Category Archives: Training

Notre Dame’s Jarrett shares on ‘Building Complete Hitters’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Link Jarrett has been studying the art of hitting and teaching it at the highest levels of college baseball for more than two decades.

First-year University of Notre Dame head coach Jarrett presented his ideas on “Building Complete Hitters” to the 2020 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic. The the head coach at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he spoke on the same subject at the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Dallas.

Jarrett says offense revolves around hitting, short game, base running and two-strike toughness.

“That’s offense,” says Jarrett. “It’s just not swing and launch angle. It’s team.”

What about the stance?

“Where guys stand in relationship to the plate is probably under-taught, under-studied, under-utilized,” says Jarrett. “Where that hitter stands side-to-side is very important. Front-to-back, to me, is not as important.”

Jarrett says he moved one player out of 20 forward in the batter’s box during fall practice.

“The strike zone and the hitting zone is based on where you stand in relationship to the plate,” says Jarrett. “It always has been and always will be.

“You have to be able to cover the outside part of the plate and adjust in. Some guys might be slightly opened or slightly closed (with their stance). Where they end up is what I’m looking for.”

Jarrett says that hitters get things going in their swing with a negative move (an initial move away from the pitcher).

“As you load physically, you also need to prepare mentally to be aggressive, look where you’re looking and do damage,” says Jarrett, who notes that some hitters will step straight back and others will sink back.

To Jarrett’s way of thinking, there is less-than-two-strike hitting and there’s two-strike hitting.

With less than two strikes, the goal is to drive the ball.

Jarrett addressed toe touch.

“Where are we with our lower body when the front big toe and the ball of the foot lands?,” says Jarrett. “The launch position for me is really waist up.

“When (hitters) coil, I want their shoulder alignment with the “off” infielder (shoulder pointed at the shortstop for left-handed hitters and the second baseman for right-handed hitters).

“I like the top hand to be even with the back shoulder. Everything should be on one level plane.

“I look for the knob of the bat to sit over that back foot (when they get to the toe touch).”

Jarrett says he doesn’t the barrel of the bat wrapped too far behind the head.

“A good key is that the sweet spot of that bat gets to the mid-line of the head,” says Jarrett. “That’s a pretty good check point.”

Hitters then reach a 50-50 athletic position as they plant their heel.

When the back elbow gets near the hip, the back heel and back knee will start to come up.

When the swing is made, it is made an a parallel plane toward the pitcher.

Contact depth depends on the location of the pitch. The ball away is hit a little deeper. The middle ball is struck even with the front foot. To drive the inside ball, it must be contacted in front of the stride foot.

“I want the finish to match the timing, location and plane of the pitch,” says Jarrett. “Versus finishing with two hands or one hand, high or low.”

Jarrett says that hitters must be able to compete and that means tracking pitches.

Notre Dame hitters train for a 22-inch wide zone with emphasis on 11 inches, which may be away, middle or in.

“Hitting is timing and it’s fastball rhythm,” says Jarrett. “Can you time the fastball and hit off that?

“Can you make mid-pitch adjustments? The mid-pitch adjustment is really the hardest thing we have to do in our sport.”

An example would be hitting with two strikes and being ready for a 94 mph fastball and an 86 mph slider comes instead.

“You have to survive,” says Jarrett. “It’s done best if you are in a very consistent back-leg simple hitting position.”

Jarrett played with Todd Helton and against David Ortiz in the minor leagues.

“Todd Helton had the best focus and concentration I’ve ever seen,” says Jarrett. “He wasn’t as big as all those guys in the Eastern League with us. David Ortiz was probably the strongest. Helton was probably the most locked in pitch-to-pitch.”

Jarrett’s definition of approach is “a mental and physical strategy for competitive in-game success.”

“Approach development (happens) one pitch at a time,” says Jarrett. “If you’re hitters are locked in one pitch at a time every at-bat then you’re breaking it down into the proper dynamic of how to be successful.”

Jarrett says Helton’s one-pitch mindset, focus and toughness was Hall of Fame caliber.

“You have to have aggressive, but you also must be patient,” said Jarrett. “Helton was the most-disciplined hitter I saw.

“If you gave him what he was looking for, this guy was going to annihilate that. If he didn’t get it, he had enough patience to take it.”

In grading Quality At-Bats, Jarrett ranks contact on a 3-2-1 scale (whether it’s off front toss, the tee, a machine or live pitching).

“You got three points for doing a job,” says Jarrett. “The strikeout is still the Kryptonite of my QAB. I haven’t changed it any in 20 years.

“You have to be able to put the ball in play.”

Jarrett says overall fielding percentages in Major League Baseball are very good. It tends to go down for college baseball and again for high school baseball.

“The more we can put the ball in play with two strikes, the more chance we have to somehow score and somehow win. Period,” says Jarrett. “I’m not into the strikeout being just another out. It’s not. If you put it in play, there’s not guarantee it’s an out at all.”

Since college players don’t have the power of Aaron Judge and don’t hit the kind of rock-hard baseball they do in the majors, thinking balls will consistently leave the yard is the wrong approach.

“We have to hit as many line drives as we can possibly hit. End of story,” says Jarrett. “Do I want some of those to go out? Absolutely right.”

When he was coaching at Auburn University, the Tigers hit 131 home runs in one season and the bat was changed the next season to the BBCOR.

“Line drives win,” says Jarrett.

Hitters learn to “spit” on breaking balls or pitches they think they can’t put a “3” contact swing on.

“We are going to demolish the fastball,” says Jarrett. “The middle of our lineup should be fastball-and-adjust types of hitters.”

By training for all the possibilities in practice, Jarrett says hitters can sort pitchers into categories.

“Hey, lefties we’ve got to sit away,” says Jarrett. “Righties, you’ve got to sit in.”

Jarrett values tee work and that means adjusting them when necessary.

“If I can’t handle the zone off a tee, then I got the wrong tees,” says Jarrett. “You have to be able to navigate those zones.

“Put we the limit on that tee hard and say what they’re hitting — ’94 up and in.’ Thwack! ’Left-handed breaking ball down.’ Thwack!”

Jarrett prefers standing front toss so the path is similar to an actual pitch.

“When you’re sitting in a chair coming uphill, it doesn’t work,” says Jarrett.

Facilities sometimes dictate what teams can do in practice. Creativity is key.

He likes to utilize the long batting cage. He favors the two-wheel pitching machine because the hitter can see from the same game-like angle and the position of the wheels tells them where the ball is going to go.

At Notre Dame, the machine sits on the back level part of the mound 54 feet from the plate and is set for 80 to 83 mph.

“We don’t go at 94 mph,” says Jarrett. “If that machine is throwing that hard it just doesn’t correlate. I can’t explain it. I’m not a scientist.

“When it’s going 83 mph, to the hitter it feels like 90. It just does.”

Hitters take four to 10 swings per round.

Batting practice in the long cage is thrown from 36 to 40 feet.

“There has to be that little mechanism so they can track visually and time the ball,” says Jarrett. “It’s all about intensity and line drives.

“That cage stuff should be tough (and competitive).”

BP on the field is thrown from about 36 feet and is results-based with runners on-base.

Hitters may be asked to hit-and-run, hit behind the runner, safety squeeze etc.

“We want to use the field,” says Jarrett. “It’s not all pull. It’s not the other way.

“That whole field has to be used with some authority.”

There are individualized goals at various drill stations — cage, tee or on the field.

“Swing mechanics are individual,” says Jarrett. “It’s what you need. (Niko) Kavadas may not need to do with (Daniel) Jung is working on.

“I’ve got to work on each guy.”

There are also video skills sessions where things can be learned from a short video of four or five swings.

“We have 27 things offensively we can do,” says Jarrett. “(Players) have to understand all 27.”

Jarrett says team offensive evaluation includes how well a team runs the bases, reads the dirt balls, communicates with coaches, slides and so on.

Team offensive goals include on-base percentage of .400 and 30 percent of hits for extra bases. Elite offensive squads score seven runs per game.

Jarrett says there is a responsibility is being the man in charge.

“They’re going to call you Coach,” says Jarrett. “I still call my coaches, Coach.

“But, to me, there are some that I don’t know if they earned Coach. Were they accessible to help the guy play? Help them train. Everybody’s got a different type of facility. Do we keep it up?

“Do you study what they do and explain it to them, knowing that it’s the right stuff?”

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Link Jarrett is the first-year head baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Fort Wayne Northrop hitting coach Gatchell shares philosophy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gary Gatchell is entering his 15th season as a high school baseball coach.

He was an assistant for eight seasons at his alma mater — Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran — before going to Fort Wayne Northrop where he assists head coach Matt Brumbaugh.

Gatchell shared his approach and philosophy of teaching hitters at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12 as a guest of Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

“We make it as simple as we can for kids,” says Gatchell. “There are all kinds of talent ranges in high school.”

Some are bound for college. Others are beginners.

Gatchell, who also a private instructor, wants his hitters to alleviate tension.

“We get them to relax and eliminate the fear of failure as much as we can,” says Gatchell.

As his coach career has progressed, Gatchell has gone away from results. A batter can hit the ball squarely four hits in a game but it might find a glove every time.

“It’s about the process of putting together solid at-bats,” says Gatchell. “It’s about the process and not the result.”

Gatchell, Brumbaugh and the other Northrop coaches preach team and note that each hitter in the lineup — 1 through 9 — has a job to do whether it be setting the table, moving runners over or driving in runs.

The recent trend — as in Major League Baseball — is to get the best hitters to the top of the lineup to get them more at-bats.

Gatchell does not look much at statistics other than on-base percentage and walk/strikeout ratio.

He wants his hitters to stay at an even keel.

“We can’t ride a huge roller coaster of emotion at-bat to at-bat,” says Gatchell.

With BBCOR bats, especially, the home run is a rarity in high school.

“We want to maximize double potential,” says Gatchell. “It’s about baserunners and doubles.”

Gatchell also wants his hitters to keep strikeout totals as low as possible.

“You’ve got to put the ball in play,” says Gatchell. “We do not face gold glove infielders and outfielders in highs school or college. In pro ball, I get it.

“There are not a lot of errorless games in high school. We want to put pressure on the defense and give ourselves a chance at baserunners and scoring runs.”

Gatchell says he’d like to have a strikeout ratio close to 15 percent or about six per game.

Hitters are expected to be fastball hunters and aggressive.

“Time the fastball,” says Gatchell. “If you don’t want to see the breaking ball, take it. Fastballs are what you’re going to see for the most part (in high school).

“We want to be in swing mode until the pitch tells us not to (swing). The better the pitcher, the earlier we want to go. We don’t want to get behind in counts.”

Gatchell discourages check swings.

“We can’t do damage if we’re not decisive,” says Gatchell.

He also notes that the biggest swing count is 1-1.

“There are 200 (batting average) points difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Gatchell.

When it comes to two-strike hitting, Gatchell says batters must make a physical adjustment.

Since most pitchers will throw away, the hitter must then move up on the plate and spread out their stance a little bit. They may even choke up on the bat.

Legs are less important and the hands really do the work with two strikes.

“It’s a mindset of battling and grinding instead of giving in,” says Gatchell.

Before two strikes, the bunt can be another effective offensive weapon.

Hitters are seeking Quality At-Bats and Gatchell keeps track of these with a chart that reflects a plus, zero or minus score.

“Plus-10 (as a team) is pretty good,” says Gatchell. “We’ve had games in the 20’s. We’ve had negative games.”

While he has made some tweaks over the years, Gatchell is a believer in concepts taught by former big league hitting coach Charley Lau (The Art of Hitting .300).

Lau’s 10 absolutes of hitting:

1. Achieve a balanced stance.

2. Launch the bat from a 45-degree position off the back shoulder.

3. Develop a rhythm to alleviate tension.

4. Stride with front foot slightly closed.

5. Take a direct path to the ball; pull the knob to the ball.

6. Develop good weight transfer – from a firm rigid back-side to a firm rigid front-side.

7. Keep head still and down at contact.

8. Hit through the ball with lead arm extension and flat hands.

9. Finish the swing high.

10. Hit to all fields.

“My work with hitters almost always starts from the ground up,” says Gatchell. “Kids do not get near as much out of their legs as they should.”

The coach asks his hitters to get in an athletic position with feet shoulder width apart so they are able to load and drive to a rigid front-side.

Gatchell notes that hitting is getting in rhythm and in sync with the man delivering the baseball.

“If I’m stationary, I’m going to have a tough time getting on time with the pitcher,” says Gatchell.

To have hitters avoid “stepping in the bucket” Gatchell will have them be no-striders. They pick their lead foot up and put it back down in the same spot.

Most hitters will stride.

“We want to stride with our front hip closed,” says Gatchell. “I want to generate all the force I can back at the pitcher.

“You have to have that approach.”

Imagine Charlie Brown being blown up on the mound after his delivery.

“We land slightly open,” says Gatchell. “The longer our (bat) barrel is in the (strike) zone, the more chance we have of being successful.”

To emphasize keeping the head down at contact, Gatchell will sometimes have them bury the head during drills.

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Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School baseball hitting coach Gary Gatchell wants his hitters taking the ball back up the middle. Imagine Charlie Brown being blown up on the mound after his delivery. (Peanuts Pow! Photo)

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Gary Gatchell, the baseball hitting coach at Fort Wayne (Northrop) High School, demonstrates during a Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Gary Gatchell, baseball hitting coach at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, passes along his philosophy to attendees at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics session Jan. 12. Gatchell played and coached at Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Indiana Twins instructor Haase keeps growing pitching know-how

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Haase is a collector of baseball knowledge — especially about pitching.

Haase (rhymes with classy) was in Nashville, Tenn., at the 2020 American Baseball Coaches Association convention, talking face-to-face with folks he has connected with online or by phone.

“I learned pretty quickly what I was going to get most out of (the ABCA convention) was the networking,” says Haase, a board member, pitching coordinator and social media manager for the Indiana Twins travel organization. “It’s good to put a name to a face, chat in-person and strength that relationship.”

Among those he has connected with is Steve Merriman, a pitching coordinator in the Colorado Rockies system who also happens to share a hometown with Haase — Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

Haase, who turned 33 in December, has many certifications, including from OnBase U (functional movement) and Driveline Baseball as well as group exercise and personal training for his full-time job as health coach and wellness coordinator for Community Health Network. He was at Pitch-A-Palooza in Franklin, Tenn., Dec. 13-15, 2019.

For six years, he was pitching coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School — first for head coach Paul Strack and then Ryan Feyerabend. During that time, Twins president and founder and lead hitting instructor Jason Clymore reached out and Haase came to a clinic with Ron Wolforth of the Texas Baseball Ranch hosted by the Twins.

Haase came on board as an instructor and 17U pitching coach for Twins while also coaching at Franklin Community and conducting private lessons.

“It was six days a week of baseball for the first year of marriage,” says Haase, noting that his wife (Lora) was also busy at that time with coaching volleyball. “It was fun.”

After that first summer as a Twins coach, Haase decided to focus on being an instructor. He now coordinates pitching, teaches other instructors and coaches and runs the off-season training program with the organization as well as help Clymore with operations.

The Indiana Twins were housed in a facility near the University of Indianapolis then moved to spot in Martinsville with two buildings and three diamonds. There’s about 180 players in the program from 8U through 17U.

Haase notes that 8U gives family an introduction.

“Travel baseball is not right for everybody,” says Haase.

While high schoolers typically play up to eight tournaments each summer in June and July, younger players take part in up to 10 from April to July.

Beginning with 9U, teams have an off-season training program included in fees that lasts up to 20 weeks. Besides training in pitching, hitting, fielding and catching, there is Baseball I.Q.

Coaches were complaining because they were losing games because players who might look good during workouts don’t know how to back up first base or execute bunt coverage.

“Things that a travel ball coach doesn’t have as much practice time to cover,” says Haase.

A game created by Clymore involves a wipe board with a baseball field.

Players pull a card that gives them a situation. It might be “runner of first base and two outs.”

Another card is pulled.

It may say, “you’re the batter and you hit a ball past the defender in left-center field, what are you doing?”

That gives an opportunity to go around the room and see how many scenarios players identify.

As the game progresses, the card may have them as the right fielder and they are asked what they do when the ball goes into left-center field.

“It’s been pretty cool,” says Haase. “It gets them to think through it.”

Clymore is a proponent of mental skills and each team must spend part of their practices, which begin in January, doing some kind of mental work.

“It can be simple or elaborate,” says Haase. “They may watch a 10-minute video and have discussion and work sheet.”

It might be a TED talk or a motivational clip from a movie. Players and coaches will talk about how the subject elations to life, relationships, baseball or whatever.

“The mental component is such a big part of the game,” says Haase. “If you aren’t mentally strong, well-rounded an educated, in sports and in life you are not going to be able to succeed very much.

“If you don’t believe you’re going to have success — regardless of the reason — it’s going to be hard to have success.”

College players come back to train at the Twins facility during breaks. Among the recent alums is UIndy senior right-handed pitcher Reid Werner and Purdue Fort Wayne third baseman/pitcher Luke Miles.

Earlier in their development, the Schnell brothers (Nick and Aaron) and Avery Short played for the Indiana Twins. Outfielder Nick Schnell is now in the Tampa Bay Rays organization while left-hander Short is with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

A former left-handed pitcher/outfielder and team captain at Sacred Heart Academy in Mt. Pleasant (where he helped earn two district and regional titles and was the football team’s starting quarterback as a junior and senior), and pitcher at NCAA Division II Saginaw Valley State University in University Center, Mich., Haase video-taped himself and friends and studied footage of Tim Lincecum while trying to add velocity to his pitches.

Haase’s first coaching position was at a Little League in Saginaw.

He wound up in Indianapolis after long-distance dating his future wife. Scott and Lora Haase have an 8-month old (Max). Lora, who was an all-state volleyball player at Perry Meridian High School, coached Team Indiana in that sport for three years.

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Scott Haase is a board member, pitching coordinator and social media manager for the Indiana Twins travel organization. The group has a training facility in Martinsville.

 

Dunno sees transfer of energy key to pitching velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being a maker of tools, Rich Dunno looks at pitching a baseball with an engineering mind.
“I’m always looking for the bigger, better, faster things,” says Dunno, a Fort Wayne-based toolmaker and baseball coach who spoke about pitching mechanics Dec. 15 at the Huntington North Hot Stove as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “Pitching mechanics is so broad and so variable. But there are absolutes — things that I see that every pitcher does in their own certain way.”
One of these absolutes is the ability to transfer energy during the kinetic sequence that is pitching a baseball.
“What we want to do is have the hips open before the upper body,” says Dunno. “That’s what they call separation and is a big part of keeping the arm healthy and maximizing velocity. That’s one of the transfers of energy.”
Dunno says the biggest transfer of energy comes at heel plant.
When done correctly, the energy results in more velocity coming out of the arm.
“If we fly open, we never get the effect of that extra torque that’s going to cause us to go harder because the lack of separation,” says Dunno. “Any time we open early, the early hip rotation will cause that arm to drag.
“It puts excessive stress on the inner part of your shoulder and the medial part of your elbow — your UCL area.”
Dunno recommends the book, “The Arm” by Jeff Passan for those who want to know about the history of arm injuries in baseball.
If pitchers transfer energy in an efficient way to create velocity and have pin-point control have a better chance of sustained success.
As a pitcher himself at Fort Wayne North Side High School and then in college, Dunno would let it fly.
“I never knew where it was going,” says Dunno. “There has to be a mixture of velocity and control.”
Dunno has traveled all over the country to talk with pitching experts such as Tom House and Ron Wolforth and has studied thousands of deliveries. He shares his knowledge with his pitching pupils.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank, who was Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year at Indiana University and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and D.J. Moore of Huntington U., who was being scouted by a several teams, are both Dunno students.
“My goal is to keep these guys as efficient as possible with the least amount of arm stress along with maximizing velocity,” says Dunno. “That’s what it’s all about.”
When working with young hurlers, the first thing Dunno does is videotapes them throwing out of the windup and the stretch.
“Whatever sticks out in my mind as a visual, that’s what we initially work on,” says Dunno. “Before anything else, I look at what the glove arm is doing.  “(The front arm) allows us to stayed closed on the front side and be a lot more consistent.”
Dunno refers to what the forearm and elbow is doing during the delivery as blocking and the forearm should be showing for as long as possible.
“To this day, I hear coaches say point your glove and throw,” says Dunno. “I don’t like the mitt being the boss. I want the elbow to be the boss.”
Dunno talks about having a strong elevated front side during the delivery.
What about the glove?
“My pitchers direct it right into the arm pit when they’re done that keeps the front side consistent,” says Dunno. “It’s right in the nest.”
Since the lead arm and the throwing arm are connected in the motion, if the path of the glove is inconsistent then so, too, will the release point be inconsistent.
“You hear it all the time: Consistency. Consistency. Consistency,” says Dunno. “Scouts are looking for repeatable mechanics. If you can’t repeat them, you’re never going to be consistent with any pitch.”
During Dunno’s research, he came to learn the importance of the drop-and-drive and how the lower half of the body can add speed to a pitch.
Dunno is the inventor of King Of The Hill, Queen Of The Hill and King Of The Swing ground force trainers and the devices are used by several professional and college teams. He’s invited to MLB camps to educate their coaches on how and the benefits of training with the King of the Hill.
The president of Ground Force Sports, Dunno gets to the go to Major League Baseball spring training each year to confer with some of baseball’s top minds.
“You want to ride the back side as long as you can,” says Dunno. “It all plays into late explosion.”
The device helps the user to keep from rotating their hips too early.
“You keep the back side flexed so you can drive through the front  leg,” says Dunno. “Force plate data is showing the high-velocity pitchers are getting more force off the back side than other pitchers and they land a lot harder.”
Now is the time of year that Dunno travels to various clinics. He was recently at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Convention in Atlantic City and NFCA clinic in Chicago and will be at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville.

For more info go to www.GroundForceSport.com.

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Rich Dunno’s King Of The Hill ground force trainers are used throughout professional and college baseball.

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Rich Dunno has even introduced his King Of The Hill trainer in Canada.

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The Washington Nationals use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, invented by Fort Wayne’s Rich Dunno.

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The San Francisco Giants also use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, developed by Rich Dunno of Fort Wayne, Ind.

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Rich Dunno talks about baseball pitching mechanics at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session on Dec. 2015, 2019. He is a toolmaker and coach who has intensely studied how to pitch for efficient and optimum velocity and control. (Steve Krah Photo)

Cubs minor leaguer Jordan breaks down principles of infield play

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Levi Jordan, an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, holds an economics degree from the University of Washington.

To study economics is to look at efficiency, trends and systems. Jordan sees that transferring to sports and, specifically, baseball.

“There are more efficient ways to play the game,” says Jordan, who played 66 games for the Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs in 2019 and shared aspects of infield play at the monthly South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Monday, Dec. 16 at Four Winds Field. “You can master your foot work or perfect mechanics. There are just little things that you can add on to your game that makes you a more efficient player.”

Jordan covered areas such as pre-pitch routine, science and technique, circle of focus, the difference in corner and middle infielders, where and how to practice, communication and infield positioning and shifts.

Pre-pitch routine can go by many names – prep step, set step, de-cleat/re-cleat.

“Essentially, the pre-pitch routine is a way to adapt rhythm and timing,” says Jordan. “We’re trying to optimize range for infielders. We’re trying to give our infielders the best possible chance to make not only the routine play, but expanding their routine play range.”

And it’s another way for players to be on their toes and locked in.

Jordan explained science and technique in four parts:

1. Eyes register an event, message is set to the occipital (visual) lobe in the brain.

2. Message travels from the occipital lobe to the frontal (decision) lobe.

3. Decision is made to take action.

4. Motor cortex sends control signals to the spinal cord and on to the relevant muscles.

“Between .2 and .3 seconds your brain can react to something,” says Jordan. “I’ve been told it’s not humanly possible to react to something visual in less than .2 seconds.”

With the de-cleat/re-cleat, the cleats are literally taken up out of the ground and back into the ground.

“The reason for that is so that .3 seconds of reaction can happen while you’re in the air,” says Jordan. “Many coaches have told me you want to be on the ground at contact. I argue with them all the time. If I’m on the ground at contact, the next thing I have to do is pick my foot up off the ground, which doesn’t make sense.

“If the reaction process happens in air, your decision to move right or left happens before your feet are on the ground. Your feet can move in a way to move in that direction by the time you’re on the way back to the ground.

“That perfect timing is what optimizes our infield range.”

For right-handed throwers, the right foot hovers above the ground, there is a false step and they move to make the play.

Jordan was first introduced to the circle of focus at Washington, where he started as a walk-on out of Puyallup and wound up on the all-Pac 12 team and played for the Huskies in the College World Series before being selected by the Cubs in 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Huskies head coach was Lindsay Meggs, former head coach at Indiana State University.

Mental coaches in the Cubs system explain the focus principle to players.

“As a human being if you really intently focus on something, you can only do it for a certain amount of time,” says Jordan. “We don’t want to always be ready. I know that sounds different, especially for younger kids.

“If your brain focuses for shorter intervals of time, you want to relax your brain when you don’t need to be focused per se.’”

Jordan says the infielders step out of the circle of focus between pitches.

“It’s a time to anticipate the ball being hit to you,” says Jordan. “You’re going over in your head that if the ball is hit to me, I know what to do.”

It’s a time where infielders can communicate the number of outs and “flush” their previous at-bat and focus on the next defensive play.

In between pitches is also a time to present in the moment and be where your feet are, something that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, one of Jordan’s favorite mental coaches, talked about.

“Once I step into the circle of focus, that’s when the pitcher is in his motion,” says Jordan. “You want to eliminate thoughts at this point. You’re going to have some kind of rhythm with your feet, getting in the ready position and beginning that beginning that process of de-cleating/re-cleating with a clear mind. You’re expecting the ball and ready to make the play.”

Jordan has a lower prep step and will wait until the ball is crossing the contact zone to come off the ground.

To illustrate the difference between corner and middle infielders, Jordan used Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

As a corner, Chapman has a lower head and eye level, a wide base, the glove is his shin or knee. It is the best position for him to move one or two steps left of right.

“At third base and first base, you have less time to react to the ball,” says Jordan. “You’re closer to the plate compared to a middle infielder. You don’t necessarily have time to get into a sprinting position. The majority of your plays are one, two, maybe three steps to your left or right.”

As a middle, Albies stands with a high, upright posture with his hands at his hips and a narrow base. This allows him to be quick to sprint and is the best position to cover more ground left, right, forward or back.

“We’re trying to cut out nonsense movements — things we don’t necessarily need to do – to be more efficient infielders,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that the timing is different between corner and middle infielders. Everybody should be in he air at contact.”

Jordan says players can get better at pre-step routine etc. during batting practice, drill time and speed/agility/weight room time.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important batting practice is for me to take those mental reps at third base, shortstop, second base,” says Jordan. “Being a utility player, it’s important for me to understand the angles and be comfortable in different positions seeing the ball off the bat.

“You can understand the type of pitch and what time does the bat come off the hitter’s shoulder for him to hit me the ball.”

Jordan notes that defensive shifting is growing in baseball cited a definition of a shift by David Waldstein in the New York Times: “It shows how a batter has the propensity to hit the ball to certain parts of the field. Teams will position their infielders accordingly.”

“I personally like it,” says Jordan. “It can really help your team win with team defense.

“It’s inefficient to put a defender where a batter’s never going to hit the ball, in my opinion.”

The pros of shifting including cutting down the size or something else.

“I see that all the time in Low-A ball,” says Jordan. “Some of my closest friends and teammates were left-handed batters who pulled a lot of ground balls.

“They would step up to the plate and see this giant, gaping hole at third base and try to put or lay a ball down the line for a double. All of a sudden, they are down 0-2 (in the count) because they are doing something they don’t normally do as hitters. That’s an advantage of the shift.”

On the negative side, it can put young infielders in uncomfortable positions. They are at places they don’t take practice reps.

“If not practiced enough, (shifting) can work in a negative way,” says Jordan.

There’s also the idea that many younger batters will mis-hit the ball, making the direction of the batted ball very unpredictable.

“It’s probably not worth putting on a heavy shift unless you are in pro ball or late college ball because hitters don’t really know what they’re doing (at the younger ages) and have a decent amount of bat control,” says Jordan.

Shifting can be done with data or by reading tendencies.

Jordan also sees the importance in communication in the infield.

“I was taught at a young age, if you move and you’re vacating a spot, you need to move somebody with you,” says Jordan.

For example: The shortstop takes a few steps to his left and the third baseman moves accordingly. The shortstop lets the third baseman know he is moving toward the middle or wherever.

The first baseman might let the second baseman know he’s playing on the foul line, moving in for a bunt or might need more time to the get to the bag if he’s shifted to his right. Fielders are talking about coverage.

“Communication is key,” says Jordan. “The success of your team defense and lack of errors depends on how successful you are at communicating with your (teammates).

“You’ve got to be vocal on the infield in order to relay those messages.”

Jordan says the Chicago Cubs use a numbering system for infield positioning (0 for straight, 1 for 1 to 3 steps pull side, 2 for 3 to 5 steps pull side and 3 for heavy shift). These come out of the dugout.

Others might use hand signals. That’s what was done when Jordan was in college.

For the past several off-seasons, Jordan has worked with Billy Boyer (who is now infield and base running coordinator for the Minnesota Twins).

Boyer, who says “Defense is nothing but a glorified game of catch,” is what Jordan calls a true teacher of the game.

“There’s a difference between coaching baseball and teaching baseball,” says Jordan. “A lot of organizations these days are moving toward teaching because they’e seeing the results that it develops players a little better. “Players respond better to somebody teaching them something to do rather than the evaluation part of a coach. A coach will be intimidating to some players because they think they are evaluating.”

Jordan will conduct an infield camp for high school players from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. For more information, call 574-404-3636.

LEVIJORDAN

Levi Jordan, who played in the infield for the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019, shared principles of infield play with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Indiana Tech’s McWilliams shares championship practice drills

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kip McWilliams and his Indiana Tech baseball team attack practice.

“We always have our practices at fast pace,” says McWilliams, who spoke Dec. 15 at the free Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “It’s uptempo.

“It’s controlled chaos. It’s a mess. But we love it and our guys get so much out of it.”

The goal for Tech is to play a nine-inning game in two hours.

“We don’t throw the ball around the horn,” says McWilliams. “We strike a guy out and the ball is right back to the pitcher.

“We want to really play that fast pace. Why? Because the game of baseball is not supposed to be played that fast.

“If that is an advantage to us over our opponents, so be it. That’s great.”

Tech, which is located in Fort Wayne and went to the NAIA World Series in 2019, has a varsity and developmental teams. That’s 65 players.

McWilliams has them all working out as a group.

“I’m a firm believer in having everybody practice together,” says McWilliams. “I know that sounds like a nightmare for some high school coaches. You can get so much out of your practices.

“Younger players learn your systems for their four years.”

While he sees the benefit of individual work, McWilliams loves to do team drills and he shared some of those with the Hot Stove.

The tone is set at the beginning. While the old Green Bay Packers ran on “Lombardi Time” and being on time was late, the Warriors run on “Indiana Tech Time.”

“If practice is at 3, we’re stretching at 2:45,” says McWilliams. During that time, a “quote of the day” is shared. There is discussion of the program’s core values or standards.

Seniors will present a word of the day, telling their teammates what it means to them and maybe the Webster’s Dictionary definition and how the team and coaches can use that word to jell together.

“It’s so important that the guys get a great stretch,” says McWilliams. “It’s also important for the coaching staff to be out there when the team is stretching.”

Tech gets all 65 players in a big circle and center field and McWilliams addresses each one of them daily.

“I don’t want a day to go by that I don’t say anything to or greet one of my guys,” says McWilliams. “I think that’s so important.”

There’s a no-walking rule for the Warriors.

“That includes me,” says McWilliams. “If we expect our guys to hustle all the time on the field, then I need to hustle all the time on the field.

“If I see them walking, I hold them accountable. If they see my coaching staff or me walking, they hold me accountable. We’re all at the same level there.”

After stretching comes the throwing routine. The Warriors go through championship level catch with each position having a specific focus like infielders working on quick hands etc.

Then comes the four corners drill.

“I know it’s something they’ve been doing from Little League on up,” says McWilliams. “That is a great drill. Keep doing it.”

McWilliams once attended at practice at Spring Arbor University when American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Sam Riggleman was the head coach.

“He flat out told me, ‘Kip, this is the reason why we’re always top five in the country defensively,’” says McWilliams of Riggleman’s devotion to four corners. “It’s not just the throwing and catching of the four corners, it’s the communication. That’s key.

“In baseball, there are so many plays that are made when we’re actually fielding a ground ball or catching a fly ball when we take our eyes off the target.”

McWilliams uses an example from his family life. Kip and Melissa welcomed a baby into their lives five years ago.

When Ava was a baby, Melissa would talk softly to her through the baby monitor to calm her at night.

“Ava’s in the dark but she hears a very comfortable voice,” says McWilliams. “What happens if you’ve got a shortstop who fields that ball in the hole and he doesn’t know exactly where the first base bag is? He knows it’s over it that direction.

“But he’s hearing a comforting voice. ‘Hit me in the chest! Hit me in the chest!’ Or even a third baseman saying, ‘Hit Rich in the chest! Hit Rich in the chest!’”

McWilliams says communication can help when a ball is bobbled.

“Everyone on the field is yelling you’ve got time ‘You’ve got time!,” says McWilliams. “Because everybody panics. They grab it and just throw it and now it becomes another error.”

Then Tech practices its pre-game routine aka I/O (“In and Out”).

“Our ‘In and Out’ is pretty unique,” says McWilliams, noting that teams are allowed 10 minutes for I/O during the NAIA postseason. “We like to get it in about nine minutes. We’ve got two guys deep at every position. We’ll hammer it out to the point that just about every play in baseball is done during our pre-game. It’s a workout for the coaches.”

Every fungo is struck from home plate. Coaches don’t go out in the grass. They try to hit line drives and fly balls to the outfielders, but if it’s a ground ball infielders are supposed to lay out for it.

“That sets a tone and it sends a statement to your opponents before the game,” says McWilliams.

A few times a season, McWilliams finds himself asking the same question of new players: Could you have gotten that ball if you dove for it?

“Before they can give me an answer, I say we’ll never know because you didn’t dive,” says McWilliams.

Tech allows finishes a team drill with a game-winner.

“That helps guys get fired up a little bit,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t execute it — guess what? — we’ve got to keep doing it.”

I/O typically ends with a pop-up to the catcher and all players come in an make that catch together.

At the end of practice, the very last play will be a championship game-winner and that is followed with a hand shake line for players and coaches.

Drills are called by specific names so it’s easier to set up.

“The Difference” is a bunting drill. About seven years ago, it was added to the practice rotation because the Warriors lacked in its ability to bunt or field a bunt.

It covers bunting, base running and defense.

Bunters are asked to execute a bunt for a hit, a drag bunt or a push bunt on the first live pitch. If the first pitch is not a strike, the second pitch becomes a suicide squeeze.

Foul balls are played like a passed ball or wild pitch. Runners are super-aggressive on the base paths.

“We really put that pressure on that defense,” says McWilliams.

Tech doesn’t have regular batting practice on the field. They call it “Thundering Buffalo.”

Because 65 players on the field running through BP resembles as heard of thundering buffalo.

Hitters are split into small groups to work on specific things while getting a max of 60 balls in a crate per round and a max of five swings per at-bat.

“We want to focus on hitting the ball hard,” says McWilliams. “If they don’t hit the ball hard they’re out of the cage. It could be your first swing.

“As a coach, you’ve got to enjoy kicking them out of the cage. What do most young people struggle with today in baseball? It’s game day. When adversity hits, they struggle with it.  As a coaching staff, it’s our responsibility to give them as many adverse situations as possible in practice to prepare them for that game.”

At Tech, practices are supposed to be lot tougher than games.

Base running during “Thundering Buffalo” involves working on various things like the hit-and-run, steal jump etc. That includes “don’t be silly” or get caught breaking from second at the wrong time on a ground ball and being thrown out.

“We’re very big with our communication with our base runners at third and second,” says McWilliams. “Too may times I see base runners at second run the runner off at third. The runner at second has no idea when the runner at third is going.”

The runners will work on leads and when they’re going like on-contact with the infield in.

If runners reach first, the defense turns two.

With coaches throwing live BP, pitchers take a knee behind the “L” screen with a ball in their glove. When a ball hits the screen, the pitchers turn two.

Infielders will work on looking the runner back and throwing the ball to first.

Outfielders will not play at a regular depth — either very shallow working on pop-up communication with the infielders and balls hit over their head or very deep to get more reps on balls off the wall or diving for balls in front of them.

“There’s nothing that’s ever really routine in the game of baseball,” says McWilliams. “Outfielders are gassed during Thundering Buffalo.”

Another reason for the fast pace is that when players are exhausted, the first thing that goes away is the mental side.

Practicing consistently at a fast pace allows for coachable moments when there is a mental or physical breakdown.

One important drill is relays and tandems where outfielders go to a specific location (foul line or gap) and throw the ball off the fence to start a relay sequence. All Tech outfielders do this and there are several reps.

“We’re one of the better teams in the country when it comes to tandems and relays,” says McWilliams. “We get so many assists every year from our outfield because we practice those tandems and relays non-stop.”

One way to get the infielders more involved in communication is for the catchers to put up a number — 2, 3, or 4 — and have the infielders yell out the call.

In the first and third defense and offense drill, players gain more confidence by going over the plays on a regular bases.

There are three offensive players — a batter and runners at first and third. The defense is set with every position covered. There is live pitching off the mound. Pitchers hold runners on first and are encouraged to try to pick them off.

At the end of practice, players “sweep the sheds.”

“One of the greatest things I got out of baseball as a player was my responsibility to the team for the field,” says McWilliams. “We’re teaching our guys a lot if we can teach them that responsibly at a younger age.”

The Huntington North Hot Stove series is scheduled to continue at 2-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22 and resume with sessions Jan. 12 and Jan. 19.

KIPMCWILLIAMS

Kip McWilliams is the head baseball coach at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Indiana Tech Photo)

 

Ivy Tech’s Hershberger extolls the virtues of vision training

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

That’s how Lance Hershberger goes about his business as head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind.

That attention was on display as Hershberger talked about “Vision As It Pertains to Hitting in Baseball” during the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session hosted Sunday, Dec. 1 by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.

Hershberger, with the assistance of Ivy Tech players Grant Hershberger (his son) and Connor Knoblauch, presented information and a number of drills designed to help hitters improve the way they use their eyes.

“Don’t underestimate the importance of vision in baseball,” says Hershberger, who has led the Titans to a 58-32 mark in the first two years of the Ivy Tech program. “If you think it’s not important, try playing the game with your eyes closed.

“It’s the most overlooked and under appreciated skill in the game.”

Hershberger broke his talk into four areas:

• Vision.

• Focus.

• Tee and drill work.

• Live hitting.

“A lot of this vision stuff is really focus,” says Hershberger. “I’m not an optometrist. I can’t give you a prescription for glasses.

“But I can give you some things that will focus on baseball.”

Hershberger said the first place to start is make sure that players can see well. They may need to see an eye doctor or simply commit to wearing their contacts or glasses to improve their vision and performance.

“Don’t take any of that for granted,” says Hershberger. “There is something to that.”

Hershberger talked about the dominant eye vs. back eye and used a water bottle at the edge of the stage as a visual.

He invited the audience to mimic the players and make a triangle with their fingers and put the bottle in the middle.

In closing one eye, the bottle will move outside or close to edge of the triangle.

Closing the other one will make the bottle stay inside the triangle.

The latter will be the dominant eye.

Hershberger says that if the dominant eye is the one closest to the pitcher, they should be fine. If the back eye is dominant then twisting the head to face the pitcher with both eyes is the way to go.

“Here’s one thing about (dominant eye),” says Hershberger. “You can’t change that. I can’t give you any drills. I can’t give you anything to work to change that.”

Rather than concentrating on something they can’t fix, Ivy Tech works on the back eye.

“We make sure our hitters see the pitcher, the ball, the window with their back eye,” says Hershberger. “We’ll do short toss or tee work with the front eye closed.”

For about $1.79, an eye patch can be purchased at the craft store and can be worn for these types of drills, including batting practice.

Hershberger brought out the Brock String, a device that is used in vision therapy that is a 4-foot piece of rope with colored tape every six inches.

“We’ll have our guys focus on that,” says Hershberger. “We usually tie it off on a fence or a post and put it at an angle to simulate the angle of the pitch.

“During this drill, all (the player) sees are the colors. He doesn’t see anything else. He goes up and he goes back down.

“We go for a minute and you should do it five or six times.”

Another vision drill is Thumbs Up.

Players stand apart at distances up to 60 feet with one thumb in the air and they alternate focus on the thumbs.

“We go for a minute. They don’t listen to anything. They don’t see anything (else). That’s all they see. His thumb. Their thumb.

“You do it five or six times a week and you do it all year long, you’ll get better. Your sight may not get better, but your focus will get better on what you’re doing.

“If they’re doing it right, they should have a headache when they’re done.”

In his decades around sports, Hershberger has found that athletes have not really changed.

“I hear it all the time: ‘I can’t coach kids the same way I did 30 years ago,’” says Hershberger. “I don’t believe that. I think the people that have changed are the guys in my shoes, the coaches.

“Kids will work up or down to your expectations.”

The difference now is that the coaches are better with communication.

“I explain why we do it,” says Hershberger. “I put it in a package (of drills) that makes sense to them. Here’s what we’re doing and here’s why we’re doing it.”

Hershberger talked about the importance of seeing the ball early and late.

“There’s 60 feet, 6 inches between the pitcher and the catcher,” says Hershberger. “Everybody sees the ball somewhere along that path. Usually somewhere in the middle.

“They don’t focus on the pitcher real well so they don’t see it out of his hand and know what’s coming. Then they try to guesstimate where it’s going and swing to that spot.

“Good hitters see the ball early and they see it late.”

Hoping it will help his team with vision, Hershberger has had underside of the bill on all Ivy Tech batting helmets painted white to reflect all waves of light.

“Theoretically, we may be able to see a little bit better,” says Hershberger. “I’m trying to do anything I can to get any advantage I can.

“It surely won’t hurt.”

The Titans use drills to track the baseball with their eyes.

Players are told to Google hit king Pete Rose.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at taking a pitch,” says Hershberger. “He would track everything into the (catcher’s) glove.

“We want our guys to track the ball.”

The player feeding the ball presents it in the “window” aka arm slot than rolls it and the batters follows it until it stops.

“You’ve got to walk before you run,” says Hershberger. “What we’re teaching there is that ridiculous attention to detail.

“You’re setting the tone for focusing on the ball.”

Ivy Tech has a bag of gimmicks — balls with colors, numbers etc., that are used in these vision drills that are packaged together with other movements in a logical way.

When balls are tossed, the batter can call out whether it is big or small, yellow or white, fastball, curveball or change-up, in, middle or out.

“He is hunting the ball in his hand,” says Hershberger. “None of this is earth-shattering but, hopefully, in the context of how you use it, it’s good.”

With the tee, Hershberger has hitters — swinging a conventional bat, paddle or piece of PVC pipe — load, stride and take it to contact then stop.

“We want them to see the bat hit the ball,” says Hershberger. “Out front on the top half. I’m not a launch angle guy.”

Then the hitter takes a half swing and contacts the ball.

“We’re working on focus,” says Hershberger. “We’re not working on mechanics of  the swing.”

Hershberger offered some other tips about tee work not related to focus.

“Always have a home plate when you’re working on the tee,” says Hershberger. “If you don’t have one, use your hat or your glove. You have to have a reference point.”

The tee is moved around depending what pitch is being worked on.

“Your swing doesn’t change,” says Hershberger. “Your point of contact and turn does.”

Tee placement will almost always vary by player.

“When they’re partners in these drills and the tee never moves from guy to guy, I’m suspect,” says Hershberger. “Oh, you’ve both got the same swing!?

“It’s more likely you’re both being lazy.

“If you don’t move it and set it up for your swing, you’re practicing somebody else’s swing and you’re getting nothing out of it. You have to set it up and be meticulous.

“Ridiculous attention to detail.”

Rapid Fire involves hitting ball after ball post-stride.

“Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!,” says Hershberger. “That’s the logical progression of what we’ve been doing.

“He’s seeing that bat hit that ball.”

Hershberger notes that the hitters’ head does not track the ball off his bat.

“You stay down in there,” says Hershberger, who has been known to take away a practice at-bat of a hitter who tracks the flight of the ball.

Vision and focus is used at Ivy Tech to work on pitch recognition.

The batter quickly calls out the type of pitch — fastball, curveball, change-up — out of the “window.”

In another drill, players who recognize fastball will go quick to the ball and pull it. If it’s a breaking, they will stay back.

There’s also a variation where they learn to sit on a fastball and adjust to a breaking pitch. This combines soft toss and the tee. The soft toss ball or the one on the tee can be hit depending on location — all the while maintaining focus.

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

Dec. 8 — Kip McWilliams (Outfield play); Dennis Kas (Infield Play/Fundamentals); Thad Frame & Donovan Clark (Baserunning)

Dec. 15 — Rich Dunno (King The Hill Trainer/Pitching Drills); Kip McWilliams (Team Drills/Championship Practice); Gary Rogers (TBD)

Dec. 22 — Dan Holcomb (TBD); Dennis Kas (Offensive Approach/Situational Hitting); Mark Flueckiger (Batting Practice with a Purpose)

Jan. 12 — Gary Gatchell (Hitting); Bret Shambaugh (Being Competitive on Game Day)

Jan. 19 — Tom Roy (Pitching/Mental … Calling a Game); Dr. Travis Frantz (Staying Healthy — Tips on Avoiding Injuries in Your Career)

LANCEHERSHBERGERMUG

Lance Hershberger is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. (Ivy Tech Photo)

LANCEGRANTHERSHBERGER

Lance Hershberger (left) is the head baseball coach at Ivy Tech Community College Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. One of his players is son Grant (right). (Ivy Tech Photo)