With new legislation sweeping the nation from the latest high school ruling on pitch counts coaches are scrambling to make sure that they are prepared to handle the new regulations that their state will be imposing for the upcoming season. I do not want to debate the positive or negative impact the new rules will have for programs across the country but rather to highlight what I think will be even more useful as coaches embark on a new era of baseball we have not encountered before and how to maximize success.
“There are only so many bullets in the gun.” I love that saying as it pertains to baseball because offensively we always tried to work counts and stay extremely disciplined at the plate so that we could wear the other pitcher down. That is why we have always credited the hitters that could see 7 pitches and put the ball in play or 9+ pitch at-bats even if they ended in a strikeout with a Quality At-Bat. We wanted to stress the importance of raising pitch count for a better chance at seeing the bullpen or if nothing else to shave some velocity off of the starter who might be overpowering in the beginning innings. I can remember many games that this philosophy paid off for us: we forced the opponents to go to the bullpen or we got to a starter late in a game, eventually winning the contest.
The implications for making the opposing pitcher use up all their bullets looms much, much bigger for coaches across the nation since new rules will go into effect this upcoming season. The notion of getting into an opponent’s bullpen is in many cases is only going to be a matter of seeing enough pitches. In most high school games, I would guess that the starter will come out at some point depending on the rule each state adopts. With the right approach at the plate your can all but guarantee yourself a chance at the pen. In most cases the pitcher coming in the game is not going to be as good as the previous pitcher which of course means a better chance for your team to do damage at the plate.
I have talked about Quality-At Bats for many years now but the system seems to be the best approach your team could take to make the new era of baseball work for you. Reward those players who can chip away at the pitch count effectively. Knowing that each pitch is one pitch closer to taking the starter out of the game without coach discretion. It is inevitable that they will have to pull them and go to someone else.
In the state of Iowa in all classes we were amongst the top 5 in walks every year. I have always attributed that to the fact that walks were viewed as a very positive thing in our program. Aside from a double, triple, or homerun we viewed them as equal to a hit and the QAB percentage is calculated as such. No more credit is given for a walk than a hit or vice versa. With these new rules coming coach’s way I would actually prefer a player walk in 6 pitches than come up and get a hit on the first pitch. The outcome is the same, player on first but the pitcher used less “bullets” in the first situation. Of course ever player in the country would rather have the first than the second but teaching them a QAB System and how it can positively help not only them but their team is crucial.
The three criteria that allowed us to be leaders in walks and get to the bullpen time and time again were rewarding hitters for:
- Earning a base on balls
- Seven pitch at-bats not ending in a strikeout.
- Nine or more pitches in an at-bat even ending in a strikeout.
These send the message that players can still be successful and have a positive impact on the game even if they didn’t get a hit, hit the ball hard, or in a walks case didn’t hit the ball at all. They need to be taught early that contributions can be made to the team beyond the norms. We also wanted to give players the mindset that grinding out long at-bats is a BIG DEAL and the QAB system rewards players who buy into it. We can’t have walks, seven, eight, or nine pitch at-bats if hitters aren’t comfortable going deep in counts. Many times players want to take a rip at the very first thing that is remotely close to the strike zone. Especially now with the significant change in pitch count it becomes even more critical for your team to adopt this concept and implement it immediately. Having a plan to hunt pitches in the box and adopting the 1-Pitch Warrior Quality At-Bat System is going to be a key ingredient to a successful transition to the new format of high school baseball from here on out.
Also wanted to remind coaches who are able to make it that we are still registering for the 2nd Annual Coaches Clinic on December 3rd. Check your calendars, ask for help if needed from your booster club, and bring the entire staff!