article by Darren Fenster
Minor League Manager, Boston Red Sox
Founder & CEO, Coaching Your Kids, LLC
Every June, this quaint Midwestern city becomes the pinnacle of the amateur baseball world when it hosts the College World Series. Every February, it is the destination for all 298 NCAA Division One baseball teams. It is the goal. But out of those 298 clubs, only eight get to go. Only eight get to play for the National Championship. EIGHT. It is a special place that only a few special teams get to experience.
This past June, in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tied, deciding game three of the Louisville Super Regional, Cal State Fullerton found itself one run away from its season ending when the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals reached base.
A sacrifice bunt was in order. Everyone in the ballpark knew it. Everybody watching on television knew it. And Cal State Fullerton’s defense knew it, too… especially their second baseman, Taylor Bryant.
As Louisville’s hitter laid down a textbook sacrifice, Fullerton’s catcher fielded the ball cleanly and without a play at second, shuffled his feet towards first to take the “sure” out. When the ball left the catcher’s hand, it was apparent that “sure” out would not be recorded; the throw was airmailed over the first baseman’s head, headed for the right field corner. Continue reading
The phenomenon of the defensive shift has been making its rounds through the higher levels of baseball.
Many collegiate teams are employing Diamond Charts, a company that has streamlined the process of creating spray charts at the NCAA level. During their first season last year, more than one-third of Division-I programs used Diamond Charts, who sends spray charts of clients’ opponents each week during the season. Included in the charts are left and right split sprays, pitcher per plate appearances, ground ball-to-fly ball ratios and more.
Diamond Charts Founder Kellen Hurst shared his thoughts on defensive shifts with Inside Pitch:
“As shifts prove to significantly reduce the BABIP [batting average on balls in play] of dramatic pull hitters at the major league level, we envision college teams slowly adopting these more aggressive shifting methods. However, due to lack of pitcher command at our level, dramatic defensive shifts will be used less. Other factors (e.g. runners on-base, hitter speed, bunting ability) should be considered when deciding to dramatically shift or not. I think the ultimate future for dramatic defensive shifts in college baseball is that it will be used sparingly for only a select few players, similar to what we’ve seen recently.”
“We’re continuing to grow approaching the 2015 season. Our system is more focused on saving coaches’ valuable time while preparing scouting reports as we provide data to help make more decisions than simple shifts; our data helps with areas such as pitching strategy, hitting approach, platoon/substitution match-ups, game strategy, and more; however, we have had feedback that marginal shifts, against certain players, have shown to gain a couple of outs each game. Sometimes this is the difference in one-run games.”
There are a wide range of opinions out there when it comes to shuffling the defensive deck, including some who wonder if shifts should be allowed at all. MLB Reports chief writer Hunter Stokes is calling for a rule that prevents the third baseman and shortstop from being able to shift to the other side of second base (and vice versa). “With the new approach of the players not caring about strikeouts,” Stokes adds, “it would cause them to make an out on a more frequent basis than just trying to plow through the shift.” Continue reading
With the introduction of the BBCOR bat resulting in much lower offensive outputs, amateur baseball is undergoing a significant shift in terms of how the game is played. Taking an exclusively offensive approach in hopes of outscoring opponents has taken a backseat to an emphasis on the fundamentals of the game. One of these fundamentals is hitting the cutoff man, which has become one of the most valued commodities in baseball.
Until recently, however, “making the cut” hasn’t seemed so important. At the lower levels, which are normally played on smaller fields, hitting the cut may not be a necessity during game action, leaving youth coaches with the difficult decision of whether to work on something in practice that will not likely be an in-game issue.
In general, players are first introduced to this aspect of the game once they reach the middle school level, if not later. The 90-foot base paths are hardly an equal trade-off compared to the exponentially larger outfields at the high school level and beyond. Therefore, when prep outfielders are asked to “show off” their arms, throws from the outfield are sent sky-high in hopes of falling near third base or home plate. Continue reading