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Pressuring the Opposition – A Key Element to Baseball Success
Get on, get over, get in! Essentially, this is what the offensive game is all about. On the flip-side, this is what the defense is trying to prevent. All of your players should be reminded of this concept repeatedly. This should be the vehicle that drives your offensive plan and your players’ offensive efforts as they play the game. As a coach, you can be a bank of knowledge. However, the question is, “Can you get your players to carry out your plan?”
We all deal with pressure in our daily lives. Much of this pressure comes from on the job or at home. Many of us handle pressure very well while others unfortunately succumb to life’s pressures. Let’s take a second and imagine life without pressure. No pressure equates to no stress. How many people would have difficulty living everyday life without any pressure? My guess would be, not too many.
Let’s think about baseball and pressure. The first thing that comes to mind is a hitter being in a pressure situation. We use this term all of the time. However, how nice would life at the ballpark be if we were able to pressure the opposition’s defense inning after inning? It’s a wonderful thought, but how is it accomplished? There is no simple solution or a set of magic words that can make this happen. However, with the right plan of action, and proper execution, this objective is very much obtainable.
The section below is titled, “20 ways to pressure the defense”. It is geared toward steering a coach in the right direction to prepare his players with the knowledge and skills necessary to pressure the defensive opposition.
20 Ways to Pressure the Defense
1) Hitters know your strike zone.
When a hitter knows his strike zone, he is less likely to go chasing after pitches. This said, the pitcher will have an option to either continue to pitch around the zone and risk a walk or eventually challenge the strike zone. Either way, a hitter who knows his strike zone will find himself ahead in the count more often. When ahead in the count, a hitter can sit on the fastball, increasing his chances of putting the ball in play, ultimately putting the defense to work.
2) Know your role.
A versatile hitter is one who can adjust to the situation. The situation of the game changes with every new pitch thrown. He who can adjust, is worthy of my trust. Let’s say John is batting in the fourth spot today. Everyone knows that John is the clean-up hitter. Most know that the clean-up hitter is a home-run hitter. Some know that John is expected to drive in runs when he comes up in an RBI situation. However, does John know that he needs to be a lead-off hitter too? If so, then he has just raised his stock as a player. Let’s say that John leads off the second inning. Is there anything to clean up? No! His role in this situation is to get on base. Therefore, he needs to have a lead-off mentality. A hitter who can make this adjustment is a very valuable weapon when it comes to pressuring the defensive opposition.
3) Get on base
Nobody on, nobody out. Nobody on, one out. Nobody on, two outs. What is the common element in the last three phrases? You got it, “nobody on”. The defensive objective is the same in all three cases, and that is to “get the hitter”. Where’s the pressure? Where’s the challenge? Where’s the decision making on the part of the defense? There is none!! If you can’t get on base, you can’t score. If you can’t score, then you can’t win.
4) Fake a bunt
Nobody on, nobody out. This is a good situation to fake a bunt and pull back. This may cause the opposition to pull their corners in to protect against the bunt. However, your bait has just opened up hitting lanes by bringing in the corners. Now, that routine ground ball to third base is now a tougher play for him.
5) Fake a steal
Create a sign for a fake steal. Use it during a first and third situation. In this situation, opposing teams are already expecting a steal to occur. Keep them guessing. Faking a steal may cause the pitcher to speed up his delivery resulting in a less than desired pitch outcome. It may also cause an inexperienced catcher to rush to receive the ball, resulting in a passed ball. It will also allow you as a coach to get an idea of how the opposition is defending this situation if the infielders commit.
6) Read the dirt
Advancing from one base to the next dramatically changes the situation of the game. One way of making this occur is to anticipate a ball in the dirt every pitch. Take an aggressive secondary lead and then react accordingly. Too many runners anticipate the pitch not being in the dirt and are therefore are not prepared for the dirt pitch.
7) Put the ball on the ground
Every hitter in your line-up should know how to hit a ground ball. This is true for numerous reasons. The reason that I will emphasize in this section is what I call the “three to one” comparison. Three things need to occur for you to be called out on a ground ball: 1) The ball must be fielded cleanly; 2) an accurate throw must be made; and 3) the ball must be received cleanly. All of this must occur before you run 90 feet. That’s pressure! Only one thing must be done for you to be called out on a ball hit in the air. The defensive player must catch it. You do the math!
8) Move a runner
Too many unproductive at-bats occur because of a misinterpretation of the definition of a “productive at-bat”. If you are up to bat with a man on second base, your objective may differ depending on the situation of the game such as score or number of outs. However, if you get behind in the count, your mentality should change. If you walk away from that at-bat with your teammate still standing on second base and you not even making an attempt to just put the bat on the ball to at least move him over, then shame on you!
9) Learn to bunt
Everyone on the team should know how to bunt. As a coach, you do not want to find yourself in a bunting situation with a hitter at the plate who you classify as a “non-bunter”, due to his inability to put the ball down. Prepare your hitters for all situations. Doing so will better prepare him for the next level as well.
10) Extend your leads
Why do we take a lead? Hopefully your answer isn’t, “because it is part of the game”. We lead off a base to shorten the distance to the next base. The shorter the distance, the better the chance you have of getting there safely. Each runner should know his own boundaries. If a pitcher shows what you feel is his best move, and you get back in plenty of time, then your next lead should be a half step further from the bag. A runner who is always anticipating a move will always be prepared for the move. It is a runner who anticipates a pitch to the plate, who is not prepared to get back.
11) On third with less than two outs
What a great situation! Talk about pressure. The opposition has a decision to make. “Do we bring the infield in to cut off the run?” or, “Do we keep them back, concede the run and get an out?” Either way, you are in a great situation. If you can achieve this situation every inning, then you are almost guaranteed to put at least 7 to 9 runs on the board that day. However, you can not rely on one of your hitters to hit a triple to get into this situation. As a coach, you need to have a plan of action to make this happen. This is where the other elements mentioned previously come into play.
12) Take a strike
There are so many red flags during a game that tell a coach when it is appropriate to take a strike. However, there are too many to mention in this small section. Instead, I will assume that you are aware of these situations and explain how they can benefit you offensively. Taking a strike increases the chance of a deeper count. A deeper count adds to the number of pitches thrown in the game. The more pitches thrown in a ballgame, the sooner the chance of the pitcher tiring. Besides, most hitters find themselves hitting with one strike anyways, whether ahead or behind in the count. As a coach, be aware of when the take sign should be used and when it shouldn’t.
13) Score early
Scoring early makes the opposition question their defensive plan and sometimes forces premature decisions or moves. However, the important question is, “How did you score?” If your lead-off man hit a solo home run, there’s not much anybody can do about that. On the other hand, let’s say your lead-off man walked, stole second and was bunted over to third. Your third hitter then puts the bat on the ball to score the run. You’ve just manufactured!! A lot of defensive adjustments need to be made to prevent this from happening again. This is what we call pressure.
14) Read your outfielders
Train your base-runners to know where the outfielders are playing with less than two outs. Runners on first base should be checking the right fielder and runners on second base should be focused on all three outfielders. Knowing where these outfielders are playing will allow a runner the best possible jump off of the bat on a base hit. For example, let’s say that a runner at first realizes the right fielder is shading toward the gap. If a line drive is hit over the first baseman’s head, he is already prepared to keep his motor running and expect to be waved to third.
15) Draw a move
A good base-runner wants to see a pitcher’s best move, early in the game. This type of runner will extend his lead right away while anticipating a pick-off move. This anticipation will allow him to get back in time. This is known as a one-way lead. By getting a pitcher to show his best move early allows runners to know how far they can extend their lead and still get back in time.
16) Run it out
This should go unsaid! Every ball that is hit should be run out at 100% effort. Remember the “three to one” comparison for ground balls? If not, refer to the section titled, “Put the ball on the ground”. It is not only very frustrating, but a slap in the face to the game of baseball when you see a player hit a ground ball and run ¾ speed down the first base line. Some players make a living off of putting the ball in play and legging it out.
17) Think two bases ahead
A good mentality will catch defensive players off guard. Base-runners should be trained to think two bases ahead on all base-hits that enter into the outfield. A runner on first base should be thinking third right out of the gate until he is forced to hold up at second. Too many runners mentally play the game one base at a time. They start out in first gear on the crack of the bat. This makes life easy for the outfielder who is fielding the base-hit. He sees the runner slowing down on his way into second base, and he knows he can go down to a knee and keep the ball in front of him. We’re trying to pressure the defense here!! An aggressive approach around a bag may cause an outfielder to hurry up and ultimately misplay the ball.
18) Learn to hit with two strikes
Some of the better contact hitters in the game are more successful when behind in the count. When you think about the concept, it is hard to believe. However, not every out occurs from a strikeout. In fact, more outs are made off of the bat than from strikeouts. Many young hitters are told to aggressively attack pitches when ahead in the count. There is nothing wrong with this approach when he sees a good pitch, especially in an RBI situation. However, problems arise when this approach is taken with pitches that can not be handled with this type of approach. Unfortunately, the outcome is sometimes a pop up to the infield. Players who can hit with two strikes know how to make the necessary adjustments like spreading out, seeing the pitch deeper in the zone, and shortening up on the bat. In return, they have a better chance at a productive at bat. This approach increases the chances of hitting a ground ball and pressuring the defense to make the play.
19) Hit behind a runner
The majority of hitters bat from the right side of the plate. Too many of these hitters want to pull the ball every time they take a swing. Unfortunately, base running is done in a counter-clockwise direction. For a right-handed hitter to hit behind a runner, he must learn to stay inside of the ball, see it deeper in the zone and hit it the other way. When we think about hitting behind a runner, the first thing that comes to our mind is advancing a runner from second base third. However, let’s focus on a runner at first with less than two outs. In this situation we have the first baseman holding the runner and the second baseman pinching toward second for the double play. This leaves a giant hole. If a right-handed hitter can find this whole, you’re looking at a first and third situation. Now, the defensive planning must begin. At the very least, if the second baseman gets to this ball, the only play he has is the out at first. You now at least have a runner in scoring position.
20) Make adjustments within the same at-bat
Realizing that the situation of the game may change every pitch is the first step to developing a solid mental approach. As the situation changes, if you are able to adjust your thinking, you have just taken the next step. The most vital step however, is executing based on the situation and ultimately pressuring the defense.
Article written by Dave Vaccaro: Head Coach-Morrisville High School, Yardley Post 317 and creator of http://www.hitmore.net.
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