What Makes Pitchers Great

Mariano Rivera

 What made Mariano Rivera great? Major League Baseball teams have an abundance of pitchers that throw 95 to 100 mph. What separated him was his command, movement and mental toughness in game situations.

Rivera had great command of a rising fastball when he first came to the big leagues and later developed the pitch he is known for—the cut fast ball—when hitters starting laying off the riser because it was rising out off the strike zone. The brilliance of Rivera and Greg Maddux, for example, is that they knew when the ball left their hand exactly how much the ball would break. This ability is obviously superior command and makes pitching to hitters' weaknesses easier. Most pitchers HOPE that happens, Rivera and Maddux almost always knew.

Movement takes hitters down a lot easier than speed. Listening to most big league hitters, they can catch up to any pitcher's fastball. But they hate to see late action, such as a jump or hop in the ball that makes it rise, diving sinkers, Rivera's late-breaking cutter or Maddux's comeback fastball. The hitters are at pitchers' mercy when they throw those types of pitches and they know that!

Lastly, maintaining poise and mental toughness in crucial situations. All the great pitchers have those attributes, but we have seen pitchers with better stuff than Rivera and Maddux fail because they can't handle the in-game pressure or their mechanics are not game sound, which means they rely on power without technique.

Rivera and Maddux had great and simple mechanics which allowed them to repeat their deliveries and concentrate on getting hitters out without worrying about mechanics.


A Shift to Public Speaking, Part 2

Yesterday we posted that we are moving in a new direction to public speaking. Two questions you might be asking are: "Why?" and "Why hire us?" The answers are interrelated. Though I'm not an ex-president, a hero, a religious cult figure, a sports icon, or a self-promoting windbag, we have a message that we want to share. And we will do it without trying to peddle or hawk a book or publication. Our mission is to promote the concepts and values learned in sports participation and apply them to everyday life, whether it would be in the workplace, home or in athletics. My credentials are 56 years of playing, refereeing, and coaching sports while teaching and being an athletic administrator, including a position as superintendent of recreation for a Chicago suburb. You never see it all but I've seen a lot from many different positions. I will bring that experience to the speaker table.

My speaking style is Direct, No-nonsense and Articulate, always DNA! I will be honest, maybe uncomfortably so, but the truth should be invigorating and enlightening in any environment. My delivery of material could be motivating and/or inspiring to individuals and organizations,l but that's not the intent. Our content, based on lessons learned from our athletic experience, will revolve around our Down to Earth platform, interchangeable for businesses or athletics. E is striving for Excellence, A is Adjusting to achieve positive R Results while being T True to your team, organization, and yourself while being H Honest and Humble in situations where it's easy to brag.

I've seen so many businesses that - to use sports terms - lack teamwork and sportsmanship. Given that there is so much competition in business, I always believed it would be more efficient that people work together to increase productivity rather than to be so cutthroat. Learning how to incorporates these sports concepts and values will help. And since a good portion of the working public have children, maybe they also will listen to our message of supporting and not interfering when their kids start to participate in after-school activities.

We need the public's help to get the word out about our speaker capabilities. Without being pompous or self-congratulatory, DNA Sports has always been about 'excellence without ego.' I've always gone by the credo of my parents and I've tried to pass it on to all my players and coaches I've been associated with; " Whatever you choose to do, do the best you can. We will be there for you and always be proud of you." Pretty simple and sweet message! Hopefully we can pass our best along.

To book a speaking engagement or to get more information, please contact us.

Thanks,

Dave

A Shift to Public/Motivational Speaking for Dave Rosene of DNA Sports

A Note from Coach Rosene:

In 2009 Andy Pohl and I founded DNA Sports with the vision of creating a full service sports instructional business with cutting-edge material on our website. Our mission was to point youth coaches in the right direction with the best methods of teaching and organizing programs that would benefit and develop youth athletes. Our content was based on a combined 50 years of coaching, training, and teaching experience on youth levels ages 4-22. Based on consumer feedback, DNA Sports and dnasportsonline.com has been a success from a research source standpoint, but we have struggled financially. DNA produced a multitude of videos and offered related subject articles free to all with the hope that the public would follow up by signing up for clinics, on site seminars, webinars, paying for video analysis of athletes' techniques, and buying our recruiting package for prospective college athletes, priced very reasonably. But after six years, we have realized that youth coaches, with some exceptions, like to stick to what they know or what they've been taught, even if those methods have been proven to be not as efficient as updated teachings. We have also run into a lot of coaches that just don't know the fundamentals or absolutes of sports that have never changed. Some youth coaches also try to correlate MLB players to youth players and tell the players to watch and try to emulate what they see the player do, which is totally off-base. For example, in baseball we see players hitting with high hands and when we asked them why they were doing that they said they picked it up while watching several pro players. Our response is always that those are grown men you're watching and you can hardly keep the bat lifted up before you swing. 

Our biggest roadblock has been coaches' egoism and their resistance to change or listening to alternative methods. As teaching sports professionals, DNA does continual research and has results based on coaching youth, high school, and college on what is most successful with program building, teaching and coaching methods, and athlete communication. CHECK OUR CREDENTIALS! We also to do not recommend subscribing to teaching systems. We prefer coaches working with athletes' skill sets and adjusting their teaching methods to best develop the athletes, rather than young players trying to fit into philosophies that they can't understand because of their youth. But that usually doesn't happen, because very few coaches want to be more knowledgeable at voluntary activities. And that's where we have struggled with our progressive approach. 

We will continue to keep our website and Twitter account open, but due to lack of business we will not be adding new material. To try to subsidize our passion to develop coaches, programs and athletes, I will be available as a speaker. I would hate to categorize my style as motivational or inspirational. I would rather say that I can speak about any subject that relates to youth sports and its values and strengths. I will also say that I'm opinionated and passionate about what I believe in. In addition to a sports platform I have extensive experience with urban issues, diversity, leadership, and program building. Our primary focus is reaching out to businesses though we are not excluding schools, youth organizations, little leagues, or park districts. But businesses budget for outside speakers and that is what we are striving for. A particular slant that is of great interest to me is how sports values and concepts relates to and can increase business productivity. But many businesses might want just hear about sports at the grass roots level since most have children or other subject matter. We can handle it all. And both Andy Pohl and Tim Will are available to speak too. But this is what I'll be doing full time along with continuing to coach baseball and basketball at the high school level. 

We believe in DNA. If business increases to a point where we can publish new material we will do so. Thanks to everyone who have used DNA Sports and dnasportsonline.com as a go-to source for coaching and training information. Our intentions have always been to provide excellence without ego, to help children achieve their dreams and goals. In my next post, coming in the next day or two, I will detail the foundation of my speaking program. Andy Pohl and Tim Will will book all of my speaking engagements. Speeches will be 45 to 90 minutes and the cost will be negotiated at the time of the booking.

All the best and looking forward to talking to you,

Dave Rosene

For more information on getting Coach Rosene to speak to your organization, please visit our Speaking Engagements page or contact us today.

Life Lessons in Sports

There is no greater teacher of life lessons than participation in team sports. No matter if you are young or old, male or female, sports offers something for everyone, and I am no exception. 

It feels as if my experiences playing baseball, football, basketball, and hockey have laid a foundation for virtually every situation that I have encountered in my adult life. The positive (and not so positive) events on the playing fields have provided me with valuable lessons on subjects such as teamwork, self-esteem, and speaking up for my beliefs. 

Sports offered me a chance to step out of a sheltered world and into an environment with many diverse individuals. My first experiences with Little League baseball came when I played on a team with kids from similar backgrounds as myself. Teamwork came easily because we played with each other in the neighborhood and it was an smooth transition into organized competition.

As I got older, however, I had to learn how to interact with teammates that had a different view of what sports were all about. I learned that some guys were less concerned about the team's success and more concerned about their own personal goals and statistics. This philosophy was in direct contrast to everything my dad and my youth coaches had taught me; as they always stressed the importance of team play. And so I felt a need to let those players know (sometimes loudly and emotionally) that we were not going to be successful if individual accomplishments were more important than team goals.

Because I was able to stand up for myself and my teammates without help from the coaches, I discovered a level of confidence and earned a newfound respect from my teammates who believed I was right to confront the "ball hogs" or "spoiled brats". 

Those lessons and experiences from team sports have had a lasting impact on how I view the world as an adult. I applaud unassuming intelligence, selflessness, introspection, teamwork, work ethic, being prepared, and basic old school friendliness. I abhor prejudice, egomania, bitterness, ignorance, apathy, and laziness. I see examples of all these traits every day in the business world, at home, or at school, and I always try to apply the positive values and concepts realized from participating in sports to lead me to a quality, successful, and happy existence.

World Gone Mad

I recently received a frantic email from a parent of a seven-year-old child, seeking to schedule a 60-minute private lesson to prepare his son for his travel team tryout this weekend. Here was my response:

Dear Mr. ________,

From a philosophical standpoint, I will need to decline your offer to work with your son. I believe that 7 years old is way too young to be taking a private lesson, and certainly way too young to be exposed to a tryout format of any kind. We at DNA have maintained a strong stance for several years now that travel sports for prepubescents is not developmentally appropriate and hence not healthy for kids. We also have an enormous amount of research and data that substantiates our belief.  It's the world we live in - I know - the perceived benefits of accelerating our student-athletes through travel sports and tryouts at the earliest of ages - but we will continue to hold firm to our philosophical opposition to what appears to be the norm.

That said, I would be more than willing to work with your son for 20-30 minutes at some point this fall or spring with you present, and provide you a few pointers and drills that may be FUN for the two of you to engage in together. But to do a private lesson prior to a tryout at the tender age of 7 - this is not something me or anyone else at DNA is comfortable with.

I hope you understand our position on this.

Thanks,

Andy Pohl
DNA Sports

Chicago Youth Sports: A Culture Gone Rotten

When I first moved to Chicago in the fall of 2002, I heard whispers regarding the existence of rampant cheating within the high school programs and youth leagues of Chicago. I found it all really hard to believe until I started to experience it first-hand in the spring of 2003, my first season as a varsity high school baseball coach in Chicago. I remember not only how shocked I was that cheating actually occurred, but to the degree it was happening and the overt way it was practiced. 

I have witnessed cheating of all types – student-athletes competing for neighborhood schools without living in the neighborhood, student-athletes gaining admission to selective enrollment schools with rigorous academic requirements that non-athletes could not gain admission to, and teams dressing players for games that were not enrolled as students or who had already graduated. For years, I have been a part of games with questionable umpiring. I’m not referring to a few bad calls, as those are a part of the game, but rather I’m speaking of a consistent pattern of poor officiating that has been documented multiple times by a variety of coaches.  Examples include players being called out on strikes on strike two – not on strike three, the doctoring of scorebooks which resulted in the opponent’s best players mysteriously leading off innings when the game was on the line, balls consistently bouncing into home plate – but called strikes, sudden shrinking and/or expanding of strike zones, and the movement of foul-line cones which lengthened the field of play. I have seen kids being purposely thrown at with no consequences from umpires. I have seen coaches report false scores from games that never happened to local and state officials to increase win totals. And for years, coaches in Chicago have been getting away with it. No consequences, no investigations, nobody blowing the whistle.

Fast forward to the recent scandal involving Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League Team (JR West). I remember thinking back in August that JR West winning was the worst thing that could happen to them, because Little League would be forced to investigate. As we all know, winning inherently lends itself to added scrutiny. What the coaches and parents of JR West failed to realize is that winning at the national level, as opposed to the local level, forces a heightened level of accountability people from Chicago just aren't accustomed to. Yet, because cheating is so ingrained in the culture of Chicago youth sports, in large part because coaches have been able to get away with it for so long, the coaches and parents who decided to enter Little League despite the rules probably felt they wouldn’t be challenged.

People will try to spin this in every way imaginable, but there is no getting around the facts.  And this is not the first time Little League has stripped a team of its title, so to suggest this program was targeted is a challenging argument to make. As accusations of injustice are being frivolously thrown around by local leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Father Pfleger, I can’t help but think the only injustice that occurred in this situation involved the kids from the neighborhood who couldn’t compete for the Jackie Robinson West Little League Team because their roster spots were taken by kids from outside the neighborhood. 

I can only hope that the exposure of this unfortunate situation involving JR West will lead to Chicago’s high school and youth league coaches, as well as parents and administrators, to self-reflect and clean up their act. If the primary purpose of sports is to teach life lessons, we are failing miserably here in Chicago.

Travel Teams

A few months ago, a highly experienced 7th grade basketball coach reached out to me in frustration, asking for advice on how to deal with players leaving early from his November school-sponsored basketball practices to attend travel baseball practice. I certainly share his frustration, as school-sponsored programs are now taking a back seat to “pay to play” travel programs that offer year round training at young ages for anyone with a heartbeat and a checkbook. A few years ago, I wrote a four part series regarding my concerns with travel baseball. I feel compelled to write more, as I’m worried it is only getting worse.

The strong correlation between youth sports injuries and overuse are well documented. Overuse can occur in season – too many games in too short of time span without proper rest – or it can manifest itself in terms of year-round training. Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the nation’s leading expert in youth sports injuries, uses the term "professionalism" when referencing the recent trend towards treating youth athletes like seasoned veterans.  “Professionalism is taking these kids at a young age and trying to work them as if they are pro athletes, in terms of training and year-round activity," says Dr. Andrews. “Some can do it, like Tiger Woods. He was treated like a professional golfer when he was 4, 5, 6 years old. But you've got to realize that Tiger Woods is a special case. A lot of these kids don't have the ability to withstand that type of training and that type of parental/coach pressure. Now parents are hiring ex-pro baseball players as hitting and pitching instructors when their kid is 12. They're thinking, 'What's more is better,' and they're ending up getting the kids hurt.”

It is now understood among medical professionals that many sports injuries that occur later in an athlete’s career were actually caused by years of overuse at a much younger age.  Like a ticking time bomb hiding in the body, consistent overuse drastically weakens the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the body, just waiting for the right moment of pressure to finally explode. Former MLB pitcher Tommy John, about whom the famous surgical procedure is named after, has recently engaged on a speaking tour to warn sports parents who have the foresight to listen.  “Throwing pitches in the big leagues will not hurt your arm,” says John. “It's what you did down the road when you were younger. ... In essence, the injury itself is a buildup of overuse. And not overuse as an adult, but overuse as a kid. What I would like to see these guys do, these surgeons and all, is ask all the guys who have had the surgery -- 'How much did you pitch as a kid and how often, and did you pitch year-round?' And nowadays, probably 70 to 80 percent of the pitchers today have been pitching 12 months a year since they were seven, eight, or nine years old. And your arm is not made for that."

Despite the overwhelming medical research against these training practices, travel programs continue to jeopardize the health and safety of their athletes by subjecting their participants to year-round practices and over scheduling of games during the season. It has reached a point where I can no longer feel sorry for athletes who blow out their elbows and shoulders. It’s no different than any other misguided practices – cigarette smokers have an increased chance of acquiring lung cancer, just as travel baseball players have an increased chance of blowing out their arms. In both cases, the public has been more than adequately informed about the risks involved. It’s now in the hands of the people themselves to attack the source of the problem by making better decisions to reduce their risk. 

While I have been warning parents about this for years, I am no longer going to concern myself with discussing the physical risks of overuse. After all, doctors are much more qualified than I am in this area. However, what I do want to focus on instead are the other damages travel programs can cause when preparing young athletes for high school competition, which is still the ultimate proving ground for youth sports success.

  1. Travel programs are feeding into the entitlement and narcissistic culture that is prevalent in current young athletes: Simply stated, high school programs just can’t compete with travel programs in terms of what we can offer. In short, we don’t have the budgets for multiple sets of uniforms, several different hats, fancy warm-ups, cool websites with highly detailed statistics, and weekend tournaments on well-manicured fields. High school programs treat their athletes in an age appropriate manner – as amateur teenage athletes, not professionals. Having multiple uniforms and warm-ups with names names on the back simply has no place at the high school level or below. If I see another 12 year old in a special Fourth of July camouflage uniform with wrist bands, compressions sleeves, eye black, and Oakley Sunglasses on the top of their hat I think I’m going to puke. This is not what youth sports are about. Unfortunately, every year we get a huge crop of incoming freshman who have a difficult time appreciating the simplicity of what a high school team can offer – hard work through internal and external competition, working together for the good of the group, and simply playing for the love of the game.   
     

  2. Playing time is earned, not paid for, at the school-sponsored level: In the world of travel athletics, parents simply shop around their son or daughter to the team that will maximize their playing time. This mentality does not translate well for many athletes entering high school, who have little experience with sitting the bench, fighting for playing time, or understanding how to persevere when they do not like the coach. This does not help facilitate the grit and resiliency that recent research suggests is most critical to success.
     

  3. School-sponsored athletics is not business, but rather a program that puts the needs of the athletes and the team above all else: The goal of travel athletics is quite simple – to be profitable. While the interests of the athletes is a priority, quite frequently this takes a back seat to the organization and the coaching staff’s need to financially get what they want out of the deal. In order maintain cash flow, many youth athletes are coddled by their travel coaches, or told what they want to hear, to ensure repeat business. Unfortunately, we see too many freshmen experiencing difficulty dealing with constructive criticism or various other types of pressure applied to them from their coach once they reach the high school level.   
     

  4. School-sponsored teams practice: Many travel programs just play games and tournaments without allowing much time for practice. At the high school level, practice is a huge component to the process that builds work ethic and mental and physical toughness, in addition to determining playing time. As high school coaches, we expect our athletes to compete as hard in practice as they do in games. I’m also concerned that athletes are not maximizing their development by having limited time to practice skills in a different environment. Of course travel programs do offer additional practice time – private or group lessons with their instructors – that parents also have to pay for.

I am more than aware that the days of house league play are over, just as the days when we all played pick-up from dusk to dawn, when leadership was developed on the playground, and when playing a few organized games a week did not dominate our summer (or our parents' schedules).  

We were all coached by parents, some more knowledgeable than others, but at the end of the day, we all had fun. The ‘crazy’ parents who screamed about playing time, the umpiring, or general coaching decisions were the exception, not the norm. I look back at those days fondly, and I feel badly for these kids who will never experience that.  

I do believe that it is only a matter of time where we will see an end to this current travel sports culture and a return to a more simplistic approach to youth sports as described above. Until then, all we can do now as consumers is to hold our travel programs to a different standard, one that maintains proper perspective, ensures the health and safety of its participants, and promotes positive social and emotional growth.

The Beauty of the On-Base Percentage

At some point in our time around the game of baseball, all of us have heard a coach use the phrase “the best hitters in baseball make outs 70% of the time.” This is actually incorrect. They are obviously referring to the notion that the best hitters in baseball usually hit around .300, and that is indeed accurate. They do. However, they most certainly do not make outs 70% of the time.

Take for example Andrew McCutchen in 2014. Accounting for all his plate appearances, it would be far more accurate to say that he made an out about 59% of the time (we are not including the number of times he reached on an error for our purposes here).

Want a more extreme example? Barry Bonds in his 2004 season actually only made an out 39.1% of the time!

This notion may be surprising, and we must clarify that we are by no means saying McCutchen hit .410 this year or that Bonds hit .609 in 2004. This actually reinforces the idea we were presenting in our previous article about how the batting average is a misleading statistic.

What we are trying to present however, is a more accurate measurement of just how often players get on base, as well as how often they don’t make outs.

So as we begin discussing the On Base Percentage statistic, keep in mind its actual calculation:

OBP=(Hits+Walks+Hit by Pitches)/(At-Bats+HBP+Walks+Sacrifice Flies)

Simply put, the OBP stat tells us exactly what you probably think it tells us: the rate of how often a hitter actually reaches base. The reason this is important is statistically very simple: base-runners correlate to runs, and runs correlate to wins.

I’m sure every single coach out there can reassure our belief that you do not win games by hitting six or seven solo home runs. On the contrary, you get runners on base to create run scoring opportunities, and then mix in extra base power and speed to your offensive game. That is the very definition of a dynamic offense. Take the ten teams who made the playoffs in 2014: 7 of them were ranked in the top 10 in On Base Percentage, a trend you will find no matter what year you look up.

Many baseball minds who love the OBP statistic love the base on balls. We would like to clarify that we are not discussing a hitter’s ability to take a walk, so much as we are discussing his ability to get on base. There is indeed a slight difference.

If you look into the calculation of the metric, you immediately realize that walks and hits are the two inputs that a hitter is most in control of, as you never want to rely on a player being a valuable offensive weapon because of his ability to get hit by a pitch.

At the end of the day, we advocate that there be separation between the batting average and the OBP. In other words, we never want to undermine a player’s ability to make hard contact and get hits, but we understand walks are most certainly important as well as very projectable (it’s rare to find a hitter whose eye at the plate just disappears).

Beyond just getting on base, walks imply a very patient hitter, which also hints to the fact that the player is swinging at hittable pitches and not pitcher’s pitches. We will look into the importance of this when we discuss the Slugging Percentage statistic.

No matter who you are coaching, your message to your hitters should always be the same at its core: get on base. Some players will have a gifted ability to make hard contact on every swing and hit .325, so they won’t have to walk much to achieve a respectable OBP. Other’s may only hit .260, but still possess an elite OBP (around .400 at the Major League level) because of their keen eye at the plate.

As a coach, you should mainly be concerned with whether or not your hitter is avoiding making outs frequently, and not so much the process of how he does so. A walk isn’t necessarily as good as a hit, but a base runner is a base runner. You can’t score a run if you don’t get on base, and you don’t win games if you don’t score runs.

On that merit alone, the OBP is absolutely one of the most important (yet simple!) offensive measurements in the game today.

The Flaws of the Batting Average Statistic

The batting average has been around baseball forever, and it is a stat that we are all familiar with. Its computation is basic and easy to understand: (Total # of Hits) / (Total # of at Bats). We generally agree that a “good” batting average is somewhere around the .300 range, albeit that can depend on the strength of the competition.

However, as popular as the statistic is, it has very major flaws that I feel most coaches are already beginning to figure out, especially those around the game on an everyday basis.

How many times during a game have we noticed a player hit four rocket line drives, but all right at a defender? Is this player a poor hitter for doing so? Well, his batting average would be .000, but we all know that benching him the next game for this reason would be an atrocious decision.

On the flip side, how many times do we see a player hit a blooper into the outfield and a soft groundball, and end the day 2-3. In your eyes, is the player who hit .667 a better hitter than the one who hit .000 for the day?

The answer is absolutely not.

The first problem that we must expose about the batting average is that it can be very deceiving about a player's hitting performance, especially in a small sample. The reality is 4, 5, or even 25 at bats is hardly a large enough sample to get a good idea on where a player’s batting average will consistently rest.

In short samples, we rely on our eyes; if a hitter is killing the ball and making outs, we know that some of those batted balls will eventually start falling. We will discuss the BABIP statistic in a later article, but harder hit balls get through defenses quicker. On the flip side, those bloopers and soft ground balls are much easier to field, and over a larger sample will likely turn into outs as opposed to hits. At the end of the day, while the batting average statistic can give you some idea of a player's hitting ability, it can most certainly be deceiving. 

Luckily for us, there are much better metrics out there that we as coaches should look much more closely at. An additional flaw that we would like to point out is that the batting average assumes every hit is the same. This is actually a major problem, because we all know a double is more valuable than a single, and a homerun is more valuable than a double.

Unfortunately, the batting average does not account for this, and takes on the “a hit is a hit” philosophy. However, every coach most certainly understands that a 400 foot homerun is very different from a groundball through the 5.5 hole.

As we introduce the On-Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage statistics, we will attempt to show you much more useful (and simple) metrics in assessing a player’s on field performance.