"After fall practice ends, we do 4 on 1 until Christmas. Then, when we come back, we do 4 on 1s until spring practice begins. During that time, we are focusing on the individual...teaching him how to improve his swing or teaching a pitcher to have a better delivery."
What do you mean when you say 4 on 1?
"Four on one means four players with one meaning the coaching staff. So, it actually could mean four players can meet with four coaches at a time. But I can't have four hitters and Coach McNickle have four pitchers. What we do is devote Monday to bullpen work, which means Coach McNickle is with his pitchers all day. He actually has 2 pitchers and one catcher at a time, so it's really 3 on 1. He has a pitcher throw 15 pitches, then the other guy throws 15 pitchers, which is similar to pitching one inning. Tuesday and Thursday, we do our hitting groups. So, there are 4 hitters with Coach Raffo, myself and Coach Polk. We have 16 dates we have to meet with them. We sat down and mapped out what we were going to work on each date. Included in that is video review, which is analyzing their swing. We did a little of that in the fall, but we will do more of that in the 4 on 1. It's great that we can do this because we have 30 minutes, three coaches and four guys. If I see something about a particular player and I want to pull him aside and work with him for 10 minutes, I can. It's difficult to do that during fall practice when you have 44 players. Because of the 4 on 1, you can see some really big jumps between how the players hit the last week in the fall to when spring starts. The same thing can be said about the pitchers because of the individual attention they receive during the two or three months of 4 on 1s."
You mentioned 16 dates. Does that mean 16 dates with each guy or 16 total dates total?
"Each player gets 16 days of hitting, which means they each get sixteen 30 minute sessions. There are 28 hitters, which means there are 7 groups of hitters. They all meet one 30 minute session on Tuesday and one on Thursday. (The NCAA) allow(s) 2 hours a week of instruction. But we have to leave some down time for some of the guys because we also have the catchers, who not only get their hitting instruction, but also have to catch bullpen for one hour."
That doesn't sound like much time to teach hitting or pitching?
"When you put it that way, it doesn't, but it's very intense (instruction) because you just have four guys. You would be surprised how much you can get done in 30 minutes. As an example, yesterday we did 10 minutes of drill work. And remember, we are (also) indoors in the Grisham Tunnel, so everybody is hitting at the same time (either indoors or outdoors). When you add it up, they probably took 100 to 150 swings with us standing there watching every swing. We don't have the mindset where we have a number of swings (that we require). As a coach, if you see something in a swing that you want to correct, then you will stop them and correct it. In fall practice, it's more staying on a schedule because you have so much to do. In 4 on 1s, it's more about the instruction you receive."
Do you separate the freshmen from the veterans in the 4 on 1s?
"This year, we've tried to group them by type of hitter. In other words, if you are a power hitter, we try to put those guys together. We also try to put the speed guys together. As an example, (Jeffrey) Rea, (Nick) Hardy, (Joseph) Hunter and (Jeff) Butts, our fastest guys, are in a group. That way, they can push each other. We also try to keep the righthanded and lefthanded guys together because it saves us time. I would say that 85% of the hitters are included in the group we would like them to be in. We did try to keep the younger guys together. When you get a veteran group of guys, it goes pretty quick because we don't have to say very much to them. Now, if you have four true freshmen in one group, it goes a lot slower because we have to stop and teach them more than we do the veterans."
Coach Polk has something called production rating. What exactly does that mean?
"With production rating, how hard you hit the ball determines your production rating. If you hit a screaming line drive, it is a six (which is the highest number a player can receive). Home runs are a six. If you swing and miss, it's a zero. Every swing you take in the fall is recorded with some number. It kind of takes away the idea that you line out and don't get credit for it. At the end of the fall the guys with the highest production rating are the guys who consistently hit the ball the hardest."
Where did your catchers end up in the production rating?
"Of the top seven guys in production rating, three of them are my catchers. (Joseph) McCaskill ended up number 1. And he ended up with a great fall hitting average as well. (Ed) Easley ended up third and also hit over .300. (Wyn) Diggs ended up 7th and hit almost .400."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.