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Body Language

Posted on April 18, 2015 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Body language is defined as nonverbal, usually unconscious communication in the form of gestures, movements, and mannerisms.  It has been referred to as the strongest form of communication by many and that definitely holds true in sports.

As a pitcher it is crucial to control negative body language and use positive body language when the situation calls for it.  The pitcher is the leader of the defense, and the pitchers body language reflects the overall tone of the team in the field.  After all, 90% of the time the fans are focused on the pitcher while the defense is on the field.  

When a pitcher shows negative body language towards an umpire for a call he does not agree with, he is less likely to get the next borderline call.  Umpires have good memories and have been known to hold a grudge against certain players not just in that game, but throughout a season.

If pitchers tend to get frustrated with themselves and physically show it while struggling with pitch command or giving up hits, it will give hitters more confidence at the plate.  It's very important to work on keeping a poker face while things aren't going well on the mound.

Fielders are going to make errors on routine plays.  Do not show frustration in any way towards the defense.  They already feel bad enough for the error, do not compound the problem by showing a teammate up.  Work hard to keep that runner from scoring to pick a fielder up for the mistake.

There is a fine line as to when showing positive body language is called for and when it is unnecessary.  

If you get a strikeout with the bases loaded in a close game then a fist pump is a great way to get your team fired up and create even more momentum. But if you strike the first batter out of the game and do a little dance on the mound you are lighting a fire underneath the opposition and putting your teammates at risk of wearing a fastball in the back as retaliation.   

 

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True Victory in Youth Sports

Posted on August 20, 2014 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

While I was at the homecoming celebration for my hometown New Albany, Indiana Little League State Champs Baseball Team, I witnessed something that really spoke to me about what true victory in youth sports really is.  Lately, it seems like the adults around the game are getting further away from recognizing and teaching the crucial life lessons sport can provide. So I decided to put in my two cents with this post.

The gathering was on a Friday night at a local pizza eatery where the players helped themselves to all-you-can-eat pizza, soft-drinks, and dessert buffet.  They had an autograph session, photos were taken, congratulations were given, hands were shook, fists were pounded, and babies were kissed.  An all around great idea for any team ending the season!

After the pizza was consumed, refills of caffinated soda poured down hatches, and desserts a sweet afterthought, the kids blood sugar and activity levels had spiked to the party's energetic climax.  Obviously, this is when I decide I would like my own team picture, so I looked around to take inventory of whether this "great idea" was possible.

By then, in the parking lot, most of the players were showcasing their athletic ability in some form or fashion, but without any direction or purpose.  In other words, they were running around like a pack of wild coyotes, and actually making some of the same noises :). Without thinking twice I walked to the edge of the patio deck and muttered "hey fellas, can I get a group picture real quick"? 

A couple of players heard my request and herded up the team with what seemed to be a giant invisible lasso. They all stood in a neatly formed arrangement of two lines with textbook smiles and proper postures.  I took a few shots with my iPhone and realized that they had probably already taken 100 photos like that during the party.  So then I told them to have a little fun in the next couple photos.  That's when I saw the tight bond, the real smiles, the individual character, and everything forming into the team chemistry that carried this team.

What does this five minute experience tell us about the true purpose for the players of youth sports?  

The one or two random players (leaders in this case) that heard my request for a photo took charge of the situation, communicated instructions, organized people, and followed through with the task in a time of chaotic energy. Not only are the leaders to be commended, but so should the rest of the players for dropping whatever they were doing and being part of the what the team was asked to do.

As adults, what can we learn from this experience and teach our youth?  

It's about the process and not about the final score.  It's about teaching kids leadership, being a good teammate, and working as a single unit towards a common goal.  The kids practicing these skills when they are not directly supervised are the real youth sport victories.

So the next time your youth player suffers a heartbreaking defeat (by score) and you don't know what to say after the game or on the ride home, pull out your camera phone and take a picture of them, the exact same way I see so many parents taking photos of their kids with winning score trophies after games.  Tell your player that the plastic trophy the other team won will be a good dust collector. Tell them you're equally as proud regardless of the score and the real trophy is the team player persona they showed.  Tell them that's what you took a picture of, the true victory of youth sports.        

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Backing up Bases

Posted on April 22, 2014 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Last night after our Easter festivities I settled in to watch the last half of the Red Sox vs. Orioles.  Last year (2013) the Orioles set a number of different fielding records and were rated the best defensive team in Major League Baseball.  They have been on the same path this year with only 4 fielding errors through April 20th, all made by Manny Machado's replacement third basemen Jonathon Schoop.  Insert Manny Machado, and they may be errorless through Easter Sunday.  Tonight that same great defensive team blew a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning with an error to make a total of 3 on the night.  This article will discuss how the pitcher, who did not commit an error, could have saved the game.

With one out in the bottom of the ninth and the bases loaded, Bostons' Mike Carp hit a line drive to the left fielder David Lough.  Dustin Pedroia, the runner on third, did not immediately tag up.  So when Lough caught the ball for the second out of the inning, Pedroia was scrambling back to the bag.  Lough caught the ball and threw the it in at full speed to the third baseman Schoop even though Pedroia did not tag, who was out of position as the cutoff man to home. Schoop was only a couple steps off the bag at third when he decided to dodge the ball coming at him from left field. 

The ill-advised throw to the out of position cut off man sailed 15 up the foul line, past the catcher standing at home plate and the pitcher who only gave a half hearted effort to back up the play.  Since the pitcher did not hustle from the crack of the bat to get in position to back up the throw he wasn't able to field the ball, it got past both of them, and Pedroia came into score the winning run.  The pitcher was not charged with the error but in my opinion he was just as much at fault as anyone involved in the play. 

It is the pitcher's job to hustle behind any base there may be a play and get as far back toward the fence as possible.  The further back the pitcher is from the play, the more time he has to react to a bad throw.  In this situation the Orioles pitcher only got to the edge of the home plate dirt before the errand throw came in and had no time to react.  The left fielder and third baseman also had chances to keep Pedroia at third base, but with a little hustle the pitcher could have made up for their mistakes and saved himself a loss!

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Pitches per Inning

Posted on July 04, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Pitches Per Inning

In baseball everything is recorded and statistics are of the upmost importance. But which numbers are the most important? In pitching, everyone seems to believe individual statistics like Earned Run Average (ERA), Strikeouts (K), and Walks+Hits/Inning Pitched (WHIP) are the best measurements of success on the mound. Although these statistics are very important and do determine who dominant pitchers are, we think Pitches Per Inning (P/IP) paints a bigger picture of which pitchers are most valuable to their team and should be used alongside the current mainstay pitching stats.  

Lets first take a look at the team benefits of a low Pitches Per Inning statistic.  Below we've listed team benefits that a low P/IP measures that other individual pitching statistics do not.   

  1. Measures average pitches it takes to get outs, the most important statistic for all pitchers.
  2. Defensive fielding percentage gets better with balls put in play early and often.
  3. It gives momentum to the pitcher's offense, gets them back in the dugout.
  4. It saves energy which generally improves pitch Lokation and velocity. 
  5. Keeps the bullpen fresh generally improving team winning percentage.
  6. Gives opposing pitcher less time to rest.
  7. Umpire generally opens strike zone when pitchers prove command.
  8. Improves durability and decreases injuries, making deeper pitching staffs.
  9. Hitters see less pitches which makes timing and pitch recognition more difficult.
  10. Hitters have less chance at seeing a mistake pitch.

The lower a pitcher's P/IP is, the better all around individual statistics they will have in addition to the team benefits mentioned above. The individual statistics we are referring to do not necessarily include strikeouts because K's generally increase P/IP.  There are so many people in and around the game that are fascinated with velocity and strikeouts that they loose track of the fact that a strikeout counts the same as a ground ball to the shortstop and velocity has no value in pitching statistics.     

As of May 21st, 2013 Pitches Per Inning is already displaying its importance in MLB. Of all qualifiers, the two pitchers with the highest P/IP are Vance Worley of the Minnesota Twins and Ryan Volgelsong of the San Francisco Giants, with P/IP at 18.4 and 18.1 respectively. These numbers directly effect their other numbers- both have ERA's above 6.2.

Jordan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals has had an outstanding year thus far. He has gone 7-2 with an ERA of 1.62. Over his 66.2 innings pitched, which ranks 4th out of the qualifiers, he has struck out 45 batters. Although not a high strikeout percentage at 6 per 9 innings pitched, it directly correlates to his P/IP in which he ranks 1st in the league at an outstanding rate of 12.9, almost a full pitch better than his closest competitor Bronson Arroyo(13.6 P/IP). Zimmerman has thrived off of throwing strikes early in the count, and inducing early contact. This helps the team in numerous ways. The Nationals have won 78% of the time when Zimmerman pitches. 

Pitches per inning measures more than just individual statistics and looks beyond the "aw factor" of high velocity and strikeouts that everyone seems to be so fascinated with.  P/ IP measures pitches that get outs better than any other statistic. In the Lokator System pitches that get outs will always be the most important!

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Sunday at the Players Championship

Posted on May 13, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

After watching all four days of the Players Championship on the PGA Tour, I can't help but see more similarities between pitching and golf.  Tiger Woods closed the deal and clinched the tournament title  and I wanted to write a little about how he got it done.  

Tiger managed the course brilliantly.  He avoided the big miss off the tee by using his 3 and 5 wood instead of the driver. On his approach shots he consistently hit greens in safer spots than the rest of the field.  He gave himself good looks at the cup by understanding what part of the green would give him the best chance to hit the putt.  Then he finished the deal when it came time to knock it down.

Woods hitting a controlled 3 or 5 wood off the tee box and shaping shots instead of blasting a driver every time was an example of him choosing Lokation over power and distance.  It reminded me of a pitcher who hits Lokations at 90% velocity and knows how to use the movement of pitches to their advantage instead of using maximum effort and trying to blow hitters away.  There were times when Tiger hit the driver but he chose his spots wisely.  The same should hold true with pitchers, know when that extra few MPH's is needed and use it accordingly.

On approach shots Tiger was obviously able to avoid hazards but he also knew where the slopes of the green were and which area around the green was the best place to putt from.  He kept the ball below the hole when possible and rarely missed to the short side of the green.  I compared this aspect of Tiger's game to a scouting report on hitters because he understood what the course was giving him and then executed a shot based on a many different variables, the same way a pitcher chooses pitch Lokation, selection, and sequencing.

When Tiger got to the green and started his putting routine it really became evident how much putting and pitching have in common.  The process of determining a line to hit the putt was comparable to choosing a Lokation to aim at.  The length of the putt and whether it was uphill or downhill determined the force of the ball strike just like a pitcher determines what speed to throw the ball.  Finally, when Tiger read the green for left or right breaking putt it reminded me of a pitcher accounting for the movement of pitches.

Managing a golf course and managing the game as a pitcher are comparable on so many different levels.  First, it's not always how far you hit the ball or how hard you can throw it, but can you control it?  Second, it's not possible to hit all Lokations or always have 2 foot birdie putts, but can you put yourself in a position to succeed?  Finally, when it is time to perform and you have taken all variables into consideration, can you execute the putt or pitch to close the deal?  Tiger did it all today.

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Damage Control in Pitching and Golf

Posted on April 14, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

Today I'm watching the final round of the Masters, my favorite day to watch golf all year.  Augusta National is the most beautiful, yet unforgiving golf course on the planet.  When golfers miss their Lokations during this tournament they are penalized more than on any other.  By the same token, pitchers are hit around when they miss Lokations facing great hitters.  In this blog entry I want to discus how playing an unforgiving golf course and pitching to a great hitter are similar.  

In pitching the opponent is the hitter, while the opponent in golf is the course.  When you face tough hitters, just as when you play tough courses, Lokation becomes the most important aspect of success.  Good hitters will take advantage of Lokation mistakes and make you pay by driving the ball for extra base hits or taking a walk.  Difficult golf courses will make you pay with penalty strokes after missing Lokations in the water, woods, or the short side of the hole.

Damage control is a huge key to scoring well on a hard golf course or getting a good hitter out.  You have to miss in the correct Lokations to give yourself a chance at success.  For example, hitting an aproach shot into a green with water on the right is comparable to facing a right-handed pull hitter on the mound.  You obviously want to hit your Lokation first and foremost in either situation, but if you don't, you want to miss to the left of the green or away from the batter.

It is very important to be aware of the correct miss whenever you are weighing your options on the course or on the mound.  The good news is that pitchers should have an easier time than golfers when it comes to damage control because in pitching it is rarely a mistake to miss low, as in the 4 Zone or below.  For golfers, missing in the correct Lokation will be more difficult because their damage control miss could be different everytime.  

Whether you are a golfer, pitcher, or both, the next time you are on the mound or course, pay special attention to where your misses end up and the result that follows.  You'll find out that if you are concious of damage control and make adjustments accordingly, you will have a lower score in golf and give up less runs on the mound.     

 

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Sunday Night Baseball Chatter

Posted on April 07, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

I'm watching the Angles play the Rangers on Sunday Night Baseball this evening and Orel Hershiser talked about four keys to a good pitcher.  He said that velocity, movement, Lokation, and changing speeds are the most important factors in pitching success.  When Dan Shulman asked Orel "which of those factors is the most important to you and if you couldn't have one, which would you give up?  Orel said the following

"I would give up velocity and take Lokation everytime.  The second thing I wanted was movement and then a change from one pitch from the next.  The last thing is velocity...  I have never heard anybody come out of a game and say I had great Lokation tonight but I got killed, but I have heard plenty of them say I had great stuff and got killed"

Then Shulman asked John Kruk what he thought was the hardest of those four factors for hitters to deal with.  Kruk said

"Lokation, if a guy can Lokate his pitches, especially with the fastball, no matter if it is 95 or 87 MPH, if you can spot it in, out, up, down, it makes it so much harder on the hitter because you can't get one area of the plate zoned in.  Then if he can change speeds, you're pretty much in trouble"

Orel continues

"If you can Lokate one pitch throughout a game then you can compete, if you can Lokate two then you will probably win the game, and if you can Lokate three then you will dominate the offense." 

 

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Pitch Lokation and Defensive Shifting

Posted on April 01, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

When discussing Red Sox manager John Farrell and the decision to defensively shift players in the field more often, commentator and former pitching great Rick Sutcliffe gave the following quote on Opening Day while calling the Yankee Stadium home opener.

"John Farrell is a big believer in all the (defensive) charts and putting together a plan and incorporating that with a pitcher who has command.  You can have all the defense that you want set up, but if you are not hitting the target with the ball, it's not gonna happen."

I thought this was a very good point because pitch Lokation is not often factored in during defensive shifts when it is actually the most important factor in determining where to play fielders.  There is no good defensive alignment for bad pitch Lokation.       

 

 

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Behind Plate Camera Angle

Posted on March 27, 2013 by Stephen Stemle | 0 comments

I am watching the Oakland A's play the Chicago White Sox in a Spring Training game.  One of the camera crew members backed the TV truck over the centerfield camera wires and they haven't gotten it fixed yet, so they are showing the game from the camera angle from behind home plate.  The game has an old school feel and it makes me imagine what it would have been like to watch a game on film from the mid 1930s to the late 1950s. 

The behind the plate angle pulls my eye toward the hitter more than the center field camera does.  It makes me pay more attention to the hitter's reaction because pitch Lokation cannot be seen as easily from behind the plate.  Watching the hitter can tell a story on how well they are seeing the ball and whether their timing is good or not.

The A's pitcher Jarrod Parker has thrown four perfect innings with five strikeouts up to this point in the game and he is commanding extremely effective off speed pitches in the Go Zone and 4 Zone.  From this angle I can see hitter's weight shift forward early on the off speed pitches and how his off speed command is making the hitter's swing late on fastballs.  

The worse a hitter's timing is, the less precise Lokation needs to be.  The better a hitter's timing is, the more precise pitch Lokation must be.  Tonight Parker has disrupted timing and had precise Lokation, a great combination that often ends up in a victory for the team.

We cannot forget to pay attention to hitter's body language and reactions as coaches, catchers, and pitchers.  A check swing on a pitch that isn't even close probably means the hitter isn't seeing the ball well and they're timing isn't the best.  When a hitter can take a very close pitch without flinching (quiet take) then it generally means they are seeing the ball well and their timing is better. 

The camera angle behind the plate can also paint a bigger picture of what is happening from pitch to pitch. It shows base runners getting leads and the jump they get when attempting to steal a base.  It gives viewers a chance to see middle infielders working to hold runners on second or the timing involved in bunt plays.  Fans are also able to see the pitcher changing his hold times in the stretch so runners cannot time the delivery and get a good jump.  

Generally as pitchers we want to gravitate towards our strengths more than the hitter's weaknesses, but don't ignore what the hitter is telling you about their mindset with body language during the at bat. Body language is the most frequently used and strongest form of communication there is.  Always remember to look for reactions from the hitter and use it your advantage if it fits in your skill set.  

 

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