For anyone who has played competitive baseball, from the big leagues all the way down to Little League, the best mental advice a coach can provide a player is to let the game come to them. Once players begin to press, mechanics go right out the window. Right now members of the New York Yankees lineup are gripping the bat tighter and trying to do more than is necessary and the results are atrocious.
Baseball is very much a mental game. Besides having to learn and re-learn the physical components of the sport, a professional ball player must also maintain a strong mind and continued focus on the task at hand. For hitters the goal is to get on base, or at least have productive outs.
When a team begins to collectively slump, each player wants to try to pick up the rest of the team all on his own. We are seeing this now, as each of the Yankees have begun to white knuckle the bat when they come to the plate with runners in scoring position. Instead of focusing on the pitcher and his tendencies, i.e. ‘what will he throw me in this situation,’ they’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to drive in this run.’
What’s more discouraging is that the Yankees have gotten plenty of men on base and have not lost their power stroke. They’ve still been hitting home runs and doubles, just not when there are runners at second or third. So the slump is mostly centered on their performance with RISP.
Alex Rodriguez may have felt he was on his way to changing some of the thoughts the group is having when he launched a fly ball to left in the bottom of the eighth yesterday. Everyone in the ballpark stood, A-Rod began his home run trot and the weight of the slump was being lifted by what was anticipated to be a lead-changing home run. Instead, as often times happens when a team is in the midst of a slide like the Yankees, the ball stayed in the park and the rally faded. The crowd groaned, A-Rod slouched back to the dugout in disbelief and John Sterling barked about the wind.
This quote from A-Rod, shows the players have an idea of what the problem is.
“As an offense, we have to really just bring it down and focus on scoring at least four runs a game,” Rodriguez said. “That’s an important benchmark for us. We can’t worry about other parts of our game. We have to worry about simplifying, having good at-bats and not trying to do too much.” – from MLB.com
Knowing the problem is one thing and actually following through on the solution is another. Look closer at his quote and we can take issue with A-Rod’s thought process. He’s got it in his head, as do a number of players I am sure, that there is a specific number of runs the team needs to score. Goals are all well and good, but focusing on the number of runs is not the answer. Each game is different. If CC Sabathia continued the seventh inning as he had one though six, two runs may have been enough. The second part of his statement is how the Yankees lineup needs to approach the game, by ‘simplifying…trying not to do too much.’
If the group can collectively break down the game into pieces, the balls will start to drop and guys on second and third will begin to cross the plate at rates we have come to expect from this offense. Each batter must focus their attention on the basics of the at-bat. The goal is to try and get on base; it’s as simple as that (the mindset, not necessarily the process). There is no need to hit homers or drive balls off the wall or into the gaps with a runner on second base.
Just get on base. Even walks work because they put more pressure on the pitcher, providing the batter with better pitches to hit. After the singles start to drop, the doubles and homers with runners in scoring position will come along too. As Yanks Go Yard staff writer, Matt Hunter’s piece mentioned yesterday, the numbers are in the Yankees favor for a correction; but only if they remain patient at the plate.
Slumps are every bit as contagious as hitting and the Yankees are enduring a long drawn out spell. Patience cures a slump. Sometimes it just takes longer than we’d like, but that’s the definition of the word, “…steady perseverance…; diligence.” If the Yankees can remain diligent and properly focused at the plate, in short time we’ll be talking about the Bronx Bombers scoring runs in bunches, and their perseverance paying off.