Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What the Yankees Can Learn From My Son's Little League Team

Earlier tonight my son's U10 little league team finished their regular season a perfect 11-0.  It would likely have been a 12-0 season had the monsoon not come to the Columbus area last Saturday (am I right or am I right Van Dusen?)

The thing about a U10 team is that you never know what you are going to get out of them until the middle of the season...much like the current MLB Yankees roster.  In our case, my son Gabriel plays on the little league version of the Yankees, but for a lesser known Association, Hilliard Baseball.  I serve as one of the assistant coaches and the third base coach.  I have had the privilege of coaching many youth over the years but this team is a special group of kids that enjoy the game and most importantly thrive under proper guidance.  So it got me thinking...what could the MLB Yankees learn from the HBA Yankees?  Here's my list:

1. Fundamentals are key.  If you don't have the fundamentals down, you won't survive long in the big leagues.  What are the fundamentals you ask? Good consistent pitching, good defense, good baserunning, and being able to hit in all situations.  Fundamentally sound teams win the majority of their ball games, just look at the St. Louis Cardinals...that's why they are near the top of the NL Central each and every season.  I wouldn't necessarily connect the New York Yankees with fundamental baseball to be honest...more of a bloop and a blast type of's like John Sterling says...if the Yankees homer they'll probably win (did I seriously just quote John Sterling???)

2. You have to have an ACE.  We have a pitcher on the team that has pitched in each of our 11 games this season.  He's only allowed to pitch 3 innings per game, but in those 32 innings pitched he has collected 85 strikeouts.  That's 2.65 strikeouts...PER INNING.  And his K to BB ratio was somewhere around 17.0 with 2 walks coming on HBP.  Aces throw strikes...and they also locate pitches (high, low, outside) to strike guys out once they establish they are willing to swing at balls.  Our 10-year old ace has figured that out...maybe C.C. Sabathia should start taking notes?  Who is the ace on the Yankees this year...?  Is it Pineda...Eovaldi...Tanaka...? Here's hoping the next go-around in the rotation answers that question.

3. Aggressive Base Running Pays Off.  One of our duties as base coaches is to make sure that we aren't in force out situations.  This requires communication the man at the plate and the confidence in the players on the base path.  One way to accomplish this feat is to have the batter take the first pitch in order to allow the baserunner to advance on a poorly thrown ball.  This of course could put your batter in a hole, but what guy in the majors can't hit with an 0-1 count?  I mean really, if you can't hit (ahem...Gregorius) you shouldn't be in the batting order.

4. Situational Hitting is Paramount.  How many times have the New York Yankees failed to score someone from third base with only 1's one of the most frustrating things to watch or listen to as a fan.  All that is needed is a fly ball to the outfield and that runner is plated.  In the last 3 years, the mantra of the Yankees has been that they can't score runners in scoring position.  The Binder rarely uses a hit and run due to the feeling that "we have to let the Bombers go for the fence..."  One of the things I concentrated as a 3rd base coach this season was having the kids bunt or put the ball in play to the opposite field in order to move runners or to give the best opportunity to score guys from 2nd and 3rd base.  Heck just tonight, we had a suicide squeeze while up 12-0 against the opponent just to see if the kid could do it.  Newsflash...the bunt was successful and the kid at 3rd base beat the tag at the plate by a step...both kids were prepared for the challenge.

5. You Can't Teach Hustle...or Can You?  This isn't a Pete Rose line, but he sure did hustle.  What does the word hustle mean to me?  When I hear that word I envision Brett Gardner.  I've written about him in the past being the prototype for what young ballplayers should aspire to be.  At a very young age, kids will form habits that will stick with them for a lifetime of baseball.  If they don't learn (i.e. being told to run out every play or get a lead off of the base after every pitch or to charge a groundball) they won't just develop that skill on their own.  My son's team doesn't have the best fact probably only one of them (re: the Ace Pitcher) would have been declared an All-Star player prior to the season, but their ability to work hard and grind out at-bats and run as fast as their little legs can from base to base has made them the best team out of 18 teams in the Hilliard Little League.  Besides Gardner, Ellsbury, and Rodriguez, is there a sense that the New York Yankees are a "hustle" team?  I seriously doubt it.  Teixeira, McCann, Beltran, etc strike me more as a "let's try not to get hurt" player at this point in their careers.

6. You Have to Score Runs to Win.  This should be obvious.  I would hope that The Binder knows this by now.  The Bronx Bombers haven't exactly lit up the scoreboard in the last 3 years and whoah...they didn't make the playoffs each of the last 2 seasons.  Since 1993 of which the Yankees have seen a resurgence in their prowess, they have only scored an average of less than 5 runs per game in 6 seasons.  In 2001, they had an average of 4.99 and they made the World Series (1 out away from 4 straight titles), so we'll forgive that stat.  The other 5 seasons?  All under Joe Girardi's guidance including the 4.77 runs/game this season. The worst was in 2014 where they had an awful 3.91 runs/game...worst since the 1990 team that finished 7th in the AL East.  The HBA Yankees have scored a total of 149 runs in 11 games...that's 13.55 runs/game for anyone scoring at home.  Oh...and the HBA Yankees hit a lot more doubles than home runs...just to be clear.

7. Your Pitching Staff Needs to Be Deep.  I already mentioned that the Ace of the HBA Yankees eats up batters at an alarming rate and usually pitches 3 innings each game.  But when that starter is forced to come out, you need to have pitchers that can consistently throw strikes and get the batter to put the ball in play to make outs (this relies heavily on a stout defense of course).  In the closest game of the season this year, the HBA Yanks were in the midst of a 0-0 pitching duel for the first 3 innings with the HBA Dodgers.  Each pitcher only allowed less than 3 base runners and had 8 strikeouts a piece.  The difference in the game was that 3 more pitchers for the Yankees (including my son I must add) kept the Dodgers scoreless while timely situational hitting allowed the Yankees to eek out 5 runs.  It was the only game that lasted the full 6 innings but it only took 1 hour 30 minutes.  The problem with the MLB Yankees is they really don't have a consistent rotation or middle relief that can get the ball to the Betances / Miller tandem to close out games.  Thank God that Esmil Rogers is gone but David Carpenter and Chris Martin also gave up a lot of runs this year.  It's getting better with Shreve, Wilson, Pinder, and Mitchell--hopefully that trend will continue.

8. Don't Let Your Opponents Score.  As impressive as the 149 runs scored by the HBA Yankees is, the more impressive stat to me is the 23 runs allowed in those 11 games or 2.1 per game.  Not many teams will beat you if they only score 2.1 runs.  Of those 23 runs, 17 were scored in the first 4 games when we really didn't know what the team could do...the closest margin of victory in those games by the way was 6 runs.  The MLB Yankees by contrast have allowed 4.44 runs/game so far this season and have allowed 10 or more runs an aggravating 5 times....JUST IN JUNE!  Of course, the ability to diminish runs is greatly affected by your defense.  The Yankees (ahem...Gregorius....ahem...Headley) are quite lacking in this department.

9. Catchers Can Make the Pitchers.  This is not a knock on Brian McCann...I think he does a decent job behind the plate.  It's one of the areas that the Yankees have been better than most teams in the majors for a long time.  One of the themes for the HBA Yankees this season has been the play of the catchers, most notably the ability to set up behind the plate (location, location, location) and to quell the ability of baserunners to steal with consistent catching of the fastball and quickly locating any passed ball.

10.  You Can Always Learn More.  These kids on the team are good at baseball, but much better at retaining instruction.  We usually only have to critique their batting stance, defense, or baserunning a few times before they start habitualizing our instruction.  Brett Gardner must be learning something new everyday with the way he's hitting lately.  Maybe he's been hanging out with Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez.  One thing that the HBA Yankees have done this year is competed as a team...there are no big egos (or salaries) and each kid congratulates the others and they genuinely enjoy each other's company.  I'm sure that doesn't happen very often in the majors...unless there is beer and chicken wings in the clubhouse...and that is just a recipe for disaster, ehh Tito?

My kid is the tall one with glasses in the back row...
Overall it's been a blast coaching my son in baseball this season.  We took two summers off from the sport due to a bad experience in Tennessee with one of his coaches. But in the interim we worked a lot on fundamentals...batting stance, pitching, fielding, and throwing.  He wears the #7 in honor of Mickey Mantle (his Grandpa's favorite player) and loves to play first base just like Don Mattingly (my favorite player).  This season he has been stationed in the cleanup spot collecting an average of 3 hits per game including 8 doubles, 3 triples, and 2 home runs along with approximately 35 RBI.  He was selected to compete on the All-Star team as well out of the 18 teams in the league.  Throughout the whole season I have never heard him boast about what he's done or say an unkind word to any of his teammates or opponents.  I couldn't be more proud of him and all that he is accomplished so far this season and look forward to the day when he could be wearing the real Pinstripes and maybe teach those guys a thing or two about how to play baseball!



  2. Teaching your kid is a great thing to do, but teaching a team to play the way the game should be played is even better. I must say your kid is a lucky boy to have a father that will take the time to help him learn baseball...the right way! The old saying "Be All You Can Be" fits your boy and the team. Very good Bryan!
    Both you and Daniel seem to have your values in line very well and it is great to hear!
    That is one of my biggest regrets in life, my work kept me away too long, for too many years!

    1. Bryan is a great dad, I have known him for quite some time now and have him on Facebook and every post is that he's working to support his family or he's doing things with his family. He's a great dude, he just doesn't know it.


Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)