Featured Stories

Quadruple Bypass Successful For Andy Lopez

Quadruple Bypass Successful For Andy Lopez

Andy LopezUniversity of Arizona baseball coach Andy Lopez continues to do well in his recovery from open heart surgery earlier this month. He has announced a complete and full return to all coaching duties beginning with the start of preseason practices Jan. 15, 2014.

“All of my doctors have assured me that the surgery went very well, and I will fully return to coaching,” Lopez said. “With the doctors’ advice, I will take the rest of our fall practice season off and resume all of my normal coaching duties when we begin preseason practices.”

Lopez, who turns 60 next month, underwent quadruple bypass surgery on Oct. 7 at Tucson Medical Center. He was released and returned home Oct. 11.

“I cannot thank the entire medical team at Tucson Medical Center enough for their care and support through this process,” Lopez said. “I am grateful of the tremendous team effort by everyone involved.

“My primary physician, Dr. Jeffrey Selwyn, got the ball rolling, and I received unbelievable treatment from my cardiologist, Dr. Salvatore Torrito, and my heart surgeon, Dr. Raj Bose. Each of them has said I will be raring to go in January.”

Now in his 13th season with the school, Lopez has led the Wildcats to eight postseason berths, including two College World Series appearances highlighted by the 2012 national championship. He was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Coach of The Year that season.

Lopez has a 1,124-685-7 (.621) in 31 years as a collegiate head coach and is 437-267-1 (.621) in 12 seasons at Arizona.

Wildcat pitching coach Shaun Cole said Lopez experiencing tightness in his back and neck for six weeks. In the week preceding the surgery, he suffered from chest pain.

“Andy then scheduled a doctor’s appointment and went back for additional tests,” said Cole.

“It was determined that surgery was the best option at that point. Andy didn’t suffer any heart attack. Fortunately, doctors discovered the problem before that happened.”

DeRenne Delves Into Bat Control, Accuracy

DeRenne Delves Into Bat Control, Accuracy

Coop DeRenneBy DR. COOP DeRENNE
Professor/University of Hawaii

HONOLULU, Hawaii — In 1979, I asked two questions that directed my baseball research agenda:  How do you pitch and throw the baseball faster; and how to do the best hitters hit and increase their bat velocities?  

These two questions guided me to the scientific areas of biomechanics, exercise science and visual training. 

My final hitting book, The Scientific Approach to Hitting: Research Explores the Most Difficult Skill in Sport, provides the player and coach with valuable evidence on how to become a better hitter. 

This final article is from this second hitting book.

The book can be obtained from University Readers, www.universityreaders.com   

Bat Control & Accuracy
What is bat control? Can we measure it? Can we increase bat control for better hitting performances? Does bat control relate to accuracy? These questions are very important to all hitters and hitting coaches.

The following published research study gives us some tangible answers.

Abstract
This study investigated the relationship among hitting components and bat control during the normal and choke-up grip swings.

Fourteen intercollegiate and professional baseball players were randomly assigned into five hitting groups.

Within each group, the following four hitting components were computed to determine the relationship between bat control in two grip conditions (normal; choke-up): (1) Swing time (bat quickness), (2) stride time, (3) bat velocity and (4) bat-ball contact accuracy. 

Results indicated significant differences (p =0.01) between choke-up and normal grips in swing time, stride time and bat velocity. 

Players using the choke-up grip swing had significant less swing time and stride time than the normal grip swing.

Results also indicated significant greater bat velocities (p = 0.01) with normal grip swings than the choke-up grip swings.

In addition, further results indicated no significant differences (p = .90) between choke-up and normal grips in bat-ball accuracy.

These findings suggest that the choke-up grip facilitates faster swing time and stride time without compromising bat velocity or contact accuracy.

To read the entire article, order the Oct. 4, 2013 issue of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.

UCLA’s John Savage Explains His System

UCLA’s John Savage Explains His System

UCLA Head Coach John SavageBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

LOS ANGELES — UCLA Head Baseball Coach John Savage is one of the best pitching coaches in the business.

In this exclusive interview with Collegiate Baseball, Savage discusses all aspects of pitching within his time-honored system.

Savage has been a pitching coach on the college level for the past 21 years with stops at Nevada, U.C. Irvine, Southern California and now with the Bruins the past nine seasons.

UCLA’s team ERA the last four years has been remarkable.

• 2010 (3.00 ERA).
• 2011 (2.44 ERA).
• 2012 (3.13 ERA).
• 2013 (2.55 ERA).

Never in the history of UCLA baseball has pitching been so good for so long, and that is a direct reflection of Savage who teaches every aspect of pitching to his hurlers, including the vital mental side.

Over his nine years, Savage has produced some of the nation’s top drafted pitchers, including Gerrit Cole (first overall pick in 2011 Draft by the Pirates), Trevor Bauer (third overall pick in 2011 Draft by the Diamondbacks), David Huff (first round supplemental pick in 2006 by the Indians) and Rob Rasmussen (second round pick in 2010 by the Marlins), just to name a few.

Savage led the Bruins to their first national baseball championship at the 2013 College World Series as the Bruins rolled through the NCAA Tournament with a 10-0 record and finished 5-0 at the College World Series.

UCLA ran the table against an imposing gauntlet of ranked teams.

The Bruins started off by beating Cal Poly and San Diego in Regional action along with San Diego St.

Then UCLA competed at No. 4 ranked Cal. St. Fullerton and eliminated the Titans two straight.

At the College World Series, UCLA knocked off No. 1 ranked LSU, No. 5 N.C. State, No. 2 North Carolina and then swept Mississippi State two straight in the Championship Series.

Incredibly, the Bruins’ pitching staff only allowed four runs over five CWS games against these elite teams.

In the 67-year-history of the College World Series, only one national champion has given up fewer runs than UCLA this year as California allowed three in 1957.

The Bruins were the first team in CWS history to allow one run or less in each of the five games they played. 

Traditional Approach
“We are very traditional in the way that we utilize pitchers in games,” said Savage.

“We don’t try to reinvent the position. We have specific roles in our program that we set usually within a month or month and a half of them being on campus. We try to recruit depth and pitchability along with delivery projections and toughness. Those are the main ingredients of what we are looking for.

“Then we establish roles in terms of a Tuesday starter or a Friday, Saturday or Sunday starter. Sometimes that won’t be established until January. Every year is a little different depending on who you have coming back.

“Then we want to establish the seventh inning relief pitcher, setup guy in the eighth inning. And certainly, you must have a closer. Our biggest thing is having our pitchers knowing their roles and having them embrace their roles so they can become the pitching staff we want to become.

“We talk about one baton in two worlds. The baton is the baseball. You hand the baseball off to the starting world. Then it is turned over to the bullpen. We want to have the best starting pitching in the country and want to have the best bullpen in the nation.

“The goal is to connect the entire game as we have our strongest guy for that role on the mound. It takes time to establish those roles. But when you get to that position and get their minds right as they embrace their roles on the staff, we have seen a lot of good things happen.”

For the complete story on John Savage’s amazing pitching system, order the Oct. 4, 2013 issue of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.

Flat Seam Baseballs Travel Greater Distance

Flat Seam Baseballs Travel Greater Distance

Dave KeilitzBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

The results are in with NCAA testing on flat seam vs. raised seam NCAA certified baseballs.

After several months of testing at the NCAA Bat Certification lab at Washington State University, the Sept. 30 results show that the flat seam ball will travel further than a raised seam ball due to the “drag effect.” The greater the distance a ball travels, the greater the drag effect.

The test was conducted with an average ball exit speed from a machine at 95 mph with a spin rate of 1,400 RPM and a launch angle of 25 degrees. These parameters were set because they replicate the settings of a typical home run or a hit that could become a home run.

The average distance the raised seam ball traveled was 367 feet while the average distance the flat seam ball traveled was 387 feet — 20 feet further.

Research was not able to give a difference between a raised seam vs. flat seam ball at a specific distance such as 320 feet, 350 feet and 400 feet. However, researchers believe this study is a good representation of what you will get with a raised seam vs. flat seam batted ball.

The results of the testing were sent to NCAA Division I head baseball coaches by American Baseball Coaches Association Executive Director Dave Keilitz, and head coaches will now vote on whether they prefer a raised seam NCAA approved ball or the flat seam ball for NCAA tournament use.

If in the future complications involved with changing to a higher performance standard (COR) for the college ball can be resolved, Keilitz wanted to know if coaches would prefer to keep the present college ball standard of a .555 COR or if it should be increased to the pro maximum standard of .578.

Keilitz will submit the results of this survey to the NCAA Baseball Committee by Oct. 21 for their Nov. 4 meeting.

“I believe a decision on the ball will be made on Nov. 4,” said Keilitz in his letter to NCAA Division I coaches.

“If a change is to be made, it would not be for this year, but probably the 2014-2015 school year. So teams would have use of the new ball for fall practice. If we were to change from a raised seam ball (now required by the NCAA for tournament play) to a flat seam ball, the process is fairly simple. First of all, the change doesn’t have to go through the NCAA Rules Committee, which represents all three divisions — I, II and III, because it isn’t a ball rule change.

“The NCAA Division I Baseball Committee can declare that the flat seam ball will be used for tournament play, and it’s done. Secondly, safety is not a factor because the ball comes off the bat at the same speed whether it is a raised seam ball or a flat seam ball (the drag effect does not take effect until the ball travels a good distance). Third, all the major ball companies (Diamond, Wilson, Rawlings) can easily produce a flat seam ball at no extra cost to the schools.”

For years, NCAA Division I schools have used the raised seam baseball in practices and games since it is the ball being used in post-season NCAA tournament games.

No testing was done at Washington State on the minor league specification flat seam baseball since neither the NCAA Rules Committee nor the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee has any interest in using it for tournament games at this time with the higher maximum .578 COR performance level.

According to Keilitz, previous testing showed significant differences in the distances balls travel that are approved for college and pro baseball.

“Previous research has shown that a minor league flat seam ball with a maximum COR of .578 hit 300 feet would go 20-25 feet further than a college (raised seam) ball with a maximum COR of .555,” said Keilitz.

That would translate to 26.6 to 33.3 feet further on a ball hit 400 feet with the minor league baseball.

Keilitz said that the cost per dozen for the minor league ball would run more than the college ball. The major league ball would be cost prohibitive to most schools at a cost of over $100 per dozen.

Lower Offensive Numbers
Since BBCOR specification bats have been required since the 2011 season, offensive numbers have plummeted in college baseball.

The poster child for lack of offense took place at the recent College World Series as only three home runs were hit in 14 games. It marked the lowest home run total since 1966 — some 47 years ago when only two home runs were hit in 15 games. The total number of runs scored in the 2013 College World Series was 86 — the lowest total since 98 runs during the 1973 CWS which was the last year before aluminum bats and the designated hitter.

Over 14 games last June at the CWS, the batting average for teams was an anemic .237.

From an all-time high of 62 homers at the 1998 College World Series, the numbers have sunk lower and lower with 9 in 2011, 10 in 2012 and 3 in 2013. Numbers the last three years have closely mirrored the wood bat era in college baseball which took place up to the 1973 season.

Many coaches in college baseball don’t want to go back to the wild scoring games prior to BBCOR bats which featured numerous home runs and lengthy ball games. But a vocal core of coaches feel that a slight adjustment is in order that could pump offense into the game. The flat seam college baseball with a maximum COR of .555 might be the answer.

Keilitz said that in a survey sent to NCAA Division I coaches in October of 2012, a slight majority (55 percent) preferred a flat seam ball. The survey also showed that a slight majority of coaches (53 percent) did not want to change the present ball COR standard.

“There are a number of different styles that coaches favor in playing baseball,” said Keilitz.

“Some coaches enjoy having teams which feature great pitching and defense while they manufacture runs. Other coaches like the 3-run homer. I know that coaches take this into consideration when voting for things like this.

“My guess is that John Savage of UCLA probably likes the game the way it is since his teams are built on pitching and defense. When you look at the teams Skip Bertman previously built at LSU, the bats were more lively, and he took advantage of that as he loaded his lineup with nine guys who could hit home runs. He was smart doing this as they won several national titles with this strategy.

“The beauty of baseball involves the different ways you can play it. So it will be interesting to see what the vote will be by our coaches.”

Great For Pro Baseball
Derek Johnson, Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Chicago Cubs and a highly successful pitching coach for 11 seasons at Vanderbilt, feels a change in balls will be great for pitchers going into pro baseball.

“If pitchers use the flat seam ball in college, there will be no adjustment period at all to the professional baseball (which also is a flat seam baseball),” said Johnson.

“When college pitchers come into pro ball now, there is an adjustment phase getting used to the flat seam ball when it comes to curves since pitchers have been throwing with the high seam baseball for years. It’s a bit different throwing the flat seam ball, but eventually pitchers adjust.”

Johnson believes there will be fewer blisters with pitchers when they transition into pro ball if the flat seam ball is used since pitchers won’t try to grip the seams tighter.

Florida Lands No. 1 Recruiting Class

Florida Lands No. 1 Recruiting Class

Kevin O'SullivanThe University of Florida landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, according to Collegiate Baseball newspaper’s annual evaluation of NCAA Division I baseball classes.

It marks the Gators’ second national recruiting title in the 31-year history of the rankings by Collegiate Baseball.

Florida captured its first recruiting championship in 2009 with seven drafted players.

Of the 17 new recruits which were brought in this fall, eight were drafted by professional baseball last June — the highest number of drafted players ever landed in a Florida recruiting class. Six of those are highly regarded pitchers.

The star-studded group includes 15 freshmen and two junior college transfers.

A complete rundown on Florida’s recruiting class, as well as each of the top 20 classes, is in the Oct. 4 issue of Collegiate Baseball.

To purchase that issue, CLICK HERE.

“We feel that we have brought in an outstanding class of players who will compete for playing time right away,” said Florida Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan.

“This group of 17 players is being counted on, and we feel as though we have found the right mix of players who can help us immediately.”

Florida also continued a trend where a school from the Southeastern Conference has won the recruiting title in 10 of the last 11 years.

Another interesting situation developed where three of the top four teams in the Collegiate Baseball recruiting rankings are from the state of Florida in No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Florida St. and No. 4 Miami (Fla.) which has never happened before.

The rankings are based on players who enroll at school each fall. Athletes who initially signed letters of intent with a school but then signed a pro contract after being drafted do not count in the overall evaluation.

 

2013 NCAA Div. I
Recruiting Results
1. Florida
2. Mississippi St.
3. Florida St.
4. Miami (Fla.)
5. Oklahoma St.
6. Texas
7. Cal. St. Fullerton
8. Stanford
9. Oregon
10. Louisiana St.             

11. South Carolina
12. Mississippi
13. N.C. State
14. Tennessee
15. Texas A&M
16. UCLA
17. North Carolina
18. Arizona
19. Oklahoma
20. Michigan                    

21. Rice
22. Virginia
23. Vanderbilt
24. Oregon St.
25. Arizona St.
26. Nebraska
27. Texas Tech.
28. Texas Christian
29. South Alabama
30. California                   

31. U.C. Santa Barbara
32. Clemson
33. Arkansas
34. San Diego
Loyola Marymount
35. Georgia Tech.
36. Georgia
37. Louisville
38. East Carolina
39. Central Florida
40. Kent St.                     

Other Top Recruiting Classes: Southern California, U.C. Irvine, Kansas St., Kentucky, Fresno St., Indiana, Air Force, Alabama, Cal. Poly, Nevada, Austin Peay St., Hawaii, Florida Atlantic, Notre Dame, West Virginia, U.C. Riverside, Baylor, Western Michigan, Long Beach St., Winthrop, Coastal Carolina, N.C. Charlotte, Central Michigan, Nevada-Las Vegas, St. John’s, Auburn, Stetson, Samford, North Florida, Wichita St., Missouri St., Connecticut, Georgia St., Minnesota, Texas St., San Diego St., Wake Forest, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulane, James Madison, Memphis, South Florida, Liberty, Eastern Michigan, Maryland, Jacksonville, Kennesaw St., San Francisco, Appalachian St., Stony Brook, Ohio St., Purdue, Washington, Washington St., Florida International, Pepperdine, Missouri, New Mexico, Seton Hall, Georgia Southern, Monmouth.

Source: Collegiate Baseball


Previous NCAA Div. I
Recruiting Champions
2012: Vanderbilt
2011: South Carolina
2010: Louisiana St.
2009: Florida
2008: Arizona St.
2007: Louisiana St.
2006: South Carolina
2005: South Carolina
2004: Louisiana St.
2003: North Carolina
South Carolina
2002: Georgia Tech.
2001: Southern California
2000: Cal. St. Fullerton
1999: Southern California
1998: Georgia Tech.
1997: UCLA
1996: Texas A&M
1995: Arizona St.
1994: Mississippi St.
1993: Miami (Fla.)
1992: Florida St.
1991: Miami (Fla.)
1990: Arizona
1989: Florida St.
1988: Miami (Fla.)
1987: Stanford
1986: Stanford
1985: Hawaii
1984: Florida St.
1983: Arizona St.

Source: Collegiate Baseball

USA 18 & Under Team Wins World Cup

USA 18 & Under Team Wins World Cup

USA BaseballThe 2013 USA Baseball 18U National Team beat Japan, 3-2 to win the 2013 IBAF ‘AAA’/18U World Cup in Taichung, Taiwan.

The U.S. won its first world title since 1999 last year, and now has won back-to-back championships.

“I’m not sure I can totally describe this feeling,” 18U National Team manager, Rob Cooper, said.

“What I do want to say is how proud I am to associated with these 20 young men: what they’ve gone through, how they came together and how they stayed together. In this tournament you saw 20 guys come together for something far more important than themselves and play for the letter on their chest.”

Cooper handed the ball to Brady Aiken (Cardiff by the Sea, Calif.) with the World Cup championship on the line, and the left-hander delivered. He fired seven innings, spreading out five hits and one run while walking two and striking out 10 to earn the victory.

“To have the coaches any my teammates have the faith in me to go out and start this game means everything,” explained Aiken. “It was such an honor. Winning this championship means everything.”

Aiken found himself locked in a pitcher’s duel with Japanese southpaw Yuki Matsui. Matsui worked into the seventh inning, allowing just five hits and two runs while striking out nine and walking a pair. He threw 106 pitches in the losing effort.

Down by a run in the bottom of the fifth inning, Cole Tucker (Phoenix, Ariz.) got the offense started with a single – the first hit for the U.S. on the night. Two batters later, Michael Rivera (Venice, Fla.) singled to put runners on the corners for Adam Haseley (Windermere, Fla.). Haseley hit a ground ball, but hustled down the line to beat the double play attempt and score Tucker from third to tie the game.

An inning later, the offense went back to work. With two outs, Jakson Reetz (Hickman, Neb.) doubled down the left field line, and was driven in by a single from Bryson Brigman (San Jose, Calif.) to give the U.S. the lead.

With Aiken working in the seventh inning, he got an assist from his back stop Rivera. After a strike out on a missed two-strike bunt attempt, Rivera fired to first to pick off Ryuma Mori. Aiken punched out the next hitter to end the frame and hold the 2-1 U.S. lead.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Red, White and Blue grinded out a run in a third consecutive frame. Trace Loehr (Milwaukie, Ore.) hit the inning’s first pitch for a single, forcing a Japan pitching change. Reliever Taisuke Yamaoka’s first pitch was wild, allowing Loehr to advance to second. After Rivera sacrificed him over, Keaton McKinney (Ankeny, Iowa) singled through the right side to push the lead to 3-2.

Cooper wasted no time with the two-run lead, electing to go to closer Luis Ortiz (Sanger, Calif.) to start the eighth inning. With a runner on first, catcher Tomoya Mori skied a ball into foul territory just into the seats, but Haseley leaped, making an incredible catch.

Japan would strike for one in the inning on a two out single to cut the lead to 3-2, but Ortiz would silence the Japanese bats in the ninth inning to seal the victory and initiate a wild dog pile celebration on the field.

“To be a part of this is something I never even dreamed of,” 18U National Team assistant coach, Kevin Wilson, remarked. “When I got this opportunity, this was my goal. When the game ended I had to ask (Mike) Maack how we got the last out, I was just so overwhelmed.”

During the closing ceremony, Ortiz was named the tournament’s MVP after going 1-0 with three saves in five appearances. Ortiz allowed just two earned runs in eight and one-third innings pitched while striking out 12.

Adam Haseley was honored as one of three “Best Outfielders” and for leading the tournament in batting average (.452). Michael Rivera was named “Best Third Baseman.”

Baseball Denied Olympic Bid Once Again

Baseball Denied Olympic Bid Once Again

Olympic LogoBaseball and softball finished a distant second in voting by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) members Sunday, Sept. 8 to be reinstated as an official Olympic Sport.

Wrestling, which was dropped from the Olympics last February by the 15-person IOC Executive Board amid a huge uproar, was voted back in after receiving 49 of the 95 votes cast.

The joint bid of baseball/softball was second with 24 votes while squash received 22.

Because of the winning vote, wrestling is now assured of appearing at both the 2020 and the 2024 Summer Olympics.

For baseball/softball, which had among others Antonio Castro, the son of the long-time Cuban leader Fidel in their presentation team, it represents another blow after being voted out of the Olympics beginning with the 2012 London summer games.

USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO, Paul Seiler, issued the following statement regarding the vote:

“While we are obviously disappointed with the decision of the International Olympic Committee to not move forward with baseball and softball for inclusion on the Olympic program in 2020, we continue to believe the combined efforts of baseball and softball provide a great platform for international competition and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts of growing baseball and softball worldwide.

“USA Baseball will continue to promote baseball and softball both internationally and domestically through our various initiatives, and we look forward to the opportunity to return to the Olympic program in the future.

“In the meantime, we want to thank our partners and fans for their support of our joint efforts.”

Voting For Flat Seam Ball Will Take Place

Voting For Flat Seam Ball Will Take Place

BaseballsBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

A flat seam baseball could be mandatory for NCAA Division I baseball tournament games as early as the 2015 season if coaches show support for it in upcoming voting that will take place by the American Baseball Coaches Association.

NCAA Division I Baseball Committee rules currently require that a raised seam ball be used for Division I tournament play.

Because of that, all NCAA Division I schools use the raised seam ball in their practices and games.

The NCAA now has researchers testing raised seam vs. flat seam college certified baseballs with a COR performance limit of .555 to determine what the “drag effect” is of both balls and if the flat seam ball flies further, according to Dave Keilitz, executive director of the ABCA.

“It will be interesting to see what NCAA researchers come up with,” said Keilitz.

“If the raised seam ball goes 350 feet, will the flat seam ball go 355 feet, 360 feet or further because it has less drag in the seams? Currently we don’t know the answer.

“They are nearing the end of their study and will then do some field testing with the ball before finalizing their conclusions,” said Keilitz.

“I have suggested that everything be finalized by the end of September.”

At that point, Keilitz plans on sending the results to NCAA Division I head coaches so they can vote in a survey for the raised seam ball or flat seam ball.

“Based upon the input, I will then report the desires of our coaches to the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee for discussion and possible action at their November meeting,” said Keilitz.

“I believe the committee will side with the desires of our coaches. If coaches decide to have a flat seam ball, it is an easy transition.

“All the major ball companies (Diamond, Rawlings and Wilson) produce the ball and have indicated to me it would not be an additional cost to schools. If the flat seam ball is adopted by the NCAA, the earliest date of implementation would be the 2014-2015 school year.”

What is not on the table for testing is the minor league specification flat seam baseball since neither the NCAA Rules Committee nor the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee has any interest in using it for tournament games at this time with the higher maximum .578 COR performance level.

According to Keilitz, previous testing showed significant differences in the distances balls travel that are approved for college and pro baseball.

“Previous research has shown that a minor league flat seam ball with a maximum COR of .578 hit 300 feet would go 20-25 feet further than a college (raised seam) ball with a maximum COR of .555,” said Keilitz.

That would translate to 26.6 to 33.3 feet further on a ball hit 400 feet with the minor league baseball.

Keilitz said that the cost per dozen for the minor league ball would run more than the college ball. The major league ball would be cost prohibitive to most schools at a cost of over $100 per dozen.

The complete article is in the Sept. 6, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. To obtain this issue or subscribe, CLICK HERE.

Secrets Of Great Infield Play Answered

Secrets Of Great Infield Play Answered

UCLA's T.J. BruceBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
(From the Sept. 6, 2013 Edition)

UCLA’s defense the last three years has been extraordinary.

In 2013, the Bruins recorded a .980 fielding percentage, the best in school history, as UCLA committed only 52 errors in 2,624 chances.

The previous two years, the Bruins posted .976 fielding percentages which ranked second in school history both seasons.

It is no coincidence that UCLA’s fielding success has happened under Bruin Infield Coach T.J. Bruce who has been with the Bruins the last three seasons.

He is without a doubt one of the top infield coaches in all of baseball and utilizes many progressive concepts that allow infielders to have soft hands and make play after play with precision.

UCLA won the College World Series last season for the first time in history with great pitching and defense. But not until now has an in-depth story been written about how defense is taught at UCLA.

In posting a 5-0 record during the College World Series, UCLA’s infielders only committed 2 errors, and turned 4 double plays.

There were a number of outstanding defensive plays that contributed to 10 consecutive wins during the entire NCAA tournament.

Infielders only committed four errors in those 10 pressure packed playoff games.

“You don’t ever want to see your infielders lose their athleticism. That’s been the biggest key for us the last three years at UCLA.

“Teaching them that every play is different is also important. We had 769 assists during the past season in 66 games, and every ball that was hit to our infielders was different. And the key to our success is having the players have a solid foundation.

“I also believe that the earlier the separation of the hands, the earlier your feet must get into motion. No one ever thinks that way. As soon as you break your hands, your feet must do something. They have to move. I always tell my infielders that if they have bad feet, they will go and play in the outfield.

“That’s no knock on our outfielders who do a great job. But infield play is done with your feet. Nobody stresses that. And I feel it is crucial. In fact, I utilize a drill where I have them about 40 feet away from me and have their hands tied behind their back or have their hands in their back pockets.

“Then I roll balls to them and have them simply stop balls with their feet. This really helps them move their feet and makes them realize how crucial footwork is. It doesn’t matter which foot touches the ball. I just want it instilled in their mind that they need to touch the ball with one of their feet.

“If one of my guys can touch a ball with their feet, they will throw you out. That’s always been my theory. I want them to expand their minds on infield play because it can be tedious working on infield play with thousands of balls they will receive during a typical year in practice.”

For the rest of the in-depth story (first of a 2-part series) on how T.J. Bruce teaches infield play at UCLA, purchase the Sept. 6 issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.  Bruce explains his system for consistent improvement with infielders, working on different hops, and the notorious 4-ball drill for third baseman and other infielders.

Summer Instruction Series: Art Of Bunting 2

Summer Instruction Series: Art Of Bunting 2

Bunting IncorrectlyBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

Three head coaches who have long been advocates of the bunting game, Mike Gillespie of U.C. Irvine, George Horton of Oregon and Jim Morris of Miami (Fla.), share their thoughts on this specialized skill.

The interview with these three coaches originally appeared in the Oct. 11, 2002 edition of Collegiate Baseball.

“We want all of our players to be complete in the offensive phase of baseball,” said Gillespie, who also coached at Southern California prior to moving to U.C. Irvine.

“Bunting is a big part of offense for us. As far as the sacrifice bunt, we have our batters cheat up in the box. We want to get better plate coverage and be up in the box to take advantage of the full 90 degrees of the base angles instead of having someone attempt to bunt in the middle or back of the box where a bunt would have to roll across the foul line to be fair.

“Something we do which may be a bit different than other programs is that for a sacrifice bunt, we have our hitters show early. They then spin on both feet and have the feet facing the pitcher as the pitcher comes to the set position. Virtually all pro teams and most college teams don’t show until after the pitcher comes to the set position, lifts his leg and breaks his hands. That is when hitters usually commit to a bunt.

“But on sacrifice bunts, we do it early. And we do it for a couple of reasons. When we sacrifice, there is no surprise element involved. Just about everybody in the world knows it is a slam dunk bunt.

“The next thing we do is have our hitters drop their front foot open just a little bit for balance. Then they go into an exaggerated knee flex so they minimize the barrel from dropping.

“Another point to make is that our bunters choke up on the bat about 3-4 inches off the knob with the bottom hand. We want the hands split with the top hand around the label. He cradles the top of the bat in his hand.

“We also pre-angle the bat to whatever direction we want the ball to go making sure the barrel is above the knob. It also is important to hold the hands with the bat at the top of the strike zone or even a little higher. We never want our hitters to lift their hands to adjust to a pitch. There is too much risk in that as pop ups result batters will get outs.

“No matter what technique someone prefers in bunting, you must have a comfortable flex with the elbows if you are doing a sacrifice bunt or trying to bunt for a base hit.

“The single most common error is running too quickly before the ball is struck with the bat. We keep hammering and hammering away at our bunters to not run until they see a downward angle of the ball just coming off the bat.

“Once they see that downward angle of the ball off the bat, run like hell to first base…but not before seeing this downward angle of the ball.”

Gillespie said he becomes incredibly frustrated when his bunters run too soon before striking the ball.

“We attach all sorts of penalties in good fun to running too fast before a bunt is struck properly.

“We spend a significant amount of time on it. We are a little unusual in that the first pitch of batting practice is bunted by our hitters. But also the last pitch the hitter goes after must be a bunt as well. We do that because he is running on the pitch, and we want him to be comfortable with running hard to first or whatever the round calls for. This way we can check to see they are being mechanically sound.”

Gillespie said minimizing movement by hitters with the drag, push and other bunts is critical to the success of batters.

“We have our guys use more of a sacrifice technique in bunting than you see with other teams which use the traditional drag or push techniques because frankly players can get too cute with fancy techniques. We try to convey to our hitters to always be on the lookout for opportunities to drag or push bunt…but only do this when the defense allows you to take it. You don’t have to be extremely foxy. If a corner guy is way back, that is a great time to do it.

“So we have a modified sacrifice bunt technique which our guys use for these techniques. We are much more interested in placement of balls than about exact timing. If we place the bunt well, we will be safe.”

Gillespie said he is convinced you don’t have to have players with great speed to have a great bunting team.

“I honestly believe you don’t have to be a great runner to be a successful bunter. It has been our experience that opportunities are there for big, slow guys to bunt. If you develop their techniques, they will be safe because defensive players will play back on them.

“Over the years, I have had maybe one or two players with incredible speed. Damon Buford (USC player) comes to mind. We just have not been successful in our recruiting to get that type of player with incredible speed. But we have still been pretty successful with the bunting game.

“We had a player named Casey Burrell, a 6-foot-3, 230 pound guy (USC) who was basically a base clogger. As a sophomore he hit 7th in the lineup. But the following year he was the 3-4 hole hitter and had plenty of power. But people didn’t realize he had 17 drag bunt base hits as a sophomore. He never had a push bunt base hit. But he had the perfect technique to drag. Third basemen almost always played him back. But he had the ability to bunt a tick firm so the pitcher couldn’t make a play.

“You normally want a bunt to die about 12 feet from the plate near the line like a wedge shot. He was contrary to this formula. He had to make the third baseman field the ball.”

Bunting With Slow Runners
Gillespie said Hall of Fame Coach Wally Kincaid from Cerritos College always had a few big, slow guys who could drag bunt.

“If the opposition had its third baseman back with two outs and Coach Kincaid had a runner on third with a big, slow guy batting, many times that batter would drag bunt to third. It was amazing how many times that play worked. We copied that idea because it works.”

Gillespie said his teams work on bunting in several different ways.

“One way we practice bunting is by placing a cone where we want the balls to go or make a small alley lined with bats from home plate to the area the ball must travel or even throw a hat out there. Then we will pick our best two bunters and have them choose teams. Team X will bunt five to 10 drags or pushes and keep score. Then the other team will follow. The winners might get a Popsicle while the losers might pick up gear. Or the winners might be excused from running at the end of practice. We make it fun for the guys.

“We bunt every day, and typically bunting is among the first two things we do after stretching.

“Another thing we have done is establish groups of three and fan them out foul pole to foul pole. In those groups you have a bunter, thrower and shagger. One day we may have 15 drags or 5 drags, 5 push bunts or 5 squeezes…whatever. We devote 15 minutes to it. We have the hitters back up to the warning track and have the thrower pitch to him. The problem we have encountered is that the pitcher usually doesn’t throw hard enough from 50 to 60 feet away. We are always on them to throw hard to make it game-like. Bunting against soft pitching just doesn’t work.

“Then, as I said earlier, we have hitters in batting practice bunt the first and last pitch.”

Close Monitoring Needed
Gillespie said the one problem he has had with players fanning out across the warning track foul pole to foul pole in groups of three is that coaches can’t monitor every group with every pitch.

“I don’t care what skill it is. If it is not monitored, they are not working hard at it. In our case, we only have three coaches at practice every day. I think we may change one aspect of bunting this year. If we have a group taking batting practice, the others might be placed in groups of two on the sides of the aprons in front of the dugouts where I can see all of them. On one side of the infield, one group may practice drag bunting while the other side may be working on push bunting.”

Gillespie said no matter how much emphasis or how hard his teams work on all phases of bunting, in reality there are only a few guys who are extremely skilled at this craft.

“Not everybody develops the ability to bunt well in games. And that’s frustrating because we really believe in it. There is a significant place for it in baseball. I have found that there usually are two or three guys on any one team who can drag and two or three guys who can push bunt.

“Wes Rachels was the absolute best offensive player in all phases of the game I have ever seen in 36 years of coaching. He was a grand master at executing all the skills of offense such as the drag, push, sacrifice, squeeze, hit and run, slash…you name it.

“I’ll never forget the 1998 College World Series where he was named MVP. Many people don’t realize that from the first day of the College World Series to the last, Wes did everything offensively you can do. He got a squeeze down, drag bunt, slashed twice, hit and run, moved a runner over, hit two doubles and a home run.”

Executing The Slug Bunt
Gillespie said Jerry Weinstein’s teams at Sacramento City College were noted for executing the slug bunt.

“He would have a left-handed hitter up at the plate and come around to bunt. The third baseman and first baseman from the opposing team would run in toward the plate. But usually there would be a huge hole between the third baseman and pitcher with the shortstop playing back. It seemed like every year he had a guy who could hit the ball to the right of the third baseman toward the shortstop which would be an easy single if hit with the right amount of touch. But this takes a tremendous amount of skill to do.”

Other Philosophies On Bunting
Oregon’s Horton (who also has coached at Cal State Fullerton for many seasons) said bunting is one of the key components of their offense.

“Bunting is one of the first lessons our new players learn,” said Horton.

“We want kids to buy into it early in our program. I am not a gadget type of guy with different bunting gimmicks which might be on the market. We teach the fundamentals from the get-go. Batters must have the proper angle of the bat aimed toward the target they wish to hit. The barrel of the bat should be slightly higher than the knob.

“The term we use a lot is catch the ball with the bat. We want pace to be taken off the ball on a sacrifice bunt. Most hitters naturally stab at the ball with their bat. I have found that how firm a batter grips the bat with his top hand is important. Through repetition, hitters can become superb bunters.

“Sometimes a JC or high school guy will come into the program as a great bunter. We don’t touch those guys…only add to their skills if we can.

“I like our bunters to have their bottom hand about three inches from the knob. The top hand slides up to control the position of the barrel. A good visual cue is to tell the batter to place his top hand on the barrel of the bat so that it is almost like a chair with the thumb serving as the back support of the chair. You pinch the bat with a bent index finger and the thumb with all other fingers tucked safely away.

“Sliding the top hand to the barrel must be done quickly so the bat can be turned at the correct angle toward the target. The bat is placed at the top of the strike zone as an aiming device. Any pitch above the bat is a ball, so bring the bat back. Anything below should be bunted as long as it is a strike. It is crucial to bunt only strikes.

“We are committed to the bunt and put aside enough practice time to be successful. We tell all of our guys as a motivation tool that if player A and B are equal in every respect (power, running, defense, etc.) then often times the bunting game will give one player the edge over another. They get the message right away how much we value good bunters. When we scrimmage, everyone is asked to bunt. That translates into a commitment to work harder in practice.”

Horton said he uses orange cones to designate where hitters must bunt the ball.

“We have several drills with the bunting game we work on. We want hitters bunting and pitchers fielding to have a game-like atmosphere. We also have different bunting stations which help their skills as well.”

Success At Miami
Miami’s Morris said the bunting game became an important weapon for his team after the loss of so much power off his 1998 team which hit 139 homers in 63 games to rank No. 1 in Hurricane history.

“Even though we still hit over 100 home runs last season (2001), we went back to the old Ron Fraser style of game at Miami with great bunting and a solid running game.

Morris said his players must be committed to the bunting game.

“They must understand bunting is an important facet of offense. Often times you will have too many guys who won’t give a good effort when you practice bunting and don’t understand its importance to winning baseball. It is more than a technique. It is an extremely important part of offense.

“As a coach, you must set aside time every week in practice to work on it. People will find it interesting last season that we never had traditional batting practices on Thursdays prior to a three-game weekend series. We really concentrated on the bunting game every Thursday.

“Our practices on Thursdays consisted of having 16 hitters break into two groups of eight each. In 20 minute segments, one group would work on the field while the other would work in the cages. Then they would flip flop. All of the hitters would work on sacrifice, drag and push bunts in both the field and cage setting and strive to be mechanically sound by doing things the right way.

“By spending this amount of time on bunting in practice, it shows the hitters right away the importance you place on bunting.

“We also work on sacrifice bunts with runners on first and second and strategies such as this. We have found that our Thursday bunt sessions have allowed our hitters to have better hand-eye coordination. So there have been other hidden benefits as well.”

Morris said his players work hard at making precision bunts.

“With runners on first and second and an obvious sacrifice bunt is called for, our hitter is taught to bunt the ball a little more firmly so the third baseman handles the ball. With nobody on and our guy dragging a bunt, we want the ball to be deadened and stopped, if possible, near the foul line.

“We move our batters up in the batter’s box and square their feet by spinning them so they point toward the pitcher.”

Morris said the more actual game experience players get as far as laying down bunts in game situations the better.

To obtain a copy of the Oct. 11, 2002 issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe, CLICK HERE.