Improve Your Performance

The Comets emphasize intelligence and preparation in our approach to the game.
The following articles show that these principles are valued by successful organizations at all levels of baseball, including the major leagues.

MORE INSIGHTS

Preparation: The Right Way To Take Batting Practice





The Mental Game of Baseball : A Guide to Peak Performance
by H.A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl

When you take batting practice, is your concentration on the bunts the same as it is on the swings? The little guys with speed pay attention to those pitches and those bunts, because they know their value to them during a game.  But what about the big hitters, the guys who say "I'm never told to bunt during a game"?  Too many of them just go through the motions on that bunt.

If that's you, someday you may be called upon to lay down an important bunt, so your physical preparation for all possibilities is incomplete.  Your mental preparation is poor.  That pitch can still be used to help start batting practice off the right way by seeing the ball well.  By applying some mental discipline, you're using every opportunity to help yourself.  See the ball's spin.  Follow it to your bat.  Be exceptional.

Even when "just loosening up" (physically) by taking easy swings in his first round of batting practice, there's a tendency for the hitter to pay insufficient attention the ball.  "No problem," he would explain, "I'm not even trying to really hit -- just loosen up."  Not a very effective pattern. The hitter could very well have "loosened up" by taking practice swings before he got into the cage.  Allowing that he might have been rushed into the cage, we maintain that his eyes can work very well immediately.  A perfect time to work at getting [outstanding] looks at the ball.

One of the most flagrant concentration deficiencies is easily spotted during batting practice.  We only have to watch the guy who runs to first after he has completed his round of hitting.  He then takes his round on the bases. What's the purpose of taking that baserunning round?  There are a number: the player can work on his lead; he can practice watching the pitcher's move, and go on that movement; he can practice "reading" the batted ball and respond appropriately; he can practice making his turns -- and more.

We won't try to guess the number of players who do that.  We've seen a few. They are practicing all of the above, and they are concentrating on their game all the while.  It's called "batting practice," but each player can dictate what he gets out of it.  The more the mind works, the stronger it gets.

Workouts aren't only for the body.  Use the baserunning cycle for what it's meant for -- and more.  Use it to keep a constant focus.  Your attention span will grow; your game will be enhanced.  You'll be lifting mental weights -- and getting mentally "tougher."

Batting: Be Selective At The Plate

Patience Is A Virtue 
By Peter Gammons

There are many reasons for the offensive explosion this decade (at least 30 players will finish with at least 30 home runs this year). The strike zone, the baseball, the parks, and 25 years of aluminum bats and the DH are all major factors, as is the fact that hitters are bigger and far better prepared. And on and on. But what may be the single greatest change in the last decade is Bill James's sabermetrics brought to reality. ''Ten years ago, players got all over hitters who took a lot of pitches,'' says Orel Hershiser. ''Now the game is to wait, take, and get into hitter's counts and hit hitter's pitches. Ten years ago, hitters went up with the idea, `If I put the ball in play, something good will happen.' Now, it's the opposite.'' 

Ten years ago, pitchers were the offense, hitters reactionaries. Now the idea is to wait, and the teams with the most offensive prowess are the ones with the most pitches seen per inning: the Indians, A's, Mets, Yankees. The Yankees, Indians, and Mets clearly assembled their lineups with patience in mind, and this has been the organizational philosophy of the Athletics since Sandy Alderson's ascent to power in the mid-'80s. Alderson was unafraid to study James's tenet of runs created - (H+W) x TB/AB+W - and picked Mark McGwire over Shane Mack and Oddibe McDowell in the '84 draft for just that reason. 

Alderson has moved on, and Beane has taken over in Oakland, but the emphasis remains strong and the A's teach patience throughout their organization. ''It was the worst part of my game when I played,'' says Beane. ''I roomed with Gene Larkin in the minors as he got his 100 walks and used to tell him, `If I had your patience, I might do something.''' 

Now, as an ex-player, Beane has no fear of looking at ''facts combined with good evaluation of talent. In our market, we can't afford the multisport athletes with great tools. We have to get players who play the game with the most production, guys who get on base and who hit the ball out of the ballpark. That's offense at its simplest: on-base percentage and power.'' That's why the A's have gone after Tony Phillips and John Jaha as free agents, and why they got Rich Becker (.450 on-base percentage in Oakland) when Phillips went down. They are second in pitches seen and right near the top in homers and runs. 

''The key thing is that everyone in this organization is on board with the same philosophy,'' says Beane, whose team of special assistant J.P. Ricciardi, farm director Keith Lieppman, and assistant GM Paul DePodesta all believe in the Alderson School. ''I tell young players, `If you face David Cone for eight innings and Mariano Rivera for one every day, you won't make any money. But if they get into the middle relief, that's where the money is. When Eric Chavez signed, he was a free swinger. He worked at it, and he's going to be a great hitter - and a patient one, as well.'' They ask each minor league hitter to walk 10 percent of the time, and you cannot be their minor league player of the month without meeting that requirement or having a .400 on-base percentage. 

''People have cliches about players coming out of the Dominican,'' says Beane. ''But we sign these kids at 16 years old, keep them in the Dominican Summer League for a couple of years, and they are among the most willing to learn. We had a 19-year-old Dominican second baseman at Modesto named Esteban German who had 100 walks and 38 steals.'' 

It works in Oakland because everyone in the organization is on the same page and open to new ideas. In some others, traditionalists scoff at the notion that there is a place for James disciples to merge their ideas with players. ''What was Ted Williams's book all about? Get a good pitch to hit,'' says Padres executive Theo Epstein. ''That's all this is about. Ted didn't need Bill James. The A's, Yankees, and Mets are just playing offense the way Ted tried to tell everyone to do it 50 years ago.''

Attitude: Anything Can Happen

Perez's Error Opens Gates For Arizona

ATLANTA (AP) -- Kelly Stinnett never forgets to run on a swinging third strike in the dirt. Being a catcher, he knows anything can go wrong. 

Eddie Perez's error allowed Stinnett to reach and gave Arizona a second chance in the ninth inning, allowing Tony Womack to tie the game with a two-out, RBI single and Luis Gonzalez to win it with a two-run single as the Diamondbacks beat the Atlanta Braves 7-5 Sunday. 

"I run all the time," Stinnett said. "That's the way I was taught. You always run. It can be a tough play for a catcher. There's not a catcher that hasn't thrown it away before." 

With two out and nobody on and the Braves leading 5-4, Kelly Stinnett struck out on a pitch in the dirt against John Rocker (4-5). Perez retrieved the ball in front of the plate and had what should have been an easy throw to first. He threw the ball over first baseman Randall Simon's head into right field, allowing Stinnett to reach second. 

Preparation: Leaders Set A Positive Example 

Yankees are the blueprint to success
By Peter Gammons

Character does count. Sure, talent obviously wins, but what makes the Yankees just win and win and win?

"They play hard, they're prepared, they're modest, they're professional and they have a clubhouse full of character," says Mike Stanley, speaking from the middle of the clubhouse of the rival Red Sox.

"They're good players and good people," says Walt Weiss, who lost a World Series to the Yanks while playing for the Braves. "We had no problem losing to them because they give and earn respect."

The Yankees are a team woven from the varied characters of Don Mattingly, Joe Torre, Paul O'Neill, David Cone, Derek Jeter, Joe Girardi and Tino Martinez. But they are not alone.

The Braves have been the most dominant National League team for a decade partly because of their superb starting pitching and partly because Bobby Cox and their leader, Tom Glavine, simply do not tolerate disrepectful players
and quickly rid themselves of anyone who doesn't fit.

This is what Tony Muser, Davey Lopes and Tom Kelly try to impress on their young players, even if they are undermanned for the time being. Kelly did it in the '80s and the Twins won two World Series with the core players he developed.

Ditto for Jimy Williams of the Red Sox.

"When I look at a player," says Williams, acknowledged to be one of the best talent evaluators of any manager, "I look at the way he plays the game first, then the talent. When Wilton Veras first came to us in spring training last
year, I saw a kid who was the first one to the park, first one on the field and if we didn't tell him to leave he'd have taken ground balls all night. You win with people like that."

Felipe Alou of the Expos follows a similar philosophy.

"The most important thing is the man, not just the player," says Alou. "I want talent, but I can't win without talent with character."

Indians manager Charlie Manuel, meanwhile, follows the lead of some of his veteran players when evaluating players.

"When you're around Robby Alomar and Omar Vizquel," says Manuel, "you'd better listen, because not only do they know as much about the game as anyone I've ever been around, but they work all the time to make themselves better, pick up little things no one else thinks of and don't tolerate players who don't approach things the way they do. They're not afraid to say what's on their minds, especially Robby, and what's on his mind is almost always right
on." 

Buck Showalter of the Diamondbacks, on the other hand, prefers guys who know baseball is a day-in and day-out battle.

"I don't care what some people look at and think, I believe it's really important to get baseball players who grind it out every day," says Showalter. "This game is different from the others. It is a grind, and you can't win without players who show up every day ready to give you nine hard innings. Why are the Yankees so good? Why are the Braves so good every year? Because Bobby (Cox) doesn't put up with anyone who doesn't play the game right.

"This is a game of consistency, and while you have to have pitching and defense, you have to go after it every day," says Williams. "Look at the way Jason Varitek, Trot Nixon and Troy O'Leary go at it ... Jose Offerman. I had
no idea before I came here how much he loves to play and play hard. And Nomar. Does anyone compete any better than him?"

"The reason I do some of the things I do is to eliminate excuses," says Garciaparra. "I don't want to look back after a game and think, 'I was distracted,' or, 'I wasn't ready.' It's why I work so hard in the offseason. I don't want to have to look back on an off year and think there was something I could have done better. I have to come to the park, play as hard as I can and do the best I can, and if I get beaten, I can accept it.

"I don't ever want to think there might be an excuse. One of the reasons this team is so special is that there are so many guys who think the same way I do. They don't do some of the things I do, but they think and play the same
way."

Batting: Get a Good Pitch to Hit

Prospectus Q&A: Roy White
by Jeff Bower

Roy White has been the Triple-A batting coach for the Oakland Athletics since 1999. He came over from the New York Yankees, where he was a scout, international scout and the organizational outfield coach. He played 15 seasons in the majors, all with the Yankees from 1965 through 1979, never getting much recognition despite being a fine hitter and good defensive outfielder. 

Baseball Prospectus: It seems like the A's organization is finally starting to get some well-deserved recognition for the approach that their batters take to the plate. How would you describe the organizational philosophy when it comes to hitting? Roy White: The philosophy is to make the pitcher pitch, to get good pitches to hit, to be selective when you're up there and to try to get deep into the count. The more pitches you look at--rather than swinging at the first thing that comes up there--the better the chance of getting a pitch you can hit. 

BP: That philosophy seems to fit well with the type of player that you were. (White posted a .363 career OBP and walked 934 times in 15 seasons, including a league-leading 99 times in 1972.) Is that something that the A's were attracted to when they interviewed you? RW: When I was interviewed, they asked about my hitting approach. I always took a lot of pitches when I played and had a good idea of the strike zone, which is an important part of hitting. 

BP: How do you try to teach that approach to the players? RW: By the time they get here (Triple-A), the players who have come up through the organization have already heard it for two or three years. With guys who come in from other organizations, it's a little different. We can show them statistically how much more effective that type of player is. We keep records of that sort of thing. 

BP: Do other clubs try to emphasize their hitting philosophies to players using statistics, or is that something unique to the A's organization? RW: I really wouldn't know, not having been with a lot of the other organizations. I do know that the New York Yankees, as a team, are that type of hitter--they make pitchers work and take a lot of pitches. By the time they get to the fifth or sixth inning, they've got the starter worn out. There are other organizations that try to have the same philosophy, but it's the players that make it work. You have to instill it in them. Once they believe it and see that it works, then it's a lot easier. 

BP: How do you delineate the fine line between being patient at the plate and losing your aggressiveness? RW: You don't tell guys to go up there and look for a walk. If it's your pitch to hit on the first pitch, certainly go ahead and hit it. If you don't swing at good pitches, you're not going to go too much further unless you're hitting about .370. (laughing) If you can hit .370 without following that rule, you'll probably still get there. 

BP: Is there any difference in how you tailor your instruction for a player who has been up in the majors for a while, like A.J. Hinch, versus players who haven't, like Adam Piatt, Mario Encarnacion or Terrence Long? RW: Each player has different things that they like to do, and I'll usually check with each player to see what routines he likes to get ready for games and what drills are effective for him to be productive as a hitter. I'll watch them and if I see something that I think will help them, then I'll give them my advice. 

BP: At what level in the A's organization does the emphasis shift from teaching to on-field performance? RW: Certainly when you get to Triple-A and you're one step away, you have to be able to perform the way you're going to in the major leagues. Many more mental things come into play, more than just drilling and instructional stuff. I want to have a guy ready to do the things he going to need to do hen he moves up to the majors, and that might be a lot of the little things: hitting the other way, advancing the runners and having good quality at bats. That's important in this organization. 

BP: The A's were named Organization of the Year by Baseball America this past year, so obviously you guys are doing something right. What is the main difference you see between the A's organization and other ballclubs? RW: Everything is very organized, to the most minute detail, but they're always open to suggestions; everything is not etched in stone. You can deviate from what's written down on paper, if you think you have a good idea. They'll listen and make alterations; they're not rigid. Some organizations will stay right with the way it's written and won't deviate from that. 

BP: Anything special you're going to tell your hitters tonight when they face Ryan Anderson? RW: We saw him in spring training, so we know what we have to do: wait for a good pitch to hit. 

BP: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us. 

Perspective: Focus On The Process

Excerpted from:  The Mental Game of Baseball
by Ken Ravizza.

Results thinking is just a big trap.  You've got to work on your physical and mental skills and then go out, trust what you've worked on and accept the results. . . Baseball is so oriented toward outcome statistics that players have difficulty evaluating themselves on how well they "worked the process" by using their pre-performance routines. . . [Because] the outcome of what you are trying to do (such as get a base hit or get a batter out) is outside of your control, you must focus your energies on the process of playing the game rather than on the results of your efforts.

Preparation: Be A Ballplayer

Excerpted from:  Heads-Up Baseball: Playing the Game One Pitch at a Time
by Ken Ravizza.

Choose a time or action that signifies leaving all other roles behind to become a baseball player. . . It's very important for players to pick definite times when they say, "OK, now I'm a baseball player; all of my other concerns can wait until I'm done playing or practicing." This doesn't mean that you can't talk casually about school, movies or whatever, but don't talk about them for long and never lose sight of your mission as a ballplayer. Changing into your uniform is a great way to symbolize a change in who you are. As you take off your normal clothes, say to yourself that you are taking off all of your concerns and problems not related to baseball.

When you put on your uniform, tell yourself that you are putting on the ultimate baseball player. The uniform is a reminder you are prepared, confident, focused and ready to do battle.

Other options for the time you "become a ballplayer" include when you leave your house or apartment, enter the ballpark or [put on your spikes]. You could also say that when you get out of your car in the ballpark lot you "park" all of your concerns there.

Attitude: You Never Know

Perfect Glanding 
Hustle by centerfielder in seventh inning sparks success

by Paul Hagen 
Daily News Sports Writer

The way Doug Glanville remembers it, he was playing at Double A Orlando in the Cubs' system at the time. Orlando was losing by five runs in the ninth inning. There were two outs and nobody on base and the batter hit a ground ball to the first baseman, who fielded it cleanly. Then he went to step on first base to end the game.

And dropped the ball.

"It was the craziest thing," the Phillies centerfielder recalled last night. "We ended up winning the game. So you never know."

You never know. This could be a mantra for a Phillies club that must order its hope industrial strength and by the gallon these days.

You never know. So when Glanville hit a routine grounder to Marlins first baseman Kevin Millar in the seventh inning last night, he just ran as hard as he could through the heavy mist that enshrouded Veterans Stadium.

And when reliever Joe Strong was slow covering, he turned it into a base hit that keyed a three-run rally, lifting the Phillies to a 4-3 win over the Marlins.

Outfield Play: Challenge Yourself, Challenge The Batters

Burrell enthusiastic as he steps out for leftfield experiment 

by Kevin Mulligan
Daily News Sports Writer

READING, Pa. -- The Reading Phillies' Stranger in the Outfield jogged across the infield dirt at shortstop and slowed to a walk as he absorbed the new surroundings.

Pat Burrell looked like a guy checking out a freshly painted apartment for rent as he strolled toward the leftfield warning track at Reading Municipal Memorial Stadium for the first time last Friday night.

Let's see . . . 15-foot high fence . . . friendly fans on "The Deck" on the outfield terrace . . . the bullpen to my right, off the foul line . . . padded fence in the corner looks good . . . a lot of green grass to cover . . . spectacular view of the whole field . . . and, whew, Reggie Taylor in centerfield, shortstop Jimmy Rollins in front of me . . . 

"Can't wait to get out there," he said. "Can't wait. I'm looking forward to this. Something new to work at and learn, and it's quite a challenge. Any athlete who doesn't love a challenge shouldn't be playing."

"I'm confident that the more I play out there, the better I'll get," he said. "The goal is to come out every day and work and learn, and hopefully as I do I'll still be able to help my team out. But I'm not going to put a lot of pressure on myself. I know it's going to take time, and they know that, too."

The Reading coaches, including ex-Phils outfielder Milt Thompson, spent the last several weeks working with Burrell in left in preparation for the move.  Said Thompson: "Everybody thinks outfield is easy. Positioning is everything. That's why Barry Bonds is so great. He knows how to play hitters and his positioning turns those doubles into singles. It gets to you in a hurry out there. People think it's easy, but you go out there and play a little bit, it's a different story."

Something that should accelerate Burrell's learning curve is the Phillies' philosophy to position the minor league outfielders shallow and force them to make decisions at the crack of the bat. It is common to see the Reading outfielders showing zero respect for the meat of opposing batting orders, seemingly inviting doubles over their heads. It is all part of the teaching at the Double A level.

"You've got to have confidence when the ball goes over your head," said Reading manager Gary Varsho, who learned outfield defense from ex-Pittsburgh star Andy Van Slyke. "The easiest thing is to let everything fall in front of you and just run forward. But you've got to have confidence that you can take your eye off the ball, get to a spot, cover the gaps or the line. And the only way you can learn that and work on that is to play shallow and work on balls over your head. Without that, you're not an aggressive outfielder. Milt and I teach being aggressive.

"Is he going to make mistakes? Sure. But, we don't want him worrying about a ball over his head. It's a short-hop double anyway [ off the outfield fence ]. It's the fly ball that goes up, partially over your head . . . do you have enough confidence to take your eye off it for a split second, get around it and in position to make your way back toward the infield, catching it in the same rhythm?"

Baserunning: Anticipate A Wild Pitch

Phils Beat Brewers

by Ted Silary
Daily News Sports Writer

Desi Relaford followed with an RBI triple that rolled to the wall in center. . . Acevedo's first pitch to Gant bounced in the dirt and trickled maybe 10 feet away to the right. Zoom! Relaford got a perfect jump and easily beat the covering Acevedo to the plate.

"You have to anticipate a wild pitch," Relaford said. "I saw the trajectory of the ball coming out of his hand. It was going too far down. It wasn't going to make it to the catcher. If he comes up with it clean, I go back to third. If not, hey, I'm scoring."

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