Friday, August 10, 2007

A Ninja Manifesto - Offense and How to be Offensive

I think we know that we’re capable of being one of the top offensive teams in the Division. What we lack from time to time is consistency. Some weeks we can score double digit runs, while in other weeks we struggle to score at all. Why the wild swings? Because we only succeed on offense when we stick to the things that make us successful – the things we’ve done as a team in order to win three championships.

These things don’t include kicking for home runs and trying to overpower the other team – while the occasional home run is nice and sometimes necessary, we do well when we outthink and outplay the other team’s defense. There are things that we do on offense when things are going well that other teams don’t – call it “Kickball the Ninja Way” or whatever you want, but it has worked in the past and it will work in the future if we stick to it.

The difference between scoring 10 runs versus scoring two runs is usually a lot of little things. Here are some guidelines about what we should be doing every time we come to bat, regardless of who we are playing or what the score is.

PUT PRESSURE ON THE OTHER TEAM’S DEFENSE – I think that every specific thing that we try to do as a team on offense comes from this basic concept – it’s the overall philosophy that guides everything we should do. As we’ve seen time and time again, when you constantly put the other team’s defense in situations where they have to make plays, there’s a good chance that they will make enough mistakes that we can capitalize on.

GROUND BALLS PUT MORE PRESSURE ON DEFENSES THAN FLY BALLS – Ground balls require more things to go right for the defense than fly balls. Hopefully this diagram helps to explain things:

With a ground ball, the fielder must catch the ball, make a good throw, and the person at the base must make a clean catch while staying on the base. Meanwhile, for a fly ball only one thing has to happen – the ball being caught.

Ground balls in the right places (like down 3rd base) will make it almost impossible to get the kicker out. And even more importantly, it puts the pressure on the defense to execute a series of things instead of just doing one thing over and over. It’s frustrating when an outfielder makes a “Help Me Jesus” catch on a deep fly ball, but why give them the chance to make that play at all when a ground ball puts the defense under more pressure and increases the odds of them screwing up.

HOME RUNS ARE FINE, IN SMALL DOSES – I’ve seen our team fall in love with trying to kick for home runs several times in the past because someone kicked one in the first inning. The truth is that for every home run, there are probably eight or nine fly outs. In the long run, the reward isn’t worth all the outs we’ll incur trying for home runs.

GETTING THE FIRST TWO KICKERS ON BASE SHOULD BE ALMOST AUTOMATIC – If you can kick a ground ball to third base, it’s almost impossible for a defense to get you out at first base, or to get a runner out going to second. You don’t have to kick hard when kicking ground balls – keeping it on the ground is way more important than how hard you kick it.

DON’T KICK ANYTHING THE CATCHER CAN MAKE A PLAY ON – Any bunt that the catcher can field near home base is almost always going to be an out. Kicking ground balls instead of bunts takes the catcher out of the equation. But if you are going to bunt, try to get the ball somewhere in between the catcher and the pitcher on the 3rd base side – it’s tough to field and almost a sure base hit.

TAKE WHAT THE DEFENSE GIVES YOU – Every defense has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s in our best interest to exploit the other team’s weak spots to our advantage. If they have huge gaps in their outfield, aim for them. If there is a girl on second base who weighs about 50 pounds and has her hands in her armpits when the ball is kicked, make her make the plays. It’s not mean – it’s being opportunistic.

Remember: precision is more important than brute force.

LINE DRIVES ARE BETTER THAN FLY BALLS – There are situations when you need to kick more than a ground ball, especially with two outs and runners on base. But that doesn’t mean that you need to hammer a deep fly ball – that gives the other team a chance to get under it and make a play (and maybe have a better fielder get to it).

In these situations the key is kicking line drives that get over the heads of the infielders but fall in front of the outfield. These gaps always exist, especially with kickers whom the defense respects. Keep putting balls in front of the outfielders until they adjust and more up to close the gap. The beauty is that once this happens, our big kickers can then blast kicks over the drawn-in outfield’s heads and make them pay.

KNOW THE SITUATION AND KICK ACCORDINGLY – Before you go up, think about the situation: Where are the runners? Are there force-outs in effect for the runners? How many outs are there? These things all matter. A ground ball to third base is great most of the time, but with runners on first and second, it’s a sure out and worst of all we haven’t advanced the runners. In that case, kicking the ball to the right side of the field is a better play – even if you get out, the runners will advance up to second and third base.

It sounds basic but it needs to happen: have a plan for where you want to ball to go, and think about what will happen with the base runners if the ball goes where you are aiming.

UNDERSTAND YOUR LIMITATIONS AND THOSE OF THE KICKERS AFTER YOU – I know that I can’t kick home runs, so I’ve abandoned trying. My strength is kicking ground balls and getting on base. But certain situations require that I do more than just get on base. If there are two outs and runners on second and third, I could easily kick a grounder and get on base. But that leaves the bases loaded, and if a weaker kicker is up next, I’ve just put them in a bad situation.

Study the kicking order and don’t just know how is before you but who is after you. If a big kicker is up, you can focus on getting on base. If it’s a weaker kicker, you might want to try and punch the ball out of the infield and drive in the runs.

DON’T LOSE FOCUS – Generally we know what to do on the field. But when we lose focus, we can make silly plays that are out of character for us – not tagging up on fly balls, overrunning bases, or not running through first base. Obviously, we want to have fun, but when it’s your turn to kick, you need to be 100 percent focused and thinking several steps ahead – if you are on base, what happens when the ball is kicked? Go through the different scenarios in your mind and decide how you would react to them so you are ready for anything – it’s like role playing without the dice!

And this can’t be stressed enough: You can learn so much about opposing defenses by watching every one of our at-bats. You can tell if certain fielders have weak arms, so maybe you can take an extra base against them. Or, you can tell if certain outfielders have a better or worse chance of making a play.

RUN AGGRESSIVELY, BUT NOT STUPIDLY – I know that we see players stretch singles into doubles, triples or even home runs by being very aggressive on the base paths. And that’s great if you’re as fast as Scott Jones. But I know how fast I am, and I’m not going to be able to pull off the same things he can.

History has shown that if we can remember these things when we’re up to kick, we’ll score tons of runs. I mean, just giant buckets of runs. And the more times we score, the more people get to kick, and that’s fun for everyone.

Yours truly and a Ninja 4Ever,

1 comment:

Scott Jonesilicious said...

Do we REALLY want to put all these kickball tips on a public webpage? Seems to defeat the purpose of strategy.