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Why Baseball Player Development is a Challenge: The Story of Two MVP’s

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Baseball Player Development has reached a dangerous, dangerous time. And let me tell you why. Instruction is easier to access now than ever before. Technology, the internet, and social media platforms have started to cloud the baseball industry with tons of data, information, and wannabe coaches looking to develop their “brand.” Coaches that believe they have “it” figured out, and will do anything to sell you on their set of swing mechanics, throwing mechanics, and training programs. Online swing analysis’s based on one practice swing off the tee in a backyard have somehow become popular. Player’s looking for training programs that will guarantee a .400 batting average, 90 mph throws, and college scholarships.

If you’re a player reading this, ask yourself: Have any of the great players achieved greatness by any of the above actions?

Don’t get me wrong- technology, the internet, and social media have made incredibly positive changes in baseball. In fact, if used properly, technology can be an extremely advantageous tool in your development as a player. Access to high-speed video, radar guns, and other measurement tools allow you to design proper training programs based on your own individual needs. Technology allows you to access video of pretty much anything at any time. If you want to watch Miguel Cabrera swing at 20 different angles, you can access it within 5 minutes of being on your hand-held device! How cool is that?!

Social media allows you to obtain free information from some of the best resources out there. Hop on Twitter, follow a few baseball coaches, and BAM, you have access to all of their beliefs in a matter of seconds. This is awesome!

So how could baseball player development be in danger with all the good that technology brings us?

Let me explain with a story.

I recently went to an A’s game with a couple of friends who are much smarter than I. One is about to finish school to become a Physical Therapist, and the other is probably the most knowledgeable hitting instructor I’ve ever met. We started discussing different philosophies that different hitting instructors have. With hitting being such a complex task, it’s natural for thousands of different philosophies and spin-offs to exist. And guess what? Every single instructor thinks that their way is the best way!

Yet, as the three of us sat there, we couldn’t think of one constant that absolutely, positively made the player’s on the field Big Leaguers.

Interesting concept, we’ll come back to that.

The story of Two MVP’s:

Twitter has become a particularly unique platform for sharing baseball information. It’s easy to share, converse, and discuss highly debatable concepts (It’s actually where I met the two coaches I went to the A’s game with). Recently, there’s been lots of discussion about 2 players.

The first player is Josh Donaldson, who recently demonstrated his hitting philosophy on MLB Network (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyWNCrxVzPU). Josh goes on an elaborate rant about NOT staying on top, using shoulder plane to hit pitch height, and opening the front foot completely to allow the lower body to separate from the upper body.

Although this was no shock to some players and coaches listening, it was foreign to a good percentage of the baseball population, including 16-year MLB veteran, Mark DeRosa, who was conducting the interview. Conventional approach through the past decades has pretty much taught the opposite of what Donaldson preached in his demonstration.

Nonetheless, Donaldson is the reigning MVP and is putting up monstrous numbers once again. How could he be wrong?

Enter the second player, Mike Trout.

Mike Trout has a much more conventional approach as demonstrated in his Spring Training interview earlier this year. Trout talks about staying on top of the ball and trying to hit ground balls up the middle (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ne_7xhj-Huc). An approach that most coaches wouldn’t raise an eyebrow to.

Mike Trout won the MVP in 2014, and like Donaldson is putting up monstrous numbers this season as well (as he seems to do every year). How could he be wrong?

 

The ‘Insert Player’ to Fit your Model

Well, after Donaldson’s video went viral, here’s how the following weeks played out on twitter…

If you’re a coach who taught what Donaldson demonstrated, you worshiped it! You shared it with every player, coach, and parent you knew explaining to them that you’ve been right all along.

“See! You should have your foot open!”

“You shouldn’t swing down!”

“You shouldn’t think about hands to the ball!”

Everything that you’ve been trying to explain has been proven to be accurate with one 8-minute hitting segment!

But then this happened…

Coaches who had been teaching a more conventional approach started tweeting Mike Trout’s video.

“I’d rather be like Trout, and he talks about swinging down!”

“Stay on top, look at Trout!”

I can’t say I was surprised by any of this. Because I’ve learned. I’ve learned that coaches, players, and instructors will always be able to find a video, a picture, a talking point that proves their way to be superior. This game has existed a long time, and thus, a lot of really, really good players have done a lot of different things.

They’ve taken thousands of at-bats. They’ve taken bad swings, good swings, check swings. They’ve swung at good pitches, bad pitches, low pitches, high pitches, off-speed pitches. Players have swung down, players have swung up. Players have hit home runs with their arms bent and straight. Almost everything that everyone believes can be proved with a single video or picture of a great player at some point in his career.

This my friends, is dangerous! Many of us are not studying from an objective point of view. We are not considering the countless number of variables that exist on each pitch, swing, or at-bat. We aren’t considering the individual player’s strength and flexibility. We aren’t considering how that individual player moves differently than the athletes we’re coaching. We’re not considering how each individual player “feels” his swing.

 

“Feel vs. Real”

I’ve discussed this concept in other blogs. However, it’s extremely important to this conversation. When I asked earlier, “How could either Trout or Donaldson be wrong?”

Here’s the answer, they aren’t!

They’re both right, because they’ve both optimized their own particular patterns through individual feels.

Donaldson knows what he feels to optimize his swing, and those feels are different than Trouts!

Trout knows what he feels to optimize his swing, and those feels are different than Donaldsons!

Both of them are swinging the RIGHT WAY for THEM!

Now, you’re probably a little puzzled in my beliefs as a coach right now. Do I believe in no coaching at all? Do I believe in just letting the player “luck” into maximizing the potential of his swing? Do I tend to teach the Mike Trout way or the Josh Donaldson way?

That’s a very complicated question, and I’ll answer it like this: “It depends.”

Some player’s will come to me with naturally solid movement patterns. In this case, only small adjustments are needed, which I will try to accomplish unconsciously through overload training and a variety of different “moving ball” drills such as angled BP. Player’s like that don’t need to over-complicate things with unnecessary “swing thoughts”. I’ll ask them what they feel in their swing, and even if the answer is something I don’t teach, it’s something that has helped them optimize a pretty solid movement pattern already.

Other players will come to me with major swing flaws and will need a complete revamping of the swing. A player like this needs a higher education on swing mechanics, and will need to understand more complexities throughout the swing, much like Donaldson explains in his video. I’ll show them video of their swing and compare it side by side with some of the best hitters to ever play. Usually they can see differences right away, and with my guidance, I can start to point them in the right direction. This process takes much longer. They need to swing with a much different pattern in order to optimize results. I’ve found that the best way to optimize results with players like this is to get them to understand the movements of an elite player’s swing. If they understand it, they can work to change it. But again, how they understand it will be different for each individual player.

Other players will fall somewhere in between, in which case my approach will have a combination of the two scenarios above. Again, this all depends on how I assess that individual player.

 

Individual vs. Systemized Coaching

Two Questions to ponder:

  1. If you’re Mike Trout, would you change your hitting approach to be more like Josh Donaldson’s?
  2. If you’re Josh Donaldson, would you change your hitting approach to be more like Mike Trout’s?

NO WAY IN HELL!

They each have different body types, different strength levels, different mobility levels, and different movement patterns! To make one hit like the other would be a disaster for both of them! They might do similar things already, but how they accomplish those things are approached individually.

Yet this is what player development has started to come to. Player’s reaching out for online hitting instruction from coaches they’ve never met. Coaches preaching that their “system”, or set of swing mechanics will work for a player they haven’t seen or assessed.

Players trying new things from different coaches every other day.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a set of “core” teaching principles within our coaching. But how we train players CAN’T be systemized. Player A and Player B have different needs that need individual attention.

 

How do I Figure it Out?

If you’re a player, I don’t blame you for being confused. Every instructor is teaching slightly different things. Every instructor uses different words to describe the same actions. Every instructor is so positive that their way is the best that it’s hard not to believe them.

Who should I listen to? Some of them? All of them?

 

My best advice lies within these 5 commandments:

  1. Educate: Educate yourself on different philosophies and compare them to the real swings of MULTIPLE players on MULTIPLE different swings.
  2. Compare: Compare great player’s swings to your swings. What are your swing thoughts during your swings? Adjust your swing thoughts accordingly to make them match.
  3. Coach: Find ONE, in-person coach that you trust based on your research. Have them guide you along your journey. Don’t allow multiple coaches to confuse you. (You can hear other coaches opinions, but don’t get stuck trying to please all coaches philosophies).
  4. Trust the Process: When making changes, results don’t define good or bad. Lasting changes and improvements take time.
  5. Swing Hard: When in doubt, swing hard

 

 

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About Brian Hamm

My name is Brian Hamm and I am all about "Baseball Development". Through my journey as a high school and college player, I always felt that a competitive advantage eluded me. I constantly researched and discovered new resources, ideas, and theories that have shaped how I coach today. It’s my goal to work relentlessly in order to give my players, clients, and coaches the biggest competitive advantage that will allow them to reach their full potential. My mission is to spread my knowledge to baseball players around the world and help change the developmental process forever.

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