Four runs or less

By Todd Guilliams

Our objective in a nine-inning ball game is to hold our opponents to four-runs-or-less. This goal provides direction for our defense during the course of a game and practice. Once the goal has been established (four, five, six runs or whatever works in a specific program), then the players have to understand how to achieve it on a consistent basis.

Why four-runs-or-less? Over the past two seasons, statistics show that the opponents have been held to four-runs-or-less 75 times in 114 games (66%) and won 65 of those 75 games (87%). This translates into 33 wins a year in a 57-game schedule.

Winning just seven out of 24 remaining games (29%) in which more than four runs are sacrificed, the 40-win mark is reached. The mark of four-runs-or-less works in the Eagles’ program, but the team also plays in a big ballpark where the wind blows in on a consistent basis and the home run is a rarity. Shoot toward a goal on defense that is realistic in a program based on the team’s pitching and defense, as well as the size of the ballpark in which games are played. Also, make sure this goal is challenging and one that will push the defense to execute at a high level.

TEN KEYS TO FOUR RUNS OR LESS

Keep the double-play in order.
Outfielders must hit the cutoff man.
Avoid the “big inning’~–allow opponents only three outs per inning.
Minimize walks by challenging hitters.
Have a coach call the pitches as well as all the pick-off plays.
Utilize hitting charts and scout the opponents.
Position fielders according to the score, number of outs, count, hitter’s strength and inning.
Shut down the running game–force opponents to play station-to-station.
Get the leadoff hitter out of every inning.
Pitching, pitching, pitching–a quality pitching staff is the key element in achieving four-runs-or-less on a consistent basis.

TEN SITUATIONS THAT AFFECT FOUR-RUNS-OR-LESS

Batter at the plate
The hitter is always the number one priority.
The pitcher works extremely hard to retire the leadoff hitter every inning. This is the backbone of four-runs-or less! Pitchers are to be aggressive, challenging the batter (especially with fastballs in a 2-2 count or BP fastballs when behind in the count), making him swing the bat.
Prevent the bunt for a hit (drag bunt).
Runner at first base
Prevent the stolen base.
Pitchers must be quick to the plate – 1.3 seconds or less
Vary times to the plate and to home. Pause one-to-five seconds before delivering the ball to the plate or throwing over to hold the runner close
Use a variety of pick-off moves
a. Step back off the rubber with ball over head–no throw
b. Throw to first base. Use a variety of pick-off moves
(1) Throw from set position
(2) Throw on the way down
(3) Throw on the way up
c. Hold the runner until the batter calls time-out. Don’t deliver the ball to the plate. Freeze the runner and see if he is getting anxious
Do not be afraid to call pitchouts
Middle infielders pinch between pitches to eliminate delay steal
Catcher must block balls in the dirt and keep the runner from advancing on a wild pitch or passed ball.
In a bunt situation, get an out.
Runner at Second – No Outs
A. Prevent third base, one out
Try to entice the batter to hit the ball on the left side of the infield
Fastballs inside to a right-handed batter pose a difficult challenge for them to hit to the right side
Slow curve balls and changeups are also difficult for right-handed batters to stay back and hit to the right side
Dominate outer half of strike zone to a lefty in this situation with two-seam fastballs
Showcase off-speed pitches off the plate to set up outside fastballs to left-handed batters
Third Base – One Out
Pitchers work hard for a strikeout
Throw up and in, especially with two strikes on the batter to induce a pop-up in the infield
Bring the infield in, especially with two strikes on the batter
Catchers must keep the ball in the dirt in front of them
Be wary of throwing off-speed pitches over the plate – Changeups and Curve balls! This will usually lead to a fly ball to the outfield!
Runners at the Corners with Two Outs
Prevent the lead runner from scoring on a double steal attempt.
Throw through 90% of the time on a first and third steal attempt with the SS covering second and 2B coming into the cut to shorten the overthrow
If the runner at first leaves early:
Pitcher should step off.
Look runner back at third.
Give ball up to SS or 2B.
First baseman trails runner after pitch crosses the plate.
Get the out between first and second before the runner crosses the plate.
Runners at First and Second with Less Than Two Outs
Get an out in a bunt situation.
Pitchers throw low strikes to either side of the plate to induce a double-play ground ball.
Prevent the double steal.
Pitchers use inside move at second.
Use trail runner picks (pick at first base).
Catcher keeps ball in front.
Bases Loaded – Less Than Two Outs
Pitcher induces batter to hit the ball on the ground by throwing low strikes.
Be careful with changeups in this situation as it tends to end up as a long fly ball.
Do not be afraid to challenge hitters with fastballs on the inner half to prevent them from getting their arms extended.
On-Deck Batter
The coach should know the strengths of the batter at the plate as well as the next batter coming to the plate
Pitch the batter tough with a runner in scoring position and first base open
Know which batter poses more of a threat, the batter at the plate or the man on deck
Consider challenging the batter at the plate when there is a strong hitter on deck, a hitter with whom the pitcher will have trouble!
Runner at Third – No Outs
Concede the run early in the game and get the hitter
If the hitter makes an out without advancing the runner at third, the defense has created a 3rd-base, 1 out situation
Runners at Second and Third – Less Than Two Outs
Concede the run at third base
Depending on who is at the plate and on deck, go for the strikeout
Infielders keep the ground ball in the infield
On a base hit, the outfielder must hit the cutoff man to prevent additional runners from moving up. Do not be concerned with throwing the runner out at the plate

Todd Guilliams is Assistant Baseball Coach at Valdosta State University. Guilliams began his coaching career with a three-year stint (1989-91) at his alma matter, Eastern Kentucky University, where he helped guide the Colonels to an OVC Championship and the NCAA Division I Regional Tournament and has been an associate scout with the Milwaukee Brewers.

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