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The Danger of Being Predictable

By Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

English: A tee ball coach setting the lineup a...

Photo taken by Vinnie Ahuja (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the weekend I saw a very well-played high school playoff game. It was a one-run contest throughout. But in the end, when the losing team needed to score, their coach’s predictability killed them.

This is one of those coaches who believes you always sac bunt a runner from first to second with no outs.  He’d done it two or three times already in that game.  In the top of the seventh the defense was ready and ended up getting the out at second.  So for his trouble the coach gave up an out without gaining anything in return.

In pretty much anything in life, if you know what’s coming, you can better prepare for it. People in coastal areas, for instance, pay close attention to hurricane warnings and board up their windows when one is coming.

People in snowy areas heed winter storm warnings (usually) and try to avoid being on the roads if they don’t have to. Businesses close early too.

So it goes for softball.  Take the change-up, for example, the whole point of the change-up is the element of surprise.  That’s its greatest strength because, theoretically, it’s easy to hit if you know it’s coming.

If a pitcher always throws a change-up with an 0-2 count it shouldn’t take hitters long to start sitting on it. Heck, my oldest daughter Stefanie figured that out for herself at the age of 14 when facing a pitcher her teammates couldn’t hit.  She saw that 0-2 change-up get a few of them, so she just conceded the first couple of BBs and waited on the change.

Same thing with relying on one location, or a particular pattern of pitches.  Even working the ladder, if you do it constantly, sooner or later the hitters will figure it out and just look for a particular pitch — which makes it easier on them and tougher on you.

Or what about the slapper who can only soft slap or bunt?  She’s not too tough to defend either.  Bring in your infield, plug the holes with outfielders, and she’s an automatic out.  (Incidentally, if you’re confident she can’t hit it out of the infield you can put all seven fielders in the infield — there’s no rule requiring outfielders to be in the outfield.)

If you are a coach who always steals on the first pitch you’re pretty easy to defend. The pitcher just has to throw a pitch-out, which gives her catcher a better chance of tossing the runner out.  And so on.

Pretty much every college team charts its opponents, looking for these types of tendencies.  They want to know who will pull a suicide squeeze, and on what pitch count, and at what point during the game.  They want to see if the coach is aggressive or conservative so they can game plan accordingly.  The more predictable that coach is, the better the game plan is.

Higher-level travel/club and high school teams tend to chart too, although with travel the value goes down the more variety of teams you see.  That’s because of the way stats work.  The more stats you have on a particular team or coach, the more statistically valid your numbers are.

Consistency is good when it comes to your approach to practice and games.  Players like to know what they’re going to get from you day to day so they can prepare themselves accordingly.

But on the strategic side too much consistency is a detriment; it can actually hurt you by giving your opponents knowledge you don’t really want them to have.

Ask yourself if you always do the same things, or call the same pitches, in certain situations.  If so, take some time to mix it up a bit.  Even if it doesn’t work you’ll avoid being predictable and give your opponents more to think about.  And that’s worth a couple of extra outs here or there.  And hey, you never know. Your players might surprise you by smacking a double instead of giving up an out on a sac bunt.

It could make the difference between winning and losing a close game.

Anyway, that’s the way I see it.

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Comments on The Danger of Being Predictable »

June 7, 2012

john @ 8:14 pm

Very good article……many approaches can be made in different circumstances to get understanding of your opposition. Early in tourneys coaches should use different approaches to see how opposition coaches react. Such as a fake bunt early innings with a lower order batter to see how the infield reacts. This can be used for understanding steal attempts and where to put bunts. If your the coach which has just witnessed a fake bunt against your team then you can use this information to assist your defence in this game and others. Good coaches can pick up what the opposition is trying to achieve to exploit a weakness and assist their own team midstream in a game.

 

Kelly @ 9:01 pm

Couldn't agree more.  I've seen the best pitchers get knocked around because of predictable pitch calls or just plain bad calls.

June 8, 2012

Rick Thomas @ 6:52 am

Coach Krause I could not agree more. I would always tell my players after our regular season that Post season…we were going to look like a New Team. Being predictable was not going to be how would be remembered.  Even regular stations at practice had been changed to shock the thinking process. This helped with success of the TEAM. 

Shawna Esther @ 7:52 am

Loved this article, and it came at perfect timing…I am still a “young” coach, even though I am 11 years in at the high school level. I made a decision after this season (ended just a week ago when we lost our District playoff) that I need to start using more strategy and mixing things up even more next season. Besides this blog, can anyone recommend another good reference for advanced fastpitch strategies?

Jacksonjr @ 11:37 pm

 

Ken's article regarding coaching strategy versus predictability,
in essence, is a big part of why people coach competitive sports. As coaches,
we are inherently competitive, are we not? The beauty of softball/baseball
through a coaching perspective is- game management. To get a victory, we must
out think/out coach the opposing team's coach; this is particularly true at the
high school/college level for softball. However, I did not like Ken's anecdotal
observation at the beginning of the article. I would have expected that from  a “bleacher coach” type of person.  Ken diminished his point of the article by critiquing
the coach's decision to go for a “sac bunt” in the seventh inning as
to “predictable.”  Excuse
me?  Since Ken advocates 'charting
pitches/games/teams' and gathering statistical data (as coaches should) in the
article, then he would know that a well executed “sac bunt” has a
higher probable success rate to advance a runner than a straight steal, swing away,
or a hit/bunt and run play to advance a runner, right?  Please don't be petty and second guess other
coaches.  Observers of games usually do
not know what the coach knows in facts such as speed of the base runner,
success rate of the batter on sac bunts, or who is on deck (team's top RBI
hitter perhaps?).  After all, that
coach's “predictability” did get him as far as the high school
play-offs, did it not?

June 9, 2012

Shawnferg4 @ 10:59 am

i respect you coach.  you make excellent points about being predictable.  however, the way I play and therefore coach is:  I'm going to do what we game planned for…just try and stop us.  If you do what you practice they can't stop you most of the time.  keep it simple.   that is the game.  just one man's opinion of course.

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