No matter how skilled you are, everyone will go through some tough stretches. If it has been a while since your last hit or you know someone who is struggling, here are some ideas to help shorten the slumps and lengthen the streaks.
Rule #1: Before you get stressed out about your “slump”, make sure you are actually in one.
- 0 for 4 is not a slump.
- 0 for 12 may not even be a slump if you are hitting ball hard (see “change the way you measure success” below).
- A slump is a prolonged stretch of plate appearances where you are not making solid contact or struggling to make consistent contact.
- You will know you are in a slump because it consumes you…you think about it all the time and it changes the way you feel about the game. All of a sudden you don’t look forward to your next at bat. Or you hope there aren’t 2 outs when you get to the plate.
- When your slump includes a lot of strikeouts, hitters have a tendency to have only one goal during an at bat: MAKE CONTACT. When this happens bat speed goes way down and hitters have a tough time catching up to fastballs. This will obviously lead to more strikeouts, but it will also force the hitter to start swinging earlier putting them farther out in front of off-speed pitches. This vicious cycle can continue until all ability to make contact is lost.
- Try to swing your way out of your slump. Pick out some fastballs in the strikezone and be aggresive. Aggression can make up for a lot of swing faults.
- More effort ≠ more results. The term pressing is often associated with slumps because struggling hitters take extra BP, watch hours of video, start chasing bad pitches, or contemplate sacrificing a live chicken (movie reference: Major League). When hitters hit until they are tired and take hundreds of extra reps, bad habits can form simply out of fatigue.
- Coaches naturally work more with hitters who are struggling and hitters in slumps tend to seek more advice. But, remember that because you are not picking up hits doesn’t always mean that your mechanics are to blame. Changing your swing and working through drill after drill can sometimes prolong a slump because hitters become more mechanical at the plate.
- Try your best to manage your emotions when you are struggling. Remember that your teammates don’t want to hear you go on and on about how the Baseball Gods have it out for you or why you really should be 2 for your last 15 instead of 0 for 15. If your team wins and you don’t get any hits, don’t drag the momentum of the team down by dwelling on everything in the game that didn’t go well for you personally.
1. Something has gone awry in your mechanics: As I mentioned earlier, in the middle of a season hitters want to avoid getting really technical and breaking down their swing. That is the reason why we tend not to show our young hitters any slow motion video of themselves during the season. As a coaching staff we will use this tool, but we don’t allow the hitters to see their swings unless it is at full speed. In addition, try not to “tinker” with your swing. Tinkering is defined as grasping at small, random changes just to do something differently. Here is the approach I suggest players take if they believe they are in a slump due to a mechanical flaw:
- First, grab a tee and work on hitting pitches down the middle back over the pitchers head. If you put in a lot of work over the off-season you should have a good idea what your baseline swing mechanics feel like. Over the course of a year wide stances tend to get wider, open stances tend to get more open, and small hitting flaws become more exaggerated. By using basic tee work hitters should be able to “reset” their mechanics to a time when they were more.
- Next, select a few full speed drills that will help you simplify. A couple that I use on a regular basis are:
1. Overhand front toss – This is essentially regular overhand BP, but at a closer distance. Pitch velocity can go down, of course, but giving the hitter a little less time will eliminate a lot of extra movements and force them to think about being on time to see the pitch out of the hand. MAKE SURE the velocity is not so high that the hitter has to guess as to whether to swing or not.
2. Rapid fire front toss – This is set up just like front toss. The tosser will have 4 balls in hand ready to throw and will feed the hitter a ball just as his/her hands are getting back to a set position. It is important that the hitter does not rush their swing. Allow the hitter to finish every swing completely and the feeders job is to increase the tempo of the hitter between swings. As with the first drill, increasing tempo will eliminate a lot of extra movement.
3. Physical breakdown: step back and take a look at your workload. Determine whether you are over training. Take a close look at how much sleep you are getting, what your nutrition/hydration looks like, and whether any of these areas could be improved to help you on the field.
WAYS TO BREAK OUT OF THE SLUMP
Maintain confidence. I know, easier said than done. But here are a few ways to try to keep positive:
1. Keep a log book each day you practice or play. That way, when you are struggling at the plate you can read about some of the things you did and how you felt when you were going well at the plate. What did your preparation look like? What pitches were you hitting? What key components of you mechanics did you have control over?
2. Try to be in the moment. Remember that your previous at bats have little to no impact on your current at bat so try not to carry that 0 for 16 with you to the plate.
3. Check your body language. Walk the walk of confidence and never let your opponent see you defeated. Not only will you feel better, but you won’t give your opponents any reason to think you are vulnerable.
4. Monitor your self talk (what you say to yourself in your head) more closely. When players are going through rough times they tend to talk more negatively to themselves. The saying goes “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. Talk to yourself confidently and you will have a greater chance for success.
5. Remember that everything related to your slump is in your control. When you believe you are a victim of bad luck, bad umpiring, or the wrath of the Baseball Gods you begin to lose control and slumps tend to snowball.
6. Change the way you measure success. If you are focused only on getting hits, then you will be disappointed 60-70% of the time. Try to look at some different aspects of your at bats to see more success in every plate appearance. For example, in addition to getting a hit, players should view the following results as a quality AB:
- A walk or getting hit by a pitch.
- A sacrifice fly or a sacrifice bunt.
- Hitting a hard line drive.
- Seeing 6 or more pitches in the AB. Seeing more pitches drives opposing pitch counts up and will force them into the bullpen sooner. Making pitchers work harder each inning is a consistently effective offensive approach.
- Getting yourself into multiple “hitters counts” per at bat. A hitters count would be a 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 count. If a hitter consistently puts themselves into hitters counts they will see more pitches to drive. Hits tend to follow.
Vision training. Get your eyes checked yearly and NEVER take your vision for granted. If you can’t see the ball it will be impossible to hit it. Make tracking a focus during your BP sessions. Some hitters also do specific vision training drills on a regular basis. Whether this improves their ability to track the ball or just makes a psychological difference doesn’t really matter…as long as it helps!
Rest more. Think about getting more sleep when you are struggling at the plate. Sleeping more will help your vision and help to clear your head.
Some information in this article has been adapted from the book “Heart & Hustle” by former big leaguer Frank Catalanotto. This is a great resource for any player and I recommend you pick up this book.