Baseball Sabermetrics for Player Development
Baseball people are gradually or not so gradually learning the newest terms to analyze baseball players. Abbreviations like SecA and OPS are sabermetric terms that are invading the baseball vernacular. They are not necessary for youth baseball analysis, where winning is not as important as player development, or at least that is the way it should be. At the youth level, abbreviations like U/D, OTP, and RWUNF are the ones to know.
Times have changed, and nowhere is that truer than with baseball analysis. I have been around baseball my whole life, but when I look at all the new numbers to analyze the game, I feel like a beginner to the sport. I know some of the basic baseball sabermetrics numbers like OBP – on-base percentage – and OPS – on-base plus slugging percentage. But, it’s not as if I know how to calculate them. It seems like every day now new numbers appear to analyze the games. Recently, I read an article about the new way of analyzing baseball performance, and I had to go to a baseball sabermetrics glossary to figure out many of the new terms. I had no idea there was an IsoP – isolated power statistic or a SecA – secondary average one, even though I still do not know what that means. The WAR stat – wins against replacement is a cool one but I have no idea how to calculate it.
Of course, they have their place at the higher levels of baseball. But, the good news for youth baseball coaches is they do not need to know all those calculations. However, that does not excuse youth coaches from understanding and figuring out what is important. Youth baseball is not about individual statistics but player development. The RC – runs created – is not important to know about a player but how to improve upon that number is necessary. Of course, the key to that is improving a player’s hitting skills, a constant coaching goal.
An intricate knowledge of baseball is not necessary to help players improve, but some basics are essential. Following are the most important sabermetric numbers youth coaches should follow to help players improve. You will notice most of these are an age-old analysis which the eye test can figure out with no need for fancy calculations.
S/M – the old swing and miss ratio is an excellent indicator of a player’s hitting mechanics. At the upper levels of baseball, strikeouts are acceptable more each year as long as the power numbers are there. But at the youth levels, many strikeouts are a sure statistic to get a player frustrated and wanting to quit playing the hardest game in the world. Coaches must know enough to help players gain enough contact to have hope for their future in the sport.
QAB – nothing tricky about this one, quality at-bats. Does the player swing at good pitches to hit no matter the count? Coaches should observe the balls players swing at to analyze their swing. They can help players learn to swing at pitches in the middle of the strike zone. I am always telling my students that no player at any level is a good consistent hitter when swinging at pitches on the edges or out of the strike zone.
U/D – Up or down ratio. It doesn’t take great analysis to know if a player is grounding or flying out a lot. Is the ball going up or down too often off the players bat? Too much of one or the other indicates a mechanical change is necessary. Coaches can help by having players do the opposite. When players are flying out too much, they can have players work on the hit and run at the next batting practice, which requires players to hit the ball on the ground. Vice versa, for too many ground balls, coaches can place a runner at third base in batting practice and have players work on hitting sacrifice fly balls.
Pitching Sabermetrics for player development
OTP – Over the Plate. This stat is the bottom line for youth pitchers and the only statistic worth knowing for young players. Are they throwing strikes and not walking batters. Earned run average is irrelevant at the young ages but putting the ball over the plate is not. The sooner kids can throw strikes while maintaining their top speed, the better. Kids get upset when they get hit around a lot in a game, but that is OK. As long as they are challenging hitters, that is their primary goal. Once they can throw consistent strikes, they can learn to pitch with location and speed changes. Learning to pitch to contact, a phrase I dislike, but it is an appropriate one at a young age. Giving up walks is never a good thing for pitching success and either a sign of poor mechanics or a scared pitcher.
TBP – The other metric important for youth baseball pitchers is the time between pitches. At this level of baseball, I want my pitchers to get the ball back from the catcher and pitch the next one quickly. I do not want my pitchers to be thinking much or fretting about what pitch to throw or the situation. I want them to keep the players behind them interested too with little time to let their minds wander between pitches.
Baseball sabermetrics for defensive development
RWUNF – This abbreviation is a tricky one but the most important one on the defensive side of things. The one thing I want from players is this – Ready, With Understanding and No Fear. Practicing the correct fielding fundamentals is crucial, along with getting enough repetitions to become proficient at catching and throwing the ball. Once the game begins, though, the primary thing I want to see is all nine players on the field wanting the ball coming to them, knowing what to do with it and are not afraid of screwing it up.
KTSB – This is another of those crazy sabermetric abbreviations – it is simply, know the scoreboard. The key to base running at any level is knowing the game situation – the number of outs, the inning, the score and the count on the batter. Those things determine how a base runner proceeds and are the things coaches must teach to youth players.
WTB – Along with the above, the second element base runners must know is – Where’s the Ball. Players must be aware of that whenever they are on the base paths or on the base. Players can only learn to make their base running decisions when they know where the baseball is.
Yes, times are changing at the upper levels of the game, but they remain the same for youth baseball player development.
Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” now $5 and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is in the works. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte at YouTube with over 80 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos.