Tag Archives: Defensive shifts

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.

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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)

 

Carlton, Shelbyville Golden Bears embracing technology, sabermetrics

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shelbyville (Ind.) High School baseball has made a commitment to technology.

Through the generosity of parents, donors and the SHS athletic department, the Golden Bears have provided head coach Royce Carlton, his staff and team with several modern tools.

Among those are a 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system, Rapsodo Hitting 2.0, Rapsodo Pitching 2.0, Driveline EDGE, Driveline TRAQ and velocity sensors for the weight room. On the wish list is a Sony slow-motion camera.

But all the gadgets are no good if the data they provide can’t be understood by coaches and players or used is effective ways.

With that in mind, Carlton recruited smart students to be part of the Shelbyville Sabermetrics department. So far there’s juniors Christian DeRolf and Austin Perry and senior Eric Santiago.

“We wanted to squeeze as much baseball out of our players as we possibly could,” says Carlton, a graduate of Morristown Junior/High School (2010) and the University of Indianapolis (2014) who is entering his third season at Shelbyville in 2020. “I saw a couple of college Twitter accounts where they had an analytics team or sabermetrics department.

“I’ve never heard of this done at the high school level so let’s give it a shot.”

The sabermetrics team, which was formed in September, is comprised of students near the top of their class.

“They’re real interested in the game of baseball,” says Carlton. “They may not have the ability to play but they still love the sport. This gives them a chance to help out and be part of the team. They’re just as important as my players as far as I’m concerned.”

DeRolf expresses his excitement about mining the data for information that can help his schoolmates.

“There’s such an opportunity to quantify absolutely everything,” says DeRolf, who sees himself going to college for information systems/computer science and continuing to apply his knowledge to baseball. “It’s not easy to change somebody’s behavior and see that there might be somebody better than what they’re doing.

“But there’s nothing wrong with being able to tweak things. Once they see how this helps, they tend to trust you. The trust is the hardest part to build.”

Santiago was invited to join the sabermetrics team by DeRolf. Before he goes to college to pursue a finance degree, Santiago will crunch the numbers to help the baseball team.

As the Golden Bears work out this winter, they will all be figuring out the best practices.

“It’s a learning process,” says Santiago. “Nobody’s an expert. Everybody is going to learn together.

“We’ll focus on basics and fix small things so we can go onto bigger things.”

Driveline EDGE helps with pitch design. Driveline TRAQ allows for individualized practice plans for each player (who will bring iPads to practice during the off-season to focus on their specific needs). Sensors on bar bells check to see that players are strong and moving in an explosive way.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” says Carlton. “One reason we got the 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system is slow-motion video can lie. You have clothes on. It hides things. To really be able to see the kinematic sequence for the right order of each body part firing, we had to get the sensors. I didn’t want to teach my guys something I saw on video that might actually be wrong.”

Prior to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (which began Dec. 9), Carlton tested the system by taking cuts himself.

“My video looked good, but when I went to the sensors my chest was actually firing before my pelvis,” says Carlton. “So I worked on changing that, where my pelvis would fire before my chest. I added 5 mph on to my bat speed just within a 20-minute session.”

Carlton, who is also the head strength and conditioning coach at Shelbyville, says there is a dynamic in athletics of “feel vs. real” and technology can help with that.

“Now, we can match the real with the feel instead of just guessing,” says Carlton. “A lot of it has been guessing up to this point.

“We can really bridge that gap.”

There’s also a learning curve for coaches.

“Technology’s just blowing up in baseball. Coaches don’t understand how to interpret. They get all these numbers. But what good do the numbers do unless you actually know how to transfer it to high school kids’ minds?

“That can be a chore.”

Carlton says the Golden Bears will be filming every single hitting, pitching and fielding rep through the iPads for analyzation.

“It’s going to be kind of weird having every single player with technology,” says Carlton “It kind of hurts me inside. I’ve still got a little bit of old school in me.

“But the game’s changing.”

Carlton has visited Indiana University to see how the Hoosiers use technology to help their players and recently completed his Driveline pitch design certification. He equates that experience to drinking out of a fire hose.

The program consolidates a great deal of information and involves physics, spin, horizontal and vertical break and much more.

Shelbyville’s plans call for using a pitching report which includes a pitcher’s strengths. Those with high spin rates will generally pitch higher in the strike zone than those with lower spin rates.

“We’re going to get super in-depth,” says Carlton.

Last spring, Shelbyville employed Major League Baseball-style defensive shifts.

“Most of the people on my coaching staff thought I was crazy,” says Carlton. “Most of the teams we played thought I was crazy. But it 100 percent worked for us. Most high school hitters kind of struggle to hit the outside pitches and we’d groove them pitch inside and they’d pull it right into our shift.

“I don’t have any flame throwers. No one who throws over 85 (mph). We had to be really crafty, do the shifts and pitch locations really worked.

“Some didn’t like it, but you’ve got to win.”

Maverick Alexander, one of Carlton’s assistant coaches, does a lot of digging in places like GameChanger and uses historical data against an opponent to put together spray charts to be employed in shifting game plans.

“He puts together a probability packet for us that we go off from batter to batter,” says Carlton, who also counts Mike Jackson, Chase McColley, Jacob Shively and Nate Stonebraker among his assistants. “I think we only got burnt twice all season by shifting and we probably shifted at least 50 percent of the time.

“(My assistants) are all smart. They see what the pro level is doing. We’re at the high school level, but there are still applications we can take. The pros wouldn’t do it if it didn’t win games for them. It’s a money game up there.”

Alexander’s day job is making maps for the State of Indiana. He uses his skills with Excel, Word and data analysis gathered in 2018 and 2019 to produce reports on Shelbyville opponents.

“We hope to be here a long time. It can be a long-term plan,” says Alexander. “If we see a player as a freshman, by the time they are juniors or seniors we’ll be able to see those trends more clearly.”

If possible, players go over Alexander’s pamphlet in practice the day before a game to learn about opponent tendencies and then can go to it during the contest.

“It’s definitely important for pitchers and catchers  to know game plan for each inning,” says Alexander.

Carlton has enjoyed watching the way the athletes have taken to the approach.

“It’s neat,” says Carlton. “The players buy into it. They make it their own.”

Shelbyville (enrollment 1,167) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights and Yorktown).

Beginning in 2020, conference foes will face each other one time on Friday nights. Previously, they had met for Friday doubleheaders.

The Golden Bears are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus East, Columbus North and East Central. Shelbyville has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2005.

In 2018, the Bears featured pitcher/outfielder Damon Lux (now at Duke University) and first baseman Lucas Steineker and went 13-12 and then 9-17 with a very young varsity team in 2019.

“This year, we’re looking pretty solid,” says Carlton. “We’ve got our pitching and our offense straightened out.

“We do a lot of the (Driveline) command ball stuff — the oversized and undersized balls and weighted balls.”

Since Carlton arrived (he was formerly head baseball coach at Morristown and Attica), two teams — varsity and junior varsity — have been representing the school with 26 to 28 total players.

Blending the new with the old, Carlton also has plans to honor Shelbyville’s baseball past this spring when his team takes the field in throwback jerseys and limited edition hats from a time when the school’s mascot was the Camels.

“I’m trying to find some neat things to do during the spring to get some people out to enjoy the game and teach the guys a little about the history of baseball,” says Carlton, who has consulted with former Shelbyville head coach and history buff Scott Hughes, old school yearbooks and the local historical society. “Back when the game was super-pure.”

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Royce Carlton is entering his third season as head baseball coach at Shelbyville (Ind.) High School in 2020.