I'm on twitter a lot and follow a lot of "baseball guys". One of them is Bobby Tewksbary (@TewksHitting). This is not the former MLB pitcher Bob Tewksbury even though they are both from New Hampshire. His website originally caught my interest because he was talking about hitting differently than others I see teaching. Also, having grown up in New Hampshire, I was curious about his story.
Anyway, he tweeted a question and I replied:
@TewksHitting Separating practice mode from game mode... I see a lot of perfectionists during game ABs...— Ed Bunnell (@BigBun) February 23, 2015
1. Pay attention and talk to teammates.
I am amazed at how much players do not pay attention. Amazed. There is a pitcher trying to get you out and if you simply watch the game you can get a really good idea of what pitch they are going to throw. There is a lot of information you can gather if you are open to it. (And it is hard to focus on this stuff when you are steaming hot mad because you are making outs.)
- Where are you batting in the order? Where you bat in the order will often tell a team how to pitch you. Guys in the middle of the order usually get pitched backwards. Guys at the bottom of the order get lots of fastballs.
- If you or a teammate takes a good/aggressive swing, how does the pitcher react? Do they throw the same pitch or switch things up?
- If you or a teammate takes a brutal swing, how does the pitcher react? Same pitch or different pitch?
- Is the pitcher only throwing to one side of the plate?
- Is the umpires zone stretched in any direction?
Talk to your teammates about what the pitcher’s pitches look like and how they move. It is a 2 seam or 4 seam fastball? Does it move? What does the breaking ball look like? Do they slow the arm down on a change up? Have more and more discussions on the bench, be engaged in the game.
It is easier to hit when you know what is coming and have an idea of what it will look like.
2. Stop being negative. It doesn’t help.
Don’t be that teammate. The one who comes in all pissed off and changed the mood and energy in the dugout. Chill out. If you need to take a step out behind the dugout for a minute to cool off, do so. Find something about what happened to learn from. If you expect to be successful, you are setting yourself up for frustration. If you expect to learn and grow from each at bat, you’ll have much better perspective when things don’t go right.
3. Make adjustments for today and the rest of your season.
Are you consistently early or late or under or over? If I told you to start your day 0-2 on purpose, would you be OK with that?
For example, you have been early and early and early. So take your first two at bats today and be late on purpose. Hit foul balls to the opposite field side. Swing and miss because you are late. Do anything but be early. Give yourself two at bats to just make that change.
It won’t be the end of the world. You probably still won’t be late. You might even end up getting a hit or two. Most importantly, you will find a new way to define success, even if it is just for two at bats. Those might end up being the two most important ABs of your season!
4. Help other teammates be confident.
When you help a teammate build confidence, you get out of your own head a bit. It is easy to build this huge amount of stress in your own head and get caught up in your own performance. Acknowledge a teammate for something they have been doing really good, maybe a nice defensive showing, a pitcher who threw a lot of first pitch strikes or a catcher making great blocks. Change the culture in your head.
5. Ask teammates to help you be confident.
Sometimes you just really need a pick-me-up. If you feel like your teammates don’t have faith in you, things can get very lonely. Find another player and come up with a little confidence booster. Maybe it is a handshake. Maybe agree to tell each other, “I can’t wait until you get up again,” when your turn in the lineup is coming up. Maybe you agree that success for the day is hitting ahead in the count and you celebrate whenever that happens. It can be something small, but it provides that little focus on something other than making outs and getting hits that can really help.
6. Hit with less than 2 strikes.
I sometimes have hitters ask me how to strike out less. If you never hit with two strikes, you won’t strike out. Seriously though, hitting with two strikes is literally the worst thing you can do to your chances for success. MLB hitters bat well over .300 with less than two strikes and under .200 with two strikes.
The bigger issue here is usually TAKING or MISSING pitches earlier in the at bat. That 1-0 fastball you fouled back. Man, I wish you want that one back!
Be ready to hit early in the count. Anticipate the pitch you want. I like to tell hitters, “One spot, one speed,” when they are ahead in the count. Know what you are looking for. Sometimes that means you are sitting on a breaking ball. If you get the pitch you are looking for in the location you are looking, PUT A GOOD SWING ON IT!!!
7. Choke up with 2 strikes.
If you do get down to two strikes, I often recommend choking up. Give yourself a little more bat control. I know for my confidence when I played, putting the ball in play was always better than striking out. There’s nothing wrong with it.
I do want to point something out. If you are feeling good, if you feel comfortable and don’t choke up and strikeout, it is fine. When you choke up, you are likely give up some power/drive for contact. This is more about confidence than about trying to drive the ball. If you are in a position where driving the ball is more valuable and you don’t need to choke up, then don’t. An example of this is if you have the ability to hit a home run, your team is down by a run late in the game and you have a 1-2 count. Hope for a mistake and take your chances!
Even on your worst days, the pitcher still has to get you out. They have to throw the ball over the plate. You have a chance. So battle. Win one pitch at a time. If you fail, do so on your own terms. Don’t just roll over and make it easy for them. Be the toughest out in the lineup. (And challenge your teammates to be tougher outs than you!)
I could go on and on with this type of stuff. A big theme with this is to get our of your own head and stop letting past failure define how you are going to approach today. In my experience, it is usually just one at bat or one swing where you get that, “Oh yeah… that’s the feeling,” and you are off and running.
I’d love for you to share any experiences with failure you’ve had or if you try any of these steps out. The more players realize that failure happens to everyone, the more they can come to terms with it and move forward. So please comment and share your experiences!