Coaching Baseball - The Nuts & Bolts

Some don’t realize how important coaching baseball is to both the players’ and the coaches’ in developing and molding young peoples’ character, work ethics and morals for their entire adult lives. For those who do, and those who will come to, realize the responsibility placed on a coach’s shoulders, it only makes sense to begin with Explaining What a Coach does and the Types of Coaches involved in baseball.

Not much different than kids who try to emulate their favorite major league ball players, a novice coach would be unwise to ignore the tactics of professional baseball coaches, so with that in mind let’s explore coaching baseball and a bit of its’ history.

  By strict definition, Coaches are described as non-playing members of the baseball team, who assists the Manager or Head Coach, in running the team smoothly, operational wise and teaching skill enhancement. In other words simply stated, they teach the players how to play the game and insure smooth operation of the team.

*** It should be mentioned, Baseball is a unique sport as it’s the only professional sport in which the coaches dress in the same uniforms as the players.***

More than likely this tradition is a carry over from the origination of the very early years of baseball, when the best player on the team, who was normally also the most knowledgeable and skillful player, was often named the coach. Therefore, the earliest coaches wore two hats of player and coach.

Then coaching took a small brief detour from uniforms when a few unique coaches, who were also the owners of the team, such as Connie Mack, abandoned the uniform, instead wearing a suit and tie while sitting in the dugout and running the team, while team owner and coach, Burt Shotton, wore a Brooklyn Dodgers cap and team jacket over his street clothes while Coaching Baseball.

Many consider Connie Mack to be the Greatest Baseball Manager in History

Coaching Baseball

  Original baseball uniforms were not required to have numbers on them, but in the early 1930’s numbers were initiated in order to keep track of players by position while in the field and in correct sequence while batting, however, coaches in that day who wore uniforms, wore No numbers, which indicated they were a coach and not a player.

Full time Coaches, who were not also players, originally were unheard of, but in 1909 New York Giants manager John McGraw hired Arlie Latham and Wilbur Robinson as full time coaches, and by the 1920’s all other major league teams had followed suit and had full time coaches on their payroll.

  As baseball became more sophisticated the increased usage of specialty players, such as early, middle and late relief pitchers instead of just a relief pitcher, and players who played only one position instead of every position, numbers of coaching positions began to swell as well, until in the 1960’s MLB instituted rules which prohibited teams from having more than 6 coaches and a manager in uniform during the course of a game.

Bench Coach-Coaching Baseball

Although you won’t have all these coaching positions on your team, in essence you’ll be performing their jobs, so let’s see what they do.

(1.) The Bench Coach and Coaching Baseball:

The position of Bench Coach is relatively new, but their importance on most teams has quickly elevated to “crucial” status and they are usually considered the second in command of the team.
 
Should the manager be ejected, suspended or unable to attend a game for personal reasons, the <I>Bench Coach</I> will normally run the team in his absence, acting as the manager. Additionally, during the game he serves as an advisor to the manager offering advise on critical situations, having the manager bounce ideas off him and suggesting substitutions.

Perhaps the most important job the bench coach has during the game, is to instruct and counsel players on things they did wrong during the game in order to eliminate a repeat of the mistake and offering advise on how to perform tasks better.

(2.) Pitching Coach and Coaching Baseball:

  The Pitching Coach is the sole teacher and mentor of the entire pitching staff including relief pitchers and historically is normally a former pitcher, but in a few cases, such was Dave Duncan with the St. Louis Cardinals, they are former catchers.

He is charged with broad responsibilities, which begin in Spring training and continue throughout the season. It begins with monitoring all Pitchers’ Spring training exercises, running, drills, pitch counts and stretching routines, in order to reduce physical injuries to the pitchers.

He must evaluate every pitcher’s performance and offer suggestions and instructions on perhaps a different grip for a current pitch or facilitate the learning of a new pitch in order to increase the pitcher’s effectiveness. In short, he’s assigned the duty of improving the team’s pitching staff physically, mentally and emotionally.

During games he is responsible for monitoring pitch counts, (which the next day’s pitcher is charting) and looking for any signs of developing fatigue or mechanical flaws. Should he detect anything out of the ordinary he’ll consult with the manager offering his opinions or suggestions of how the pitcher is performing.

Pitching Coach- Coaching Baseball

(2.) Pitching Coach and Coaching Baseball:

  The Pitching Coach is the sole teacher and mentor of the entire pitching staff including relief pitchers and historically is normally a former pitcher, but in a few cases, such was Dave Duncan with the St. Louis Cardinals, they are former catchers.

He is charged with broad responsibilities, which begin in Spring training and continue throughout the season. It begins with monitoring all Pitchers’ Spring training exercises, running, drills, pitch counts and stretching routines, in order to reduce physical injuries to the pitchers.

He must evaluate every pitcher’s performance and offer suggestions and instructions on perhaps a different grip for a current pitch or facilitate the learning of a new pitch in order to increase the pitcher’s effectiveness. In short, he’s assigned the duty of improving the team’s pitching staff physically, mentally and emotionally.  Coaching Baseball

During games he is responsible for monitoring pitch counts, (which the next day’s pitcher is charting) and looking for any signs of developing fatigue or mechanical flaws. Should he detect anything out of the ordinary he’ll consult with the manager offering his opinions or suggestions of how the pitcher is performing.

Traditionally, when the pitching coach goes to the mound it’s to discuss a detected mechanic flaw, strategy of how to pitch a particular batter or to just calm down his pitcher and help him to refocus. However, when a manager visits the mound he is usually there to replace the pitcher.

 (3.) Bullpen Coach and Coaching Baseball:

The Bullpen Coach, unlike the traditional pitching coach, can be a former Catcher as well as former pitcher, and has similar duties and responsibilities as the pitching coach, but is normally restricted to supervising Relief Pitchers only, and although he does not report to the pitching coach, he works in close conjunction with him.

Coaching Baseball- Bullpen Coaches Also Teach

 While the pitching coach is stationed in the dugout during baseball games, he is stationed in the bullpen, with the relief pitchers and carries out the orders of the manager as far as what pitcher to warm up in anticipation of being called in to pitch a certain situation.

As with normal coaching baseball, it’s important he know his relief pitchers well in order to know if they are adequately warmed up or are experiencing an off day, which even professional have. He does not have the authority to counter a manger’s order, such as warming up a different pitcher because he thinks he’ll throw better, but is responsible to forward any concerns he may have about the effectiveness of a particular pitcher for that day.

(4.) Offensive Coaches  and Coaching Baseball

If anything screams “You never stop learning” it’s the fact that major league ball players require help with their hitting skills. The Hitting Coach is usually the most well known of the offensive coaches as his named is highlighted if the team is hitting well, or not so well.

 Coaching baseball allows for individual styles, therefore depending on the make up of the team or a manager’s particular coaching style, the hitting coach may be a former player who had a history of hitting for a high percentage batting average, or a power hitter who specialized in run production. 

Coaching Baseball- Teaching Hitting

He is charged with working with players on methods to improve their hitting techniques, which may include analyzing their swing, foot control, power, bat speed and any other aspect of hitting. In addition to improvement, he‘s responsible for working with any player who has developed a flaw or mental block which has resulted in a prolonged slump.

  He will always be stationed at the batting cage and at pre-game hitting offering advise on anything he feels a player can easily adjust and improve on. Hitting is a science and no hitting coach would instruct or suggest a player utilize a radical change in his hitting mechanics during a game.

 With the advancement of technology, video and computer analysis are becoming a normal coaching tool. The Hitting Coach can view videos (Video Analysis) of a player swinging to search for any detection of a recently developed bad habit, sometimes players will attempt to play, although injured and they subconsciously alter their hitting mechanics to minimize the pain, which can destroy timing or basic mechanics.

   Should the Hitting Coach require more help, the video can be transposed onto a computer program which will illustrate the hitter’s swing vs. the accepted normal swing, which could reveal an issue too small or too quick for the human eye to pick up. Welcome to coaching baseball in the 21st century.

  (5.) Base Coaches and Coaching Baseball:

 As the name indicates, while the team is batting, there are two coaches assigned to the field, one at first base, one at third base, but with entirely different jobs and responsibilities.

 After a batter hits the ball and is running towards first base, the First Base Coach is responsible for evaluating the hitter’s chance of continuing on safely to second base on the batted ball and to signal the player, by arm signals as well as verbal, to not stop at first base, but try and advance on to second.

In order to soundly make this split second decision, the coach must know the speed and base running ability of each one of his players, the speed of the outfielder who will chase down the ball and especially the arm strength and accuracy of the outfielder who will throw the ball to second base.

Secondly, he assigned the role of advising a runner on first base on how to increase his leadoff, keeping him from getting picked off, and getting a good jump on the pitcher in order to steal second base.

Coaching Baseball- Keeping Runner Informed

In order to carry out these duties he must be aware of a pitcher’s pick off move, whether good or bad, and the strength and accuracy of the catcher’s arm who will be throwing to second base.

   In coaching baseball, the Third Base Coach traditionally has more responsibilities than the first base coach, as his duties include:

(A.) Determining whether to hold a runner at second base or to have him try and advance on to third base on a batted ball.

(B.) He’s responsible for watching the actions and location of the shortstop when there’s a runner on second taking a leadoff, because the shortstop is behind and out of the runner’s line of sight.

(C.) He’s responsible for receiving signs from the manager and relaying them to the players without being detected and insuring all of his players received and understood the signs.

(D.)  Perhaps the most critical job of the Third Base Coach is he must know the arm strength and accuracy of every outfielders’ arm in the league in order to make a split second decision of whether to have a runner try to score from third base.

Normally the runner’s speed and positioning are the determining factors, but all things being equal, the outfielder’s arm strength is the determining factor and the coach doesn’t have time to check his notebook for information.

(6.) Additional Duties Of Coaches  and Coaching  Baseball:

All coaches are former players with their own areas of expertise, therefore in addition to their normal duties the Bench, Third Base and First Base> Coaches are responsible for teaching and assisting players in specific areas of expertise, mainly defensive training.

They will divide the duties as they deem necessary and efficient between an Outfield Instructor, Infield Instructor, Catching Instructor & Base running Instructor. This training is continuous throughout the baseball season.

(7.)  Other So-Called Coaches and Coaching Baseball:

  There are other staff members who have the term “Coach” implied, but who are not really baseball coaches in the traditional sense. All MLB teams employ a Strength and Conditioning Coach, an Athletic Trainer a Bullpen Catcher and a Batting Practice Pitcher.

  One must remember only MLB teams have so many coaches as minor league and amateur League teams normally have only 3 coaches, the Head Coach, Pitching Coach and Hitting Coach, who perform all the duties of the numerous MLB Coaches.

As a Youth league coach you’ll fit into the minor league quantity of coaches.

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