High School and SABR Part 2: Offensive Philosophy

Tom Pennington

In my last fanpost, I discussed the way that I, as a high school baseball coach, attempt to apply sabermetric principles to constructing my lineup. I mainly spoke in detail about how scouting vs. stats argument that is such a prominent feature in things like "Moneyball" are still very much at play even at the high school level. Today, I'm going to try and break down the differences between a high school saber metric philosophy versus its big league counterpart.

Strikeouts vs.OBP OBP OBP!

The whole analytical revolution began with the simple thought that baseball isn't won by getting hits, but rather by not getting out at the plate. This is a concept I've bought into whole-heartedly when I speak to my boys about how to approach their plate appearances. I stress the importance of getting on base at any cost necessary in order to help our team win. At the MLB level, recent studies have concluded that striking out isn't always the worst thing in the world, and that several teams have been successful with high strikeout numbers (not the Astros, sadly). But at the high school level, I preach the exact opposite to that. I tell the kids the absolute worst outcome to any PA is the strikeout. My reasoning behind this concept is actually pretty simplistic:

1) At the MLB level, the average BABIP typically sits at .300 over the course of the season. This is a BA against the best defenses in the game.

2) High school players, obviously, do not play the best defense in the game. Their range is reduced (except for one fairly high draft pick I had the privilege of coaching) and their arms are not as strong as their big league counterparts.

3) Therefore, the combination of less plays made plus higher likelihood of errors committed by high school defenses leads me to believe the OBPBIP (On Base Percentage of Balls In Play) is somewhere between .400 and .500 on any given day.

With this logic in place, as a coach, I can't stand the strikeout. It's the one outcome in a high school baseball game that I believe the numbers are strongly in favor of the defense. Simply put, if the ball's in play, we have a chance.

To Bunt, or not To Bunt--That is the question

Saber metrics tell us that bunting is nothing more than a wasted out. Don't sacrifice runners because you have a higher statistical chance of scoring more runs if you let the batter swing away. This is the area where I am fundamentally against saber at the high school level. Like I referred to earlier about OBPIP, when the ball is in play, good things tend to happen in a high school baseball game. If you can put a bunt on the ground in fair territory, it's only a matter of time before the big error takes place. Small ball in high school leads to some of our biggest innings. The pressure of fielding the slowly rolling ball and throwing it on the run is usually too much on a teenager, so we make big things happen combining our speed with our bunting abilities.

Stealing a base is just an opportunity to give up runs

Saber metrics also tells us to not attempt the stolen base. I believe the MLB level of success rate has to be around 72% in order to make stealing bases "profitable." Again, this is an area in the high school game that I do not employ the Moneyball approach. Our approach is very simple: You get on first, you're doing everything you can to steal second. This still boils down to the idea that (again, obviously) big leaguers are much better at converting the throw down to 2nd to nail runners than high school kids. In a high school game, pitchers are nowhere near as concerned about holding the runners well, catchers don't have the "pop times" you'd prefer, and sometimes middle infielders forget who's supposed to be covering the bag. All these things lead to great chances at success in a high school game. Plus, we don't hit very many home runs anymore. The new bats cut our HR total all the way down to 6 for the team this season. We just can't afford to sit back and wait on the 3-run shot.

Final Thoughts

Saber metrics helps us mold our kids to think about how to work counts and how to fight in the box to refuse to strike out. It gets us to understand how we can afford to take a bigger swing in hitters' counts, and how to shorten it all up--and why--when we have two strikes. But it doesn't always lead to offensive success when you consider how many runs could be left on the board if we didn't steal a bag or bunt for the base hit. Hopefully this has been something you've enjoyed reading about, and next time I'll try to discuss our defensive and pitching approach to a high school game.

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