Ask any baseball coach after a loss and they’ll probably point out a number of reasons why their team came up short. They’re even more likely to mention walks, errors, stolen bases allowed, wild pitches/passed balls, hit batters and balks. In fact, most teams can probably point to the “free bases” they give up as reasons for losing a game or having a poor season.
For a number of years, Ohio University head coach Rob Smith has studied the effect of free bases on the college game. Focusing his study on the concept that most baseball games are lost and not won, Smith has actually been able to quantify the effect that free bases have on winning and losing.
“Limiting free bases certainly isn’t anything that I created,” Smith said. “Essentially what I did was in 2007, we had talked about it with the Creighton team I was a part of and at the end of the year, we knew that we did pretty well and I was curious as to how well we compared to other teams. I started with our own league and saw we were the best in the league. Then I compiled a handful of the Midwestern conferences- teams that were comparable to us- and noticed that we were the best of all those teams. Then I started adding in all the bigger conferences and then all the schools and sure enough, we were the number one team in the country in free bases allowed per nine innings that year.”
“After that, it really became something I started looking closely at. I wanted to see how free bases correlated to winning, to winning teams, and to teams that made the NCAA tournament. From all of that data compiling, I really started to see some trends. Some of it is just common sense- if you do limit free bases, you’re probably going to play good baseball.”
While you may not have to be a baseball expert to understand that free bases often determine the winner and loser of a game, knowing just how much they influence the final outcome is another matter.
“We emphasize it in practice and constantly come back to it post-practice, post-scrimmage, to ‘this is why you were successful’ or ‘this is why you struggled,'” says Smith. “When you start to understand how these free bases correlate to winning, players really start to attach a lot more value to it in the practice setting.”
A former Collegiate Baseball Teaching Professional of the Year, Smith recently shared the results of his ongoing study with Inside Pitch. In addition to his findings, he also offers some tips for how you can work with your team to limit free bases:
The facts on free bases
No. 1- Base on balls
Biggest of the free bases per game (FB/9) at 44%
National average‐ 3.65 per game
Best in nation‐ 1.41 per game
Can be practiced and controlled via bullpen structure
Emphasize first pitch strikes: 75‐80% of walks come from 1‐0 count
First pitch statistics from 2013: 52% take rate, 18% foul balls, 14% outs, 9% swing and miss, 6% base hits, 1% errors
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