Sunday, January 5, 2014

Emotional Hitters vs. Thinkers

One of our freshmen, a hulking and strong young man, hit his first homerun with us a couple of weeks into our fall season. We encourage post-at bat communication to increase awareness, so I asked him what pitch he had hit. At first, he said he didn’t know. Then, realizing this may not have been the most complete answer to give his hitting coach just moments after hitting a home run, he shuffled his feet and said, “Uh, I think it was a two-seamer.”

Flash back a couple weeks previous to that at bat. The setting: a Greek-Italian restaurant, one of our favorites for taking recruits and their families on official visits. As I sat at a large table with another large bison-looking hitter, I listened to this junior college hitter pick apart, pitch-by-pitch, at bats he had in junior high...Junior High!  

When our freshman donkey tried to recall, thinking this was for me and not him, what he hit, he didn’t recall the correct pitch. He had hit an 0-2 hanging slider off of our knuckle-scraping closer. Its spin was unmistakable, and combined with the poor location, sped up his timing enough to get his barrel out in front, and he stayed through the pitch well, breaking posture to get his top hand through the zone and hit a pee-rod of a line drive over the left field wall. 

We’ve all coached players like the above junior college player. They remember pitches they took. They remember pitches teammates hit.

I do not pretend to hold a master’s degree in biology, psychology or any –ology for that matter. I do recognize however, that there is a distinct difference in the ways in which the brain of an “emotional hitter” and a “thinker hitter” organize and relocate at bats, pitches and their results.

Our best hitter in 2012 was a “thinker.” He was extremely prepared, extremely regimented, extremely disciplined, and made precise calculations in approach from pitch to pitch. He had an 1.123 OPS with 100 hits, 30 extra base hits, 68 R, 65 RBI and was a 1st team All-American.

Last year, we had a senior step into the lime-light when another infielder went down with an injury. Any post-at bat conversation with said senior could require taking a dose of Excedrin. He appeared to have no pre-determined plan besides attacking strikes. See ball, hit ball. That young man is a very smart young man, but his ability to recall his plan, what pitch he saw or hit, or even what inning we were in, was often missing. However, this young man surprised everyone to have a .970 OPS in almost 200 at bats and nearly hit .380 with 20 extra base hits. While he was an extremely intelligent student and a terrific young man, we found out which type of a hitter he was, an “emotional hitter” and we enabled him to practice THAT type of behavior in front toss, tee work, imagery and batting practice. When he learned to gain better control of his emotions, his career accelerated at a rapid rate.

Clearly, both types of hitters can have terrific success.

My experiences lead me to believe that asking “emotional hitters” to think can be wildly detrimental to their success. Conversely, when “thinkers” get emotional, their ability to process and make decisions and adjustments can be severely impaired. We’ve seen this scenario play out frequently. One of your best and smartest hitters is frustrated, disappointed, girlfriend dumped him, etc. He’s become emotional, and thus, he can’t think straight in the box. The ball looks small, his load/stride are late, his hands are slow, his feet are heavy and the game is getting faster and faster.

Ah…and we’ve come full circle back to the mental game. BOTH “thinkers” and “emotional” hitters can have increased level of success by relaxing their bodies and dominating a slow stomach breath. Note, the “Inverted U” of Success...our next subject.

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