Mental Side of Hitting – Part One

By Doug Bernier

Every baseball player struggles from time to time. In these moments of searching for answers it’s easy to fall into the trap of chasing hits.

Tying your self-worth as a player to getting hits is a guaranteed ticket to an emotional rollercoaster, and in the end, it’s counter-productive to getting the results you want.

The mental side of hitting doesn’t need to be a roller coaster – from a pros perspective

During those slumps and moments of struggle, it’s critical to have attainable goals that can be achieved every at-bat.

On any given day, the outcome may not be what we would like – but if we stay consistent with our process and mental plan, the results will follow.

Attainable goals are a series of repeatable objectives the you can control. There are days when you do everything right. You put a beautiful swing on the ball and the outfielder makes a diving catch… and you just don’t get the results you were hoping for.

That’s why it’s important to make your list of attainable goals things that you CAN control. In the next couple posts, I’m going to give you some examples of this, and finally a checklist that I was given by a very smart hitting coach with the Texas Rangers.

The Mental Side of Hitting – Attainable Goals

We choose objectives that force us to pay attention to what is happening on the field and form a mental plan around our strength as a hitter that we feel will give us the best chance of victory for the next battle against the pitcher.

When I would struggle as a youngster I’d hear coaches and parents tell me to “make an adjustment.”

The problem is I only knew 2 adjustments… I’d either choke up on the bat or widen my stance. They were both physical and weren’t able to get me out of a funk or keep me consistent when I was going well.

In 2002, my first year of pro ball is when I saw the importance of having attainable goals as they relate to hitting. The Rockies taught us to work on a mental 2 strike approach as opposed to physical adjustments. Many big leaguers didn’t like to make a physical adjustment with 2 strikes because they were trying to compete with a stance or feel that was not overly practiced. Their thought was, if they were a better hitter by making certain physical adjustments, they would use them the entire at-bat.

One key that I will go into more detail in the next post is having an aggressive vs. passive mindset. Early in my career I had a mindset of “put the ball in play”, “swing at strikes”, “work the count”,”hit the ball on the ground.” I thought this was how a smaller guy with not a lot of power was supposed to hit. In some cases I was taught to think like this at the plate. I was constantly feeding myself passive thoughts.

One of my attainable goals was to realize this passive self talk and change it. I started to think, “hit this pitch off the center field wall”, “drive this ball in the gap”, “hit this ball hard”. This simple goal of changing my self talk is one key that turned me into a more aggressive hitter that drives the ball much more than I did early in my career.

The Mental Side of Hitting – Creating a plan that works for YOU

During most of my pro playing career, I struggled to explain this process with clarity. Then I talked to Texas Rangers minor league hitting coach, Chase Lambin who I played against for years. This guy was a grinder who got everything out of his ability. He has been really trying to relay this information to his players and he has helped me a lot to simplify this mental process.

Next:  Explanation of this process in great detail about concrete, attainable goals

Doug Bernier, founder of Pro Baseball Insider.com, debuted in the Major Leagues in 2008 with the Colorado Rockies, and has played professional baseball for 5 organizations (CO Rockies, NY Yankees, Pirates, MN Twins, & TX Rangers) over the past 16 years. He has Major League time at every infield position, and has played every position on the field professionally except for catcher. Where is he now? After batting .200 in 45 at-bats and fielding .950 during 2017 spring training with the Rangers, Doug was assigned to the Ranger’s AAA team the Round Rock Express. You should click to watch this great defensive play by Bernier

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Hitting mechanics fallacies

By Dan Gazaway

I’ve picked two parts of the baseball swing mechanics I hear taught frequently that are incorrect. I’ll explain why in a bit of detail, but don’t just take my word for it, however, ask around to some of the hitting mechanics gurus you know and trust.

It’s always great to get other perspectives. The best thing you can do is to build your own baseball swing knowledge base. Baseball instruction is a funny thing. You can find information and hitting “experts” everywhere. However, please for your own sake make certain that you are qualifying your sources of information first before you accept and apply it to your game. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending a lot of money, and changing your batting philosophy often.

Two Mechanical Fallacies:

1. Keeping your back elbow up is NECESSARY for a proper and important.

I come across this advice mostly in the younger ages, such as Little League. To be straight to the point, there is no physical advantage or benefit for a hitter to keep his back elbow up high as he prepares to hit. I’m uncertain as to the origination of this idea, but I do know it spreads like wildfire through Little League parks everywhere. It’s like the cure all for a poor baseball swing I guess.  When it doubt, it must be the back elbow!  You’’ve all heard a fan or parent yelling the advice, “Keep your back elbow up” all too often.

Keeping the back elbow up for younger hitters is often a source of a sluggish and long swing. When the bat head travels into the zone, the elbow of the top arm on the bat is down and relaxed close to the hitter’s body (when performed correctly). Because of this, it makes no sense for a younger hitter to move his back elbow from a stiff  and upright position in the stance to a relaxed  position into the hitting zone. The extra moving parts during a baseball swing simply means less consistency. As a hitter gets older and gains knowledge and understanding of proper swing mechanics, his preference may be of a back elbow that is raised.  However, at this point he can make the adjustments as necessary as he begins his swing.

So how do you fix it?

Hitters should be comfortable when in their batting stance.  Arms should remain close to the body and relaxed.  In this position, most every hitter will find the back elbow is in fact poiting slightly down.

2. Rolling the wrists as your bat comes through the zone is essential for creating bat speed.

I bite my tongue (quite hard actually) whenever I hear the above advice being offered for baseball instruction. While the back elbow up philosophy can be dismissed somewhat as a youth baseball strategy that does relatively minimal damage, this wrists rolling theory cannot be ignored or tolerated if one is going to create a fundamentally sound approach to hitting a baseball.

What “wrist rollers” can’t do:

A.    Hit line drives with back spin consistently (these are the ones that carry deep into a gap in the outfield).

B.     Hit an outside fastball with any consistency to the opposite field with power (left field as a lefty and right field as a righty).

C.   Hit inside fastballs to the pull side (right field as a lefty and left field as a righty).

I make those statements so confidently for the following reason. In order to roll the wrists through a baseball swing, your arms must be nearly straight at the elbows when contact is made with the baseball. Youth hitters can get away with this and escape many time undetected because the velocity of the pitch is not overpowering. Add 10-15 mph to the pitch and those inside pitches will not be hit hard by a hitter (or if they do, it will sting like crazy). Outside pitches will also be difficult because the barrel of the bat will only cover the outer portion of the plate a fraction of the time necessary as the bat is sweeping through the zone.

So how do you fix it?

Teach hitters when swinging at a baseball to have their palm facing up on their top hand as they come in contact with the baseball. As the hands stay close to the body through the swing, the hitter should extend his arms fully only after contact is made with the ball. Creating proper extension is extremely valuable and important for generating good bat speed and maintaining good plate coverage.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net. Get tons of tips and information from Dan here.

How many swings per day?

By Dan Gazaway, Owner & Founder of The Pitching Academy

If you are a looking to become a good baseball player, there is no secret that it will take some hard work at some point. And while hitting drills are immensely valuable, there has always been some discussion about how many swings one needs to take daily or how much time one needs to spend to become “good”. I remember growing up having my coach tell me that I needed 200 swings a day if I wanted to make it anywhere as a ball player. This thinking is flawed. Hitting drills are important ONLY if the hitter has the capacity to focus on the drills at hand. Let me explain.

Baseball is a game of focus. Every motion you make as a baseball player gets stored in your mental memory bank that your body uses to form habits and movements. If you mess around playing catch before a game, your muscles won’t react consistently during the game. If you dink around during hitting drills and swing your bat wildly at the ball on the tee, or forget to pay attention to your form, your muscles will be programmed to swing out of control or inconsistently in a game. Therefore, if you want consistent performances, you have to have consistent movements in practice.

Having worked with all ages of youth baseball I have seen 10 year olds focus better than 15 year olds and everything in between. Some players naturally mature at different rates and at different ages. You must take this into account as a coach when you are working with your athletes on hitting drills, especially those that are stationary and without a lot of action. Pay close attention to your hitters and how much focus they are applying to the drill itself. Once you begin to see a focus breakdown, interrupt the drill, help refocus the athlete and let him start again. Simple breaks in the routine will help many athletes become more productive during hitting drills and will ultimately help their muscle memory become more consistent.

Dan Gazaway is Owner and Founder of The Pitching Academy. He has instructed over 2,000 pitchers in the last seven years and received a Bachelor’s Degree as a Health Education Specialist at Utah State University. He is a motivational speaker for topics ranging from attitude, goal-setting and leadership and be contacted at contact@thepitchingacademy.net.