Monthly Archives: November 2007

States banning aluminum bats

Thanks to Mike Hanscom for alerting me to this issue. He received an e-mail from Little League baseball that talked about a ban that has been placed on aluminum bats by the New York City council. LL is concerned that a similar ban could make its way to other states.

I am quite certain that the ban on bats is well-intentioned. No doubt the idea is to minimize risk and injuries, especially to pitchers when balls come off the bat. There’s little doubt aluminum bat technology has improved over the past few years and that bats are hotter than they used to be. But the fact is sports have inherent risks, and you simply can’t legislate that out of them.

If these government bodies really want to prevent injuries, they should ban football outright at all levels. Far more players suffer far more injuries playing football — including serious injuries such as paralysis, not to mention death — than they do being struck by a ball coming off an aluminum bat.

But why stop there? Ice skates are sharpened to razor-sharp edges, both for ice hockey and for figure skating. Why not ban skate sharpening so no one gets cut? And checking in hockey for that matter.

When basketball players go at it, sometimes they work up such a sweat that the sweat falls on the gym floor. If enough pools there, another player could slip on it, fall backwards, and crack their heads open. Perhaps they should ban sweating during basketball.

You get the point. You simply can’t legislate sports to the point where they’re safe.

What was most interesting about the message from LL is that the NYC ban on aluminum bats isn’t only for organized games and leagues. It also applies to pickup games. In his note, Steve Keener of Little League says:

“What concerns me most is that this bill in Illinois would fine children playing with a non-wood bat $250 for a first offense and $500 for a second offense. This would even include if a child played in a pick-up sandlot game.”

That’s unbelievable. It is comforting to know, though, that we have solved the problems of rape, murder, child abduction, drug abuse, burglary, etc. to the point where our police now have the time to go out and issue citations to kids playing baseball or softball at the park. Once again, your tax dollars at work.

One thing you can do is join a coaltion of Little League officials, parents, coaches and bat makers to stop this idiocy before it gets out of hand. Go to www.DTMBA.com  if you’re interested.

Understand that I grew up in the wood bat era. I never used an aluminum bat until I was an adult, and I still miss the crack of wood on ball. Still, this legislation makes no sense, especially with all the money parents have invested in high tech bats over the last few years. Our politicians need to find better things to do with their time and our money. Solve the crack problem first. Then worry about bats.

Leaning into the drop ball

One of the adjustments normally recommended for throwing a drop ball is to shorten the stride so you can lean out over the front of it. This sets up a somewhat downhill angle that helps get the ball to break downward. There are certainly those who say you shouldn’t change the stride length or body angle when throwing different pitches, but the truth is for most of the world these small adjustments make it possible to get the proper movement.

Getting the proper lean, however, is tougher than it might seem. Often times instead of leaning out the pitcher will bend at the waist. She feels like she is forward and over the front foot, but really her weight is more centered. A cue I’ve found that works is to tell the pitcher to look down at her T-shirt. If there’s something written on it, tell her to get the first word or words out over her front foot.

The effect is to help her get her upper chest out over the front. If she does that it will set up the proper angle. Then (if she hits the release point) she will be able to get the sharp downward break.

How legends get formed

Heard this one the other day and I just had to share. My friend and fellow coach Rich was talking to someone he knows the other day, and that person was telling him about their top pitcher. He was talking about how well she is doing, and in particular how she is throwing 63 mph.

Rich found that amusing as did I, because the pitcher being referred to is one of my students, and I had just gunned her with my Jugs gun around 54-56 consistently. She hit 57 once if I recall correctly. I’ve done this long enough to know that pitchers don’t increase speed by seven mph in a week, no matter how pumped up they are.

I actually spoke to the girl and her dad about it and found out where the 63 mph figure came from. It was off a Glove Radar. I think those are great little devices — I used to own one before the part that holds the lacing in place broke — if used properly. They’re good for getting approximate readings, and for comparing against itself. But you can’t take it for gospel.

It’s very easy to get a false reading, especially if you move the glove toward the ball as it comes in. Like any Doppler radar, it depends on sending out a signal, having the signal bounce back, and comparing the times. If you move the glove toward the ball you close the distance the ball has to travel and change the timing.

The dad and the girl laughed when they heard the story. They hadn’t put much stock in the reading at the time, and still don’t. But obviously others do.

Rich theorizes that people like to have their kids associated with top-level players, so saying your daughter plays on a team with a pitcher throwing 63 mph certainly fits that bill. There’s nothing nasty about it. It’s more a case of being willing to believe in something you want to believe. But the more these things get repeated, the more they become legend.

Hopefully it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. She certainly has the ability and the desire to get there. But she’s not quite there yet. Still, it’s funny to see how legends get started.

Making the curve ball work

This one applies to the “cut underneath the ball” type of curve. It’s a little cue that has been helping my pitching students learn the pitch faster. It seems to be the key to success.

We’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on leading the elbow, and getting it in front of the hip. It’s that getting it in front of the hip thing that has been the key.

When the elbow gets in front, it sets up the proper angle to cut not only under the ball but across the body from right to left. It helps get better side spin on the ball.

When the elbow stays on the side, or behind the hip, it tends to make the ball go straight. You may get the correct spin on the ball, but it won’t get the right to left angle that will help it break.

When you get in front of the hip, though, and get the hand underneath the ball of course, you can get the nice, tight side spin that leads to great ball movement. It’s a thing of beauty.

Keeping your head in

Sometimes in athletics there is a tendency to look at the symptom and assume it’s the disease. This is especially true with ballistic movements such as hitting.

A common statement coaches will make to hitters is “you’re pulling your head out.” This statement is usually made after the hitter swings and misses. What the coach sees is that head did not stay pointed in the direction of the hitting zone, but rather wound up looking out toward the pitcher, or perhaps even at the shortstop (for a right handed batter). The conclusion that’s drawn is because the eyes moved away the hitter didn’t see the ball well enough, which causes the miss.

It seems logicial. I know I used to say that to hitters as well. But if you talk to or read the research of the vision experts, they’ll all tell you that early recognition is the key to success in endeavors such as hitting. Most will also say that hitters don’t see the ball in the last 10 feet of travel either — certainly not unless they have followed a vision training program specifically designed to improve the ability to track the ball. So if the typical good hitter isn’t able to see the ball in the last 10 feet of its travel to the plate, what difference does keeping your head in on it make?

The answer is, it doesn’t make any difference at all as far as seeing the pitch. But that doesn’t mean the head coming out isn’t a valuable cue. It’s just not the one we tend to think. Instead, it’s a symptom of something else going on — the front shoulder pulling off the ball early instead of being “knocked” out of the way by the back shoulder driving through.

Try it. Getting in a batting stance and start going through a slow-motion swing. Let your front shoulder pull out on its own as soon as you start to swing. Now look where your head is. It followed right along. The symptom is the head pulling out, but the cause is the front shoulder, probably driven by an arm swing when it occurs in real time.

Now try that same slow motion swing, but keep the front side in until the back shoulder forces it out of the way. Your head will stay “in” longer, and you’ll more than likely wind up looking at the ground in front of or close to you. Odds are you wouldn’t see the ball any better. But you’re now in a better position to attack the ball. And when you’re in a better position to attack the ball you’re much more likely to hit it.

The next time you see a hitter pulling her head out, forget about the eyes. Look instead at what the upper body is doing to see whether the arms, shoulders, and head are working together as a unit, and if that unit is working with the lower body to create great swing mechanics. You’ll be much more likely to be treating the disease rather than the symptom.

Using your time efficiently

One of the concepts I’ve recently picked up is the idea of setting a standard and then training to that standard. It sounds simple, but it may not be what you think.

Often times we as coaches work on perfecting things that don’t require perfection. We want our players to be the best they possibly can be, so we relentlessly drill them, trying to push the envelope of what they can do. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to be the best, there is also a point of diminishing returns.

Here’s an example. On our team we set a standard of fielding ground balls in three seconds or less. The reason is that Division 1 colleges look for players who can run from home to first in three seconds. We figure if we complete the play from the time the bat hits the ball to the time the ball hits in the first baseman’s glove in three seconds or less we should be able to get most of the runners we face.

The revelation is that once we can execute to the standard there’s nothing to be gained by continuing to work to exceed that standard, i.e. to execute the same play in 2.5 seconds. There are plenty of other things to work on to prepare a softball team. Once you can meet the standard, it’s time to move on to the next thing.

The other thing is setting priorities. How much time have you spent working on the 6-4-3 (SS-2B-1 double play? The right answer should be not much. That’s a tough one to pull off with 60 foot bases. You need the right combination of things to go exactly right, e.g. a sharply hit ground ball to the SS and a pretty slow batter/runner. I’m not saying it’s impossible because I’ve seen it done. But the odds aren’t very good. So if you can pull that play off one time out of every 50 there’s a runner on first with fewer than two outs, it tells you that you shouldn’t spend more than 1/50th of your time working on it. If that. You’d be a lot better off working on plays you stand a much better chance of being able to complete with regularity.

There are only so many hours available to you to practice. The more time you spend on trying to exceed standards or on situations that don’t come up very often, the less time you have to spend on bringing other aspects of your game up to standard. It’s better to do a lot of things well than a few things great.

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