You may not be aware of it, but baseball is slowly breaking away from its old-school roots. Old stats that measure greatness, such as batting average, RBI's, stolen bases are slowly becoming extinct. Soon during a broadcast, instead of seeing the aforementioned stats flash when a hitter comes up to bat, you will see statistics like On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and Isolated Power.
What does this all mean to you, the high school or college baseball player? It means a lot, and the sooner you embrace it, the better your chances of becoming a great player.
A Bit Of History
There was a man named Bill James. He was born in Mayetta, Kansas, a town with a population of around 209. He attended the University of Kansas and received a degree writing, but found no way to use his writing talents productively. He was working a job as a night watchman, when he decided to put his thoughts down.
One of his passions was baseball, and his ability to have a radically different view of baseball. He wrote his first book titled 1977 Baseball Abstract and put an ad in a baseball magazine. He did this up until the late 80's. He had an unconventional view of baseball, saying that the heart of the game has always been the strike zone. Control the strike zone, and you control the game.
Flash forward to present day. Sabermetrics, newly developed stats for evaluating players objectively, are used by only a handful of teams nowadays.
The most popular team using these type of stats, are the Oakland Athletics. Under the control of general manager Billy Beane, the Athletes continually make it to the playoffs, even though most players on their team were deemed misfits, or were brought up through their farm system.
In 2002, the Oakland Athletics had about one-third the payroll of the New York Yankees, and yet came close to matching the number of wins the Yankees had. What is the principle being hammered into the Oakland A's team and their minor league teams?
How Do They Do This?
- On-base Percentage / Plate Discipline
- High Slugging Percentage
On-base Percentage/Plate Discipline:
On-base percentage can be directly applied to see the percentage of the time a player does not make an out. What constitutes a great on-base percentage? Being able to have great plate discipline, and the ability to draw walks. Walks are paramount. Some of the best hitters in the league have great plate discipline, and naturally, a high on-base percentage. Don't believe me?
Lets check out the games greatest active player, Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds has an on-base percentage of .605 (as of 8/29/04). This means that so far this season, Barry Bonds has safely reached base a staggering 60.5% of the time! Other great players that have a high on-base percentage include Todd Helton, JD Drew, Lance Berkman and Melvin Mora.
To figure your on-base percentage, simply follow this calculation: (Hits+Walks+Hit-By-Pitch) Divided by (At-bats+walks+hit-by-pitch+sac flys).
What is the major league standard for a great on-base percentage? Usually if you are above .400, you have an excellent on-base percentage.
High Slugging Percentage:
The other part of the makeup of a great hitter, is a high slugging percentage. Slugging percentage can be defined as the number of total bases per at-bat. So basically it tells us how many bases a player will touch per at-bat.
The stat is a bit different, and will drive anyone bonkers while trying to compare it to other stats. Since there are four bases, the stat is per 4.000%. This is another part of the puzzle in evaluating a player's ability to create runs.
If a player has a high SLG%, he is not only more likely to put himself in scoring position when he hits the ball, he has a higher chance of driving in anyone on base.
Again the best player to look at regarding slugging percentage is Barry Bonds. He has a mind blowing .803 slugging percentage. The way to figure your slugging percentage, is to follow this formula: Number of (Singles + [2 x Doubles] +[ 3 x Triples] + [4 x Home Runs]) divided by At Bats.
How Does This Apply To A Coach Or Player?
The above-mentioned statistics have been proven to highly correlate with winning teams. On-base percentage and slugging percentage both contribute to scoring runs, which is how you win games. If you have a higher run total than your opponents run total, generally you will have a winning record (if it's about even there is some room for different winning percentages). So how can a coach apply this to his players? By trying to instill plate discipline in your players. Plate discipline will do many things.
First of all, it will wear out the opposing team's pitcher. The sooner he comes out of the game, the sooner the generally worse pitchers come into the game. There is a reason why the starting pitcher started, he is better than the relief pitchers! With lesser-talented pitchers on the mound, the better chances your team has of hitting the ball.
This is especially important if you are playing a small series against the same team. If you can force the opposing team to use more relief pitchers in the first game, they will be more tired for the second and third game, making them more prone to pitching mistakes.
Second, it will give your players a chance to see all the pitches a certain pitcher has. If your first couple batters get into 5, 6 or 7-pitch counts, the whole team will be able to see everything the pitcher has, in one inning! Note that I am not advocating just taking every pitch. I am advocating hitters to be very selective about which pitches to swing at.
Generally, most pitchers make a mistake in each at-bat. It usually does not happen during the first pitch, so I am a fan of taking the first pitch. The hitting odds are greatly influenced by the count of the at-bat. But instead of whether the first pitch is a strike or ball, it's most important on the first THREE pitches of the count. In the major leagues, in a 2-1 (2 balls, 1 strike) count, most players turn into all-stars. But, in 1-2 counts, most turn into anemic 9th spot hitters.
The walk + homer approach has been proven to work during the regular season by the Oakland A's. Many opponents point out the fact that they have never won the world series using this approach. The truth is that the playoffs are a crap shoot. You play a small amount of games, where anything can happen. By and large, winning the world series takes either a super team, or a large amount of luck.
The super team can be compared to the New York Yankees, who sign the absolute best players, where money is of no importance. Although not their main objective behind the signing of the best players, most of them have high on-base percentage, and high slugging percentage.
Other teams, like the Florida Marlins, have to do with a large amount of luck. Stuff like Steve Bartman taking away that fly ball during the 2003 NLCS last year attributed to the Florida Marlins winning the World Series. But over a large sample, such as a 162-game season, the approach the Oakland Athletics take wins out. In the last 3-5 years, no team with a similar payroll wins as much and as consistently as the A's. These are the reasons why you should instill plate discipline.
The other part of the puzzle is a high slugging percentage. This means hitting for power. You can do this by fixing batting technique and general strengthening of the body. You don't have to have Mark McGwire's body to launch home runs, but it doesn't hurt to have great amounts of power. Refer to my other article for info on strength training.
FYI: Have you ever wondered what Mark McGuire's training is like? His diet? What supplements he takes? (besides andro, j/k.) In the coming months, Athletes.com will bring this to you! Check back daily for updates!
The Approach As A Player
Now that we have discussed how coaches handle the situation of instilling plate discipline, we must move on to how the player can work on plate discipline. Here are some ways to improve your eye when batting:
That's right, I said video games. This is a great method of teaching players hitting discipline. Assuming you or a friend has an Xbox, PS2 or Gamecube, you can do plate discipline activities. Pick up the latest baseball video game and spend a few days learning the controls and become acclimated with the game.
I recommend ESPN Baseball 2K5 by Sega, but the other brands should work well. After spending some time with the game, we are going to ramp up the difficulty to the highest level. Now, all you have to do is play many games.
During The Game, You Have The Following Objectives:
- Wear out the opposing pitchers as best you can. Be as selective as possible, and maximize the pitchers count. Your goal is to get the opposing pitcher to throw at least 15 pitches per inning. I don't care if you don't get a hit during an inning, work that pitch count!
- Try to draw 3+ walks a game. If this is on the highest difficulty, you will have a tough time doing this.
- Do not bunt or steal at any situation. Bunting and stealing have a risk that is usually not rewarded. Sacrifice bunts may move a player to second or third, but it also creates an out, which limits your run-scoring potential.
With A Partner
There are a variety of hitting drills that you can do that can be infused with patience drills. Throw soft toss from the front to a partner, and focus on working different counts. Concentrate on bringing up the pitch count to your favor. Have the thrower throw a lot of junk, and stuff right outside the strike zone. Wait for the right pitch, and then mash it!
You can do the same thing with a partner, throwing from farther back, up until the distance from the pitching mound. It helps to have someone throw who has decent accuracy. Basically any drill, be selective and wait for the right pitch, and then drill it.
In a game, focus on waiting for the right pitch. If the pitcher throws a meatball first pitch, you better destroy it and punish him for that mistake. But usually that does not happen, so be selective and wait for your pitch. If you force him into a count that is in your favor, you will benefit.
Getting on base should be the highest priority. If no one is on base, and you hit either a single or a walk, what is the difference? Nothing, so don't be afraid to take a walk.
Hopefully I have given you good information on how to make yourself a better hitter. The game is changing. Soon, patient hitters will be rewarded, and the free swingers will be looked down upon.
With the advent of the Internet and technology, if you have the right stats, college and pros will scout you for your ability to get on base. Have fun implementing these drills (especially the video game one)!
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