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Simple drills to improve your baseball game by yourself

Dry Swing DrillThe beauty of some sports is that you can play it all by yourself.  All you need in basketball is a ball and you can improve.  All you need as a runner is to run.  But baseball is complicated to a point where it seems like you always need someone else around to become better at it.

So if you want to get better and you don’t have a batting cage, a coach around or a friend to play catch with – here are two simple ways to improve by yourself.

Dry SwingsTake dry swings in front of a full length mirror or outside.  By not concentrating on a ball and where it flies to, a young hitter can focus on the proper fundamental components of a swing; the load, drive, back leg pivot, and the finish and balance.  Take fifty dry swings a day to improve your bat speed and fundamentals. If you do have a mirror then you can see each component of your swing.  You can see if your load is correct.  You can see if your back leg is pivoting.  You can see if your finish is balanced.

Use a wall for defensive footwork: A tennis ball, a wall and your bare hands is all you need.  Simply throw the ball off a wall and move your feet to catch the ball.  Challenge yourself by throwing the ball to your left and right. Mix in short hops, long hops.  Work your feet back and front.  Catch the ball on the backhand side and the forehand side.  Watch the ball into your hands and transfer into your throwing motion.

This drill can also be done underhand and closer to the wall where you are shuffling to the left and to the right (never crossing your feet) and under handing the ball off the wall.  You can make sure that you are catching the ball in the middle of your body or on the glove hand side.  It is important to be bending your knees and not bending strictly from the back.  This simple drill is known as pick-ups and you can build up your stamina to the point where you can do 100 total pickups – 50 to the right and 50 to the left.  But start with five one each side and work your way up to a hundred.

Remember your hands are only as good as your feet.  Good feet often translates to good hands.

These drills are not only effective but essential to your development as an offensive and defensive ballplayer.  You might not always have a team but you can always practice by yourself.

Until Next time

So You Want to be a Catcher

Chad Moeller CatchingHow to determine if Catching is the right position for you

Watching a young ballplayer strap on the tools of ignorance (catching gear) for the first time can be somewhat comical.
Pads and straps seem to come from every angle completely encompassing the entire body of a young person.  The helmet, seeming so large that it could tip the young player over with just a little nudge from behind.  The waddle out to home plate with this extra-large glove dangling off their little fingers.  It is a sight to behold and one of the true joys of watching youth baseball.

But then when you see a young catcher dripping with sweat, dirt covering their entire exterior uniform drop down and block a ball with a runner on third to save a run in the sixth inning, it is a beautiful transformation.

Catchers are not born – catchers are made and you have to want to be a catcher to become one.  You cannot simply put on the gear and suddenly transform yourself into a catcher.

You quite simply have to love catching to become a catcher.  You have to want to catch more than any other part of the game in order to become a catcher because catching is quite simply the most difficult position on the field.  Below is a short list of requirements needed to become a good catcher.

  1. You will never be praised as much as you should be
  2. You will almost be forgotten until you mess up.
  3. The pitcher’s success is greatly determined by you, but the pitcher will get the credit if the pitcher does well and you often times will be blamed if a pitcher does not succeed.
  4. Your offense will be affected in a negative way because you must give so much energy towards your defense.
  5. You have to want your pitcher to be great.
  6. You have to treat each pitcher differently to find out what makes them tick and excel.
  7. You have to get to know every pitcher and what their strengths, weaknesses and fears might be.
  8. You have to know every sign for every position.
  9. You have to communicate and in many cases become friends with umpires.
  10. You have to be the middle man between coaches and umpires.
  11. You have to wear ten pounds of gear.
  12. Your body will hurt.
  13. You will get bruised, battered, and bloody.
  14. You will catch more bullpens than you can possible imagine
  15. Your knees and legs will hurt almost all of the time

If the above list did not scare you then welcome to the first stage of becoming a catcher.  To become a catcher is to enter a brotherhood unlike any in baseball.

  1. You will become a coach on the field.
  2. You get to be involved in almost every play.
  3. You get to see the game differently from every other position.
  4. You will understand the game on a completely higher level.
  5. You get to play in the dirt.
  6. You get the biggest bag on the team

I wish you the best of luck if you decide to become a catcher.  Enjoy it.  Enjoy all the elements of catching.  Catching is not for everyone.  Only a few get to become catchers.

Are Defensive Shifts good for Youth Baseball?

In a previous post, I wrote about the effectiveness of Major League Baseball defensive shifts.  This adjustment has trickled down to youth baseball where defensive shifts have become commonplace in high school baseball and even in youth travel ball teams.

I recently saw a team of 11-year-olds put on an extreme defensive shift against a big 11-year old left handed hitter.  Almost every player was on the first base side of 2nd base. The second baseman was playing shallow left field, the shortstop was playing second base and the third baseman was playing behind the second base bag. The hitter ended up walking but it got me to think about the value of defensive shifts in youth baseball.

At a certain age – I believe defensive shifts have become an essential part of the game but I believe we are skipping a fundamental development if we start shifts too early in youth baseball for a variety of reasons.

  1.  Shifts involve too much on field coaching from the manager.
  2. Kids have not taken enough groundballs in the shifts to where they will feel comfortable fielding a ball from this new and awkward spot.
  3. Kids have not thrown the ball enough from these areas that managers are putting their kids in to justify positive results.
  4. Pitchers are simply not refined enough to throw the ball to a spot where the sift would work
  5. Managers simply do not have enough research on each hitter to justify their defensive shifts.

Most importantly, we have to let kids play the game.  Baseball can already be confusing and by adding these shifts to a young mind might confuse them to the point where success can become limited.

Let your shortstop play shortstop.  If you want to move him or her a step or two to the right or left then that is fine but don’t make a spectacle of the game.  Kids are still becoming comfortable with positions and throwing angles.

Let them understand the fundamental positions on a baseball field and if they progress to the upper echelons of baseball leagues then they will be ready for defensive shifts.

 

Are Dramatic Defensive Shifts good for Major League Baseball?

As we move forward into a new age of baseball where analytics and statistics are starting to change and evolve, people in the baseball world are starting to ask the question. Are extreme defensive shifts good for the game of baseball?

The answer is complicated.

On the highest level of Major League Baseball, defensive shifts are proving to be a very effective defensive tool. This game is about adjustments and this is the latest new wave adjustment to become in vogue.

Defensive shifts in Major League Baseball are effective for a variety of reasons.

  1.  A Major League staff has enough statistical data on every single hitter that they can make logical decisions based on hundreds if not thousands of at-bats.
  2. Every hitter has strengths and they feel that they must stick to their strength to justify their contract and value to their team. So to make a power hitter think about bunting to beat the shift is essentially limiting their biggest strength.
  3. Pitchers and coaches develop a game plan to attack every single hitter and pitchers can often execute that game plan efficiently.  Pitchers can pitch towards the shift and thus make the shift more effective.
  4. Infielders and outfielders have fielded enough groundballs and caught enough fly balls to a point where they feel comfortable enough anywhere on a baseball field.
  5. Over 162 games, statistics show that if a pitcher can locate the ball where they want to and fielders can field the ball effectively from different locations on a baseball field then over the long haul, shifts are not only effective, but also can produce more wins than adding another player in some cases.

But are they good for the game?

On a professional level, the game is about winning and if shifts help a billion dollar corporation win more ballgames and get closer to the playoffs and eventually winning  the World Series than it is good for that team and good for baseball.

This game is about adjustments and defensive shifts is just another adjustments in the long line of adjustments that have been made throughout the history of the game.

Until Next Time

 

Are Players better today than in the past?

A couple of days ago a baseball fan friend of mine asked a simple question.  Are players – hitters and pitchers better today than they were twenty years ago?

The simple answer is “yes”.  Some might argue that no one will ever compete with Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle or Bob Gibson.

Those who state this are true but Willie Mays and Bob Gibson are the outliers.  An outlier is defined a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system.  A person differing from all other members.  Mickey Mantle was simply in the  .001%.  He would’ve been great 100 years ago and he would be great 100 years into the future.

But in general, for the other 99.9% of us – we are better than we were twenty years ago.  We have statistics on our side.  Our training has improved.  Our knowledge of the game has improved and we can effectively improve at a higher level.

We know more about our bodies and we know more about other’s weaknesses.  If we go to a 12-year-old baseball game today – we will see a level of play that was non-existent twenty years ago.  High School baseball competition has improved to the point where many young athletes are competing at a college level of twenty years ago.

Now there will always be outliers and the game has changed.  People might remark that pitchers used to throw all nine innings and that young players today are soft.  But each level and situation in a game demands different elements.

Just because a young pitchers throws five innings and not nine does not mean that a player from twenty years ago was better, it just means strategy has changed and thus training has changed.

Some might also state that too many young hitters strike out too much.  This might be true but that could be due to an increased focus on OBP and less focus on batting average.  More importantly, pitchers are getting better to the point where MPH has increased  while increasing the movement on each pitch.

Because of this improvement in the game and athletes, it is often tougher for a young ballplayer to rise above.  There are so many young athletes spending so many hours developing their game that now everyone is good.  I don’t believe this is an overstatement.  Baseball has improved and players today at every level are better than what we were.  This trend will continue and it is one of the true beauties of this game; we can always get better and we are getting better.

 

 

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