Facts About Run Production
A team’s most precious asset is its allotment of 27 outs. Every at-bat that does not result in an out is a small victory.
Earl Weaver, Hall of Fame manager
Before a discussion about how to score runs can even begin, we need to identify the ways in which runs are produced. After that groundwork is established, the conversation can proceed to assessing personnel, establishing goals, and training players toward those goals. Therefore, our first objective is to take a closer look at how runs are scored. Fortunately, baseball has a wealth of statistical data that we can refer to as we determine how to score runs.
The Most Important Number in Baseball
One of the unique and endearing aspects of baseball is that, unlike many other popular sports, it does not operate on a clock. When the first pitch of the game is thrown, no one—not players, coaches, umpires, or fans—knows when the contest will end. The single determining factor that affects each half inning of play is the ability of the defense to record three outs. An inning may be as short as three pitches, or it may take an hour, if that is how long it takes the defense to record those three outs.
The most important number in baseball is three. The team on offense can score an unlimited number of runs, right up until the defense records those three outs. Those outs are precious, so our primary objective on offense is to do whatever we can to avoid giving up outs, thereby prolonging the inning and giving ourselves more opportunities to score runs.
Because those three outs are valuable, our offensive system replaces terms like sacrifice bunts with the term kill bunts. Avoid the mind-set that your team is willing to concede one of its 27 precious outs to gain 90 feet (27.4 m) of ground. For example, our focus is on placing the bunt in a spot that creates pressure on the defense so that they will have trouble recording the out.
Definition of Offense
The definition of offense is to score as many runs as possible before the other team records three outs. Earl Weaver said that any time a batter reaches base he has won a small victory. Players have many different ways to reach base, to advance runners without giving up outs, and, sometimes, to advance runners with productive outs.
Coaches and players need to understand that there is more to offense than hitting. In some games your team will just not hit well. Whether facing the opponent’s staff ace, hitting against the wind blowing in, dealing with a wet field, or playing in a big ballpark, the goal of scoring runs may be daunting because hitting the ball will be more challenging than normal. For this reason every team needs to have a backup plan, which is simply having the ability to score runs when you are not hitting.
An effective backup plan means that a team does anything possible to advance runners around the bases without the benefit of a hit.Some of the hallmarks of an offensive mind-set that includes having a backup plan are earning a base on balls by exercising good strike-zone discipline, stealing a base, taking an extra base on a ball that is put in play, and reading balls in the dirt. Bat-control skills like performing the slash, executing a hit-and-run, and cashing in on limited RBI opportunities by putting the ball in play rather than striking out are also important features of an effective backup plan.
When teams reflect on a game and question why they lost, it is easy to say, “We didn’t hit.” That often tells only part of the offensive story. Often overlooked in the postgame analysis are the missed opportunities in the form of unproductive outs, bad baserunning, and poor strike-zone discipline. Teams need to train for those days when they are not going to hit. Although nothing is guaranteed, teams that are trained and equipped with an array of offensive skills beyond hitting have a greater chance of scoring a lot of runs. To have an effective offense, a team needs to have a flexible game plan that puts the team in the best possible position, day after day, game after game, to score as many runs as possible. Flexibility means having a game plan and also having a backup plan. As the saying goes, “Plans are everything, and the plan means nothing.”
Establish a Run Goal
From 1999 through 2002, the average major-league team scored just under five runs per game. That average varies depending on the level of play, from youth ball to high school and college. Having a point of reference is important, however, and that number—five—plays a key role in establishing goals for runs in a game.
Although five runs is the major-league average, a high-scoring offense will seek to score more than the average number of runs, to be better than average. Each program, at all the various levels of competition, must determine what that aggressive run goal should be. For our college programs at Embry-Riddle, the goal was seven runs, and the results spoke volumes. Over a 13-year period from 1994 through 2006 (see table 1.1), achieving that goal of seven runs per game resulted in a winning percentage of 94%. On the flip side, failure to score seven runs in a game resulted in a winning percentage of just over 50%.