By Eugene Bleecker
Mental preparation: Mental preparation plays a huge role in success and failure at the plate. There are a few different techniques that can be used to mentally prepare for at-bats and they are used in different situations. Mental preparation is important to incorporate into your game because it can be used in every at-bat to make you a more successful hitter.
a) Visualization: Visualization techniques are used by hitters at every level of professional baseball to make them better. When you are hitting off a tee, taking dry swings or hitting soft toss, visualizing a pitcher on the mound and seeing him in his wind up before executing your swing makes every swing you take more realistic. This gives you an opportunity to see success more often and translates into more game swings taken in practice. When using visualization it is important to make it as real as possible so don’t just see any pitcher on the mound, see a 6’1” 195 lb lefty with an 87 mph fastball, cutter and big curveball. By focusing at this higher level you will maximize the drill.
b) Analyzing a pitcher: Many baseball players are told by their coaches to watch the pitcher before the game begins and to watch the pitcher during the game but many of those coaches aren’t explaining to their players what to look for and how to use the information they are getting. Due to this lack of communication between coaches and their players, the players don’t realize how much this information can help them.
At the professional level every hitter uses this information to increase their chance of success each time they step up to the plate. Before the game begins the players should be looking for a number of things from the pitcher. They should first be looking for a release point so they can find the arm slot better when they step up to the plate. They should be looking for what pitches that particular pitcher has in his arsenal, as well as which of those pitches he can consistently throw a strike with. They should also be watching the catcher set up and figure out where this particular pitcher likes to work. As the game progresses the pitcher will continue to give you more information.
Many pitchers fall into specific rhythms in which they like to work. They use their set of pitches in a certain way and many pitchers go into the game with a plan for working certain types of hitters. Some pitchers have more complicated plans, while other pitchers will work righties one way and lefties another way. If you are able to get an idea of what the pitcher is trying to accomplish and what his plan is, it can make the difference in your at-bats, your teams at-bats and can potentially make the difference in the game.
For instance, if you notice throughout the game that the pitcher is trying to lock the hitters up on the inside part of the plate in 2-2 counts with a fastball, when you get up to the plate in the 7th inning of a one run ballgame with a runner on second base and happen to find yourself in a 2-2 count, you can look for the pitch on the inner half and drive it to left field for a game winning hit. The bottom line is that every pitcher provides us with a tremendous amount of information about what he is doing but it is our job as hitters to figure out what his game plan is and use it against him.
Utilizing this technique can make the difference in a player, a game, a team and in a season. The more you learn about analyzing pitchers, the better player/coach you will be.
Eugene Bleecker is the Founder and Director of Player Development at 108 Performance., and the author of Old School vs New School, The application of data and technology into baseball.