Tagged: baseball

Building a Routine for Pinch Runners and Hitters

The use of pinch runners and pinch hitters is a staple for managers to use at all levels of baseball. These substitutions usually occur late in the game. What we don’t consider, as coaches and/or strength coaches, is how to ensure players are prepared to enter a game (usually late) and be expected to be at “game speed”.  A coach can implement effective pre-game stretches, but this doesn’t mean that the player will be prepared for a 9th inning appearance.

The following are a list of scenarios which could place a player at a higher risk of injury.

1) Pinch runners / hitters may not have been active for up to 4 hours.

If the first pitch of a game was thrown at 7:05, chances are that team stretch took place roughly 2 hours prior to the game. Then take into account when pinch runners are used (typically late in the game).  Using logic, that could be at least 4 hours when the player last did any type of active warm up!

2) Weather considerations.

The colder the weather, the more time it should take a player to prepare themselves for game speed.

3) Injury history considerations.

If a player has a history of hamstring injuries, having that player pinch run is putting them at a greater risk of a reoccurring injury.

4) The pinch runner / hitter is an everyday player.

Often times everyday players are given a day off. Even though the player has been given the day off, a manager may still use that player. Let’s face it, baseball can be a grind. If a guy has played 40 consecutive days, when he is not in the starting lineup, chances are he may take full advantage and coast through team warm ups. Next thing you know, he strains a muscle in a late inning running or hitting situation.

5) The pinch runner / hitter is NOT an everyday player.

In professional baseball, there are very few days off as there is a game almost every day. Position players rarely sprint on off days, and the few sprints they complete are prior to game time. Non-starters may go weeks without  sprinting in a game. Chances that they replicate a game speed sprint aren’t likely, so it becomes imperative to stress this issue and educate players.

Below are a few tips to ensure that the risk of injury for a pinch runner or hitter are reduced.

1) Keep bench players active during the game.

Vary who plays catch with the corner outfielder, rotate players on foul ball duty, or just send them down to pole and back (high school and college setting would be appropriate).

2) Build a mobility/dynamic routine players can perform in the dugout.

There are several ways that you can package mobility drills together in order to prepare a player to enter a game, but a few things must be constant. Those constants are; glute activation, hip mobility, thoracic mobility (especially hitters), and dynamic hamstring stretches. Below is a sample video (roughly a minute) of a few drills pinch runners and hitters can do prior to taking the field.

3) Let the player know as early as possible they may be entering the game.

Having been a former coach, I know that this one can be especially tough. The game situation can change in a blink of an eye, and it is difficult to foresee everything that may present itself in a game. With this being said, a player that may pinch run or pinch hit could be given a heads up an inning prior. No harm or foul if the player prepares himself and doesn’t appear in the game.

4) Have non-starters complete more sprints throughout the week.

I rarely conditioned position players as a coach due to the demands I placed on them in practice. Since being at the professional level as a strength coach, I now see the importance of sprinting non-starters during the week. The sprints can be as simple as 8-12 30 yard sprints once or twice a week.

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Selective Excellence

Here is another guest blog from Nick Magnifico. Nick is currently serving as the head baseball and softball coach at Lexington High School. 

Having spent the last three years coaching high school athletics, I have had the opportunity to work with some extremely gifted students, not only on the field/court/mat, but also in the classroom.  I had found that the students that succeed in the classroom are often the students who succeed in their athletic endeavors as well.  Is this because God reached down when they were born and decided they were going to be the most talented and the smartest?  I doubt it.  I believe that these kids are more successful because they do not believe in the idea of selective excellence.

Selective excellence is this idea that you can turn on the ability to be great whenever you want.  That you can slack off when you feel like it and still expect to be excellent when the time comes.  I believe that this could not be further from the truth.  I believe in order to meet your true potential in any one thing, you have to TRY and be excellent in everything that you do.  One of my favorite quotes of all time is as follows, “You are what you repeatedly do, excellence therefore, is not an act but a habit”. –Aristotle

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I believe that this is not only discussing one singular activity, but everything that you do.  I believe that if you are an extremely hard worker in the wrestling room, or on the basketball court, but you slack off in practice or skip classes, you are not allowing yourself to meet your maximum potential.  Those same irresponsible, less-than-excellent traits will eventually maneuver their way into other activities in your life.

Growing up in Lexington and now coaching here, you can look back at past baseball teams we have had and their is a direct correlation between team GPA and Wins and Losses.  Once again, why is this?  In my opinion, just like the quote says, it is because humans are creatures of habit.  If we make a habit out of getting straight A’s and being successful in the classroom, then we will make a habit out of finding success on the athletic field.  However, the only way you can make things a habit is by constant repetition.  Not repetition just during the activity you are striving to be great at, but by repetition in everything that you do.

I remember listening to my grandfather tell me a story about when he and my great grandfather were building a deck.  They had completed the deck (it was very large) when they realized that the third board they laid was a quarter of an inch off.  Instead of looking for the easy way out and trying to patch it or find a quick fix, they peeled the entire deck up to reset the board, and refinish the deck.  This is because he wanted to make sure that the deck was perfect.  He told me that in order to be proud of anything he does, he has to make sure can do it to the best of his abilities.  My grandfather told me that this was the single most important thing he ever learned from his father.  My grandfather graduated valedictorian from his high school, played division one football and has become a very successful businessman.  He directly attributes his success to the fact that he was taught at a young age to do everything that he does to the best of his abilities.

I believe that at the foundation of any great success, if the fact that you have trained yourself to pour maximal effort into everything that you do, so when it is time to be excellent, you have made it a habit.

Performance Enhancing Beards: A Tribute to No-Shave November

Today’s guest blog features Adam Maddox, a former collegiate baseball player at the University of Central Missouri. Adam knows what it takes to grow a playoff beard. While playing for the St. Joe Mustangs in 2011, Adam’s mustache played a critical role in his record setting no-hitter. 

Although the list of baseball superstitions is a long one, at the top you can always find the glorious “playoff beard.”  Facial hair goes with playoff baseball like Babe Ruth goes with the Hall of Fame.  In honor of No-Shave November, I’m going to shed light on this postseason tradition.

These performance-enhancing beards (PEBs, if you will) allow teams and players to take a new identity into the playoffs. For example, let’s look at this year’s World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants.

Any non-baseball fan would have assumed that the Giants had picked up a homeless man from the streets of California to play right field for them this postseason. Baseball enthusiasts know that homeless man as Hunter Pence. His fiery leadership shown in the dugout helped spark an incredible postseason run for the G-Men. Without his beard, however, it would have just been leadership. The beard made it fiery.

Fiery Beard

Pence’s beard isn’t the most well known of the Giants’ PEBs, though. We are all well aware of Brian Wilson’s gorgeous piece of facial fur. His beard even has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts.  With his beard, Brian Wilson looked like Gerard Butler’s stunt double in “300”. However, instead of chanting “This is Sparta”, Giants’ fans everywhere embraced the “Fear the Beard” battle cry on their way to the 2010 World Series crown. Sergio Romo hopped on the beard train as well, picking up right where the injured Wilson left off as Giants’ closer. End result: World Series Championship.

These beards give these players identities and confidence few clean-shaven men can rival. A solid playoff beard (i.e. Brian Wilson) sends a message to opponents, albeit sometimes a frightening one. A subpar PEB (i.e. Hunter Pence) also sends a message. The message is simple: I am homeless, crazy and will do anything to win.

So during this year’s No-Shave November, remember those who have not shaved before you. Remember Brian Wilson and Hunter Pence. Remember Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage. Remember Al Hrabosky and Dennis Eckersley. Heck, you can even remember Jim Joyce (just don’t remember the blown call). But more importantly, remember why they did it: to be remembered.

Rollie Fingers’ Legendary Handlebar Mustache

Adam Maddox graduated from the University of Central Missouri, majoring in public relations. Adam can be reached via Twitter @AdamMaddoxPR. 

Player Interview with Cubs Outfield Prospect: John Andreoli

Today’s player interview features Cubs outfield prospect, John Andreoli. John is a native of Massachusetts and attended college at the University of Connecticut. He was drafted in the 17th round by the Cubs and has spent two seasons playing in their system. John was selected as a Florida State League Post-Season All-Star in just his second year while playing for the Daytona Cubs.

John comes from a family full of athletes and coaches. His intellect as a player has allowed him to be successful in baseball. In working at Cressey Performance, I have had the opportunity to meet John and discuss baseball on a daily basis. These conversations culminated to this; an official interview where John has answered questions about hitting and making the transition from college to professional baseball. Regardless of the level of baseball, this insight from John is beneficial for all of those whom play the game.

Q: Mechanically speaking, do you have a linear, rotational, or extension based approach to hitting?

John: When looking at my swing mechanics, I believe that I have a linear, rotational, and extensional approach to hitting. As hitters we learn from a very young age that you have to stay on top of the ball. From a mental standpoint this is a necessity. What I have come to learn over the past year is that in the high intensity of a game, our body naturally over emphasizes our actions. If a hitter does not concentrate on staying on top, the high pressure of the moment will cause a long and upper cutting bat path.

Alongside linear, a good swing from any hitter involves both rotation and extension. When a hitter drives the baseball, he gets into his front side with his lower half. This process of weight transfer from the backside through the front side is where the swing is rotational. Once contact is made, the swing becomes an extensional approach. The longer a hitter can stay on the plane of the ball with a top hand/ bottom hand position, the more success he is going to have. Once a hitter loses this top hand/ bottom hand feel, his chances of creating backspin on the baseball greatly decrease.

Q: What changes did you make mechanically when transitioning between college and professional baseball?

John: As I transitioned from the college to professional level, there were two main adjustments that I have had to make.  The first is to change my mental approach in the batter’s box. In facing better competition in every level one progresses, the mental approach to an at-bat becomes that much more important. I had to realize the type of hitter I am (middle of the field), and what type of pitches bring me the most success.

Drill: Whether it is in front toss of BP, cut the plate in half (Middle in/Middle Out). Take turns of strictly looking for a pitch in one of the two zones – taking the pitch if it is in the zone you are not looking for. This works on developing an approach and hitting pitches we have prepared ourselves to hit.

Secondly I had to slow the process (from start to finish) of my swing down. In my high school and college years, the metal bat helped me get away with a lot. I was a very herky-jerky, tight, full effort hitter who found myself going to get a lot of pitches instead of letting it come to me. The process of slowing down a hitter’s swing is one in which 99% of big leaguers have mastered. Every swing has its different timing (leg kick, no stride, toe tap), but all good hitters get their foot down and are in the hitting position at the same point. One of the keys that have worked for me is to concentrate on getting my foot down when the pitcher gets his foot down. Obviously if a hitter gets his foot down too late, he is going to get beat, but if he gets his foot down too early he creates a start-stop motion which results in no rhythm and less bat speed.

Drill: Swing with a heavy bat for a good portion of your off season training. These bats are usually around 35-38 oz and will force a hitter to slow down his swing, taking away the ability to “muscle” the bat.

Q: Do pitchers attack hitters differently in professional baseball versus college baseball? 

John: I believe that pitchers from professional and college baseball attack hitters the same. Depending on the type of pitcher, some pitchers will try to establish the inside part of the plate. Others will work to build the zone off of the outside corner. In both of these situations a hitter just has to lock in on the pitcher’s command for each pitch on that given day, and adjust his approach according to what we will see.  For example, if we are facing a sinkerball pitcher who is trying to throw fastballs on the inner half, we have to adjust. In this scenario we want to see the ball up in the zone (lower strikes will drive into the dirt) and take Zones 1 and 2 out of our hitters zone (These pitches will naturally run off the plate)

By Zones 1 and 2, imagine the plate being broken down into 6 Zones of hitting

Inside Black –  Zone 1  – Zone 2 – Zone 3 Line down the Middle – Zone 4 – Zone 5 – Zone 6 – Outside Black

*Note* This would be the opposite for a lefty

Q: Speaking in terms of approach at the plate, when does your preparation for the at-bat start?

John: I believe that the preparation for an at-bat starts as soon as you get to the ballpark. In most situations you have scouting reports on what type of pitcher is throwing that given day. In knowing how he pitches right/left hitters, we can start to go through our routine in preparation for what we will be seeing that day.

In a scenario where you have no scouting report on the pitcher throwing, I like to get out on the field early and see what kind of stuff he has. I believe you can tell what kind of mentality a pitcher has from how he approaches his warm up. If the bullpen is visible, a hitter can see what type of pitches he throws, where his arm slot is, and how quick/long his motion is out of the stretch. In addition, a hitter should use his teammates at-bats as a personal scouting report. What does he like throwing to right handed hitters (I’m right-handed)? What is his out pitch? Does he fall into a similar pattern in certain counts? Does he lead at-bats with the same pitch? Is he missing spots? Is he working inside/outside?

Q: Describe your thought process in a hitter’s count (3-1, 2-0) compared to a two-strike count.

John: When I am in a hitter’s count, I am looking for one pitch in one spot. The main thing here is to not be over anxious in these counts. Especially when it is 3-1, you see many hitters become too aggressive and go out of their zone.  Hitters need to take their walks. When they don’t hitters end up miss hitting a lot of pitches and get themselves out. The key here is to know what pitch you want to hit, to put a good swing on it when you get it, and not be afraid to take a pitch. In both scenarios, a hitter can take a strike and still be in a hitters count (2-1 hitters count, 3-2 hitters count – pitcher needs to throw a strike). In knowing this, a hitter needs to let a pitcher come to him and make sure the pitcher pays when we get what we want.

The two-strike approach is completely different than the 3-1, 2-0 approach. When a hitter has two-strikes, he has to go into battle mode. First thing is that he MUST look fastball. If a hitter falls into the assumption that he may see a 1-2 curveball, that is all he is going to be able to hit. When we look fastball and adjust off-speed, we as hitters have the ability to hit any pitch.  Also we have to look fastball middle away. Our fastest reaction as hitters will be to a fastball inside, and therefore we must use this as protection. Most pitchers are going to throw sliders/curves that work as chase pitches away from hitters. In looking middle away, our eyes will recognize these pitches easier and will increase our chances of fighting them off or putting them into play.

Drill: Front toss or BP two strike round. Take this same battle approach (looking middle away) and learn to recognize and fight off pitches. If it is a debatable strike, we should fight it off and not leave it up to the umpire.

Q: When working in the off-season, what does a typical cage session look like for Jon Andreoli?

Tee Work

2 Rounds of 10-15 Warm-up off tee – 60%

2 Rounds of 5-5-5 Outside/Inside/Middle

1 Round of 6-8 Low tee

Add. Drills: Two Tee Drill, Top/Bottom Hand w/Short Bat, Step Back Drill, High Tee Drill, Hitting off a tee w Fungo (Extension)

Work in these drills after Low Tee – Usually 1-2 a Day

Front Toss

Rounds of 8-10

2 Rounds of Top Hand Drill w/Short Bat

1 Round of Bottom Hand Drill w/Short bat

Add. 1 Round of Top Hand Drill w/Short ball

2 Rounds of 5-5-5 Outside/Inside/Middle w/Reg bat

Add. Drills: Heavy Bat, Step Back Drill, Swing with Fungo, Offset Drill

Batting Practice

6 Rounds of 5

1 –  2 Bunt for Hits, 2 Sac, Squeeze

2 – Middle Round

3 – Hit-Run, 2 Get the Runner over, 1 Get the Runner in (Infield In), 1 Get the Running in (Infield back)

4  – Two Strike or Middle-Opposite Field Round

5 – Zone Round (3-1, 2-0 Approach)

6 – Middle Round

Q: Finally, how has your off-season at Cressey Performance helped to enhance your successes as a hitter?

John: If you are serious about baseball and want to reach your potential and more, Cressey Performance is where you want to be during the off-season. In going through my first full season of 140 games plus spring training, I felt that CP prepared my body for the grind. It helped me become more explosive both when hitting and running, it gave me flexibility that kept me healthy throughout the long haul of a season, it helped me develop a quicker first step towards fly balls and when stealing bases, and it built up muscle mass for me to rely on when the hot days of July and August came.

I credit a great deal of my success as a professional baseball player to the staff at Cressey Performance, and wish I had done it early in my baseball career. No matter what age you are, CP creates programs structured for the individual athlete, and works to develop one’s weaknesses into strengths.