Mike Casazza: Old-school approach works fine for Mazey, WVU baseball team
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- All this week I've been sharing - and hopefully you've been reading - stories about the most modern ways West Virginia teams work toward wins and successful seasons.
This is a part of college sports now, an extension of the evolution that's brought us from the way games were once played during seasons to where we are now as teams have spring practice and overseas tours, offseason conditioning and training camps.
We've witnessed the proliferation of weight rooms to make players more physically capable. These technological advancements are how programs either find players to make them more physically capable or make those players more prepared to live up to great expectations.
Gymnastics has capitalized on the YouTube boom to cast a larger recruiting net. Volleyball wheels a camera, television and TiVo around practice to provide instant feedback. Men's soccer will have unprecedented views of the pitch in the fall. Volleyball and soccer make use of advanced statistical scouting programs that are about to take off in basketball.
The games and their secrets exist now well beyond the box score. It's a vast and still undiscovered territory where people will gain wealth and fame, either by inventing and marketing an application or an idea or by simply making the most of whatever comes available.
The future is coming. There are rules against certain technology or when it can be used. I'm confident some of the Mountaineers haven't been completely honest with me about what they have or do, probably because they want to maintain whatever advantage they have with whatever methods they subscribe to.
There is something for everyone, but this is not to say the world's new ways are for everyone.
We can agree West Virginia baseball coach Randy Mazey is good at what he does. Given that generally accepted opinion, we could probably safely presume he's riding along with the advancements so he can better recruit, scout, teach and anticipate. He just has to be big on numbers and expected outcomes and all the sabermetrics, right?
"I'm probably going to answer your question with my next question," Mazey said. "What is sabermetrics?"
He's not being philosophical. He's being serious. Numbers are for scoreboards, putouts and the backs of jerseys.
"We're not like pro baseball, which picks and chooses its players and pays certain guys whatever he wants so you can get him," Mazey said. "When we go recruit, we identify good players. We get some of them and we don't get some of them. But it's not like I can take the guys who have a good OBPSPB or whatever you call that."
I have no idea what OBPSBP is - on-base plus stolen base percentage? - and I'm pretty sure Mazey made it up for the purpose of the conversation, though I'll hedge slightly because for all we know he does value OBPSBP as a key to his team's success and doesn't want anyone else to discover it.
More likely, Mazey is purposefully oblivious to it all, but still aware of certain things. No way he is where he is without grasping OPS - on-base percentage plus slugging percentage - but he chooses not to fixate upon it. This is a coach, though, who has been at Clemson, Georgia, Tennessee and TCU as an assistant and who has been the head coach at East Carolina and Charleston Southern and thus charged with being on top of the things that help his team.
He's worked with certain technologies and he's formed his opinions.
"When I was at TCU, we had a pretty intricate video system and cameras set up in four different spots in the stadium and you could download it to a computer and have a split-screen that showed how a guy swings and you'd draw lines on it," Mazey said, entirely unimpressed. "There was video analysis of pitchers similar to that and everyone had their system there using all of that.
"We don't have anything here yet. We're building a new facility. I didn't want to do anything permanent until we had a new facility for it."
WVU's new ballpark will probably have something like what Mazey described at TCU and the Mountaineers will certainly benefit. They will not obsess, though.
"I'm kind of old school and I was taught by an old school guy," he said. "I don't like to rely too much on video. I know it's something a lot of kids like to use, but it can be a crutch. Every time you have a bad game, you want to go right to the video, but the actual swing itself it probably less than 50 percent of being a hitter. Kids want to look at it all the time, but that's not something they need to rely on all the time."
Mazey's fear is that players get too analytical, too technical and turn a little slump into a big riddle. Sometimes players look for solutions and produce excuses. All that time spent in front of a laptop could be spent with a tee or a pitching machine. The truth is there are a lot of ways to inspect, critique and alter a swing or a pitch, but only a few things that can go wrong or right. Too often coaches and players get fancy with fundamentals when, in reality, the game is easy. See the ball/glove, hit the ball/glove.
"We're never going to get too technological," Mazey said.
That's why baseball is a little different from the other sports. It doesn't have the constant variables found and manipulated in football and basketball. A pitching rotation is much different than a volleyball rotation. You don't matriculate a baseball to the catcher's mitt like you do a soccer ball to the goal.
"I tell my assistant coaches all the time baseball is not rocket science," Mazey said. "Everyone's hitting approach, to a certain extent, is basically the same. Nobody varies from it too much. Everyone kind of knows what to teach. The key to coaching is to get kids to do it and that's when relationships come in with them. You can be the smartest coach in the whole world and have the most knowledge of any coach out there, but if you can't pass that off to kids, you don't have much."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.