Think the Game


The Situation 

Runner on first, two outs, four-hitter at the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning. The offense is behind 6-4. The four-hitter, who has a nice, loose, and fluid swing has already homered in the game, and knows that another bomb here will tie it up. 

The Play 

The catcher sets up away but when the pitcher deals, his movement makes the pitch leak back to the inside half of the plate. The hitter sees that the pitch is in his power zone. He tenses his muscles, tightens his grip on the bat, and swings as hard as he can to try and blast the ball over the fence. 

The Outcome 

The pitch completely ties him up. He hits the ball off his thumbs and taps a grounder to the shortstop, who fields it cleanly and throws him out at first to end the inning. 

What Went Wrong? 

There are two ways to look at this at bat and both highlight different kinds of mistakes. 

Mistake #1: Approach/Thought Process 

The thought process here can be considered selfish. Even though the hitter was trying to tie the game for his team, he was trying to do everything by himself. In worrying about the result, his focus is on something he ultimately cannot control. The hitter lost sight of the team approach to offense and in college baseball, that rarely works out well. If you try to force something to happen on your own, you are asking for trouble. If everyone focuses on controlling what they can control and doing their part, however, the chances of success increase. That’s what team offensive strategy is all about. In this situation, the four-hitter needs to find a way to keep the inning alive. It’s fine to try and drive a gap, but he needs to stay within himself, take what comes, and find a way to get the next hitter to the plate. 

Mistake #2: Know Thyself 

There are hitters who can drive the ball with more power when they try to muscle up and there are hitters who need to think loose and effortless to maximize their power. This hitter is loose and fluid at the plate, and muscling up is not his forte. If indeed he is trying to drive a gap or hit a home run, it isn’t going to happen when he tries to force it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know his swing or movement tendencies well enough to have figured this out yet. Much like a pitcher who when throwing max effort throws the ball slower, for the 4-hitter, thinking less produces more power (think about Mookie Betts’ comment in this video about “thinking of swinging softer). In fact, he would be more likely to drive a ball out of the yard by focusing on staying loose, making solid contact, and having a good at bat.  

The lessons here are twofold: 1) Focus on what you can control, don’t try to do too much and trust your teammates; and 2) Spend time learning about yourself as a player. If you look at these two mistakes together, the error has to do with the mental game. The player tried to do too much because he didn’t have the necessary awareness of his skill set. He focuses on something outside of his control (the result), rather than what he could control to give him the best chance to achieve the desired result (process). Don’t fall into the same trap. Know yourself as a hitter, know the situation, stay in control, don’t try to do too much and think the game.