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April 19, 2012
The familiarity with the lecture was clear when Mike Martin uttered the first word, extracting his plate patience concept as fluidly as he had hundreds of times to players for years. If a hitter gets impatient and expands the strikezone by the width of a ball all the way around, Martin explained, it's a 30 percent advantage to the pitcher. Expand it by two balls, it's well over 50 percent.
"Our guys do understand that and we've tried very much to continue to indoctrinate that into their minds," he said. "We're going to make outs, but let's make them get us out, not get ourselves out."
His Seminoles have flashed plenty of poise at bat this season, working 212 walks entering this week, ranking second nationally. While forcing a lot of walks is nothing new for Florida State given Martin's mindset, this year has given the Seminoles a Money Ball-esque result: Despite ranking No. 114 in Division I-A in batting average entering Wednesday's game with North Georgia (.283), the Seminoles' on base percentage of .407 is 11th nationally and their 6.9 runs per game ranks 31st.
The Seminoles aren't just patient because they can be, their patience is keeping the offense afloat in 2012 as FSU sports a 30-7 record and ranks No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. FSU will hope to keep it going as archrival Miami comes in to Tallahassee for a three-game set this weekend. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. ET on Friday.
No team relies more on the walk to bolster its production. The 10 teams ranked ahead of Florida State in on base percentage in Division I-A are all hitting at least .301 as a team - 18 points higher than the 'Noles. Five of those 10 teams are hitting at least .322.
"It's something that's drilled into you from Day 1 when you get here. They try to make sure you have good at bats, try to make sure you're taking pitches that you're not going to do much with," said third baseman Sherman Johnson. Johnson best illustrates how important the walks have been for FSU this season; hitting just .246 on the year, he leads the country with 46 walks. He has scored 30 times on only 31 hits, a product of his .446 on base percentage.
"A lot of people do it, saying 'Oh man, it's a walk,'" he said. "But in this program its a good thing. Any way you can get on base, the coaches are happy."
Florida State has only three hitters - James Ramsey, Jayce Boyd and Devon Travis - hitting better than .248 entering Wednesday. But its the 212 total walks - only topped nationally by New Mexico State's 239 - that has kept the offense productive. Eight of FSU's nine regulars sport on base percentages of .353 or higher.
Johnson believes the patience is contagious.
"A lot of it goes into how patient we are as a team. There are a lot of teams that people know are going to be free swingers and they pitch accordingly," Johnson said. "A lot of teams know we're patient, but what are you going to do when (the count) is 3-1, there are two people on base and James Ramsey is up? If you throw him something good he's going to punish you, and if you walk him you've got Jayce Boyd coming up behind him.
"We just try to focus on that, trusting the next guy in the lineup. If you walk, he can get it done."
Martin says it's not common to see players come to Florida State with the mindset his coaching staff preaches, but he insists that they make no specific push for their hitters to draw more walks. Martin believes an intelligent philosophy on the strike zone produces a better mindset at the plate, which in turn leads to better pitches to hit and eventually more walks.
"(Hitting coach Mike Martin Jr.) spends an awful lot of time with our hitters in making sure we understand the strike zone," Martin said. "And our guys bought into that 10, 12 years ago and it has no doubt been passed down. We don't go to the plate with a take-take-hit mentality. We go to the plate with a hit-hit-take mentality. We don't want our guys going up there looking for a walk.
"We only know how to play one way, get a good pitch to hit and rip it."
They'll have that opportunity this weekend. Miami leads the ACC in fewest walks allowed, issuing just 2.76 walks per game this season. With a tough test on deck, we'll see if the baserunners keep flowing for the Seminoles down the backstretch of the regular season.
"It's a great situation for us," Johnson said. "We're all patient hitters."
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