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Batting orders for beginners

The Theory

There is a simple concept that should drive every batting order you draw up, even if you do not always follow it to the letter, and that concept should be: The batters at the top of the order get to bat more often than anyone else so your best batters should bat at the top of the order.

Fine, but who are the "best" batters ? The best batters are those that get on base successfully most often, those with the highest on base percentage (OBP). Players who get on base without getting people out generate long innings, long innings generate runs in large numbers. This maximises the run scoring ability of the team.

It follows from this that a male batter should lead off. In general male batters get on base more often than female batters at all levels of play. A team may well have some female players who get on base more often than some of the men, but it would be a very unusual team where the average female OBP is higher than the average male OBP. In all other cases you should start the order with a male batter, over the course of the season that means more base runners, more runs and more wins.

It may make things easier if the two halves of the order (male and female) are be drawn up separately and then meshed together, the best male player bats first, the best female second, the second best male third etc. etc.

Summary:

  1. Batters of each sex should bat in descending order of OBP.
  2. A male batter should be at the top of the order.

The practice

This might be all well and good in theory but in practice things may be more complicated. There are two main complicating factors:

1. Who is actually best at getting on base ?

Who does have the best OBP ? Most softball teams play less than 20 league games a season and perhaps the same number of tournament games. Even if the team keep score properly that does not give a very large sample for working out stats and small sample sizes give freak results. The better player should be placed higher in the line up but make sure you look at processes as well as results. If someone lays off bad pitches and hits line drives they are doing the job right even if they go 0 for 10 at the start of the season. Do not panic and let numbers based on one or two games override your common sense.

2. The human factor:

Some players do not like being at the top of the order and their performance suffers as a result. There are only two possible courses of action here. Leave them there and hope they get used to it or accept the fact and move them down the order. Which you do depends on the individual concerned.

In other words do not just look at last weeks score card and put the person that went 5 for 5 at the top of the order. The stats do tell us things but with the small number of at bats softball players get statistics can be misleading when used on their own. Use them as a guide but also look at how your batters approach their at bats both in games and in practice. People who leave bad pitches alone and hit line drives are going to be valuable at the top of the order, those who hack at everything and hit 1 home run every game but get caught out the other 3 at bats go down the order. If a player freezes or panics when they are moved to the top of the order it is OK to drop them back down to where they feel comfortable and produce results for the team.

Other factors

People often think about two other factors when drawing up their batting line ups. These things are useful but should not be allowed to obscure the importance of getting on base regularly:

Beginners

If you have a large number of new players on your team following this pattern too slavishly can cause a problem. If you have a large number of very poor betters grouped together at the bottom of the order you can find this makes it even more difficult to score runs than if you split them up. There are two problems , the long run of easy outs in itself gives your opposition some easy innings during the game, and also you can find yourself in a position where your better batters get on base, but never get drive in. With this sort of team I sometimes split the line up in two, with a group of better batters at the top, then a couple of weaker players, then another group of better hitters, then another couple of weaker ones. It can even be worth mixing it up still further with the "easy outs" coming up at regiular intervals throughout the line up. I'd only do this with an inexperienced team though, at a higher level even your weakest players should be getting on base often enough for this not to be a problem.

Technical stuff

Beginners - the long term view

I�m preaching the virtues of OBP here but there is a problem with putting emphsis on getting on base when dealing with new players. If you stress getting on to base TOO much, the rookies go up there terrified to swing at anything and are so obsessed with looking for a walk that they never learn how to hit the ball. The problem is merely made worse by the fact that at low levels of play this can be an effective tactic. A poor pitcher gives up a lot of walks and players can make a contribution just by resting their bat on their shoulder.

Unfortunately once they start playing at a higher level these players are doomed because an effective pitcher isn�t going to walk them and they have never learned how to do anything else.

The way round this is not to encourage batters to look for a walk but instead to get them to go up and look for a good pitch to hit � and then HIT IT. In other words they should be aggressive, not passive. Note that you don�t tell them to go up there hacking, they look for something easy to hit and hit it. If a walk comes their way that's fine bt they should go to the plate looking to HIT.

In the short term this may cost you because they haven�t got the skill to hit even good pitches effectively but if they don�t try they will never get better, so encourage them to be positive and in the long term you�ll reap the benefits. As a captain you have to look at this season and the next one, not just the game you are playing NOW.