Baseball Strategy

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Baseball strategy - the game within the game.  Baseball is a great game and to the untrained eye, the casual observer, may appear straightforward…a guy throws a ball, some other guy tries to hit it, and if he does he runs while someone on the field tries to get him out.  However, the true fan, the student of the game, is fully aware that baseball is indeed very complex, and baseball strategy can be and IS a very significant part.  Some managers and coaches rely on a three ring binder to guide their thoughts and play selection, while others live and die by good old fashioned instinct.  Some look to sabermetrics and playing the percentages while others count solely on their gut.  Whatever the case, baseball strategy is an enormous part of the game, and it goes across all aspects of the game, to include lineup strategies, defensive strategies, small ball strategies, pitching, both starting and relief, and way, way more.  Heck, there are even advanced metrics that help determine strategies for picking a baseball bat, especially within youth baseball and through high school baseball.

Many years ago, I vividly recall Rocky Balboa, while in the process of getting severely beaten by Clubber Lang, or was it Ivan Drago, telling his corner men and trainer that he was intentionally letting his opponent beat up on him.  “I know what I’m doing, it’s strategy,” Balboa said, intentionally letting his opponent wear himself out by pummeling the Rock within inches of his life.  Maybe it wasn’t the best strategy, but it was strategy nonetheless!   And in the end, it paid off, perhaps more because of grit and determination, but whatever strategy was used, however you use it, if it works, I guess it’s a decent enough strategy.

Photography by Christine Beck, chrissybeck photography, Chesapeake, VA

Baseball Strategy for Coaches

As a coach, it’s critical to realize that your strategy should be based on the abilities of your players.  Whether or not you are using your instinct or a three ring binder, devise your moves, and adjust them as necessary, to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of your team.  Nowadays, we even see major league teams shifting and changing the dimensions of their ballparks to match the strengths and weaknesses of their current players, so there is no reason for a coach or manager to do anything different.  For instance, late in the game with your slowest runner on first base and knowing you need to get him to scoring position, will you attempt to steal?  Please, don’t do it?  Will you bunt him over?  Depends on how you feel about the latest advanced statistics saying a runner on second with one out scores less than a runner on first with no outs.  Will you pinch run, perhaps?  Again, use your instinct, use your best judgement, but whatever you do, do it based on the current makeup of your team and availability of your players.  Unfortunately, one mistake some coaches will make is to devise their current strategy on the opposition, and their observed strengths and weaknesses.   You, as the coach of your team, have taught them their skills, have worked with them at practice, and you are most familiar with their skills, and what they can and cannot do.  Use this to your advantage.  A perceived weakness in the opposition may be merely that…perceived, so be very cautious when using that as the backbone of your baseball strategy!  Or better yet, just don’t do it.

Also, keep in mind that your in game strategies can, and will change, and you have to adjust as you go along.  If your pre game thought was to give your starter 6 innings before you replace him, but he gets shelled early on, you have to adjust your strategy.  The strategy can also change from situation to situation depending on outs, count, baserunners, shifts, and more.  One thing that makes baseball a beautiful sport is that it does not have a clock, so you will never run out of time.  You will, however run out of outs and innings, so your in game strategy needs to reflect that.  Having a 10 run lead late in the game allows you take a few more chances on both sides of the field than you would with a one run lead.  Having a 10 run lead late in a football game may not mean the same.   And remember, a baseball team's strategy can and will vary from game to game based on several things, including opposing pitcher, weather, whether or not the game is a day or night game, and more.

The great thing about being in charge of a baseball team, whether it’s youth baseball or Little League, travel baseball, high school baseball, college baseball or professional baseball at any level, is that you get to make the important decisions.  You get to decide on the baseball strategy that is used...the one that will have an effect on the outcome of the game, and ultimately the season.  Be creative, be flexible, be unique, be yourself…and don’t get too tied to the method you use to develop a baseball strategy.  If you have your three ring binder and you keep it right there on the dugout bench with you at all times, every so often, put it away and go with your gut.  Take the advice of Rocky Balboa and have confidence that you know what you are doing!

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