There is an art to piecing together a balanced batting order. Just ask Fran Say.
Say has been coaching for 11 years and stresses that coaches should remember that the leadoff hitter changes from inning to inning, so all nine hitters in a lineup could leadoff during the course of a game. Every hitter becomes important.
“A lot of (coaches) hide the guys who are weakest and maybe they’ll put them in the seven, eight, nine spot,” said Say, who coaches a 14U baseball team for the Living Legends Baseball Club out of Santa Clara, California. “Where I come in with that, I’ll put a decent guy in the nine spot. If he’s an improving and up-and-coming hitter, I’m going to put him there. He’s your next leadoff, he really is. Once you’ve gone through the lineup once, everyone can be a leadoff hitter. You want to put somebody in your lineup toward the middle or bottom who can actually come through. It doesn’t have to be an automatic out because you have your weakest hitters up.”
Say likes to have a good base at the top of her order, but still be balanced in the bottom half.
“I have kids who generally get on base pretty solidly,” Say said. “Those are like my 1, 2 — I like to fill the 4 hole before I hit the 3. My third hitter, he’s a solid hitter, multiple base hitter. Hopefully, but not always getting on base, maybe not as much pop as my No. 4 hitter. The fifth hitter comes in, I look at how he stacks up against my cleanup hitter. He might not be as much pop, but he’s going to hit it hard and get on base. That’s where I want to stick him in.”
Part of setting a lineup is making some tough decisions. How does Say approach a situation where she has one player hitting .270, but isn’t very sound in the field, while the second player is hitting .190 hitter but can flash the leather?
“I would have to say defensive minded in that sense,” Say said. “They’re close, but I’d say one is a better hitter but not as consistent. I want consistency on the field. A lot of times our games can turn on a dime from just one error which leads to more errors. I need somebody on the field who’s going to be pretty reliable and be able to get to the ball and has some good range and be able to just think on the field.”
Say stresses that it’s good practice not to stack hitters, because a coach can leave the lineup vulnerable if all the strong hitters are batting one after another.
“You have to look at all aspects of the batter,” Say said. “It’s not just the hitting, it’s their speed, their baserunning. They might not be a great hitter, but they might be a great baserunner. If you can put all that together and come up with a good formula that works for your team, and every team’s going to be a little different again. I have a hitter who has a hard time getting on base, but once he gets on base he runs solid. He’s a great stealer; he’s aggressive on the basepaths. He’s a guy I might want in the middle. He might be my 6 hitter, even if he’s not my strongest hitter.”
Say tends to analyze her team’s batting order before setting it each game. A lot of variables come into play when she’s working out the lineup card.
“We basically have a general formula that seems to work,” Say said. “And a general lineup that we’ve kind of gone with. We also look at each player and how they’re doing, whether they’ve struggled the last tournament or two, whether they’re coming off an injury or whether they just haven’t played in a little while. All that comes into play when we look at that.”
Other offensive philosophies and strategies
Along with trying to nail down the idea batting order each game, Say is all about producing runs in any fashion possible.
“I know a lot of people don’t believe in the small ball mentality, but for us, I’ve seen it make a difference in games,” Say said. “I think that we should try to bring that back a little bit, because I think that kids don’t know how to execute a good bunt when they need to.”
Say also works with her players quite a bit on directional hitting. She’ll start off the guys with tee work, move them to soft toss and then to live pitching. It’s a gradual progression with a great deal of repetition.
Having a player work on a directional hitting from a tee can be very beneficial.
“I’ll say, ‘Look, position the tee on the outside corner and just hit it, go after it. Just step into the pitch and hit it. Imagine that ball is coming outside at you, what are you going to do with it? You can’t pull it, you’ve got to do something with it,’” Say said.