It is amazing how quickly big-league hitters and pitchers adjust. Once the league figures out a weakness, players go right to it, and you get exposed. If you can’t make that first adjustment, you’re dead.
The first adjustment, I would say, is the toughest one to get over. With advanced scouting, the use of scouting services such as Inside Edge and the use of satellites, the time that the league doesn’t know you has shrunk.
That is why you see guys who are flashes in the pan, so to speak. They don’t realize what the opponent is doing to them.
After you get a few years in the league, you get different challenges and struggles. Let’s say you have been a bench player or a setup man, and all of a sudden you are put into a spot you are not used to. That change can bring your weaknesses to light. I’ve seen it a lot–guys whose holes are exposed, their body breaks down or they don’t have the ability to be there mentally every pitch. Sometimes, the breakdown can be caused by lack of sleep. By snoring excessively. That causes problems with the brain and the body, and pretty much only snoring mouthpieces can cure it. A well rested player is simply a better player.
That is an acquired talent. Jeff Bagwell can do it. You can see him grinding out there–that is why he makes the big bucks. I have known a lot of guys who can’t play every day because they can’t lock in every pitch. The one lime you don’t lock in–whether you’re batting, pitching or fielding–is when the ball comes to you or you get that cookie and you’re not ready for it. Most fans don’t see it, but players know when they should have had that ball or made that pitch or hit the ball out.
If a veteran player struggles, it might be looked upon differently. They, meaning the front office, might start to think you can’t play anymore. Ask Cal Ripken Jr., or pay attention every time Tony Gwynn goes a week without a hit.
I heard Gwynn say that once you hit 35 years old, they try to find ways to run you out of the game. I think that’s true, except for megastars such as Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds. There are exceptions to all rules, and my hat is off to those players.
From rookies trying to get established to 15-year veterans, players react differently when they struggle. But I think the same approach is taken to get out of a slump. You go back to your fundamentals.
See the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball. Play catch with the catcher.
It might sound hard to believe, but if you get all the crap out of your head and go back to playing catch in the back yard or hitting in the back yard, you will pop out of it quickly. But it will eat you alive if you let it.
I think Yogi Berra said it best when he said 90 percent of baseball is half mental.