Major League Baseball

Hitting a baseball is hard, but when a player is slumping, it can be devastating

May 7

By Ben Verlander
FOX Sports Baseball Analyst

Baseball is a sport in which you are considered a Hall of Famer if you fail "only" 70 percent of the time.

A hitting slump can really get into a player's head. This is a game of failure and learning how to deal with and overcome that failure.

Playing professionally for five years, I went through my fair share of failure — more than I care to admit. That puts me in a great position, though, to share exactly what someone is going through when they're in a slump. 

It absolutely eats you alive. It’s all you think about. It doesn’t matter what level you’re playing at, a hitting slump can rip you apart mentally and totally affect your life on and off the field. 

First, let’s illustrate how difficult it is to hit a baseball by looking at the science behind hitting a 95 mph fastball.

Approximately 400 milliseconds pass from the time a pitcher releases a fastball to the time it reaches home plate. It takes about 100 milliseconds for information about the pitch – speed, location, spin, etc. – to be relayed from the eye to the brain. It takes another 150 milliseconds for the batter to start his swing and get to where the point of contact would be. That leaves about 150 milliseconds, or .15 seconds, for the batter to decide whether to swing and where exactly to do so.

Sometimes it comes down to timing your blinking correctly. I remember times when my blinking was off at the plate, and everything was thrown off.

Hitting a baseball is already the hardest thing to do in sports. Once you get to playing baseball at the professional level, pretty much everyone has a good swing. It becomes about who can separate themselves mentally.

I couldn’t do that.

I was the streakiest player on the planet, and for me, it was all mental. I would have a great month and follow it with an absolutely horrendous month because I couldn’t get out of my own way. 

I would go 0-for-4 at the plate one night and think, "That really stinks."

The next night, I'd go 0-for-4 again and think, "Wow. I really need a hit tomorrow, or this could be bad."

Next thing you know, 0-for-8 has turned into 0-for-20.

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To make matters worse, every time you walk up to the plate during a baseball game, there’s a big scoreboard right in front of you, with your face and your batting average and every other stat you could imagine out there for you and the world to see. You notice it. 

Trust me: That batting average that is seen by every fan in the stands is also seen by the guy walking up to the plate. 

As a hitter, you start to focus on it as the number slowly drops with every hitless at-bat. You're constantly told, "Don’t worry about your batting average," but that’s much easier said than done when you know that your job totally depends on your numbers.

At the end of the day, we are all numbers on a piece of paper. When you see those numbers getting worse, it’s impossible to not let it get to you. 

The deeper a slump gets, the more and more you think about it. It’s a vicious cycle, one that any hitter can go through, whether he's a 20th-round draft pick or the starting shortstop for the New York Mets who just signed one of the biggest deals in Major League Baseball history.

This leads us to Francisco Lindor, who is slumping hard to start the 2021 season.

The perennial All-Star and possibly the best shortstop in baseball is currently batting .163, which puts him in the bottom five among regular players.

I promise you there is nothing wrong with Lindor's swing. It’s mental. He's in a new city. He's on a new team. He wants to prove he is worth the money. 

It all weighs on you.

When a player is in a slump, he'll try anything to get out of it. I’ve done things – and seen teammates do things – that nobody outside the sport could ever imagine.

Some guys believe in taking more swings. Other guys believe in doing anything possible off the field to change it up. I’ve roomed with guys who would scream into their pillows. I’ve seen guys show up to the stadium wearing hot pink underwear under their jerseys. I’ve seen guys put their bats through spiritual rituals. 

Hall of Famer Joe Torre said, "When you’re in a slump, you do something different, just to try it. I remember one time I was in a slump, and I borrowed one of Henry Aaron’s bats and hit two homers. I just needed a change."

Think about all of this the next time you want to boo a slumping player, and just know that what he is putting himself through is bad enough.

Hitting a baseball is already the hardest thing to do in sports. Add how difficult it is mentally to fail 70-plus percent of the time and go right back up there and do it all over again, and you realize why even the best in the world inevitably go through slumps.

The winningest manager of all time, Connie Mack, perhaps said it best. "I have seen boys on my baseball team go into slumps and never come out of them, and I have seen others snap right out and come back better than ever," he said.

It becomes about who can avoid bogging themselves down mentally. It's about who can get through his slump the fastest.

That, however, is easier said than done. 

Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the "Flippin' Bats" podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @Verly32.

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