Baseball Coaching Tips for Understanding and Using Statistics
Statistics or stats are calculated numbers used to measure the success of a player in a given category. Some common stats in baseball are batting average (BA), on base percentage (OBP) and earned run average (ERA). Figuring out how to use these numbers can be a challenge. Let’s take a look at some Baseball Coaching Tips for Using Statistics.
#1 Batting Average (BA)
Batting average can be a useful stat if used correctly. The average is determined by taking the number of clean hits and dividing it by at bats (remember walks or hit by a pitch do not count as at bats). For example, 2 hits divided by 5 at bats is a batting average of .400. The calculation is simple math but the real key to unlocking usefulness is thinking beyond the number and a bit outside the box. Putting together a batting order totally based on BA is probably a mistake. If it does work then there is a lot of luck involved. A coach should also keep in mind that the overall BA may not be a good indicator of recent performance which we’ll talk about a little later in “Streaks & Trends”. I believe BA doesn’t tell a complete story and should be used in conduction with other factors like other stats, skills and intangibles when applying it to create a batting order. With all that said, BA is best used as a tool to measure hitting consistency over a period of time. That period of time will be determined by the situation (and the urgency of that situation) that the coach is trying to address. Examples would be looking for a leadoff batter, futility in the bottom of the order, etc.
#2 On Base Percentage (OBP)
On Base Percentage or OBP is a really useful stat. It is similar to BA but at the same time much different. OBP is determined by taking the number of times a players reaches base (by any means-walk, hit, error, etc.) and dividing it by total plate appearances. For example, Junior reached base 7 times ( 6 walks & 1 hit) and has 10 plate appearances. Junior’s OBP is .700. However, Junior’s BA is only .250 (1 hit out of 4 at bats) when we remove the walks. This is what I meant about BA doesn’t always tell the entire story. Junior is actually a very productive offensive player because he gets on base a lot despite only having the one hit. This is a great stat for a coach that may need some help in the bottom of the batting order. Putting a couple of players like Junior in the 8th & 9th slots could be the subtle spark plug needed for a struggling offense.
Walks or Base on Balls is an important stat to track especially if one of the team’s offensive goals is patience at the plate. Also, calculating OBP is impossible without tracking walks. Walks are an underrated offensive weapon and as already mentioned can help a batting order when players who have the ability to draw a lot of walks are strategically placed in the order. Walks should also be tracked for your pitchers as a pitcher who walks a lot of batters may need extra instruction to help eliminate these “free passes” to your opponents.
Tracking hits is obviously very important. However, the scorekeeper should remember to take note of extra base hits (doubles, triples, home runs). Keeping track of extra base hits will allow the coach to know which players could be big RBI (Runs Batted In) producers. Also, it is not a bad idea to to take note of how players are making outs. For example, the score keeper notes that Little Billy has popped up in the infield seven consecutive at bats this week. This might mean that Little Billy may need some mechanical help with his swing.
#5 Runs Batted In – RBIs
Runs batted in are a good stat to track to see which clutch players drive in runs. Some scorebooks have a space to note RBIs but if your does not just write the number in the corner of the box. Scoring software, discussed below, will track RBIs for you on scoring plays.
Strikeouts or K’s should be noted in the scorekeeper’s book as well for the purpose evaluation. A K can be noted for a strike out swinging and a backwards K for a strikeout looking or without swinging. Again this stat can be used to help strategy and also indicate players who need help with their batting. If a particular player or a portion of your team strikes out looking regularly this should be addresses verbally as well as through two strike hitting drills. Players who strike out looking often just lack the proper approach with two strikes.
#7 Earned Run Average (ERA)
Earned Run Average or ERA is a stat that is actually not very useful for a baseball coach in my opinion because it doesn’t tell you how the runners got on base or scored. I feel there are far more important numbers to track than ERA such as hits, strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen or WHIP (see below). The reason I feel this way is because the three best pitchers on the team could all have inflated ERAs but throw strikes and make opponents put the ball in play. Should the coach demote those three pitchers to the bullpen? The answer is yes only if you have three capable starting pitchers to take their place. The reality is that a baseball team may only have three or four game ready pitchers. ERA is a stat that a baseball coach should not get too concerned about.
WHIP is my favorite statistic to track for pitchers. WHIP stands for Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched. This stat tracks how many batters the pitcher allowed on base independent of errors in the field. It is pretty safe to assume the more batters you let on base the less effective your pitcher is and WHIP is an easy way of tracking this.
#9 Pitch Count
Pitch count is a very important stat because most youth baseball leagues like Little League have a pitch count rule for pitchers. It is also an important number to track because a coach can measure how effective a pitcher is after throwing a certain amount of pitches and also making sure to not over pitch a player and risk his arm health. For example, Junior is a smaller child who just turned eleven and issues a lot of walks after throwing 50 pitches. This has happened in all five games he has pitched in. Now the coach knows that when Junior is nearing 50 pitches then it might be time to make a change. An easy way to record pitch count is to count all the balls and strikes each inning, plus foul balls with two strikes, and note them at the bottom of the inning column with the pitchers jersey number.
#10 Streaks & Trends
A coach can also look at streaks and trends to help with game planning and strategy. For example, Junior bats ninth in the order and has batted .125 for the first twelve games of the season. However, he has a three game hitting streak and in two of the games he was 4 for 4. The coach is thinking about moving Junior up in the order. The coach can wait a little longer to see if the trend continues or try to take advantage of this little streak while he can. Or he could even decide that Junior can be a spark plug from the ninth spot. The important thing to note in this scenario is that the coach needed to examine streaks and trends to even have this discussion.
Hustle, determination, passion for the game are all things that can’t be measure by numbers. Intangibles should play a key role in game planning. When a coach has a tough decision to make, it could be an intangible that is the tie breaker.
#12 Honesty with Numbers
Whoever is going to be team scorekeeper must be honest about the numbers that they are recording. It’s great to see lots of players with inflated BAs and OBPs but the coach won’t be able to properly utilize the data if it has been artificially inflated. The biggest problem is awarding hits that are clearly errors which will inflate BAs and awarding extra base hits instead of acknowledging an error that allowed a runner an extra base or two after a single. The coach should attempt to review the scorebook after every game and make any adjustments to erroneous plays the coach discovers.
#13 Scorekeeping Software
While some teams still prefer keeping score with a pencil in a traditional scorebook, iPads and other tablets are now commonly seen in dugouts of teams of all ages. Software for these devices provide you with real time stats that will assist you during the game like pitch counts and stats you can analyze through the season like OBP and WHIP. You can find reviews of baseball scorekeeping apps and other useful baseball apps at www.baseballzone.com/best-baseball-apps.
A baseball coach shouldn’t get too wrapped up in stats but there are some numbers that are very useful. The coach should try to monitor certain numbers and statistics to identify problems and for game strategy.