Key to ending slumps: How to shoulder it
Players, coaches offer different views on how to break out
Baseball is a game of failure.
The best hitters are only successful about 30 percent of the time. The rest of their at-bats throughout the 162-game season end in frustration. Slumps happen to everyone. But how do hitters get out of them?
Some change their approach.
"When guys get into slumps, usually they're pull happy -- pulling off the ball, things such as that," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "So staying up the middle and the other way is the best way to get out of that."
Others stick to what they know.
"I don't change my swing, man," Angels first baseman Albert Pujols said earlier this season during his home run drought. "I stay with the same approach and just try to keep fighting."
Sometimes, guys just need to clear their heads, which is what Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo told his hitters last weekend in Milwaukee.
"I said, 'Hey, I don't want to hear about mechanics, I don't want to hear about anything. I want you to attack the ball and be aggressive, and then you don't think about being in between,'" Jaramillo said.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel believes the best way to end a slump is to simply get to work.
"Every guy I ever knew practiced when he wasn't hitting," Manuel said. "It's a repetition game. It's a mind-memory process. And it's a feel. If you go ask most great hitters, they all hit [extra]. I think repetition and working is what really gets you back right."
Manuel has adopted his philosophy because, quite simply, it's worked for him throughout his time as a coach and manager in the Minor and Major Leagues. Although Manuel's way has proven to be successful, others have taken a completely different approach. Sometimes a slump becomes so bad, a player just needs to forget about it.
Robin Ventura knows what that feels like.
As a rookie third baseman for the White Sox in 1990, Ventura went through a highly publicized 0-for-41 stretch early in the season. In order to snap out of that slump, Ventura just stopped thinking about it.
It worked, as Ventura eventually started hitting and went on to have a successful 16-year playing career. Now the White Sox manager, Ventura has encouraged his players -- such as young infielders Gordon Beckham and Brent Morel, who have struggled at the plate this season -- to clear their minds.
"It's not easy to hit, and it's especially not easy to hit when every little thing is scrutinized," Ventura said earlier this month. "They have to get to that point that they don't care about that, and it'll turn around for them."
Although Ned Yost prefers to see his guys in the video room and the batting cage when they're struggling, the Royals manager admits sometimes hitters think too much.
"A lot of times where the problem is, is you get a little too overanalytical instead of just allowing your body to swing and hit," Yost said. "Your body knows how to hit; it's your brain that gets in the way."
Jaramillo agreed, saying it's only natural for players to search for answers when struggling. They start tinkering so much -- from their mechanics to superstitious things like how they put on their uniform -- they forget what really matters: Approach and concentration.
"Generally when you're struggling, you're searching and going to change, and you get away from your routine instead of going back to your mind and saying, 'I have to get my swagger back. I have to be aggressive and attack,'" Jaramillo said. "The way you get out of it is to go up there and be aggressive so you don't get that in-between thinking, and attack. [Tell yourself] 'I'm going to attack and get a good pitch and hit it hard.'"
Another avenue is hitting the video room, something Jones said he's a proponent of. Manuel is, too, but he doesn't want his slumping players evaluating recent at-bats.
Instead, Manuel likes players to look at swings from when they were in a groove.
"I think you can learn more from good swings than you can from bad swings," Manuel said.
Beckham -- who hit .170 through the season's first month -- agrees with Manuel that the best way to break a slump is to keep working. But the White Sox second baseman said too much video can get into a player's head -- especially when he's struggling.
"You can only look at so much film until you kind of can't worry about it," said Beckham, who is hitting more than 80 points higher in May. "I don't care if I'm doing this, I don't care if I'm doing that. I'm going to go out there and get a good pitch to hit and hit it."
Just as there are slumps, there also are hot streaks. So even when a player is barreling balls right at fielders or can't get good wood on the ball, he takes comfort in knowing that those balls will eventually find the holes and jump off the bat.
That's the result all players are really looking for, no matter which avenue they take to get there.
"You're going to have bad swings, you're going to have 0-for-4 nights and you're going to chase bad balls," Manuel said. "But what you try is you try to be consistent and get better."