Defense can make a fastpitch pitcher look good – or bad

While it may same rather obvious on the surface, after watching the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) championship game on TV I thought it might be worthwhile to bring it up again. It, of course, being the effect defense has on making a fastpitch pitcher look good or bad.

(By the way, kudos to my hometown team, the Chicago Bandits, for taking the title for the second year in a row.)

Normally at the NPF level you expect to see a lot of dominant pitching. While the pitching was good in this game, I wouldn’t call it dominant. The definition of dominant being a lot of strikeouts or weak infield hits. Fastpitch defense can make a pitcher look good or bad

There were some of each, but there were also plenty of balls that got tagged pretty well; all three runs came off of solo home runs.

So in the absence of huge numbers of Ks, it becomes pretty obvious that the other 7 players who are not part of the battery had to step up to keep this a 2-1 game. If you watched the game you certainly saw that.

Which brings me to my point. The game ended 2-1, but the score could have easily been much higher were it not for some spectacular plays on both sides, both in the infield and outfield.

Those defenders made their pitchers look awfully good. And that’s ok, because I really believe the pitcher’s job isn’t to strike everyone out. That’s just fortunate when it happens. Instead, a pitcher’s job is to induce weak contacts that are easy to field.

In other words, the perfect inning isn’t 9 pitches for three Ks. It’s 3 pitches, all easy popups to 1st base so the first baseman can just pick up the ball and step on the bag if she drops it.

So contrast that defensive performance with others I’ve seen or heard about over the years, where the pitcher does her job. But instead of weak grounders or popups resulting in outs, they result in runners on base because of errors or lack of effort on the fielders’ part.

And what happens after a few of those? The coach calls time, heads out to the circle, and replaces the pitcher (who hasn’t made an error yet). It’s clearly not the pitcher’s fault, but I guess it’s easier to replace one pitcher than four defensive players.

So in the stats as well as in live action the pitcher ends up looking bad. Especially if those errors get marked as hits. (Anyone ever seen a box score that showed one error when you know there were at least 6? I sure have, especially in high school games.)

The thing is, having a porous defense doesn’t just have a short-term effect on the team, i.e., losing a game or a tournament. It also has a long-term effect. Because good pitchers don’t want to look bad, or have to work overtime every game to get three outs. So what happens? Good pitchers will leave, and tell other good pitchers why. Then it gets tough to get good pitchers, so the team has to settle for lesser pitchers, who give up more contacts that turn into even more baserunners. Then you’re in the death spiral.

Here’s another way to think of it. What coach would sign up for a tournament where the rules stated certain teams would be given 6 offensive outs per inning while theirs only got 3? You’d have to be crazy to agree to that. But that’s what happens when the team can’t play good defense behind their pitcher. And that makes it tough to win.

So while it’s easy to blame the pitcher, or give too much credit for that matter, the reality is the better your defense is the better your pitching will look. Just ask the world champion Bandits.

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on August 26, 2016, in Fielding, General Thoughts, Team defense and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Ken, great observation. Do you have any free resources that you can share that would give a coach of young gals tips on how to field with maximum efficiency? i.e. proper footwork, ball-in-ball-out, quick pop times, etc.?

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    • I assume you mean other than Life in the Fastpitch Lane? 🙂 One great resource is the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, http://www.dsicussfastpitch.com. The members there are all softball fanatics, and many are quite accomplished coaches. You’ll find a ton of great information on there, although you may have to dig for it at times. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the administrator of Discuss Fastpitch, although I receive no financial benefit as a result.)

      Beyond that, YouTube is your friend. Search on “USA Softball training” and you’ll find a whole bunch of videos covering various aspects. You can also try “USA Softball defensive drills” to narrow it down a bit more.

      Another good source on YouTube is NFCA Tip Tuesday. Search on that and you’ll find lots of drills and techniques.

      You can also go to Championship Productions and get on their mailing list. Once a week they send out samples from their video collections. You get two videos and an article. One problem there is that you get whatever they send out. So if you’re looking for defense and they send hitting drills you’re out of luck. Also, to be honest I shake my head as I watch a lot of the videos, wondering where people come up with this stuff. But every now and then there’s a good one.

      You can sign up for Cindy Bristow’s Softball Excellence newsletter. Cindy is a brilliant coach and shares articles and the occasional video on a variety of topics. She also has a lot of paid resources to choose from. If you become a member of the NFCA, however, you get access to much if not all of her material. A pretty good investment for $80 or so.

      Finally, don’t forget your local public library (or maybe the one in the next town over). Sometimes they have good resources available for free. A book such as Coaching Fastpitch Softball Successfully by Kathy Veroni will have a ton of great info.

      Do even half of that and you should have plenty of resources at your disposal. Good luck!

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  2. Ken – nice post! Wondering what your feelings are about replacing a HS pitcher with another pitcher that was playing the field and had made less than best effort to catch a line drive and then misplayed another liner into a triple, scoring three runs. What kind of message does that send to a team?

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    • HI Coach, always tough to comment on something like that since I wasn’t there to see it. But from what you describe it sounds like the wrong player was taken out. Rather than replacing the pitcher you’d probably want to take out the outfielder who is not giving her best effort. Especially if you think she’s “pouting” because she’s in the outfield and not being allowed to pitch.

      Letting her dog it and then be rewarded by getting what she wants sends a very bad message to the entire team – one that can lead to bigger problems later. What if every player who isn’t playing where she wants starts to do that? It’s tough enough to win with legitimate errors in the field, much less those being made deliberately.

      In my opinion, you should be playing fielders who want to be out there and will give their best effort on every ball hit their way. That’s the way to win ballgames, and develop character in players as well. And to build a culture of excellence that becomes self-sustaining, which makes the coach’s job a whole lot easier.

      It’s like football legend Lou Holtz said when a reporter asked him how he got to be such a great motivator of players. He said, “I look for kids who are self-motivated and cut everyone else.”

      As long as the pitcher is otherwise being effective, I’d leave her in and take out the outfielder.

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