As we have all have heard baseball is a game of failure and being able to manage those failures over the course of the season. Lately, I have been seeing a troubling trend with hitters, their idea of success is completely clouted and holds no water. I hear it every weekend, “oh coach I did great I went 4-4” or “I did horrible I went 0-4” success and failure to hitters these days revolves around getting hits. Now don’t get me wrong, I love hits just as much as the next person, BUT I understand that is not the end all be all. The problem with this mentality is that you are judging yourself based off of something that you cannot control. Like it or not, you have no control over getting a hit or how many hits you get. You can certainly influence the number of hits you are probable to get but it pretty much stops there, more on this later. It is downright silly to judge yourself solely based on how many hits you got in your previous game. I like to refer to this as the illusion of control, this is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, it occurs when someone feels a sense of control over outcomes that they demonstrably do not influence.
With this mentality, this leads to a lot of instability in the hitter’s confidence and ultimately, performance. Because they do not have a strong set of goals and their idea of success is off they instead need something concrete to turn to. As a coach, there have been countless examples when I have seen someone go 0-4 and be more of a force than someone who went 3-4 in the same game. When defining success first we need to be able to clearly define the things that we have control over. For me those things include: approach for each at bat/pitch, hitting the ball hard, and getting off your best swing, and being on time. Every one of those is a lot more controllable than trying to find the hole in every at bat. Also, if we do these things well our chances of hitting the ball hard skyrocket, which increases the probability of you getting a hit. It’s much like someone saying, “I want to lose weight,” well if it was as easy as saying it everyone would be skinny. It’s the same thing with hitting, wanting to get a hit is not enough, not by a long shot. You need to have a process to fall back on in order to keep you on track.
Having an approach for every at bat/pitch is important because you need to have a good idea of what is coming in order for you to have a chance at consistently hitting the ball hard. Notice I said hit the ball hard, not getting a hit or putting the ball in play. The people who hit the ball the hardest always win. All too often hitters go up and look fastball and adjust or even worse just look to hit the first pitch that is a strike. With the name of the game being hitting the ball hard we need to have a sense of speed, shape and type of pitch it will be in order to have our best chance of squaring something up at close to our max ability. If we have a solid approach then we can have the feeling of being in the batting cage and knowing what is coming. After all a big reason guys hit better in the cage is because they know what speed, type, and shape the pitch is going to be and they can time it up accordingly.
With the rise of Trackman, HitTrax, and Statcast this has forever changed how evaluators look at hitting. Now with every swing in just a matter of seconds we are able to see exactly how hard and far Aaron Judge hit his last ball. We are not as focused on batting average as we are BARRELS, exit velocity, or hard-hit percentage. The biggest reason for this shift is that there is more behind these stats that helps tell people more of the story. Batting average is starting to die because there really doesn’t need to be much substance behind it in order for it to be at a respectable level. Hitting .300 does not begin to tell the whole story. Hard hit percentage, barrels, and exit velocity are far better predictors of long term success. Again and again statistics show us that the harder someone hits the ball the more successful they are. In the following graph, I chose to highlight slugging percentage instead of batting average because this metric makes players more valuable to their respective teams.
Getting your best swing off goes without saying. Regardless of your thoughts on the swing and your philosophy I think we can agree that consistently putting your best swings on the ball is extremely important for long term success and consistency. If the hitter is not able to produce a swing that he can rely on consistently then it is highly likely that their performance will suffer as a result. This does not mean that someone with a “bad” swing will not get a hit, baseball is an imperfect science but over the long run the cream will eventually rise to the top. This is why minus some stylistic approaches the best big-league hitters when broken down are actually very similar in their movements.
What I absolutely love to hear is someone saying, “I had a great weekend, I squared up 90% of the balls I hit, I stuck to my approach, and I put my best swings on the ball all weekend. And I ended up hitting .400.” Knowing the process behind getting hits is the most important part of the equation. If all we do is want to get hits then good luck over the course of a season facing good pitching. If we know what goes into it then we can directly right the ship when things go wrong. So now it turns into, “I have been swinging at bad pitches for the last week I need to correct that.” Instead of, “man I’ve been in a slump for the last week and don’t know why.”
There is always merit to sticking with a thorough and well thought out approach that is proven. Even when the means that you did not get a hit that day. Don’t panic and stick to your guns because if you don’t, you will be searching for something that you really do not have the ability to control. I leave you with this golden nugget from NL MVP Joey Votto. “A couple of years ago I went 0-6 against the Cubs but it was probably the best day of the year. Because I just missed and I was doing the things that I wanted to do, and there were some tough plays in the outfield. And from my perspective I was sticking with the plan and over the long run I know it is going to pay off.”
-Start with the foundation in mind.
Start video at 7:54
Over the last couple weeks at CBC we have had an influx of new clientele in a way that we really haven’t seen before. Being a business owner this is always something that we dream of, up to our eyeballs in new clients coming through the door! As amazing as this is for us it also adds a little bit of difficulty dealing with so many new clients from day to day. With every new client, we like to gather as much information as possible before we make any major changes. Some of the data includes: exit velocity, max distance, average distance, on time percentage, BLAST data, and video. However, one area that often gets overlooked is information on the person. We like to get a feel for how the athlete learns, reacts to failure, strengths, weaknesses and personality. Being a hitting coach you would probably guess the first couple data points would be best for me to examine. However valid, getting to know the clients on another level besides how they are on the field yields so much information about them which better helps us understand how they learn, attain information, get motivated, and how much to push them.
When a new client comes in I like to let them know that this isn’t going to be a session where everything they have ever done is going to be scrapped. They are not going to leave after one session where everything about their swing is going to be brand new. Most of the time they leave with no swing changes at all, and if they do it’s a minor adjustment that is more “feel” based and they do not have to think about it as much. When I first took this approach, I thought it could be counterintuitive, but what I have seen is this has actually made our path to helping hitters more efficient. There is now less time spent on trying 3 or 4 different things and seeing what works, we now have a more concentrated focus on what we are trying to do with each athlete, and the results have been amazing. I haven’t seen so many guys come in and break record after record. “Success leaves clues,” is something that I like to remember and this approach has yielded great results.
With gathering as much data and video as possible about each hitter this gives us a snapshot of where they are compared to their peer group, where we think they should be, and how we can develop a roadmap and connect the dots. Probably the greatest thing about the evaluation is seeing the hitter’s numbers go up in distance and velocity by just providing them with direct feedback of where they are at currently. So many hitters have no idea where they are at, once they find out they begin to push themselves harder than they have before and more times than not they find out they can hit the ball harder and farther than they originally thought. Providing an environment that helps athletes push themselves is so valuable because they are the ones that are navigating their own success, they are learning valuable lessons on their own. Those learned on their own always have a lasting effect vs. always coming from a coach. If we can help hitters improve during the first session without making any swing changes it starts to create a sense of trust between athlete and coach. Trust that lets the athlete know that we are not rushing to make him a clone of the guy before him, but we are carefully crafting a roadmap that we believe will lead to better things.
In the past, I will admit that I have been guilty of trying to do too much in the first session that it sometimes led to more headaches down the road. But I have learned that it is more beneficial to take a step back and take a look at what is in front of you and take your time coming up with a plan. In the end, this works better for all parties involved.
Start with the foundation in mind.
Stress is seen, sometimes, as a precursor to injury. One might hear a coach say quite frequently that “x” exercise is bad because it is too stressful for the arm, knee, etc. Coaches say this quite frequently when it comes to weighted balls and upper-body exercises in the weight room. I’ve heard it my whole life for a reason not to do something athletically. Bench-press is too stressful on the shoulders, basketball is too stressful on the knees, squats are too stressful on the spine; this list can go on and on. But what does it really mean and is it truly bad?
The honest answer is…it depends. You see, according to the Physical Stress Theory (PST), specific thresholds define the upper and lower stress levels for each characteristic tissue response. The tissue responses to physical stress are atrophy, maintenance, hypertrophy, injury, and death. Another way of saying this is that if we don’t stress the body enough, we have atrophy (muscle loss), or if we stress the body too much then we have injury. We want to be in the hypertrophy phase, otherwise known as the “increased stress tolerance” phase of tissue tolerance. This means that our muscles, bones, and ligaments now are able to withstand more stress than they could before. We want this to happen periodically throughout the year.
How do we use this knowledge to our advantage?
Let us start with the basics. If your kid pitches year around, you are risking the injury phase of PST. That is too much throwing, especially for someone under 20 years of age. The excuse always becomes, “But he is only throwing 1 inning a week, 25 pitches max.” It does not matter, there is no recovery period for the tissue to adapt; it is constantly under stress which is going to cause an injury.
The counter argument to that is, “but if he does not pitch, then he will get behind other players in development,” or, if you want to throw my words back in my face, it becomes, “but he will fall into the ‘atrophy’ stage of PST.” The first argument is invalid, because many of professional and college baseball players played multiple sports growing up, thus limiting their “practice” time and still ended up competing at a higher level than their peers. The second argument is valid, but I will explain later in this blog on how to counter this.
What actually happens when we throw a baseball?
When we throw a baseball, it is inherently risky for the arm. However, it is 100% necessary for us to do if we want to play baseball. Every time you throw a baseball, a number of things occur in the arm alone. You will lose range of motion (ROM) in the throwing shoulder, specifically internal rotation which has been linked to higher injuries. We lose scapular function, as the scapula loses its ability to glide normally along the rib cage as we head into shoulder abduction while throwing. We lost anterior shoulder stability, which then causes the humerus to move around the glenoid socket and is also a precursor to injury. We lose rotator cuff strength and rotator cuff timing. Timing may not seem important, but when the muscles turn on and off during a throw is of the utmost importance. Finally, we can cause tissue damage, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how subsequent hours are used after damage occurs.
Tissue damage is always occurring when doing an athletic movement, exercise, or lift. It’s what is done after that damage occurs that is important. This is why recovery is so important. When tissue damage occurs, it’s important to go through active and passive recovery protocols. Recovery aids the tissue in adapting to a new normal. When the tissue is damaged, it will recover, or adapt, to the new stress that is put on the body. This highly depends on your protocol. Active recovery is done through light athletic movement and stretches; passive recovery is done through stem machines, diet, and just pure rest. If you do not have either of these, the tissue is not adapting, or recovering in time for your next appearance, lift, or athletic activity. If the tissue does not recover, then it is continuously being damaged and thus will end up in the injury phase of PST.
There is a flip side to this argument though. If we are not throwing enough, then the tissue is not adapting enough for the stresses of a game and may also result in injury. This may seem confusing but hear me out. If you do not throw a baseball enough, then you will be in the maintenance, or atrophy phase of PST. This can cause an injury because if you are not physically prepared for the stresses of a game situation, tissue will break down too fast and cause an injury. When you cause just enough stress for hypertrophy, or adaption to occur, your bones become thicker, tendons and ligaments become thicker, and muscles will become bigger. If this adaptation does not occur, then going out and trying to throw 90mph on the mound will end only in disappointment or worse, catastrophe.
So, what do we do? On one hand, throwing a baseball too much will cause injury. On the other hand, not throwing enough will cause injury as well as underachievement because the body is not adapted to throw a baseball 90 mph. There is a tried and true formula for getting yourself ready each and every season. I will lay it out for you now.
Take a 2-4 month “Off-Season” every year, depending on age.
Yes, you need to take time off from throwing every year and this is highly dependent on your age. If you are under the age of 14, I think it needs to be closer to 4. The higher your level is, the less time you need but notice how the minimum is 2 months. Also, what you do during these months is crucial. Sitting at home crushing Cheetos and playing video games is a non-starter. You need to be active in something else. If you’re in high school, at minimum it needs to be another sport, and at best it needs to be lifting AND Physical Therapy. You may think you don’t need physical therapy, but as I stated in one of the above paragraphs, a lot happens to the arm when you throw a baseball. You may not be injured, but you need to regain these movement patterns and strength before heading into the next season. Remember, ‘active recovery’ is how tissue is adapted and changed, and if we do not take time off (passive recovery) coupled with PT (active recovery), we are not creating gains to be better. This is also coupled with lifting, which teaches the body to produce and accept force.
If you are younger than 14, you need to play a different sport. This is non-negotiable in my opinion. If your son does not want to play another sport, you need to be the parent and tell him the playing baseball year around at a young age is bad for him. You may think it’s okay because he’s outside, he’s with friends, and he’s enjoying life. I am 100% for that, but if his goal is to play professional, he will have a greater chance of having overuse injuries by the time he reaches high school and beyond, or worse, retard his athletic ability because he learned no other athletic skills besides hitting and throwing. If his goal is to just be with friends and has no interest in baseball long-term, then by all means let him play. However, the body needs to learn other movements and athletic skills. Side to side movement, running back and forth, pivoting, agility, and explosiveness. These are not all learned in baseball, and learning is expedited if he plays another sport.
A 2-4 month “Pre-Season”
Following the “Off-Season” is a pre-season. This pre-season we usually reduce lifting a bit and start our throwing programs. This is where we increase the ‘stress’ on our arms but we aren’t pitching yet. This is where we long toss and throw weighted balls. We are systematically increasing the stress on the arm that creates an adaptation, but not throwing too much to create an injury. Pitching in bullpens comes at the very end of this phase. One may wonder, “When do I get to work on my pitches?” You do not need to be in a bullpen to work on pitches. At the end of every throwing session, as you work your way in from long toss, you will stop at your pitching distance and work on your pitches with your throwing partner. This has to happen every time you throw. Work on spin, movement, and location.
4-8 month “Season”
The Season consists of your competition. The season length depends on age. There is no reason for a 9 to 10 year-old to play 8+ months out of the year. That borders on insanity. This also happens to be the hardest part of the season for most players because you are trying to manage pitching workloads as well as lifting workloads and when to throw between outings. There is no way around this, but your competition season is a managed decline. Your arm gets tired, your tissue breaks down, and there is not enough time to recover from outing to outing. This is normal. But we need to recognize that as the season goes on, you do not feel as good and your body is breaking down. Ask any big leaguer how they feel at the end of the season and they will tell you this: tired. You may ask though, “But how are they still throwing hard and well at the end of the season if they are so beaten up?” They will also answer it this way, “I believe it is my off-season strength and conditioning program that has held me together this year.” They do not feel fresh or recovered by season’s end. In fact, by the time they get into post-season, they are running on pure adrenaline and grit. They know that they are getting worse and less sharp, but so is everyone else, so it evens itself out.
Let me absolutely clear about this. Your competition season needs to be continuous. For those of you out there, and those of you that know me, your “Fall-Season” is complete and utter B.S. Baseball is not meant to be played in the fall unless you are in the Big Leagues. It’s a waste of time and if you start doing the math, it adds up every year to competing in a game, and on the mound, for more than 11 months. If you are here in Southern California, you start playing in January. Do not lie to yourself, you do start in January. You then play continuously until the beginning of August. Then August is off, to be right back at it in September, and you play continuously until the beginning of December. Where is your Off-Season and Pre-Season? It’s nowhere to be found. You do not get better by pitching year around. “But Matt, my kid has pitched year around since he was 8 and he has done nothing but improve.” This is called growing. Your kid has increased size and strength since he was 8, the only way to go is up. It will level out once everyone catches up, I can promise you that. Yes, he got better, but you are leaving a lot on the table by not following a structured year plan.
This a very long and lengthy blog post, but my blood gets boiling just thinking about the stupidity that is high school and youth baseball. I have more qualms with MLB and college, but that’s for another time. This is supposed to shed some light on how the body responds to certain stresses. We need to throw to get better, that is a must. But if we throw too much then we are setting ourselves up for injury. If not now, then in the future. We need to be diligent about how we structure our throwing programs on a year to year basis. You need to take control of your life and career. Do not be swayed by punitive coaches who tell you that you and your son need to play now to be better. Or the one that threatens playing for pitching 30+ innings in the fall. Screw that guy, he’s a loser and always will be. The best thing to do is get educated on the subject and then tell the coach to go screw himself. We want your kid to be good when he’s 18, when the scouts are coming around, not when he’s 14 and he can’t shave yet. I hope this blog will help you get educated on what you and your son need to do to be better when it matters most.
Chapman Baseball Compound
Chapman Baseball Compound is a 3,000 square foot facility where we specialize in baseball development specifically in the areas of: hitting, pitching, catching, and mental training.