Slumps are inevitable and every hitter will go through many throughout their career. While they can’t usually be avoided, players can learn how to reduce the frequency and duration of their slumps. There are usually only a few factors that can lead to a slump, and identifying them early can help hitters work out of them quickly.
The first step in getting out of a slump is to determine the cause. After that, players can begin to make the mental or physical adjustments needed. Finally, players can learn from their slumps and take proactive measures to minimize their future slumps.
In this article, we will walk through this process in detail. We’d recommend reading our article about how to develop a hitting approach as well since many of the lessons there will be relevant to this article.
Determining the Cause
In the midst of a slump, hitters should take a step back and evaluate what the cause is. Most commonly, slumps are caused by a bad hitting approach or timing, lack of confidence, or poor swing mechanics. It can be hard to spend the mental energy to think through at-bats and do some self-reflection when in a slump, but it is necessary.
It is important that players take ownership over their performance, as the more they learn about themselves as a player, the better off they will be throughout their careers. However, during a slump, this is a great time for players to lean on their coaches to provide another perspective. Slumps are frustrating and it can be hard for players to think logically and objectively about their performance. Good coaches will be able to let a player know if they are swinging at bad pitches, if their swing mechanics look incorrect, and be able to provide some general advice to players.
Bad Approach and/or Timing
Players should start by determining if they have been sticking to their hitting approach. Straying from their approach can lead to swinging at bad pitches and not swinging at good pitches. Whatever a player’s specific approach is, they need to determine if they are successfully following it or need to refocus or tweak it.
It is common, especially early in the season, for players to feel out of sync with their timing at the plate. The root of this problem is typically a bad approach or an issue with the player’s swing mechanics, which is discussed later. Timing issues tend to work themselves out over time, but focusing on a good approach at the plate can speed up this process significantly.
Baseball is already a hard enough sport mentally, add in a slump and it can be crushing to a player’s confidence. Finding ways to stay positive throughout a slump is crucial, and can often be the determining factor between a short-lived slump and one that spirals into an extended slump lasting weeks.
Positive self-talk can go a long way in the process. The saying “fake it ’til you make it” is very much applicable in this scenario. Even though players feel like hitting is suddenly impossible and they can’t buy a hit, positive self-talk is going to help them break out of a slump much quicker. Whether it’s before or during an at-bat, finding ways to block out negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones is pertinent. For some players, this may be literally talking to themselves, while others may find more success by visualizing themselves getting a hit.
By watching videos and analyzing their swings, players can determine if there is a mechanical flaw in their swing that is causing their slumps. Mechanical issues can lead to bad timing as mentioned earlier. For example, if a player is late getting their front foot down on their stride, it will be harder to time up pitches. Bad mechanics can also result in poor contact on good pitches. If players are swinging at the pitches they want to swing at, but not hitting the ball well, this could due to a number of mechanical issues.
If players know their swing well, they should be able to quickly point out any issues. This is also where coaches can come in. Coaches can help a player break down and analyze their swings and determine if anything is out of the ordinary. Coaches may be able to see these mechanical issues in the game and let a player know they are doing something that they might be completely unaware of.
Good hitters know themselves really well. They know their swing mechanics, are in tune with their approach and are able to self-reflect, even when frustrated. Something that helps immensely with this process is taking notes when things are going well. Often, when players are hitting well and everything feels good, they lose some mental focus and relax a little. Writing things down when players feel good is equally, if not more important than when they are struggling. It is more valuable to have a list of “things to do” versus “what not to do” when trying to work out of a slump.
Examples of this can be both mental and physical notes. It can be identifying the mindset, self-talk, and approach that was taken into successful at-bats. Or this can be noting mechanics such as getting the front foot down early or shifting weight a certain way.
It takes players some trial and error to determine the best ways for them to work out of a slump. Even MLB players aren’t immune to slumps and are always learning about themselves and finding things that work and don’t work. The most important aspect is that players begin this thought process early in their careers. The quicker they can become knowledgeable about their swings, approaches, and mental blockers, the more consistent of a player they will become. Younger players often make the mistake of relying on their coaches early in their careers for these types of adjustments. While coaches should certainly be teaching these strategies, players should work hard to take ownership of their performance and become self-reliant.