While most fans like to believe that the talent level between a Major League baseball player and someone playing at single-A is a significant divide, the reality is that there is very little difference in terms of skill or expertise. Both can likely throw 95 mph, hit a fastball 400-feet, or range into the hole and make an amazing play to throw a runner out. The skill level is simply not the difference maker.
What does separate the two is the mental approach to the game. Baseball is arguably the most difficult sport for a person to play, because it is a sport solely based on failure. A person who was a success in the game is someone who fails less than others. This requires a certain kind of person who is mentally strong enough to understand that so that they can even reach the professional level at all.
Those who are in the professional ranks fully understand this, but being mentally attuned to the game goes well beyond enduring long hitting droughts or figuring out what to do when your stats are dropping. Baseball is about strategy; it’s a chess match where you try to be three or four steps ahead of the opposition.
This is especially true of pitchers, who must not only figure out how they will attack the man standing at home plate, but also pitch to that batter in such a way as to set up the remaining batters in that inning, as well as to look ahead to how they will they pitch to the current batter later in the game. There is an amazing art as well as strategy that must develop for a person to be a professional baseball pitcher, a talent that Wichita Wingnuts starter Tyler Kane is quickly proving to be a master at.
The Polarity Strategy
For those who have studied the art of war, the polarity strategy is one that realizes that there is constantly a battle going on in one’s life. This isn’t about the current battle that you are facing, but is a revelation that there are conflicts to overcome and one must develop a pattern to be able to overcome them if they are going to be successful.
Tyler Kane knew from an early age that baseball was sport he truly loved to play. His father, Tom, introduced him to the game and it was not very long before it became a passion for the right-hander.
“My dad has been incredibly supportive of this. We spent hours upon hours after school going to hit baseballs, going to pitch for three or four hours a day. It started out with him coming home and saying let’s go out to the field and, after a little while, it was me practically waiting in the driveway for him to come home so we could go.”
While having aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player one day, the future did not look bright when Tyler first reached Archbishop Murphy High School. He was small for his age, and was garnering very little attention for his athletic skills, but a growth spurt transformed him and changed his pathway.
“In my junior year I grew, I finally grew. Entering high school I was like 5-2. I was a little guy, I was a real little guy. Junior year came around and I was 6-1. I started hitting the ball farther, I threw the ball harder than most people and had a great year that year, and that was really like the turning point where I thought I really have a shot at this.”
It was not long before Tyler was starring at Archbishop Murphy high school where he was the Cascade Conference Player of the Year and Everett Herald Player of the Year in his senior seasons. He was a First-Team All-State pitcher as well as a star at third base, hitting .400 in his senior year while also posting a 7-1 record and a 1.81 ERA on the mound.
Athletics was not the only way that Tyler was excelling at Archbishop Murphy. He graduated with a 3.9 GPA and envisioned that he would be on his way to Gonzaga University, but when he was offered the opportunity to play at the University of Washington, the decision became an easy one.
“It was kind of a big decision. I almost wound up going to Gonzaga. But once I got the offer from Washington, my grandpa went there, two of my uncles went there, my mom went there, my dad went there, my brother was currently going there, so it was like this was a no-brainer at this point. I’ve been a Husky fan my whole life and then getting that opportunity to play there was pretty spectacular.”
The right-hander played three years at the University of Washington, where he had a stellar career. In his freshman season, 2011, he appeared in the team-high 25 games posting a 1-2 record, striking out 25 and walking only 8 in 41.0-innings pitched.
In 2012, he would shave nearly three runs off of his ERA, lowering it to 2.19, while appearing in a team-high 26 games. His sophomore season saw him go 7-2, and his walk to innings pitched ratio was still pretty spectacular, allowing just nine free passes and 37.0 innings pitched.
In Tyler’s junior year, he would go 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA in 26-appearances, including two starts. Playing in the challenging Pac-12 prepared him for baseball beyond college, and the Miami Marlins agreed, selecting him in the 38th round of the 2013 amateur draft. The aspiration that the right-hander had since he was six-years-old was just about to come to fruition.
“I decided that when I was about six that I was going to play professional baseball and I just never let it go. All through grade school, all through high school that was the one thing that I was always good at.”
The Perfect-Economy Strategy
On any battlefield, part of what makes a successful combatant is their ability to understand that they have limitations. No matter what those are, one must be aware of them so that those limitations don’t become vulnerabilities.
Tyler Kane was heading on to professional baseball, a dream he had had since he was six-years-old, but he came fully aware that he was not going to be blowing hitters away. While he had a good fastball, in the 91 to 94 range, he wasn’t a fireballer. He had to beat hitters by using all of his pitches effectively and ensuring that he was smart about how he approached the batter in front of him.
Tyler left the University of Washington and signed with Miami, heading for Rookie League ball in 2013. He would appear in eight games there, posting a 2-1 record with a 2.31 ERA. He also demonstrated his picture-perfect control, allowing just three walks in 11.2 innings pitched, but only striking out three batters as well. Tyler had shown enough that the Marlins moved him up to Short-A Batavia where he finished the season, appearing in three games and posting a 1.93 ERA.
In 2014, he would split time between three different levels, starting at Batavia, but moving to Mid-A Greensboro, and finally reaching High-A Jupiter by the end of the year. His success was a mixed bag, as he combined to go 2-1 with a 4.63 ERA and 4-saves between the three levels.
In 2015, he returned to Greensboro, where he struggled in the 17 games he appeared in. Looking to reinvent himself, the right-hander struck out 19 batters in 22.0 innings pitched, but also walked 19 batters. This eventually led to his release and for the first time in his life, Tyler Kane was looking for a place to play baseball.
The Counterattack Strategy
They say that the best defense can be a great offense, and this strategy proposes that when one takes the initiative to attack, they put their enemy at a disadvantage. In life, one must often create opportunities for himself, maybe even creating ones that aren’t there, if they are going to get ahead, and that is exactly the track that Tyler Kane took.
Out of professional baseball, the right-hander was looking for a place to continue his career. He opted to join the Seattle Studs, an amateur baseball team that competes in tournaments all over the country. One of those tournaments happened to be the National Baseball Conference World Series in Wichita, Kansas, where Tyler envisioned that he was going to get an opportunity to get back into professional baseball.
“They played in the NBC tournament here and so he (the team’s manager) wanted me to come and play for them because I hadn’t got signed with an affiliated team and I was trying to get picked up and we came out here. He had been talking it up – this place is amazing, great stadium, great front office. Our plan was to hopefully go here and get guys signed, and he was telling me that I could hopefully be one of those guys who signed in Wichita. So, he kind of showed me around, got to see the facilities. They’ve had guys from that Seattle Studs team that have signed here before that are now in affiliate ball, so this was a really good pathway. Once I got here it’s been better than I could have ever expected it to be.”
Tyler did sign with the Wichita Wingnuts, and would make three starts for the team last season. He posted a 2-1 record with a minuscule 1.69 ERA in 16 innings. He would even make two appearances in the playoffs as the Wingnuts reached the American Association championship series.
The Death-Ground Strategy
While many of us do not like to admit this, the truth is that we are often our own worst enemy. We worry about what can happen in the future, instead of focusing on the opportunity that is in front of us. What is needed is to be on death ground, or that place where your back is against the wall and you must give it all you have just to come out alive.
This is the attitude that Tyler Kane is embracing these days. He admits that in his first time in affiliate ball he did not take the opportunity as seriously as he should have.
“That is one thing that is different now. When I first got into professional ball I didn’t appreciate the opportunity that was given to me. I think I took it for granted in some ways, but that is not the case any longer. I know I have the skills to be there, but I came here specifically because I wanted to change my approach to the game.”
To accomplish that goal, Tyler is focused on two areas in his training. He is using a new technique, the use of weighted balls, to increase the velocity of his pitches. He would like that 91-94 mph fastball to move to 94-96. He is also looking for new strategies in how to attack hitters.
“I think that I become a predictable picture in the past. It would be 0-2 off-speed and stuff like that, and I wanted to mix it up this year.”
Chinese General Sun Tzu once said “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
That is the approach that Tyler is taking this season. He knows he has the tools. He has proven that he has the pitches, the velocity, and the command to be a star on any staff. It is the way that he uses his tactics that he must adjust to return to affiliate ball.
“The best part of the game is when you get a called third strike. That means my strategy paid off. Make some pitches and get some guys looking when they have no idea what’s coming, that’s one of my favorite things. That is where I have to improve in my game. It is about strategy, building a game plan that gets me ahead, where the hitter is fooled as to what I am going to throw. That’s the part of my game where I think I need to make improvement.”
The Counterbalance Strategy
In the heat of battle, the one that is most likely to prevail is that one that is able to keep his or her head during the conflict. This is an area where Tyler Kane has been excelling since he first took the mound.
“One thing that my mom always said is that I’m able to keep cool when I was on the mound. She would be in the stands, biting her nails, nervous as all get out, and I’ve got guys on first and second with one out. She said I looked stone cold on the mound. All I’m focused on is the guy in front of me. I’ve usually been very good about controlling my attitude and the tempo of the game, and not letting things speed up.”
That calm attitude is truly present each time he takes the mound, something that he gives credit to his father for helping him develop.
“He has always been calm, cool, and collected, but is also one of the hardest workers I know. So, I try to be just like that.”
He has been keeping his head quite well this season. In six starts, Tyler is 5-1 with a 3.72 ERA. It has been his goal this season to cut his walks per nine inning ratio to two per game, and he has done just that, walking just 6 in 38.2-innings pitched, an average of 1.4 per nine innings. His five-wins are second most in the American Association, and his 1.14 WHIP ranks him in the top-10 in the league.
His success has come because he has not only remained calm on the hill, but has learned to trust his stuff a whole lot more.
“When I first got started out in pro baseball, I wasn’t sure that I had good enough stuff. My fastball velocity, how good did my slider break. A lot of times I tried to make it better, only to make it worse than it is. That is not the case any longer. You have to have trust in your stuff or you are not going to succeed, and that has come with time.”
The Wichita Wingnuts have the American Association’s best record this season and that has been in large part thanks to the job of the team’s pitching staff. Tyler Kane has been a key part of that success and he is developing strategies to help him dominate on the mound. He may not be a general in the army, but he is commanding the baseball diamond as well as any leader would command the battlefield. With his new strategies in his arsenal, it would not be surprising to see his final victory to be the winning pitcher of the American Association title game and even hoisting the World Series trophy one day.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA