By STEVE KRAH
In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.
A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.
“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.
“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”
Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.
Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:
• Get a good pitch to hit.
• Get on time with the fastball.
• Handle the breaking ball.
• Hit the ball hard.
• Be tough with two strikes.
• Be situational.
What does Taylor train this in practice?:
• They are challenged to control the strike zone.
“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).
“We want to give them feedback.”
• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.
“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.
“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”
• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.
Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.
“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.
“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.
“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”
• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.
“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.
• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.
“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.
“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”
In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.
“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.
“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”
• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.
Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.
One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.
“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.
What about the training environment?
“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.
“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”
Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.
“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”
Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.
“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.
“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”
One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.
“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”
Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.
“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”
Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.
“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”
Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.
“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.
“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”
Something is recorded everyday.
“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.
“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”
Practices include something competitive everyday.
“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.
In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order:
“We’re trying to active the muscles we use to hit,” says Gould. “We’re trying to train good movements.”
• Tee work.
“The only thing that we use it for is contact points,” says Gould. “HitTrax gives us some very good data on where we should be contacting the ball.
“We want them to understand where they hit the ball the hardest. We can sit a tee there and get them comfortable hitting it there.”
• Front toss.
The feeder tosses it flat from 17 feet and is done for things like internal rotation. Plyo balls are often used. This drill is done on most days.
Overhand Batting Practice
Forty to 50 percent of swings come during this part of practice.
• Machine work.
It’s done everyday, including breaking balls.
What Taylor manipulates in practice:
Overload, regular and underload are used in different position.
Baseball, plyo balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, basketballs and more are used.
A three-plate drill that Gould favors has his hitters changing between various distances from the machine, which can be set to delivery various pitches and velocities.
Breaking balls and fastballs can be delivered from live arms or machines.
Technology used by Taylor:
• Hack Attack machines.
• Radar gun with display board.
• Blast Motion.
Kyle Gould, a 2002 Taylor University graduate, is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2020. He is also the school’s athletic director. (Steve Krah Photo)