I had a chance to coach with my college teammate and best friend [Dan McDonnell], but our whole staff had been together for eight years, with Roger Williams and Brian Mundorf, all the guys we were there with. We won a lot of games, but we had a lot of fun doing it.

new facesIndiana is a dream job in a lot of ways, and I’m very fortunate to be able to stay in the same part of the country in terms of moving. Tracy Smith has done a great job of building the program and getting it to where it was, and our goal is to move the program forward, to keep Indiana at the top of the Big Ten. I think with the last two years with the College World Series, a number four overall seed, and a brand new ballpark, the program is in a great place.

We also feel very fortunate because Indiana is one of the best states in the country to recruit out of, there’s a lot of talent in our state.”

-Chris Lemonis

“The immediate challenge is retention of all our players. The players and the game seem to be the easiest part, the tough part is dealing with all the domestic side of a move. Leaving a good place like SHSU and starting over with moves, selling and buying houses are the biggest challenges. The players have always been very receptive to our staff and I’m thankful for that.”

-David Pierce

“The hardest part of leaving Young Harris college after sixteen years wasn’t leaving behind a program that my family and the administration that hired me had put so much time, effort, and resources into. It wasn’t removing myself from the program we had transformed from an obscure, small college in the middle of nowhere into a national power that was recognized in the baseball community as a program that developed young men into major leaguers, as well as quality husbands, fathers, and community leaders. The hardest part was leaving behind a community and church that we invested our lives into, which had, in return, given my wife and I a wonderful place to watch our children grow and mature. The greatest memories are not of the championships we won, but of the relationships we developed over the years in that small town community. That small town community always made this small time coach feel like a big league manager.”

-Rick Robinson

“You just evaluate as a professional whether you want to be comfortable or you want to challenge yourself, and with the two moves [from Miami of Ohio to Indiana and then from Indiana to Arizona State], the opportunities were better, so that’s how I looked at it. Are you wired to be comfortable, or are you wired to challenge yourself? At the end of the day, it was a very simple answer. It’s tough moving away from family and friends, but the bigger regret would’ve been sitting back and wondering what could’ve been.”

-Tracy Smith
Continue reading

The new ball

new ballIn response to the BBCOR bat, TD Ameritrade Park and lower offensive outputs across the country, the DI baseball committee’s unanimous 2013 vote to change the ball to a flatter-seam version was put in play. Beginning this past fall, college baseball implemented the new ball and Inside Pitch asked coaches to chime in on their overall observations, any changes that they intend to make with coaching philosophies for their hitters or pitchers, and whether the new ball will change their recruiting mindset:

HITTING

“We are a team that likes to lengthen and shorten the field- we like to make the field real big, and we like to make the field real small- and these balls play into that. They’re going to level off the playing field, and a five-run deficit is not insurmountable anymore. It won’t be as prevalent as it was 5-7 years ago, but it is going to give hitters a fighting chance when they’re dealing with adverse conditions like wind or a bigger ballpark. I really like the new baseball, I think it’s going to add some more excitement to the game, and it might put us just about where we want to be.”

Matt Deggs, head coach, Sam Houston State
Helped UL-Lafayette to a banner 2014 season where they finished the top 10 in the nation in 14 offensive categories and had an OPS of .902

“I think you’re definitely going to see more home runs, but it’s not going to go back to ‘gorilla ball’ or anything like that. As far as coaching goes, I still like power in the middle of the lineup and speed at the top and the bottom, so we aren’t going to approach it a whole lot differently.”

Cliff Godwin, head coach, East Carolina University
His hitters ranked first in the SEC in batting average and second in home runs and runs scored in 2014

“It’s a little tough for me because I’m in a new park with new hitters, too. I think the feedback from the kids was that the ball traveled farther, which is what everyone was looking for. Hopefully it’ll balance the game back out a little bit more, adding the home run as an element for most teams. Recruiting-wise, we’ve always liked to have a nice blend of power and speed, so I don’t know that it’s going to change much. Maybe the bigger corner infielder or outfielder becomes important again, which the game has kind of gotten away from the past few years.”

Chris Lemonis, head coach, Indiana University
Former hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Louisville helped the Cardinals to three College World Series appearances and back-to-back 50-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 Continue reading

Chris Lemonis

lemonis

Lemonis accepted Indiana head job in summer of 2014

What are some of the things you’ve learned along your coaching journey that have really helped you?

I would say one of the biggest things is organization, just being highly organized so that everybody knows what’s expected. My background is from a military college [The Citadel], so you can imagine how organized everything was. Everybody knows what’s expected when you show up every day.

Building relationships with certain coaches on your staff and even opponents over time can also really help you. Every time you’re looking to move up you need help from somebody else, it’s never just on your own. So does the success that you have. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to two places that are highly successful, and people recognize that.

What do you look for when you’re recruiting? Continue reading

The best drills in baseball

godwindrillCliff Godwin, Ole Miss

Played at East Carolina University; has prior coaching experience at UNC-Wilmington, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, LSU and Central Florida

“Here are a few drills our guys do every single day before they ever have a live pitch thrown to them:

1. Fungo swings- toss up the ball and hit 10-15 balls with a fungo to get loose. Try to hit line drives.

2. High tee drill series- set tee up away to start with and go “no-low half” where you’re eliminating the lower half where you’ve already taken your stride and both your feet are on the ground. You can either have your hands in a normal position or put them out on their front shoulder (front shoulder load).

The whole basis of the drill is to eliminate the lower half and produce three head-high line drives over the opposite-field infielder’s head. [Our players at Ole Miss] have to do three in a row and that’s what I really take pride in, getting our guys to do that, because anybody can produce one line drive and move on to the next step, but it’s not consistent. Once they do that, they take swings regularly off the high tee away and do three in a row there. Then we move the tee to the middle and finally to the inner half, repeating the same sequence: Continue reading