With the home run becoming increasingly rare in college baseball, the running game on offense is more important than ever.
In 2010, the year prior to BBCOR bats being mandated for use by college programs, NCAA Division I programs averaged 0.94 home runs per game, according to the annual statistics’ trends compiled by the Association.
In 2011, that average dropped nearly in half to 0.52 with the new bats in use. The last two years, Division I teams have averaged 0.42 home runs per game in 2013 and 0.39 in 2014 — the lowest home run numbers in over 40 years.
Programs which are adept at stopping the running game of opponents have a big advantage when it comes to winning in today’s game.
Few coaches in college baseball have the track record that U.C. Irvine Head Coach Mike Gillespie has when it comes to shutting down base stealers.
In the last seven years with the Anteaters, U.C. Irvine has only allowed 204 stolen bases in 427 chances by opponents in 418 games — .49 stolen bases per game.
His teams have not allowed more than 33 stolen bases in any one season during that span. And that was in 2008 when the Anteaters allowed 38 stolen bases in 83 attempts.
In this exclusive question and answer session with Gillespie, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach explains the system which has allowed his teams to have tremendous success in this area over the years.
Gillespie just finished his 43rd season of coaching (7 years at U.C. Irvine, 20 at Southern California and 16 at College of the Canyons) and has compiled an overall record of 1,457-782-2 with one national title in 1998 at USC and three state titles at Canyons.
COLLEGIATE BASEBALL: Your teams have limited stolen bases by opponents to incredibly small numbers nearly every year during your coaching career. And looking at the numbers over the last seven years at U.C. Irvine, this is especially true. What is your coaching philosophy in slowing down running games to a crawl?
MIKE GILLESPIE: I don’t feel that we utilize anything unusual to prevent opponents from having large stolen base numbers against us. We do what probably everyone tries to do. The obvious areas include having pitching that simply doesn’t allow many hits. Not committing a lot of errors is crucial. You don’t want to give up a lot of walks. Our team last season didn’t give up a lot of walks (141 in 66 games). And staying ahead in games is important as well which limits opportunities to run by opponents. I feel that left-hand pitching is certainly going to control the running game better than right-hand pitching. We all realize that this forces opponents into a guessing game if your lefthanders have even a reasonable move. They don’t have to have a world class pickoff move. But they certainly must have a move that looks reasonably like their move to the plate so it forces people to just guess. If you force people to guess, you will win more than you lose.
CB: How crucial is it to have pitchers who are quick to the plate with a runner on first?
GILLESPIE: Emphasizing quickness to the plate by pitchers is absolutely essential with a runner on first base. That really to me is the single most important thing. We want our pitchers to throw home in 1.3 seconds or less. But we really want to be under 1.2. We define that number from when the pitcher flinches to go to the plate until the catcher receives the ball. We give a little allowance for lefthanders to be a bit slower.
Stopping The Running Game: For more of Mike Gillespie’s in-depth analysis on stopping the base stealers, purchase the Sept. 5, 2014 edition of Collegiate Baseball by CLICKING HERE.