A slump is a prolonged stretch during which a hit can’t be found or even bought. Going 0 for 10 does not signify a slump, although to some major league hitters and most young players, going 0 for 4 can become a major slump in their own minds. Almost all slumps are mental, but coaches and players try to fix a slump by changing physical elements of the swing, such as the stance or approach. It is essential to understand the nature of slumps and deal with them by using the mind.
I have seen many major league players hit two or three line drives for outs and then try to figure out what’s wrong with their swings. Little league players often get discouraged if they go 0 for 3 or get two strikeouts, thinking this is a major slump. They end up trying 10 different things to get back on track, when in fact they never left the track in the first place. Trying to change the mechanics of a hitter to fix an 0 for 5 begins a vicious cycle that never goes away and will be there for as long as a player chooses to play.
Deal with the mind first. That means having a clear head and seeing the ball correctly. Always think this pitch, this moment. Believe in yourself and show confidence even when you doubt. Never, and I mean never, be afraid to swing and miss. Always take your best swing, and confront one pitch at a time and deal with it. This pitch, this moment is all a hitter can deal with at any given time. A hitter’s mechanics should be changed only if something is interfering with one of the absolutes of hitting: dynamic balance, sequential rotation, axis of rotation, and bat lag.
We will cover the absolutes in more detail in later chapters, but briefly, dynamic balance means controlling the center of gravity from start to finish; sequential rotation means using the body in the correct order, feet first, hands last; axis of rotation means keeping a strong posture; and bat lag means pulling the bat through the zone as the last link in the swing.
When slumping, older players may reach rock bottom, resigning themselves to just going out and playing because they think they can’t get any worse. Then the hits return because they finally have learned to relax and see the ball as it should be seen. There is no need to ever sink that low, because a poor performance can be changed in a short amount of time with some common sense, self-confidence, and good work habits.
Remember, a so-called slump results from mental mistakes more often than physical ones. Often the hitter loses focus and has no idea what he’s trying to do at the plate. Keep in mind, though, that going 0 for 5 is not a slump; that’s going to happen many, many times during the course of a season. How the hitter deals with an 0 for 5, or even an 0 for 15, will determine how long he is stuck in his slump.
Focusing on this pitch, this moment can get a hitter out of a slump very quickly. What has happened in the past is over and done with. What is about to happen is the only thing that matters. The sooner we learn this, the better we’ll be as coaches and as hitters.
The benchmark today, as it has been for years, is that a .300 hitter is a good hitter. That means even a good hitter fails 7 out of 10 trips to the plate. So even a good hitter is going to fail 70 percent of the time. That doesn’t sound so bad, but put it in perspective. A major league hitter who has 600 at bats will walk back to the dugout 420 times without a hit. Wow! He makes more than 400 outs and still gets paid all that money! That just shows how difficult it is to hit a little white ball moving at top velocity.
So hitters have to deal with this failure. They cannot let failure affect the next at bat or even the next pitch. A hitter must be able to take a bad swing or have a bad at bat but still move on to the next pitch or at bat and be successful. He has to have an attitude.
A hitter can’t let a poor performance carry over into the next opportunity. Pouting or feeling sorry for yourself when you’re in a slump can become a habit, starting a vicious cycle that’s very hard to break.
A younger player who strikes out or swings at a bad pitch may retreat to the end of the bench, shake his head, and think, “What am I doing wrong?” All kinds of negative thoughts run through his mind. Good hitters keep the hitter’s attitude even when the at bat doesn’t generate the desired result.
As soon as I can, I try to break hitters of the habit of feeling sorry for themselves. A good hitter must have a positive attitude. Many players have prevented themselves from advancing to a higher level of play because they couldn’t handle failure. Good hitters learn to deal with it.