How important is baseball to you? What drives you to play baseball? These are some questions that not even the most fanatic baseball player can sometimes answer. This is a bit concerning too. In this blog, we will dive into the internal and external motivators that make young athletes play baseball and what keeps them going. However, we are also going to discuss the downfall to each type of motivator.
We all know that internal motivation is a lot stronger than external motivation. Internal motivation comes from ideas and principles. They come from the drive to be the best no matter the cost. Let’s use vegetarianism as an example. Those who actually stick with becoming vegetarians and vegans are more often those who have a strong moral reasoning behind it. They are the ones who absolutely abhor any cruelty of animals and do not want to partake in of the cruelty themselves. How else can someone go against human biology and not eat meat? They need to have powerful intrinsic motivation. Those who do it purely for the “health benefits” are the ones who usually don’t last for long. Health benefits, while sometimes intrinsic, can also be very extrinsic. The reason I say that is because if you’re doing it for the health benefits, the intrinsic motivator would be to “live a long life for my kids and family.” That is intrinsic. Extrinsic would be to “look good in a bathing suit.” While that can be powerful and get the job done, it may not last for the long haul.
How does this apply to baseball? Well, intrinsic motivators come from wanting to be the best. You do everything in your power (except cheat) in order to be the best. You don’t do it for the money, fame, or glory. Getting to the big leagues is a lot of hard work, and it will take about a decade worth of work. Yes, it will take about 10 years for you to be even close to reaching the big leagues. If you do not have a strong motivator, if you do not have the grit to be the best, then you will not succeed. If you give anything short of 100%, even if it is 99%, you will not succeed. But if you don’t have the intrinsic motivation to give 100% every single day, then how will you ever be successful? If you think the motivation of girls, money, and becoming famous for being a professional athlete are your motivators, you have already lost. You can do those things without baseball. But if you want baseball it has to come from within.
How do we get you to want to be the best? We don’t. It’s that simple. Coaches have about 10% of the say in an athlete’s development. That 10% can be the difference between being a high school player and pro, but when you have to get 50% better, there is nothing a coach can do or say to motivate you. Coaches have less a say over what actually happens to you. In fact, no one has more of a say over how good you can be than you. You, the athlete, have the most say in your career than any coach, parent, or umpire you come across. But you need a strong why to continue. If your “why” is weak, you will not succeed. If your “why” is strong, then you give yourself the best chance to be successful.
A little anecdote to finish off this blog. Roger Clemens was actually not good when he was younger. He went to junior college before becoming the person he is now. Most of you can’t stand the thought of JC baseball because you think it’s a demotion. Yet, he was able to push through it. How? He used to get angry at people when he pitched. He grew up poor, and he didn’t want to live poor the rest of his life. His mom used to clean bathrooms and floors at night in order to make ends meet. Clemens pretended that every single hitter he faced was someone that made his mom clean floors. They were the enemy and he wasn’t going to let them win. While you could say that his motivation might be “money” and therefore it wasn’t intrinsic, you would be wrong. While money can be extrinsic and a short term burst for cash, growing up in poverty is a different story. He didn’t want to live that like anymore and used that as fuel to be the best pitcher. You need a strong why to be one of the best in your field of operation, and no coach or parent can give you that why. It has to come from within.
Director of Pitching
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
Pitching mechanics are the most misconstrued concept in baseball. Everyone has an opinion on them and none of it is actually correct or proven. I used to be a big mechanics guy. Analyzing every little minute detail of body movements in order to improve one’s pitching velocity and effectiveness. I have recently trended away from this mantra. As I have come to realize, and you will too after this post, is that pitching mechanics do not mean that much and do not have that much bearing on one’s success. Let me provide you with some examples.
Is long or short better? Should I throw like a catapult or a shortstop? According to a few biomechanics studies, a short arm action is supposed to be better and that is what we teach here at CBC. However, here are a few examples of guys who were highly successful, and all had different arm actions:
These two have long arm actions; and yet they are highly successful pitchers. I’m not going to tell them that they need to change. They were/are better than 99.9% of baseball players that walk the face of the earth.
These two have short arm actions. This is more of the model that we look for at CBC. However, it does not always have to be so. If someone demonstrates a longer arm action, yet proves they have the sequencing of the other parts of their body that do not inhibit them to throw hard and throw strikes, then we will leave them alone. However, shortening them up usually unlocks some other parts of the kinetic chain that help produce more consistent results. But I do want to highlight that it can be done both ways.
We normally teach some form of bag leg squat here at CBC. Meaning, we would like a bend in the back leg while moving down the mound. This is not always the case either, as I will show you two different pitchers and two different bag leg mechanics:
I could not have picked two more different candidates for this one. Randy Johnson who is 6’11’’, and Tim Collins, who is 5’5’’. Johnson throwing over 100 mph, Tim Collins runs it up to 97+ mph. Their back legs are completely different and their body types are different. This is a stark contrast and should be studied extensively. This is why I do not want to have a certain “philosophy” on pitching mechanics because if I tried to teach them both the opposite of what they do, then I might screw them up.
So what do we know?
These are a few examples of pitching mechanics that differ immensely, yet they are/were all highly successful pitchers in MLB. There are a few key things that we do know that could help in pitching velocity as well as consistency.
I wrote a post on this for CBC a few months ago link HERE. It references a couple of studies that say pitching velocity directly correlates with how much force the front leg produces upon landing. From foot strike until ball release, the front leg should be producing force which allows the energy to transfer up the trunk and into the baseball. The more that is produced, the harder one tends to throw. This has been studied and actually replicated a few times. This lends one to believe that this is more than just an opinion.
I know this is not pitching mechanics but here me out. Weight lifting has shown to increase fastball velocity numerous times. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and squat a couple hundred pounds and see what happens. Remember, nothing happens in a vacuum and just doing squats will not help you. But if you have a complete, well thought out, lifting program that will definitely help to increase your velocity. By how much is a loaded question indeed.
This one is a bit of a controversy. Because there are some who complain about the health benefits of long toss. I tend to disagree with them. However, there are some people who do not react well to long toss. Too be honest, those are the exceptions though, not the rules. Most pitchers will hear this statement and say, “That’s me, I don’t react well too long toss.” No, it’s probably not. Unless you have done it structured 3x a week for more than a year and finally go, “Nope it’s not for me,” then you have not tried hard enough. Putting aside the health controversy for a minute, let’s look at the velocity implications for a moment. Here is a nice chart to help demonstrate what I mean:
So, as you can see, the farther you can throw it, the harder you have to throw it. In my personal opinion, those velocities are a bit high for those distances. However, the premise is correct. In order to increase velocity, work on the dynamic movements of throwing a baseball hard first.
This is why I do not like to get wrapped up inside pitching mechanic circles. They tend to be heavily debated and everyone picks sides. I frankly don’t care for this. I only care for making the athlete better and improving his performance in the game. If this means I have to check my ego and not teach something that I hold dear to my heart, then so be it. Player development should be focused on the athletes themselves, not the coaches. Don’t be that coach that doesn’t check his ego and destroys a player. And don’t be that player that gets so sucked into the mechanics of pitching, that he forgets to actually be an athlete.
Director of Pitching
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.