Thinking at the Plate | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Thinking at the Plate

April 22, 2010

A lot of coaches, fans, parents, friends, and critics talk about the elimination of thinking during at-bats. In some respects I have no room to argue. Thoughts, typically those deviating from the task at hand, are simply distractions and ultimately lead to inefficiencies likely resulting in a slow bat. However, I have found through playing, coaching, and fan-ing that certain types of players simply cannot shut down their thoughts. Ever. When these players are slumping, it is common to hear critics suggesting that these players are “thinking too much.” That very sentence demonstrates an unreasonable and useless analysis and critique of the given player because the suggestion is impossible to carry out. Even the most dimwitted player is at least awake and is therefore thinking on some level at the plate.  While I cannot argue that baseball has its fair share of morons, it has its share of geniuses too. It has its compulsives as well.

So what do you tell a young player who is clearly not allowing himself to function because he is too caught up in the ticks and routines that he has developed over time? What do you tell the player that is concerned with his statistics, or his role, or anything other than the ball and the release point?

I have been lucky to coach a player that I feel has a lot of the same concerns that i did as a player, and it has led me to some conclusions about managing a cerebral player of that fashion. First and very foremost, it is imperative to understand that players of this type cannot and will never stop thinking. The suggestion to do so is both insensitive and illogical and represents a respect-less and erroneous opinion of the game and the player. I have had success with this player by suggesting to control thoughts and aim them in different directions. By taking the reverse route and suggesting to think equally as much if not more, the player does not begin by addressing a negative but instead by embracing and utilizing a positive. The advantage that intelligence has over stupidity is that it provides awareness. A player capable of understanding simple logical schemes like release point variations and scouting charts can provide the cerebral player with key advantages.

For example, by focusing thoughts on a pitcher’s release point, players well-versed in critical analysis are capable of noticing deviations from normal patterns and may stand a better chance of recognizing off-speed stuff. The same applies to running bases. Even bench players can pick signs and find creative ways to deliver them to teammates such that the other team may never catch on. One weekend at Grinnell we had another team’s signs from the fourth pitch until the last one of the series. When we met the following season, we had them from the first one until the last.

Intelligent players may understand that emotions tend to be controllable on some levels, and that player may have noticed that he tends to perform better in certain emotional states. His ability to recreate this emotional state may be the highest level of of thinking we have as athletes because it essentially allows us to begin controlling our nervous system and hormonal output. Through the use of certain stimulus such as music, movies, movements, dietary patterns, or conversations, players possess the ability to arrive at their own favorite emotional state for a game. Intelligent and aware players understand more how to control these patterns.

Never before have we had such extensive and readily available research regarding the game and how best to play it. Moneyball had a monumental effect on the style of play I exercised on the field. The game has come a long way since then too. Nowadays players have access to so much literature that can help them develop. The interested and intelligent ones have at their disposal countless theories to utilize, but very few actually will explore these mediums. The intelligent ones have quite the leg up in this regard.

I’m not trying to say that dummies don’t have their place in the game. My point is simply that intelligence is by no means a disadvantage. It is traditional for the field to be a place of inclusion, and because it is more acceptable for smart individuals to dumb down than it is for stupid folks to “smart up” the game between the lines has traditionally been dumbed down. That is why it took a century to discover that a proficiency for avoiding outs would inevitably lead to runs. Intelligent players must embrace their talents instead of hiding them. By focusing thoughts in useful and advantageous directions, smart players are exercising a unique skill arguably as valuable as any other of the five traditional tools.

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