With the new bats, too many coaches feel obligated to sacrifice more frequently in order to get guys into scoring position. Sacrificing and conceding an out to advance the runner on first with 0 outs is not a guarantee of scoring a run. It will still take the right hit to score that runner and is low percentage option. Besides, placing more emphasis on hits than positive outs only facilitates more feelings of failure.
The game is hard enough and has too much failure as it is. Coaches should not feel restricted or obligated to sacrifice bunt. Baseball in its purest sense is the ability to score runs without hits. That is an art form and teams who develop a thought process of scoring runs without hits, will have a decided edge over teams that are thinking hits are the key to winning. The game is too hard to rely on hits to win games. This is why we are calling on coaches to stop calling the art of manufacturing runs small ball and rename it for what it really is, "SMART BALL".
In our program, we begin every game with that approach. Our design is to inject pressure on a defense that takes them out of their comfort zone. Our task is to get that pitcher out of the windup and into a stretch as soon as possible. We want that pitcher's emphasis on stopping our push/drag game and running attack and divert his concentration away from solely making pitches.
When we can distract a pitcher and get him off his game that added pressure lends itself to mistakes by him and the defense. Good pitching stops good hitting anytime is the old adage. If a team is unable to get the best pitchers out of his confident rhythmic mode, it is going to be a long day for the hitters. The outcome of pressure is amazing. Can the third baseman make the play on the drag bunt is one of our first probes. In too many games this factor goes unknown. Drag and push bunting, run and hit, slash and the creation of 1st and 3rd are our forte. We hate to give up outs. Outs are too precious we will gladly give up an out for runs anytime, is the exception.
Yes, we do bunt and often and everyone must have that ability. However we are always bunting for hits not merely giving ourselves up. There are only two occasions that we square around and show bunt. We square around to squeeze or double squeeze, albeit late, or when we are protecting a runner who is stealing. Worst case scenario, we advance our runner or runners. A coach's number on priority is keeping his team out of the dreaded double play. We rarely distain the drag bunt with runners at 1st and 2nd with 0 outs. It is almost an automatic bunting situation regardless of the hitter. If we are not bunting than we are running and hitting to stay out of a double play.
Beside our bunting game we feature a pressure running attack. Stealing second base takes speed provided that the pitcher is quick to the plate and the catcher can throw. Therefore, percentage wise, our preference is to run on off speed. Picking pitches from the pitcher or the catcher is an art form. We also look for a consistent release time by the pitcher. For example, if he consistently holds the ball for two seconds, we steal a half second before he delivers the ball to the plate. These are elements of what "smart ball" is all about.
Two other examples of smart ball are taking advantage of aggressive catchers. With a runner at second base, we want him to get his lead extension once the pitcher has delivered to the plate. Runners for whatever reason are taught to return to second base once the ball crosses the plate.
We teach or runners to maintain their lead extension and try to induce that aggressive catcher to throw behind to second base. When that occurs our runner steals third. With runners at first and second our runner at second is always looking for either the pitcher or the catcher to attempt to back pick the runner at first, our runner anticipating this action and steals third.
Smart ball is being opportunistic exploiting and pressuring defenses into mental lapses. Constantly probing and looking for ways to steal runs. For example, pitchers in the windup with a runner on third who fail to check the runner before beginning his motion to the plate. Well coached team steals home.
Good coaches can give their team a decided advantage. However despite the pitcher's quickness to the plate and the catcher's throwing prowess, we will in certain situations have our faster runners challenge their ability to throw us out at second base on fastballs. In pressure situations, that pressure can make cowards of us all.
We will not sit around and bang into double plays. Stealing third is not about speed as it is about technique and timing. It is all predicated on anticipating the number of looks a pitcher will take. Any time we can get momentum toward third we are stealing. Our players understand that if we get thrown out with 0 or 2 outs the program looks bad and breaks a cardinal rule. However stealing third with one out is objective number one as is scoring runs on outs not hits. Often, we score on the attempted steal of third when in the catcher's haste the throw sails into left field.
We are always probing and attacking weaknesses. Our philosophy is approach every at bat with a plan of attack that gives us the highest percentage of being successful. The toughest play is the slow hit ground ball thus making the drag and push staples of the offense. Challenging third basemen to see if they can make that play is a must. We need to know if he can or cannot. A special emphasis is placed on hitting to the right side. Right handed hitters rarely help the team by pulling the ball with runners on base. Once on the bases, we are relentless and fearless in our attempts to steal bases.
Baseball is a percentage game and pressure on defenses leads to mistakes and improved percentages. There is a fine line between aggressiveness and recklessness. We try very hard not to cross that line. Up or down in the score within reason we remain true to our philosophy, staying aggressive. Once we force a team to adjust defensive positioning to our threat of bunting and running, holes begin to open that were closed prior. Now ground balls that were outs get through.
Another staple of our attack is the push 0 or 1 out with a runner at third. With the infield back, our highest percentage of scoring is a ground ball or the push to the right side. We want ground balls not fly balls in this situation. We prefer a strong top hand approach not a lifting one. Once again we gladly take the out for the run. Our hitters only thought in that situation is RBI not hit. Runs win games not hits.
When the infield is in, we will use the squeeze as a preference to scoring again without a hit. We try to create as many 1St. and 3rd situations as possible. Defenses are extremely pressured and their ability to play catch and execute is severely tested. We have a multitude of plays at our disposal. All are designed to test the defenses ability to play catch. Stealing runs in these situations is not only frustrating for the opponent, it is fun and exciting for your players and entertaining for your fans.
Once again we test the defenses ability to handle pressure. With runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out and the infield in we love to double squeeze. We position our runner at second to the right of the shortstop. As soon as the pitcher begins his delivery he is stealing third. The runner from 3rd begins to walk toward home and breaks once the pitcher's arm reaches the release point. The runner stealing third should be rounding third by the time the bunt is executed. Keeping his head up while rounding third under control, he assures that the pitcher fields the bunt and throws to first base. Once he sees the throw he continues home to score the second run.
From our perspective the double squeeze and the straight steal are the two most exciting plays in the game. Two RBI on a sacrifice bunt what could be better than that? Another staple of our attack is the two out runner at 3rd push or drag bunt. This is a higher percentage play than the two out hit.
When players can go home hitless and still feel good about their performance, that's a good thing. His 0 for 3 0r 4, albeit hitless, produced positive results for his team. Perhaps he advanced a runner or even had an RBI. Hits, after all is a matter of luck. Putting the ball is play with authority and direction is the real skill that leads to hits. That skill can be learned and refined. The elimination of strike outs, pop ups and lazy fly balls are what we strive for.
The essence of the game of baseball is to score runs. The game is about outs not hits. The game's greatest hitters make 70% outs. The emphasis should be what percentage of those outs were positive and helped the team. This is our main area of concentration, positive outs not batting averages.
SMART BALL puts a whole new perspective on how to play and thrive playing this wonderful but highly difficult and negative game. Hopefully this approach will aid in reducing the number of factors that lead to the agonizing feeling of failure.