Control the Zone vs Always Com-Pete
Cross-sports training Dept.


Before last year's Super Bowl, Bill Belichick gravely shook his head on TV and pronounced his own doom.  "The Seahawks just play at such a high level every single play," he marvelled.  

Which is true, as you might have noticed.  The Seahawks sometimes lose a game.  Sometimes they even look out of synch.  But they never look like they don't care, and they never look like they're afraid.  All 11 players, all over the field, are giving one-on-one EFFORTS that look like Kurt Russell playing basketball in Escape From New York.  We are blessed to watch a football team that has comPlETEd its own circle of toughness.

What is that record streak they're on, never losing by more than 10 points?  You see Seahawks losses, but you NEVER see their chests collapse.


Carroll had a hard time staying chill when he was asked whether the Seahawks were going to rest Baldwin and Lynch & Co.  Slowly, in one-syllable words, he re-explained his philosophy of life.  The Seahawks will treat the Cardinals game "as if it were a championship game."  That means practicing halftime, I guess, but at bare minimum the travel and logisitics and stuff will be NFC CG quality.  "It's never a good thing" to teach your players anything else.

Stop a second and think about something.

Nobody outside the Seahawks org expected that.  THEREFORE.  Nobody outside the Seahawks org -- the reporters, the ex-players on TV, the blogs, nobody -- "gets" Pete Carroll on that phrase.  "Always compete."

Always Compete means one thing in the Seahawk organization, and something else in 31 other football org's.  We might then ponder whether something as simple as "Control the Strike Zone" might mean something different to Jerry DiPoto than it does to other GM's.  Especially since he just quit a GM job in part because he disagreed with Mike Scioscia about it.


You'll want to read this article.  By the time you're done with it, you will agree with Jerry.

Schwanke says, in part, 


Many skeptical coaches fall prey to the attitude that hitting is uncoachable. They believe the skill is a God-given talent and they cannot help the hitter improve.

Their idea of a good offensive scheme is to swing hard at three pitches anywhere in the strike zone and do not swing at real “bad” pitches way out of the strike zone. To help his undisciplined hitters, the coach with this approach takes control of ball-strike discipline with the take sign.

Ask Greg Maddux if he wants to face a guy who will swing at every strike thrown early in the count and a team that will be forced to take a lot of 2-0 and 3-1 pitches.  He will tell you that team is playing right into his hand. How else can you explain the 78 pitch major league complete game Greg threw last year?

If you are going to create disciplined team offense to win championships, extending at-bats and increasing pitch counts are the keys. Your players must have the freedom to take borderline pitches early in the count and not be subject to second-guessing by coaches. It is the best way to build their confidence and confident hitters give your club the best chance to beat a quality pitcher at crunch time.


Also known as Eddie O'Brien syndrome.  Since Ball Four, grouchy assistant coaches have been known for this syndrome -- that they are there to give nasty glares to pitchers when they hang curve balls, and to yell "WATCH THE FIRST PITCH ON THIS GUY!" right after Miguel Cabrera blasts the first pitch foul 440 feet.  (There can be no next first pitch; this isn't advice, but second-guessing.  The coach is trying to justify his existence, not risk his reputation on predictions.)

Let's say that major league coaches don't do this much any more.  You think class-A coaches don't?  This is what DiPoto is talking about when he wants the minor-league coaches on the same sheet of music.  And gives you a sense for just why he has to fire so many of them.


Schwanke gives an example of the discipline he's talking about:


When a team faces an opponent with a dominant fastball, they have to determine what the pitcher brings to the mound. Is the fastball straight? If it is, that is good news for the hitters. Can he throw to both sides of the plate when he wants to? If not, more good news. Can he go up and down in the strike zone? Most pitchers do not have that type of command.

All of a sudden, the guy with the major league velocity can only throw strikes on the outer two-thirds of the plate, down on their lower thighs, and turn it loose. If he locates a pitch somewhere on a corner, give him credit and move on to the next offering.

If he misses, shrink the strike zone. He is coming right back to that spot. Throwing the fastball to that location in the strike zone is where he locates 80% of his pitches. The hitter should expect a fastball right in his wheelhouse.


In the article, Schwanke goes on to point out that a good attack plan -- what the scouts call a "professional at-bat" -- MUST capture what that day's pitcher is capable off.  These were the little DiPoto pregame summary sheets that Scioscia chucked into the commode.  And that Servais will discuss thoughtfully with his hitters.


Pete Carroll's "Always Compete" philosophy extends to things like:

  • Every tackling drill gets a points system, a winner, and a loser
  • The coaches compete for best scores when giving pregame talks
  • Meaningless Cardinals games are played at 100 MPH, EVEN WHEN THIS INVOLVES CONSIDERABLE RISK AND SACRIFICE
  • etc

Yes, everybody knows that you have to compete.  It is not NFL 101; it's kiddie league football 101.  And yet it's NFL 501.  Imagine how stupid that would have sounded at Carroll's first press conference in 2010.  "We're going to learn to compete."

Oh, wow, Pete, glad we have a genius in town.  

;- )


Dr D



I'm not impressed with the Schwanke dude, Doc.

So his philosophy for good hitting is to 1) hammer the hanging curve and 2) get your pitch?  Man, Ton Hanks as Jimmy Dugan, said stuff like that.  Leo the Lip and, before him, Abner Doubleday, likely did, too.  Sure it's true, but it isn't real (cutting edge) teaching.  Home Run Baker did that stuff.  Bah....Nostrums!  (But I do like his philosophy of limiting your swings during any one batting cage session)

He calls a three pitch collegiate AB (ball in the dirt, called strike on the FB and a 2-run homer on a hanging breaking ball) an "amazing AB."  Wouldn't any homer on a 1-1 pitch be just as amazing?  And he said that taking the FB strike was needed so the batter could time the FB......but his 1-1 homer was on a bendy pitch.  Why, pray tell, was timing the FB so "amazing" on that AB?

He uses an Astro win and a Marlin win over Greg Maddux as his definitive case-in-points in defeating an ace by pointing out that they "made"
Maddux throw a lot of pitches in those games. Yet without data about how many pitches in the strike zone that each team acually took, or swings made at pitches out of the zone, it is just as likely that Maddux struggled to find the zone in those games.  Maddux gave up 10 hits and 4 walks in the 1st example, for example.  That doesn't sound like vintage Bulldog.  

And Maddux, in the 78-pitch complete game Schwanke mentioned as why you need to get patient against Maddux,  DID NOT get to too many 2-0 or 3-1 counts......or he wouldn't have a 78-pitch CG.  Bet'cha he had a huge number of 1st pitch strikes.  If Maddux saw 30 batters in that game, he threw 2.6 pitches to each.  That isn't very much below the "amazing" AB  Schwanke lauds.

Et cetera.

Patience and discipline at the plate are indeed skills to teach and cherish. However, I'm not sure Schwanke's wrtings are anything more than cliche's and cherry-picked accounts.  

But then I cherry-picked the above points, didn't I?

But it isn't that he's not making a valid point (ask Jimmy Dugan), it is that he's not making it very well.


Teddy Ballgame covers the same ground in My Turn At Bat and, as you say, did so much better.  The cheery thought for me is that Edgar could probably do as well as Ted ...


Bemusing to me that you found the article so rudimentary.  Very seldom, like 1% of the time, that my take is diametrically opposed to yours.  It's kind of refreshing :- )

Would agree that there are a lot of first-principle thoughts, such as point #2 in the finish checklist.  But let's bear in mind that his audience is high school and small-college coaches who are resistant to such ideas.  When he says "use simulated counts in batting practice" it's easy to imagine the number of amateur coaches who aren't doing that.

Similar to Pete Carroll teaching tackling by going for the lead hip.  If Carroll only had 2,000 words to write a primer for college coaches, what would it look like amigo?


Oh!  It just hit me.  You find Schwanke too simplistic because you read SSI!!  :: slaps head ::


Gotta give it to you:  that example is probably in there to make the point to HS coaches, "See?  This works."  Schwanke's college team was going against Matt Anderson, a #1 overall pick in the draft.  Like San Diego St. and Stephen Strasburg, pretty much.  This is the CWS triumph that the coaches dream about their whole lives.  Such incidents are the only things that convince some coaches, right?

He kind of "reaches" for the plate discipline example of taking a 1-0 fastball down the middle.  But I thought that was fairly cool, because Larson wasn't ready to hit 97 MPH on that pitch yet.  I know a few Trumbos who were a little more shrill than that.

But yeah.  Larson's pitch sequence wasn't the most impressive example in the lot.

:: fistbump ::


I even double-checked to see that he was writing for small college and high school coaches.  So the "simplistic" approach is to be expected, I suppose.  Mostly though, I just felt he wasn't making the points he thought he was making.  

Hadn't thought about it, but perhaps you all have spoiled me.  


I'll be the first one to admit it's very possible that my visceral reaction to Jerry DiPoto is coloring my verbal reactions to his moves and to his endeavors as a leader.

All this would be allayed if he brought with him any record of successfully implementing his ideas. I understand that if such record existed he would not likely have been available to Seattle. Before Pete Carroll demonstrated success at the NFL level in Seattle the same questions surrounded his confident assertions. Still, Carroll at least had demonstrated success at USC.

DiPoto has no record of success at all as top dog of an entire organization. His confidence at this point is in his theories and his approach. A successful leader needs much more than that. He needs to successfully IMPLEMENT his theories and his approach. The two are not the same. There's a certain number of people who can spout ideas with great confidence. There's a smaller number of people whose ideas are true difference makers. But some of those still don't achieve success. There's an even smaller number of people who have the right ideas AND the gifts to implement them effectively on an organizational scale. Pete Carroll in tandem with John Schneider has now demonstrated he is one of those persons. Jerry DiPoto has yet to do so.

To suggest that DiPoto MIGHT be a Pete Carroll is certainly true. But it is also just as true, dare I say based on odds alone it is more likely true that he MIGHT NOT be. This does not mean DiPoto can't succeed wildly. He might. But it does mean that the Mariners handed the keys AGAIN to an unproven man. Since Pat Gillick no proven GM has filled that post for Seattle.

We can (and DO!) HOPE that DiPoto is a Pete Carroll waiting to happen. But so far is there any real evidence to suggest that, or is it all aspirational at this point?


His confidence definitely outstrips anything he's accomplished in the game.  Of course, the same is true of Bill James and was true of Pete Carroll in 2010 :- )

Well, Carroll had the USC trophies.  :: shrug :: Sounded weird to me that he was going to implement his "program" in the NFL.

But I couldn't agree more with you DaddyO.  DiPoto strikes me as overconfident also, maybe way overconfident.  Let's hope it's because he knows he's the baseball Carroll.

Remember when Maury Wills said if he ever got a head coaching job he'd win 90 the first year and dominate for years after?  How long did that dude last, like 13 games?


Maury Wills. There was no bigger fan of Maury Wills than I was as a boy, '60-'66 when he was the heart and soul of the Dodgers. After the team traded him in the '66 offseason it started to come out that Wills was less than a model citizen, which significantly narrowed my appreciation of him.

Wills was definitely, uh, brash.

Re: DiPoto, how's about we both agree that nothing would please us more than DiPoto's accomplishments (as opposed to his demeanor) definitively silencing our concerns. I don't mind brashness when it's backed up by results, although I'm sure we both would prefer the kind of guy who lets the results speak for themselves.

This is one area where I really appreciate Pete Carroll. Doggone if he doesn't just simply ENJOY success. He works hard, prepares thoroughly, preaches his philosophy, and then exults with his players and coaches when success comes. You never even get the sense that he is politely and politic-ly hiding an inner pride about it. I'm not sure I've ever seen a man more characterized by the sheer JOY of achievement without a hint of self-puffery. John Wooden would come closest, but he was so reserved in his demeanor that all you got from him was a smile after winning another NCAA title.

Carroll wears it on his sleeve but no sense of "in your face" or "take that!"

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