In our last article, we had an in depth look at what the “process” looks like for a ball player. To recap, “the process” is all about controlling only the things that you can control. By understanding that results are out of their control, the athlete can focus in on the things that are important. These things that are important are hitting the ball hard, making quality pitches, putting their bodies in the right position to field on defense, and ultimately, staying completely aggressive with their approach and effort.
Baseball was never designed to be a sport based on accuracy and analytics. If pitchers were only required to throw strikes, and hitters were only required to hit the ball into permanent unchanging gaps, then we could maybe put the heavy emphasis on stats that we do. However, Baseball is so much more than just ERA, batting average, hits, walks, strikeouts, on base percentage, and everything else we obsess over! This game is an art form, and chess match that pins competitors against each other in a ballistic, fast paced, ever changing setting with strict guidelines and a human umpire who can determine their fates. With this thought in mind, how do we set up a pitcher to have the best possible chance of success on the mound?
If you are a pitcher, it is not rocket science to know that “better stuff” (i.e. velocity, movement, spin, etc.) equals a higher likelihood of getting the batter out. This also means that a pitcher that is throwing 95MPH versus a pitcher that is throwing 85MPH can get away with way more mistakes, because the batter is stressed with reaction time. If a pitcher that throws harder can get away with more mistakes, from an odds perspective, doesn’t he have a better chance of getting the batter out? You may be saying to yourself, “well yah of course, unless he’s really wild.” Ok, well now let’s imagine this is the same pitcher that has the ability to throw 95MPH but the coach has asked him to “tone it down” and throw 85MPH with more strikes.
First of all, he is now trying to do something which he has never done in his life, which is throw the ball with less than 100% effort with high pressure to a small target. With that his mechanics will change, his approach will change, and ultimately he will lose confidence in throwing the ball over the plate with conviction. This is because he is now solely thinking about just throwing strikes, rather than competing as an athlete. This leads me to the big take away. The pitcher, no matter how hard he throws, will compete at a higher level and have higher success, if he is trying to put a hole in the catcher rather than just getting it to the glove. This is because…
- His “stuff” is better and therefore the batter has less time to react and adjust.
- He is allowing himself to throw the way he has HIS ENTIRE LIFE of playing the game. From an early age, he has honed his craft of playing quality catch in a relaxed state of mind without conscious thoughts, and the demands of high achievement and pressure. So quite simply, practice like you play, and play like you practice.
I have said it before and I will say it again, baseball players are gymnasts on a diamond. This means that ballplayers have to play the game instinctually with full trust that their countless hours of preparation have established their skill set. If you go out onto the field and try to do something different, by appeasing a voice that is telling you to play it safer, you are only setting yourself up for frustration and suffered performance.
It is time to take a step back as a culture, and not only look at how we are mentally developing our youth ball players, but also how we choose to coach our older elite ball players. Next time we will talk about this mental approach from a position player/ hitting perspective.
Coach Kyle Richter, CSCS, USAW, TPI
USC Baseball Alumni, BA Human Performance