TWIN FALLS — It takes a lot of homework to make less more.
First-year Canyon Ridge head baseball coach Aaron Lippy is as much an observer and supporter as he is a taskmaster.
But he’s not idly watching, or vacantly adulating. He’s carefully analyzing, and selectively reinforcing, even if he hasn’t quite gotten the perfect message or pitch – yet.
“My wife teases me,” Lippy said. “You sure are encouraging those boys every play’, but I think I put kids in there for a reason and I believe they can do it. Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m saying.”
It’s hard to call him hands-off when his mitts always seem to be holding down paper or an iPad, helping him scour through pages of data.
“I’m a big time numbers guy,” Lippy said.
The Riverhawks are having the best season in program history. When healthy — star hitter Trae Bishop is currently out with a dislocated knee — Canyon Ridge players collectively think they have a chance to compete with Twin Falls and vie for its first district title and state tournament appearance.
Bishop, hitting over .500 with 11 extra base-hits, should return for the district tournament. His numbers are better this year, but improvement has occurred throughout the roster.
Players like lead-off hitter, pitcher and owner of a 1.42 ERA Kaleb Price will say that the difference is “experience, and having played three years together.”
Certainly, experience has made a difference.
It’s been leveraged, optimized.
Lippy came to Canyon Ridge with a clean slate and open mind. He didn’t come from Robert Stuart Middle School, where he helped coach softball, set on doing things his way.
He’s still developing that.
It was only after meeting with his players for the first time and getting their feedback that he developed a plan for the season.
“For me, I knew we were going to be senior heavy, and I wasn’t hell-bent on imposing my style,” Lippy said. “I wanted to see what they like, what they want. Every team needs discipline, of course, and we have it. Most of these guys by this time know the fundamentals. I wanted to be a guy who would build them up.”
“You can just feel the energy and effort coming out to games and practice,” Bishop said. “It’s so much different. Coach, he lets us have fun. It’s not just ‘do this or do that.’ In his first year he hasn’t changed everything. He has let us go and let us do our thing.”
“I’ve always believed that fast is loose,” Lippy said. “If we’re loose and not thinking too much, they are much better. They are natural athletes. Let them play.”
Think of Lippy’s coaching approach less like a long leash and more like voice command GPS, instructing players how to steer their way to success.
Lippy recently pinch a hit a player. That player became upset, until he saw Lippy’s rationale on paper.
The coach has a sheet that breaks down each players quality at-bats, based on parameters like contact, and pitches faced.
The metric he designed for the Riverhawks seems to correlate with batting average.
Lippy will alter his lineup based on who is leading in quality at-bat percentage. Players respond by being more selective in their swings and working counts.
Cause and effect, carrot and stick, conditioned response, all without being the overbearing bad guy.
But it goes well beyond that. Lippy wishes he could get his hands on high school data throughout the state. It’s not tracked yet. He wants to do sabermetrics, which has taken root in the sport over the last two decades.
For now, he’s just going with what he knows, what he’s learned about his players.
“You will see us cut (off) second when a runner is going to third to hold the guy at first,” Lippy said. “I think the guys have kind of seen that, ‘Hey, he knows what he’s talking about’. We have rolled more double plays this year at this point than we have all of last season. I know the team well enough and I know the numbers and go by the numbers.”
Where did Lippy, who didn’t go far in his college career and couldn’t hit after the age of 16, he said, learn all of this?
“I was always the kid after practice talking to the coaches,” Lippy said.
In legion ball, he mentored under a former MLB player. He’s always seeking advice. When hired, he reached out to CSI head coach Boomer Walker on different bunt coverages.
“You can never learn enough,” Lippy said.
And now that goes for his players, who are loose, and perhaps confident after being programmed to play in the most efficient manner possible, as they head into a weekend series against series against their cross-town rival.
“Coach has been great,” Price said. “It’s always hard coming in as a new coach. You don’t know how players are going to react. We are winning; he is obviously doing something right. People know now that Canyon Ridge has a baseball team now. I think we’re going to do it, come out and prove everyone wrong.”