BTG: Chart It All!
Charts! Everyone does them, everyone has a chart for offense, for defense, for pitching, velo, everything we can imagine we have a chart for. Look at any baseball game and someone has a chart, whether it's a coach, player, parent, there's a chart somewhere, but what do we do with all those charts? What purpose do those charts serve today when we also use gamechanger, or other apps to keep track of the game? Why should we keep using charts when we have a summary of the game after we finish? Those questions all seemed pretty valid to me until I jumped on the data train and realized the worlds of information you can get from one chart.
Using pitching charts was great, we track location, spot velo (if you had a gun set up for the game) and type of pitch thrown, but once the game ended all I ever went back to look at was the spray chart for the hitters if we played them again. I didn't look much further than that, possibly a "He's a first pitch swinger" notation, but that's about it. Since staring at hundreds if not thousands of lines of Pitch Fx data I've realized that every bit of data we collect is usable. If we stop looking for a big picture idea and focus on the small details we can then find some of the more important issues we should have been looking for. For instance, this past HS baseball season I started tracking what pitches were thrown in what counts, nothing crazy, just a simple count is 0-0 and we started again with a fastball, most people do this and I really wanted to have some evidence for why I taught certain counts to be "Plus counts" for hitters, so I started tracking.
The results were pretty close to what I predicted, but having data to share made a world of difference. Athletes are trusting once you prove they can trust you. We talk about kids being different in this generation, and it's not so much kids are different it's they have resources. If you tell a kid 0-0 is 100% Fastball count they'll google it and tell you that you're wrong. Taking steps to reach your audience isn't about kids being different, or athletes not listening to you it's about providing real information for them. Something that now lets you say "When you get a 1-0 count we've seen 91% Fastballs against us, Hunt Fastball". With supreme confidence. We as adults aren't trusting when we hear certain facts, but with proof that changes everything. We can now see a complete picture of what we're being told, and they have gained your trust, and you have gained confidence in what is being said.
The athletes responded to the information, they got to where before at-bats checked with the chart, what was thrown in this count last time, and what did he attack me with. Each individual hitter had their own things they picked up on. Our 4 hole was constantly being started with off-speed/breakers, even when we changed the lineup to someone who wasn't a good FB hitter. Other coaches were pitching to the spot in the lineup and not the hitter. These reports I was using I then put into a spreadsheet and started to see that smaller picture grow. Our approach changed every count, and depending on the team, or what kind of arm we were facing we started to see more of those percentages become more dominant.
From one chart I was able to start to give our hitters a much clearer plan at the plate. Not every kid wanted to see the percentages, and I didn't force it on them, but what they did want to know was "when should I be more aggressive" and having the info from 1 chart gave me more confidence in knowing exactly when and why they should swing out of their shoes. This data became actionable, it was implemented, and our 2-1 count as a hitter in our district became a "Positive count" for us. The change taking 1 chart made was able to adjust our approach at the plate.
This 1 chart gave me better insight to on field play. Everyone always talks about collecting data, but I believe the collection of data is already being done whether you have the newest tech or not. Any time you take "The Book" that's data, if you chart Batting Practice, or defensive plays you are collecting objective data. The problem is us not turning that information into "Actionable Data" and utilizing it for our athletes. After charting a BP session ask the athlete what they felt, what they did well, or poorly on, Write that on the page, plus a few notes of what they did/didn't do, take a picture and share it with them. Their progress is just as important to them as it is to you, and if we can get a team that looks for an advantage we will find them. That one picture can show exactly what they struggled with, how they hit certain pitch locations, and what they need to work on next practice. Using those pictures can help you set up drills to get more production out of weaknesses, or come up with a better plan at the plate. But if you don't ever chart, or you don't ever look back then you're just going through the motions. Player development is an active process by both players and coaches, and if you're not proactively helping their development you're hurting them as athletes.
Lastly some ideas I've had for analysis has caused me to come up with some new charts, most of these are information you can get from looking at the book, but my plan is to make a giant spreadsheet with every pitch thrown for and against us and be able to get some serious analysis done. This chart I will be using is still in the test phase, and I do plan on finding better ways to get the info filled out. If you have anything specific you like to use please share, seeing as how we will all benefit from more data at the HS level. If you plan on using it please let me know, or if you can see a lack of something that should be taken. Let me know of that as well. The more data we collect the more we can find ways to make baseball better.
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