Team Management and Culture Resources

 Invest in Others the Way Others Have Invested in You
(11/18/2022)
 
   

Invest in Others the Way Others Have Invested in You


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Everyone wants to feel like they matter. We all wish to have a voice that is heard, and people innately desire to be seen by others. There are few things more deflating than being made to feel like you’re invisible, muted, or insignificant. Sadly, in sport, the latter is far too common of an occurrence within the dynamic of many teams. It’s one of a leader’s primary jobs to make sure that doesn’t happen.

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Back in the spring of 1997, as a freshman playing at Rutgers University, I was taught a vital lesson that would later become the core of who I am now, as a coach. About ten games into my first season, Central Florida crushed us one night, behind what seemed like 15 pull-side hits down the left field line past our third baseman. As our shortstop, I was responsible for telling our third baseman when off-speed pitches were coming, so he could anticipate when the ball may be hit his way- a responsibility given to me by our head coach, Fred Hill. I didn’t relay a single pitch the entire game.

After the game, in front of half the team, Coach Hill ripped me for not doing my job. I was embarrassed. I was upset. I was mad. I was mad and upset at Coach Hill for embarrassing me. Literally in tears on the bus ride back to the hotel, I was ready to transfer. When we arrived at the hotel, he was waiting for me to get off the bus and asked me to come back with him to his room. It was there when he said this: “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but the reason I’m riding you so hard about every little thing is because I think you have a chance to be a great player for us. You shouldn’t be upset when I get on you; you should get worried when I’m not.”

From that day forward, I my ability to handle criticism was completely transformed. No matter how loud these messages came, I knew they were coming from someone who not only believed in me and what I could become, but more importantly, was willing to invest his time and energy in helping me reach my potential.

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In the world of professional baseball, and specifically in an organization’s Minor Leagues, high-profile prospects and big money signees generally get the bulk of the spotlight from the outside. Future Major League stars grab the headlines from the media and, in many cases, often grab the attention from their coaches as they work their way through the farm system. The running joke was that you were either a prospect or a suspect. In that light, as an undersized, under-tooled, middle infielder who couldn’t really hit or run, I was by all means a suspect as a Minor Leaguer coming up with the Kansas City Royals.

Two years into my professional career, made evident by the nature of interaction with some coaches were the prospect/suspect classes of players, and they were clear as day to me. That was until I got to Wilmington, Delaware in 2002, where I would play for a manager named Jeff Garber. He was different. In his eyes- at least to the player version of myself- there was no prospect/suspect status. To him, if you had a uniform, you were going to get coached. And if he was going to coach you, if didn’t matter if you signed for $1,000,000 or $100, he was going to coach you as if you were going to be a Big Leaguer one day.

It wasn’t about what Garbs taught me as a player that got me better. Sure, that helped, but it was far more how he made me feel in his approach to doing so. He made me feel like a prospect. He made me feel like I mattered. Because of the attention he always gave me, he always had mine. THAT is the power of investment. While I didn’t realize it at the time, now in his shoes as a Minor League coach myself, with the Red Sox, I know how truly special that was. In large part because of feeling like I always got the very best from Jeff Garber, I make constant effort to give every player the very best from me.

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The Cape Cod League is the preeminent summer circuit for college players. It’s a proving ground for the best in America to play one another and permits the cream of that crop to typically find itself atop Major League clubs’ draft boards the following year. Since 2001, Kelly Nicholson has spent his summers coaching in Orleans, the last 17 seasons as the team’s head coach. In 2008, based solely on the recommendation of a mutual friend, Kelly offered me the opportunity to join his staff that summer in what, still today, I consider one of the most impactful breaks of my coaching career.

Put simply, with this role, Kelly gave me the opportunity to think. Still at the infancy of my own coaching career, which had begun just two years prior, I knew baseball, but didn’t know the nuances behind coaching it. At the time, I was on Coach Hill’s staff at Rutgers, so my approach to helping our players there was to be an extension of him and his thoughts and his beliefs. While in Orleans, I didn’t have to play to Coach Hill, and Kelly didn’t want me to play to him either; he encouraged me to think for myself. In charge of making our lineup, running our offense, and coaching third base, I was given responsibilities that forced me to think for myself, and often, on the spot. I got some things right and some things wrong, but regardless, every day, I had him there for support, insight, and encouragement.

Kelly took a chance on me when he offered me the job- a stranger at the time without an interview- and spent the entire summer pouring into me, because, well, that’s what he does. His Orleans coaching tree has branches that run high and wide into all levels of the game, from high school all the way up to the Big Leagues. As one of those proud branches, I feel a sense of duty to plant seeds in other coaches the same way he planted seeds in me.

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The most valuable commodity in the world is time. It’s the ONE thing that every single one of us have but will eventually run out of. We show what we value in the time we invest. And when we invest time in those we are charged to lead, they feel valued. When people feel valued, the possibilities for what they may become are boundless. As leaders, we are in our positions because someone gave us their time, as Fred Hill, Jeff Garber, and Kelly Nicholson did for me. Now it’s our time to do the same for many others.



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.


 Work: All Ways and Always
(10/21/2022)
 
   

Work: All Ways and Always


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster



Flashback to 2013. The player thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread even though he had yet to play a single game of professional baseball. The second he heard his name called in the Major League Baseball draft was the moment- in his mind- that he made it. To be clear, this was surely a significant moment in life, but for those who do find Big League stardom, getting selected by a club is merely one of many steps within the journey. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for this player of mine who I was set to manage as a part of our Gulf Coast League Red Sox team that season.

Instead of looking at his entry into rookie ball- the lowest level of professional baseball- as getting on the freeway to Boston, this player behaved as if he was parking his car in the first row in Cooperstown. Never had I seen a player more disconnected from the reality of a situation than this one. Despite our best efforts to acclimate him to professional baseball and equip him with the mindset he needed to have to get to where he thought he already was, he never ‘got it’. He didn’t work, he remained unmotivated, and he wasn’t getting better.

He was out of baseball just two years later.

Fast forward to present day. With the 2022 MLB draft in the books, we have a whole new crop of players who dream of one day making their mark at Fenway Park in Boston. Most of those newly signed draftees recently participated in our first-year player mini-camp at our Spring Training complex in Fort Myers. Essentially during this week-long introduction to our organization and professional baseball, players not only participated in physical activity on the diamond, but also in educational sessions off the field.

Infielders were introduced to our staple drill routines. Pitchers learned the details behind our throwing program. Hitters got a crash course on our overall developmental plan and the kind of work needed to see it come to fruition. In addition to all the baseball work, we wanted to also familiarize them with things like the importance of nutrition and sleep, mental skills, and strength and conditioning.

The common theme throughout the week and in all these areas: work. Work at your best, in everything you do.

“Always and all ways” is an expression I learned as a first year Minor League player back in 2000 and is something I still use often when it comes to not only the work, but also in terms of what it means to truly be a professional. In every aspect of life, and at all times, you are representing yourself, your family, your friends, teammates, and coaches. How you do anything is how you do everything. Habits off the field- in the gym, the kitchen, at night, in the morning- will indicate your habits on it.

Being a professional baseball player here in 2022 goes far beyond just baseball. While it is at the center of everything we do, there are many parts of our days that epitomize the holistic development of our players. Time spent in the weight room is not meant to look good at the beach but to make our players stronger on the field. Getting a good night’s sleep and a better day’s meal will play directly into the energy we have in the tank to do what we need to do on diamond. Being mentally strong can only help us manage the ups and downs in this game of failure we play.

Everyone loves to hit, but will they take the same pride in their baserunning? Everyone loves baseball, but will you be as dedicated to the non-baseball parts of the profession that will make the baseball that much better? Those who are the most dedicated to all parts of professional baseball are the ones who put themselves in the best position to advance.

August is a very exciting month on the baseball calendar. Hundreds of players will lace up their spikes for the first time as professionals. College programs are also welcoming their freshmen and transfers to campus for the first time, with fall practice soon to follow. Many minor leaguers are moving on up and earning promotions to higher levels that will give them a head start on next year. And a select few will be playing in the Major Leagues for the very first time with the goal of staying under those bright lights for the foreseeable future.

At every level of the game, there is always that next level to reach. Even Mike Trout, who is arguably the best player in the game today, has another level that he wants to get to as a player. And when he gets there, he’ll want to take his game even higher. Whether it be that college freshman or the first time Big Leaguer, there is a funny thing about those who are consistently successful every time they arrive to the next level of the game: they approach their work every single day as if they never arrived.



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.


 Transfer Away from the Transfer Portal
(9/23/2022)
 
   

Transfer Away from the Transfer Portal


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


If you’re an athlete, a parent of an athlete, or a coach and happen to scroll through social media on any day ending in the letter ‘Y,’ you are bound to come across something like the following post:

“Honored, blessed, and humbled to announce my commitment to attend The University of ABC to pursue my athletic and academic goals. I couldn’t be more excited to wear the XYZ’s uniform. Thanks to all who helped me along the way.”

High school kids cannot wait to announce their college commitment to the world. After years of the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, it’s a proud life moment to be celebrated, as it should be. When athletes share their college plans with their followers, they do so while envisioning the perfect college experience. They see themselves in the starting lineup from day one as a freshman. They picture themselves leading their team to multiple championships. They finish their collegiate careers as high draft choices. They imagine all the good that they want to happen.

We always hear about the commitment. We rarely hear the times when it doesn’t work out. And more and more now, things aren’t working out at a rampant rate.

A month ago, there were more than 2,200 college baseball players in the transfer portal. TWENTY. TWO. HUNDRED. To understand how significant that number truly is, consider that the traditional Division I program carries 35 players on their roster. More than 60 entire rosters can be filled with players looking to transfer this summer.

That’s a lot of bad decision making.

That’s a lot of poor advice from “trusted” people.

That’s a lot of college programs and their coaches going back on their commitment.

Having spent six years on the Rutgers University baseball coaching staff from 2006-2011, I had a front row seat to see the depths of recruiting and everything that went into it from both the program’s perspective as well as the student-athletes’. Selecting a college to attend is arguably the most important decision teenagers will have to make up to that point in their lives, and it isn’t one that should be taken lightly. Understanding the significance of that decision as essentially being a four-year experience that sets someone up for the next forty years of their life, we, as a program, made the conscious effort to educate families on everything that should go into that college commitment, to make sure it was a good fit. Baseball was just one of those things, albeit a pretty essential one.

Our guidance with recruits and their families simply revolved around figuring out what things were important for them in their college experience, in all aspects of the college experience, not just baseball. We found that when decisions were made solely based on baseball, as they often were, things had to be perfect on the diamond for it to have a chance to work out, and even then, it wasn’t guaranteed.

First and foremost, academics had to be the priority; that is what college is all about, right? Good grades create options, while poor grades will limit them. If a kid had grades good enough to get into an Ivy League school but decided to go to a poorly regarded college just for baseball, he is sacrificing his academic prowess. There are good academic schools with baseball programs that attract some of the most talented players in the country. There are also some incredibly good academic colleges that are perfect for someone who may not be the cream of the baseball crop.

Naturally, baseball is the next piece of the puzzle. While the focus should always start on the educational side first, there is absolutely nothing wrong with investing a lot of time in finding the best fit on the diamond as well, especially for those who have a passion for the game and dream of playing in the Big Leagues. Different kids have different baseball goals. For those who aspire to play professional baseball, the opportunity to get significant at bats or meaningful innings then must play a part in the decision since few players will ever get drafted if they don’t ever play.

Some players love to play so much that they can’t stomach the thought of being redshirted or holding a backup role for a year or two. Well, then it’s important for that player to find a program where his talent would enable him to play right away. Often that opportunity is going to be found at a smaller school, possibly at a lower division. Conversely, others might feel the need to be a part of a big-time college program and would be perfectly happy being a role player for the duration of their playing career, some maybe even turning down a scholarship from a lesser program so they could walk-on at a major university.

The last major piece of choosing a school comes with the social aspect of the experience. Colleges and Universities come in all shapes and sizes. From vast campuses in the suburbs, to concrete blocks in the city; from small student bodies of a couple thousand, to huge enrollments that could fill football stadiums every Saturday, the options for campus life are almost endless. Much like finding the perfect fit in the classroom and on the baseball field, many should also consider what kind of campus life they would enjoy the most. Some might be completely overwhelmed by the enormity of a big-time ACC or SEC school by sheer numbers, just as others need to be at a place where half of the students don’t go home on the weekends. Is the campus a short drive from home or a long flight away? Do you have to be in warm weather year-round? Homebodies probably will be much better off at a school with closer vicinity to home, while those with a greater sense of independence will be fine farther away.

Between Division I, II, and III, not to mention NAIA schools and junior colleges, there is assuredly a fit for everyone who wants to play a sport beyond high school. To find the best fit, recruits and their families need to do their due diligence. It is clear, with more than 2,200 baseball players registering in the transfer portal, that many do not. Time after time, while I was coaching in college, we watched countless recruits commit to other schools where we had a pretty good idea that things were not going to work out. Sadly, we were right far more than we wanted to be. The perfect fit is there; it’s just a matter of you taking the time to find it. Do that, and the only place you’ll be transferring is away from the transfer portal.


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.


 Buy Into the Boring: The Process that Makes the Plays
(8/19/2022)
 
   

Buy Into the Boring: The Process that Makes the Plays


FUNdamental Skills
By Darren Fenster


Last month, we discussed The Play Before the Play, detailing the importance of those seemingly unimpactful plays in a game that directly set up the plays we see on SportsCenter the next day. The more we make our players aware of how impactful those ‘insignificant’ things are, the more likely they will buy into doing the things and playing in a way that will help make those things happen more often. The same can be said for how we go about our drills in practice and pre-game.

The professional season is a long one. Starting from the beginning of Spring Training in early February until the end of the year in September, there is a ton of monotony to our days at the ballpark. We stress the importance of routines for our players to become consistent in their play. You know what another word for routine is? Boring…

There is a prevailing sentiment in professional baseball where we challenge our players to become great at boring. While everyone loves to work on the highlight reel play or to just be loose and have fun during pre-game, it’s the boring stuff that comes up most often in the game. If our Minor Leaguers can’t learn how to master the mundane, they will have no chance of ever becoming Major Leaguers.

This season, our infielders implemented a new routine to finish off their daily throwing program, called Four Corners. It is the mother of all infield drills, where almost every type of catch and throw an infielder will ever have to make in a game can be practiced with a lot of reps in a very short period. With three different size boxes, the smallest with each corner about 30’ apart, medium at 45’, and large spread at 60’, we do everything from underhand flips around the horn, to jump turn double play feeds, to forehands, backhands, and chopped ground balls… and a whole lot more. Each specific four corner variation is done for about 30-45 seconds at a progressively increasing speed and intensity to allow for the technique to set in first, with the skill’s quickness following suit.

Just as with anything else, some players took longer than others to perfect the technique to be able to do it at game speed. Some struggled to pick up the quarterback option DP feed. Others grappled with cleanly fielding and throwing the chopper play. Different players with different abilities take different periods of time to develop. Once we started playing games, I made it a point to mention various instances when a play between the lines mirrored something we did during Four Corners because I wanted to make them aware of exactly how the work translated directly into the game. When they were conscious of that translation, the more buy-in we could get the next day during Four Corners… and the day after that… and so on and so forth. The better we became at Four Corners, the better we became in the game.

Over the course of the long year, throwing that ball around the horn at the end of our throwing program can indeed get boring. But when they understand how that ‘boring’ game of catch in pre-game work is what helps them when the lights go on for the game, they are far more likely to buy into the boring, because that’s the process that makes the plays.



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.


 Why Small Ball Still Has Value, Especially at the Amateur Level
(8/23/2022)
 
   

Why “Small Ball” Still Has Value, Especially at the Amateur Level


By Jim Koerner


Have you noticed how baseball has transformed over the past decade at the Major League level? According to Baseball Reference, home runs per season have increased from 4,552 in 2011 to almost 6,000 (5,936) in 2021. With this increase, strike outs have also surged from 34,489 to over 42,000, with a decrease in batting average, stolen bases and sacrifice bunts. Batted balls in play during each game have decreased and swing and miss rates are on the rise. Training academies are also preaching the importance of maximum exit velocities and increased attack angles. I’m not here to argue the merits of the homerun, and who wouldn’t want to hit the ball farther and harder? I am also a big advocate for the extra-base hit and a big inning. But at what cost?

It’s one thing to see these trends at the highest level of baseball, where the pitching and defense are unmatched, but it’s completely different at the amateur level. The goal is to score as many runs as needed during a game, and there is more than one way this can be accomplished. The versatility of our hitters plays an important role in this concept and needs to be addressed in our player development models. To further emphasize my point, let’s look at these numbers:

In the early 2000’s batting average and stolen bases per season were consistently higher than they are now. With that, strikeout rates were lower as well as homeruns per game. One might think runs per game would suffer with the decrease in home runs, but in fact, the opposite occurred. In the early 2000’s runs per game were higher than they are now (as high as 5.14 in 2004, compared to 4.53 in 2022). There are multiple reasons for this including the aforementioned change in pitching, but it helps prove there is more than one way to a score run.

Growing up, my father taught me how to use the proper tools for different jobs. You wouldn’t use a wrench to hammer a nail. The same framework can be applied on the baseball field. Think of each game as a different type of job with different tools needed. During a season, you will experience slugfests and pitcher’s duals with multiple variations in between. Players that possess the skill sets to succeed in multiple run producing ways are the players that can win any type of game. One dimensional players, and one dimensional teams, are easier to pitch to and easier to defend. Let’s fill each player’s toolbox by teaching them the necessary skills to play tough against all opponents.

Defining “Small Ball”

“Small Ball”, otherwise known as the Short Game, or "manufacturing runs," is defined as an offensive strategy in which the batting team emphasizes run production by advancing runners into scoring position in a deliberate, methodical way without requiring extra base hits, or sometimes, any base hits at all. I would argue that Small Ball doesn’t necessarily need to be methodical at all, but it can be rather aggressive and entertaining. Let’s break “Small Ball” into three categories. Those categories are the bunt game, base running and situational hitting. The bunt game includes all types of bunt plays, including the sacrifice, drag, push, suicide and safety squeeze. Base running will include, but is not limited to, stealing bases, dirtball reads, advancing two bases at a time, or taking any extra base (i.e. an outfielder bobbles the ball or over throwing to cut offs or throwing to the wrong base). Situational hitting would be a hit and run, run and hit, hitting behind runners, scoring the runner from third base with less than two outs and other bat control techniques. I’ll even include two strike adjustments as a form of small ball, since strikeout rates have climbed dramatically over the years.


1. Bunt Game

Contrary to some belief, bunting is not easy, and the higher the level of baseball the more difficult it becomes. All forms of bunting require skill that needs to be perfected, like any other aspect of the game. While controversial in nature due to advanced stats on run probabilities, there are still multiple situations where a bunt is effective.
Defense, in general and at the amateur level, can be suspect. The increased chaos a bunt causes puts more pressure on the infield to make plays. In addition to the lack of pitcher fielding practice at some levels, drag, push and sac bunts can all have a time and place for success. Knowing what side of the field the bunt needs to be directed can increase the odds of it being successful. Typically with a runner on first, the batter would want to put a sacrifice bunt down the first base side. With runners on second, or first and second, the batter wants the third baseman to field the ball. When bunting for a hit with either a drag or push, it’s important to know if a left or right handed pitcher is on the mound. Typically a left handed pitcher falls off the mound towards third base, which makes a push bunt (a bunt between first and second base and past the pitcher) the more appropriate call. With a right-handed pitcher that falls off the mound toward first base, a drag bunt down the third base line is the proper play.

The right time to use these tactics depends on multiple variables. Factors such as the speed of the batter, where you are in the lineup, the score of the game, and who is on the mound all play a role for both you, and your opponent. Two of my favorite bunt plays, which are extremely difficult to defend at any level, are the suicide and safety squeeze plays. When executed properly, they should both lead to guaranteed runs for your offense. If you are facing a dominant pitcher or your batter has been struggling at the plate, and your team needs an insurance run late in the game, this can be the perfect play.

I also want to make note of the ancillary benefits the threat of a bunt can cause. With the increased popularity of the shift, holes in the infield are harder to find for a hitter. If your batter can put a bunt down, the defense needs to respect this as a viable option. The corner infielders can no longer play at greater depths. The more the infield must move-in, the greater the space is for the hitter to find a hole. On the opposite side, if the infield doesn’t respect the bunt option and continues to play back, this opens up room for a drag or push to be more successful.

2. Base Running

For those old enough to remember Game 4 of the ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox, you will remember one of the most important stolen bases in baseball history. Down one in the bottom of the ninth, with no one out, Dave Roberts steals second for the Red Sox. This stolen base ultimately leads to Roberts scoring to tie the game and an eventual Red Sox victory. Right place, right time, and the right person. The Red Sox were playing to win. They were facing the best closer in the history of the game, and they knew hits would be hard to come by. By stealing second base, they gave their offense three opportunities to get the base hit needed to tie the game. They could have sat back and waited for a double, but with Rivera on the mound and with his propensity for strikeouts and ground balls, it may have never come. Analytics say: if a player or team can steal bases at an 80% or better success rate, you are helping your offense increase their run probability. Your team needs to be prepared to capitalize in these high pressure moments. They should also be prepared to take advantage of amateur pitchers that don’t hold runners well or are slow to the plate.

I’ve always emphasized that immediately after a batter hits the ball his mindset needs to change from being a hitter to “what do I need to do to score.” If a base runner is solely relying on the next batter to drive him in, multiple opportunities to be aggressive on the bases may be missed. Aggressive base running goes well beyond simply stealing a base. The most important base running skill a player can possess is the ability to advance two bases at a time. This means going home to second, first to third and second to home. In order to do this effectively, the runner needs to be proactive in his approach. Hard turns around first base on singles can lead to doubles. Hard turns around first base with runners in scoring position can also lead to extra bases in the case of an overthrow by the outfield or throwing to the wrong base. The ability to go first to third or second to home on base hits will depend on knowing the positioning of the outfield defense before the pitch, gaining productive secondary leads, getting good reads off the bat, and taking the proper angles when rounding the bases. This all takes time to perfect and can be done most effectively during your batting practice routines.

A good base running team puts pressure on a defense to make plays and move fast, which can lead their opponent to make mistakes and errors. A player that has the feel to advance two bases at a time minimizes the need for an extra-base hit to score a run. Players that are a stolen base threat can divert a pitcher’s focus from the batter. This type of distraction can lead to more pitches to hit or increased command issues for pitchers. Teams that are proficient and proactive on the bases and ready to capitalize on all mistakes, are much tougher to play against and defend.

3. Situational Hitting


To have a good situational hitting team means your team is made of unselfish players. Many times, situational hitting means you’re giving yourself up for a productive out. If your lineup is filled with players that are willing to do anything for the overall good of the team, you should win a lot of games.

While we can cover many examples of situational hitting, including the hit and run or run and hit, the most important aspect to me is the ability to score the runner from third base with less than two outs. Most coaches would agree that they would trade an out for a run every time. This is a concept that needs to be emphasized with your team. With a runner on third and less than two outs you will typically see three different types of defense. Those defenses being the infield is all playing up, the infield is all playing back, or the corner infielders are up, and the middle infield is back. In two of those situations, infield back and middle back, all the batter needs to do is hit a ground ball to either the shortstop or second baseman to score the run. With the infield up, the batter is looking to hit a fly ball or line drive in the middle of the field. While neither the ground ball nor fly ball help the player’s batting average, they do become very productive outs by scoring the run. Getting your batters to make these unselfish swing adjustments makes your team tougher to pitch to and defend.

While situational hitting sometimes requires the hitter to cut down the swing and adjust, so does hitting with two strikes. While technically two strike adjustments don’t fall under “Small Ball,” everyone would agree that the more balls a team can put into play, the greater likelihood of having more base runners. Hitters that are tough to strike out increases the pressure on the pitcher, and often drives up pitch counts. These are benefits that can lead to more run scoring opportunities as the game progresses.

When extra-base hits and homeruns are hard to come by, your team still needs to find a way to generate offense. Having your players prepared to score runs in multiple ways only increases your likelihood to win any type of ball game. As an opposing coach, it is never comforting to know the team you’re playing can affect the game on multiple levels. Don’t give up on “Small Ball” strategy when planning practices and developing your players. At some point you will need it.




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..