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Are Offensive Signals Necessary?

April 7, 2010


In a telephone conversation with Griff the other night, I was stunned when he told me that his C-Teamers missed a whopping 19 signals in double-dip.  Immediately I wondered why Griff was giving his hitters 19 signals over two games in the first place.  I considered that we were talking about young players developing in a system, and obviously a necessity for that development is knowledge of the club’s signals.  Still, this scenario reopened an internal debate that I have had since I first realized how foolish any and all hit-and-runs are.  Are signals from base coaches a necessary component of the game, or are they simply another piece of the game’s antiquity?

Last summer, I coached third with basically three signals and no indicators.  Two of the signals were green-light-types, and the other was the take sign which was simply me raising my index finger.  Everyone in the stadium knew when we were bunting because I basically yelled to the hitter to bunt.  We bunted very, very sparingly.  Our runners knew who had the green to go and who didn’t, so I basically did not give signs across the diamond.  Guys who could drag knew when to drag because I told them when good times were.  Obviously we did not have an hit-and-run sign because forcing a hitter to swing at whatever the pitcher throws is a bad way to prevent outs.

Was our offense in any way lacking because we did not have sophisticated signals?  Was it inhibited by the fact that we had no secret strategies for run creation?  First, what is each offensive player’s objective at the plate?  To get on base.  No player needs to be reminded of this by a coach.  What about sacrifice bunting?  This is 2010.  How about stealing bases?  Utilizing a simple green light allows the player the freedom to gauge his own chances while ensuring that he does so in a reasonable situation.  What good can come from sophisticated signals?  I guess there are times when a delayed steal or get-picked sign could be advantageous.  Answer me this, though: would yelling across the diamond at a runner to get picked change the outcome?  Probably not.  More importantly, does the limited frequency of plays such as these justify using practice time for them?  Of course not.

Signs can’t possibly hurt.  The problem, however, arises when players forget what the real goal is because they are too busy hitting-and-running or leaving early.  Hitters are there to reach base.  Runners are there to touch home.  OBP is the primary predictor we know of for run creation.  Hitters hopefully don’t need a signal for getting on base.  Varying from this default setting, therefore, is likely only to reduce run production.  By that line of reasoning elaborate signals should only be given when trying to score fewer times.

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