Player Development Resources

 Developing Your Offense & Hitters (Part I)
(5/24/2022)
 
 
   

Developing Your Offense & Hitters While Maximizing Team Batting Practice Time (Part 1)


By Jim Koerner


Some coaches deem batting practice the most important segment of their training session. If a typical team practice takes three hours to execute, batting practice usually occupies at least a third of that time. With such a large portion of training time dedicated to this skill, coaches need to ensure the execution of this segment is completed with the utmost efficiency and productivity. Multiple layers need to be considered when constructing your batting practice plan. This article will define philosophy, cover specific hitting concepts, and detail the integration into a batting practice model.

What is the Team Philosophy?

Before a coach can put together a player development model that can serve the needs of the team, they must first define what they believe is important. More specifically, a coach needs to fully understand his team's make-up and how his personnel is best suited to win games. At higher levels (college), some of this is controlled through the recruiting process and can be consistent from year to year. Coaches will recruit players that fit their offensive style. For example, the small ball game might be more important to some than others. Therefore you may see more players capable of using the hit and run or bunt as offensive weapons. Other universities might be more power-oriented and recruit more physicality. This helps when allocating precious practice time and repetitions. Why spend hours on sacrifice bunting when you know you're only going to do it ten times a season? At the high school level, the team's make-up is more likely to vary somewhat from year to year, and at the youth level, a more universalized approach should be stressed for all players to understand every concept.

It is also important to have a firm understanding of your offensive goals and how you want to achieve them. This helps keep you and your team focused on what is important. Scoring the runner from third base with less than two out (infield up, infield back, runners at second and third with one out or no outs, or bases loaded), two-out RBI's, two-strike approach, free bases (walks and HBP's), moving runners, quality at-bats, and the ability to string together consecutive quality AB's, along with all other situational hitting (all bunts, hit and run, run and hit, and slash) are areas that you might find important. If so, you need to find a way to make them a part of your daily or weekly routines.

Having both of these areas clearly defined will allow you to cycle through and allocate the appropriate practice days and repetitions necessary to excel at those skills.

What is your hitting philosophy?

There is a difference between a team philosophy on generating offense and a philosophy on what's important when it comes to hitting. To be clear, I am not speaking about swing mechanics but rather general concepts that will define success for every hitter. Over the years, I've outlined three areas that I believe bring value to our everyday batting practice routines. These three concepts are decision-making, contact, and power. Sometimes these three work independently, but many times they blend together. Batting practice routines should reflect the importance of these concepts on a daily basis. While the point of emphasis might vary from day to day, the underlying concepts are the same.

Decision Making: This is arguably the most important concept when developing good hitters. Players with strong strike-zone management skills are most likely the same players with high contact rates, higher on-base percentage, and more maximum exit velocity swings. Great decision-making also leads to a greater ability to execute an individual's plan (situational hitting) and to maximize one's own strengths and weaknesses. Pitch recognition also needs to play a role in the Decision-Making development process. The early ability to recognize spin directly impacts the swing decision. This is something that can and should be trained. An easy daily Decision-Making tool would be to have your home plate divided into six different hitting zones. These zones would be numbered across the plate 1-6 from the inside corner to the outside corner. Another way to accomplish this would be to place six baseballs across the front of home plate.
Each baseball represents a different zone. Now you can structure batting practice rounds based on the zones you want your hitters to attack. If the hitter swings at a pitch outside the required zone, he leaves the cage. This creates discipline and structure when progressing through your rounds. You can also have batting practice rounds that force your hitters to only swing at one type of pitch. Now you are layering in a pitch recognition element. For example, the BP thrower is working a fastball/curveball mix while the coach wants the hitter to attack zones 2-5 on the plate, only swinging at fastballs.

Contact: In its simplest form, contact is the ability to consistently put the bat's barrel on the ball. We have all heard terms like, "He has a feel for the barrel" or he has "barrel control." These terms describe the hitter's adjustability in the swing. Adjustability in the swing is the hitter's aptitude to hit on multiple pitch planes and adjust to multiple speed differentials. Incorporating multiple bat weights and lengths into a batting practice routine is a great way to promote swing adjustability. Over time, the body will learn to organize itself to allow the barrel to find the ball. These different size and weighted bats can be used during all types of hitting drills.

Power: Power can be a relative term and is not exclusive to hitting home runs or extra-base hits. I define power as the ability to maximize exit velocity and bat speed on an individual level. Mechanics and physicality aside, "power" is developed through swing intent, timing, approach, and count management. I recommend getting baseline exit velocities and bat speed readings on all your players. Once baseline averages are established, bat sensors are a great way to keep hitters accountable during batting practice. If the program doesn't have bat sensors, a radar gun can be used to track exit velocity. Batting practice rounds that consist of the player being required to work within +/- 5 MPH's of their maximum is a great way to manage the consistency of swing intent. It also layers in Decision-Making qualities.

Challenging and Competitive

It has been well documented how challenging it is to hit a baseball. This needs to be reflected in the way we train. If you want to excel at hitting 75 MPH fastballs, train in the 75-80 range to achieve the desired outcome. If success against pitchers that reach velocities of 90 or greater is important, then the training should reflect the objective. Obviously, this is age-dependent, but the point remains the same. Hitters swing and miss, get fooled and strike out at all levels. If this never occurs during batting practice, the training is not challenging enough. Failure is both a mental and physical part of development and needs to be dealt with at the practice level before you can expect your hitter to succeed on game day.
The use of pitching machines for all off-speed pitches, high-velocity fastballs, randomizing angles, over-training, and incorporating environment constraints (i.e., setting up cones in the gaps) are some examples of challenging batting practice. If you can chart it, then do so. Charting and tracking batting practice success gives a competitive element to each session and reinforces the development process, and shows progress. Examples of hitting drills that can be charted include situational round execution rates, hard contact percentages, exit velocities, and target tee drills. I recommend posting results after each practice so players understand where they stand relative to their teammates.

Tune in to Part 2, coming May 31, to learn more about organizing batting practice groups, repetitions and rounds, drill stations, and structures.




Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 Uncoach the Uncoachable
(5/20/2022)
 
 
   

Uncoach the Uncoachable


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


*DISCLAIMER*
I recently wrote an article detailing a coach’s responsibility to coach everyone on their team. The subject of this article stands in direct contradiction of that aforementioned piece; words that, despite what I’m about to tell you, I believe in as strongly now as I did when I stressed the importance of coaching everyone just a few short weeks ago.


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Spend a long enough time in coaching, and you will soon be hit with one of the more frustrating certainties that come with the profession: you’re not going to be able to turn every one of your players into a hall of famer. It’s a harsh reality when you pour everything you have into a player and for whatever reason, they are not able to put it all together the way you envisioned. It’s a blow to our egos.

But, for as frustrating as that experience can be, there is one that is worse. Much worse. We’re not talking about the player who just can’t seem to figure it out; rather it’s the player who isn’t open to trying. The player who won’t even listen to a word we say. The guy who won’t fully buy-in. It’s the kid we call ‘uncoachable.’

In professional baseball, when a player gets drafted, they have shown the ability and potential for a Major League club to use one of its select number of picks because someone in that organization thinks they have what it takes to, at some point, become a Major Leaguer. For most players, the process of becoming a Big Leaguer is one that takes years to see through. It’s a process that involves a lot of people, from every corner of the player’s life- both on and off the field- playing their part to help that player reach his potential.

The majority of players truly appreciate how much others invest in them, and they take advantage of the many opportunities available to develop. While only a handful reach their ultimate goal of Major League stardom (it’s just THAT hard), they all tend to enjoy significant growth as players and people when all is said and done. All, that is, except for the rare player who doesn’t want help. The player who is stubborn to change and thinks he knows it all. For as challenging as this type of personality is to coach, there is a simple resolution for the player who doesn’t want to be coached: don’t coach him.

On the surface, as mentioned in the disclaimer, the approach to NOT coach someone goes against everything I believe in at my core. But, if I have realized one thing in the last 15-plus years of coaching, it’s that players must want to be coached in order to actually be coached. For most who don’t, the time and effort spent trying to get through to them turns out to be a frustrating waste of time and effort.

At the end of the day, the players’ careers are their own. So, even if they are doing something that we, as coaches, know won’t work- like a long swing or a disjointed delivery- if they are not willing to change, then by taking a step back from trying to change them gives them ownership of the results, both good AND bad. If you’re right and they do end up failing on their own, a special moment often happens soon thereafter. They will comeback asking for help, and that’s when you got ‘em. The kid that was uncoachable is now open and ready to be coached, in large part because you made the decision to walk away and stop coaching him.

A lot of coaches are under the impression that they have to actively coach their players at all times, in every imaginable way. There is a time and place to be hands on, sure, but just as important, we have to recognize those times when it’s more beneficial to take a step back and not coach. Believe it or not, NOT coaching often IS coaching… especially for those who aren’t quite ready for you to help them. NOT coaching the uncoachable kid may very well be the way you're able to coach him after all.



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 It Takes Time
(4/22/2022)
 
   

It Takes Time


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Well… This one may make some people mad.

Not the message itself necessarily, but moreover, very few people in the game today want to hear it.

That message is about time.

A few weeks ago, the Atlanta Falcons’ Head Coach, Dean Pees, gave an impassioned speech about the growing entitlement among the younger generations of coaches. The speech went viral across social media, as it resonated with so many within the sports communities.

“Go work in a high school,” he started. “Go work at a Division III school where you have to mow the grass and you’ve gotta line the field, and then you will appreciate what you have, when you have it instead of being 25 years old and wondering why you’re not a coordinator in the NFL. Everybody gets on a computer for two years and thinks they ought to be a coach.

“Now it’s ‘how fast can I climb the ladder?’ I didn’t climb it very fast, but I feel good about the way I did it.” Pees didn’t get to the NFL until he was 55 years old. He felt like he paid his dues working as a high school teacher and a college coach, and this time made him a better coach and a better teacher in professional football.

In January, at the American Baseball Coaches Association’s National Convention in Chicago, Mississippi State’s Head Coach, Chris Lemonis- who was named College Baseball’s Coach of the Year after his Bulldogs won the National Title- spoke to roughly 5,000 coaches about what it takes to build a championship program. While detailing his path in the game that included 12 years at The Citadel, eight at The University of Louisville, and another four at Indiana University, he finished by saying simply, “it takes time.”

Scotty Bowman is a legend in hockey. He is a legend in coaching. With nine Stanley Cups as a head coach with three different teams, plus another five as a part of the Cup-Winning Club’s front office, his name is engraved on the most prestigious championship trophy in all of sports, a whopping 14 times. Bowman is among the greatest sports coaches of all time. Following his career as an athlete, he spent ten years doing various things within the game- including coaching kids, scouting, and working in Canadian Junior Leagues- before reaching the NHL for the first time.

Three different sports. Three different coaches. One clear message: time, and the experience that comes with it, is really important.

Time is the most valuable commodity in the world. You may go through life always having a roof over your head. You may never go hungry or thirsty. Money may come easy and in big bunches for you. But time… every single one of us on this planet has a finite amount. Every single one of us will run out of it.

We can’t rush time, nor can we slow it down. Time works at time’s pace, not ours.

My coaching career began in 2006, literally two weeks after I had gotten released by the Royals at the end of Spring Training. Energized by a group of players who made up the same Rutgers program of which I was a product, I believed I could really help our team, so I dove into coaching, headfirst. Coming out of a professional playing career in the Minor Leagues, I took the ‘I wish I knew then what I know now’ approach to coaching, as I felt I had learned so much. At the time, I foolishly thought- with no experience as a coach, no time actually spent coaching- that I would turn every player in an All-American, and our team, into a club fit for Omaha.

Hindsight 20-20, I really sucked as a coach for those six years at Rutgers. While I did know baseball well, and there was a ton of knowledge and new ideas that I did bring to our program, I had absolutely no clue how to coach. I had no idea how to work with players. And, I had no sense of how to work with other coaches. Now some 15-plus years into my coaching career, I realize I was the exact type of coach that, today, I wouldn’t enjoy working with. All because I didn’t understand how valuable spending time working in the trenches was. I can say now, without question, that time has been my best teacher as a coach.

As Dean Pees talked about, young coaches today want to jump to the front of the line without gaining the experience that will make them that much better in the role they want, and yet, most aren’t willing to put the necessary time in to truly earn that position. Similarly, many players want the magic pill that will turn them from amateur to Big Leaguer overnight. And, to aid the issue, there are coaches out there who claim to have that magic pill. The funny thing about those who appear to be overnight sensations, you ask, they take years to develop.

The manner in which you invest your time- those same 24 hours of those same days that everyone has- is a clear indicator of what you are truly willing to work for. If you don’t respect those things and the wise people that come with time- those things that NEED time- then you don’t truly understand the value of time. Contrary to the guy who says he can have you throw 95 MPH in a month or the other who claims you’ll be able hit a ball 500’ in two, anything worthwhile in life- baseball or otherwise- will take time. And, doing it is a genuine investment in the most valuable commodity in the world.



Darren Fenster is currently the Minor League Infield Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. In addition to being the Third Base Coach for the 2020 US Olympic Team, Fenster was previously Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.


 What Does it Mean to Have an Approach When Hitting?
(4/21/2022)
 
   

What Does it Mean to Have an Approach When Hitting?


By Jim Koerner


This question gets asked a lot, and there are many ways it can be answered. What’s the situation, who’s on the mound, what are the hitter’s strengths and weaknesses, what is the hitter’s state of mind, and how does the hitter conceptualize their process toward success are all important questions.

You can find a mental, perceptual, physical, and mechanical component to every swing. Each component carries its own percentage of importance towards each swing outcome. We have all seen hitters with great physical tools and perfect mechanics struggle on game day. A portion of those struggles can be attributed to the hitter lacking a defined approach. The ability to define the approach and have the focus and discipline to execute it separates the bad from the good and the good from the great. We’ll discuss multiple ways an approach plays a role in the hitting process.

Situationally
An approach can be adjusted from pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, and game to game. Pitch to pitch adjustments to approach can come from count management, pitch sequencing, or the game situation. For example, a hitter comes to the plate with a runner on first base and no one out. The coach gives the hit and run sign. The batter understands that he now must swing at any pitch and try to put the ball on the ground. Before the first pitch of the at-bat is thrown, the pitcher balks. Now with a runner on second, the right-handed hitter is looking for a pitch he can hit to the right side of the field, advancing the runner to third base. After a swinging strike, the runner steals thirds on ball one. Now we have a 1-1 count with a runner on third base, and the infield is up. The batter is now going to look for a ball up in the zone that he can drive in the air using the middle of the field. In the course of one at-bat, this batter’s approach changed three times. Each situation can also play a large role in how a batter might be pitched, especially with runners in scoring position. Your place in the batting order might also be significant. If your team’s best hitter is batting behind you, the chance you get something to hit increases. If you’re the team’s best hitter, you might only see curveballs and sliders. Hitters that can clearly define the changes in the situation and have the discipline to make the pitch to pitch adjustments are more likely to sustain consistent success.

Pitcher Tendencies
Other approach adjustments can be made based on who’s on the mound, pitcher tendencies, and how you have been pitched in previous at-bats. If a pitcher has good stuff and the ability to throw strikes with multiple pitches, hitters need to remain aggressive. Conversely, if the pitcher struggles throwing strikes with average stuff, the hitter now has the luxury of being more selective. Other ways a batter’s approach can be adjusted is through pitcher tendencies and previous at-bats. If it is recognized that elevated fastballs are followed by breaking balls, a hitter can adjust accordingly. Further adjustments can be made if a batter recognizes he is consistently being pitched away. If the pitcher struggles throwing off-speed for strikes, the batter can now sit exclusively on fastballs. Another question to ask would be how the pitcher uses his change-up. Is it only a right on left or left on right pitch, or is he willing to throw it to same-sided hitters? Keeping pitch tendency charts is a great way to recognize some of these patterns. It is also important that players pay attention in the dugout. The ability to have answers to the following questions can help them prepare for their next at-bat. What is the out pitch? Does he get ahead early? Does he challenge hitters with his fastball? Does he expand the zone with two strikes? Can he effectively pitch in? Does he like to pitch backward (off-speed in fastball counts, and fastballs in breaking ball counts)? Can he consistently throw off-speed pitches for strikes?

Pre-game Pitcher Observations
Defining your approach should begin before the game when you find out who’s pitching. If you’re capable of watching the pitcher warm-up, this can serve as a valuable learning moment. By watching the pre-game bullpen, you can now see what arm slot the pitcher is throwing from, does he tunnel his fastball and off-speed well, or is there different arm slots for different pitches. You should also be able to determine if the arm slows down for any off-speed pitches. Also, depending on the angle, you might be able to determine if the fastball has ride or sink and what type of shape the breaking ball has. Good hitters can identify these qualities and use them to their advantage. The earlier you have this information, the better. Adjustments should always be made as the game progresses.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Hitter
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses allows you to hone your own personal approach to each at-bat. Some good hitters won’t deviate from their strengths unless they have two strikes, regardless of the situation. This takes discipline and commitment. By relying on the pitcher to make a mistake, you must also have a comfort level hitting deeper in counts. Being comfortable hitting in deeper counts gives the hitter additional opportunities to see the pitcher’s full arsenal and also increases the likelihood of the pitcher making a mistake. Ultimately when facing good pitching, hitters typically should be focused on hitting fastballs and mistakes (off-speed pitches left elevated in the strike zone). When formulating your approach, keep this in mind. Good sliders, curveballs, and change-ups are good for a reason. They’re difficult to hit.

Count Based and Two Strike Hitting
There are two counts that should garner attention, less than two strikes and with two strikes. 48-49% (FanGraphics) of all at-bats during the course of a Major League season will be with two strikes. It stands to reason that considerable time needs to be spent refining this approach. While there are many theories on how to approach two-strike hitting, a hitter needs to find something that clicks for them. Some common two-strike approaches include spreading out the stance to eliminate extra movement, choking up on the bat, or crowding the plate. Other approach-based adjustments include taking “A” swings with less than two strikes and “B” swings with two strikes. This tells a hitter to shorten the swing or see the ball deeper and use the opposite gap. FanGraphics states that the average chase rate for an MLB player on all pitches is 30%, while the average chase rate for an MLB player with two strikes is around 42%. This is a significant increase. Knowing that chase rates typically increase with two strikes for various reasons, one of which is the hitter becoming overly aggressive, shrinking the strike zone with an opposite gap approach can shorten swings and help keep hitters in a better hitting posture. A “shrink the zone” cue is more of a feel than an actual directive for a hitter, but for someone overly aggressive, this might click for them. Working from the top of the strike zone to the bottom, as opposed to looking for the ball away or the ball down, also has benefits with two strikes. First, it allows the hitter the ability to cover the ever more popular elevated fastball. Secondly, any off-speed that starts at the bottom of the zone will be easier to let ride off the plate. Since almost half of your at-bats will come with two strikes finding a way to be productive is imperative. However, a hitter settles on their two-strike approach, the ultimate goal should still be to hit strikes hard.

State of Mind
While the other approach-based concepts are mostly established through existing data or factual observation, the batter’s mindset can’t be overlooked. The ability to be confident and aggressive while also possessing calmness and discipline is essential. A good hitter is always mentally prepared to attack. The objective of the mindset is to be ready to swing at every pitch until you shouldn’t. Some coaches call it the Yes, Yes, No approach. This type of approach gathers the body in a proactive hitting position for every pitch.

One way to properly prepare the mind to hit is the development of positive mental triggers.
This is a technique that military snipers use to perform at elite levels. The book The Sniper Mind describes a trigger as an event or action that induces a certain mental state. The book goes on to say triggers should be automatic and familiar. Once the trigger is established, you need to link it to the desired new habit. The book interviews a military sniper who says, “When things get crazy, and there’s a slight sense of panic, and then fear, I tell myself I am a killing machine. In my mind, I have this picture. No flaws, no fear, no mistakes. I am a machine. The perfect machine. And then my brain goes into high gear. Everything happens more slowly; at a distance, I can see things clearer. I feel calm and in control. I become the killing machine of my mind. All gleaming chrome and steel.”

Translating this to baseball, stepping into the batter’s box should elicit similar responses. The batter becomes the hitting machine of his mind with the necessary imagery and self-talk to produce the same state of being. Many hitters already do this subconsciously, but by consciously making this a part of the approach process, you are training your brain to work in specific ways.

Conclusion
If you talk with ten different hitters, you may get ten different answers, but everyone has the same goal of getting their best swing off as consistently as possible. A hitter needs to find what works for them. I recommend keeping it simple! Hitting is difficult enough without overcomplicating it with too many intricate specificities. It starts with being able to be on time for fastballs. A hitter is unable to make adjustments unless there’s a consistent ability in this area. Mike Trout has said it multiple times throughout his career. His general approach is to be on time for the fastball and then adjust to off-speed. Albert Pujols takes it a step further and says he looks for fastballs over the plate with a gap-to-gap approach. Some players, such as Christian Yelich, hit off feel. Other hitters use a combination of the concepts we’ve discussed. This knowledge will help you formulate your plan and put you in the best position to have consistent pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, and game to game success.



Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..

 


 When to Bring the Infield In
(3/22/2022)
 
   

When to Bring the Infield In


By Jim Koerner


In 2001, with the infield drawn in, the New York Yankees lost the World Series on a broken bat single that barely glided beyond the infield dirt. While Yankee manager Joe Torre’s options may have been limited in this particular situation, knowing when to bring the Infield In can have game changing repercussions. There are numerous factors to consider when making these decisions. Let’s examine what these look like.

What do the analytics say?

Sports Information Solutions reports that from 2015-2018 (MLB) with the Infield In batting averages on ground balls and short line drives was .366 with 49% of the time at least one run was scored. In contrast, normal depth on similar ground balls and short line drives yielded a .296 batting average with 63% of the time at least one run was scored. These numbers were based on late game situations with less than two outs and runners on either second and third or just third base. As you can see, batting averages, and thus on-base percentages, drop significantly with the infield back, but it also yields a 14% greater chance to give up a run. So when is the trade-off worth it?

Standard usage of an Infield In defensive positioning

All infielders are brought to the front edge of the infield grass with the sole purpose of stopping the runner from third base from scoring on a ground ball. Typically, this is a late game situation (8th or 9th inning) with either zero or one out. It should be deemed that if the runner on third base was to score, the outcome of the game will be directly affected. In most cases, the potential runner on third base represents either the tying, go ahead, or winning run.

What inning is it and what’s the score?

If it’s early in the game, your team has time to score. As you get deeper into the game those opportunities become more limited. The score may be the biggest determinant. If you are winning by more than one run at any point in the game, there is no need to bring the Infield In. Outs become more important as well as limiting any chance of a big inning from your opponent. In contrast, if your team is behind, you may want to prevent more runs from scoring by bringing the Infield In.

Is there a difference in strategy with a runner on third compared to runners on second and third?

By bringing the Infield In with runners on second and third, you must think about your probability of winning if the runner from second also scores. Keep in mind that if your Infield is In, the runner on second can now get a bigger lead. This nearly guarantees him scoring on a single. If you’re the visiting team in the bottom of the 8th or 9th inning with runners on second and third, it may be wise to only bring the Infield In if the runner on third represents the go ahead or winning run. In contrast, if you’re the home team in the top of the 8th inning with the score tied, you still have two innings left to hit. This might change your strategy. Now you may want to consider factors, such as where you are in the lineup and who is on the opponent’s mound.

Is there a difference with no one out or one out?

This is another very important factor. Playing your Infield In with no one out takes on greater risk than with one out. “The Book” states that with no one out and a runner on first base, the run probability almost doubles (.95) as opposed to one out (.57). This means that if the batter reaches first base, the likelihood of giving up another run in the same inning is significantly higher with no one out. With one out in the inning and a runner on first base, a ground ball double play gets you out of the inning.

Who’s pitching?

This can help you determine how early in the game you may want to adjust your infield. While it may be discouraged to bring the Infield In too early in the game, let’s look at how the pitching match-up might affect this. If the opponent’s pitcher is challenging to score on, trying to save a run earlier in the game might be the difference between winning and losing. If you feel that scoring on the opponent’s pitcher is conceivable, it may be a good idea to play back and get outs.

The type of pitcher you have is important to consider, as well. Does your guy typically induce a lot of ground balls? Have the batters been overmatched at the plate? Recognizing these qualities can help in the decision making process throughout the game. Also, knowing if there is a pitching mismatch can influence what you may decide as a coach. If you believe you have a decided advantage on the mound, why give your opponent the opportunity to have a big inning early in the game? Standard depth would be the best option in this situation.

How confident are you in your offense?

The weaker your offense, the more important it is to prevent runs. This can affect how early and often you try to cut the run at the plate. In contrast, if you have faith that your team will sufficiently score, the risk and reward analysis changes. In this case, have confidence in your offense and play standard depth until the situation becomes more critical.

Is a 5-man infield an option?

In today’s world of extreme shifts, advanced scouting, and precise analytics, this might be the next wave of run prevention. While we have seen it several times at the MLB level, the implementation of a five-man infield takes on great risk. A five-man infield, where an outfielder is pulled in to play infield, should only be implemented if the runner on third represents the winning run in the bottom of the ninth or extra innings. If this is a strategy you wish to apply, there are several factors you should consider. First, does my pitcher give up more ground balls or fly balls? Is the batter a ground ball or fly ball hitter? For positioning purposes, does the batter have strong pull tendencies, or does he spray the ball over the field? The following is a scenario where the risk might be worth taking. It is the bottom of the ninth inning in a tied game. There is a runner on third base and no one or one out. On the mound, is a right-handed sinker ball pitcher that, based on the spray chart, would have difficulty elevating. At the plate, is a right-handed hitter with a two to one ground ball to fly ball ratio and limited power potential. What would you do?

Summary

Obviously, the key to winning baseball games is scoring more runs than your opponent. When done correctly and strategically, bringing your Infield In can be a valuable tool in preventing runs from being scored. When ultimately making the decision, it should depend on the urgency of preventing that run from scoring. Consider your knowledge of the score, inning, opponent, and your own team’s ability when doing so. Put your team in the best position to win by making the right call!

*All of the above scenarios are based independent of the intentional walk. Intentionally walking a batter can significantly change game strategy.



Jim Koerner is currently the Director of Player Development at USA Baseball. Koerner has 21 years of college coaching experience, including 18 years at the D1 level. He spent 13 years as a college head coach, with ten as an NCAA D1 head coach. Koerner has coached over 30 MLB draft or professional Free Agent Signees, 11 All-Americans, 4 Conference Players of the Year, 4 Conference Rookies of the Year, 2 Conference Pitchers of the Year, and over 60 All-Conference selections. Additionally, Koerner is a 2x Conference Coach of the Year and 2021 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division Champion..