Tag: MLB

Finding that “Fall Magic”

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

Many people say that there’s magic in the air during October baseball, but what really makes that “fall magic” happen? And what does it look like?

To first answer the question of what this fall magic looks like, consider Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, which from an outsider’s perspective went down in history as one of the greatest baseball games of all time. As Skip Schumacher (a Cardinals outfielder who was on the winning side of the game) put it, “This is the best game I’ve ever been a part of, ever seen.” The Texas Rangers may have been the only ones who did not see the game through the same “best game” lens that late October night. Up two runs and one strike-out away from winning their first ever championship – twice – the Rangers could not seal the deal. They had chances in the 9th and 10th innings to close the game, but the St. Louis Cardinals erased those multiple two-run leads and walked off in home run fashion in the bottom of the 11th. That’s fall magic.

The World Series – a.k.a. “The Fall Classic” – which involves the champion representatives from the American and National Leagues in Major League Baseball has long been titled America’s pastime. Although slow to the plate in comparison to the three other major league sports in the US, (pun intended) the MLB has instituted instant replay these days. Managers (or the umpire crew chief) may now issue a challenge during a game to review a variety of game time calls and situations. However, one of the things managers are not allowed to review is the home plate umpire’s call of balls and strikes, which undoubtedly has the greatest impact on how each game is played. The call of balls and strikes is just one of the things outside the control of this year’s Fall Classic participants, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Additional factors and distractions are endless (home field advantage, crowd noise, weather, the opposing pitcher, the manager’s decisions, etc.) and can all influence the final score. Moreover, all of these factors fall outside the control of the players. With both the Cubs and Indians waiting so many years for the opportunity to win the Fall Classic, tensions are high as is the susceptibility of the players to focus on factors outside of their control. We know that focusing on what is within their control (“controllable factors”) instead of what is not (“uncontrollable factors”), will likely have a positive influence on the ability of the players to regulate their emotions, and ultimately, their performance during the World Series.

To answer the original question of what makes “fall magic” happen, we should consider the importance of these controllable and uncontrollable factors. Looking back to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, was the Rangers’ closing pitcher (who was one strike away from helping his team win its first ever championship) thinking about the ultimate outcome of the game (uncontrollable)? Was his focus perhaps shifted from what he was doing (controllable) to how fans or teammates would react to his potential game winning pitch (uncontrollable)? It’s very likely. When the Rangers were up again by 2 runs and 1 strike away from winning the World Series in the bottom of the 10th inning, the whole team had likely shifted their focus from what was within their control to those things outside of their control.

Although there are many factors that likely went into the Cardinals being able to come back and win Game 6 (and ultimately the World Series in Game 7), accounting for controllables and uncontrollables within the game was likely crucial to both teams’ performances. Replay or not, bad umpiring or not, freezing temperatures or not, one strike away from winning the championship or not, the Indians and Cubs will want to focus on what they can control in this year’s Fall Classic (such as their Attitude, Preparation, and Effort) to give themselves a better chance of performing at their best and creating that fall magic.

Play ball.

 

 

Food for Thought — Emotions at the MLB Trade Deadline

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

At 3:00pm CST today, many MLB players will exhale a sigh of relief. The July trade deadline will have passed, and players won’t be worrying if they’ll be sleeping in a different city tonight. For fans, trades are exciting—many of us become glued to Twitter and MLB Trade Rumors tracking the numerous transactions. We want to see who is going to make the biggest push for October. As Rays’ pitcher Chris Archer recently tweeted, “If anyone wants to know what it looks like to be all in, check out the Jays.” (Toronto has been just one of many teams moving players around the league.) For players, trades bring anxiety. While the quick trades are fun to follow, we sometimes lose perspective that trades quickly uproot players’ lives.

Now, trading is a part of the game and makes for late summer runs for a few teams, but with the ever-expanding platforms of social media, players are affected by rumors more and more often. Take the Mets’ Wilmer Flores, who thought he was being traded when he received an overwhelming round of applause as he stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning. With many news outlets, including the New York Times, reporting that high-ranking team executives were leaking a trade of Flores to the Brewers, word spread like wild fire around Citi Field. Flores, now 23, was drafted by the Mets on his 16th birthday and had been with them ever since. He was visibly upset on the field, wiping away tears on his sleeve as he took the field in the top of the eighth. After the game when Flores was addressing the media, he said he was upset because he would have had to leave his teammates and the only organization he has ever known.

Once players are traded, they have to move their families, find new homes, and start anew in a different city. While all teams have personnel to help make the transition as smooth as possible for players, it’s still an emotional process that could always use more assistance. Players move the minute they’re traded and go play for another team; their families are the ones who have to deal with the stress of moving or not moving (which can leave months of being away from husbands/fathers). While trades have been and will be apart of sports always, a new method of coping around the trade deadline may be needed.

 

 

Why Second is Better, as in the Home Run Derby

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

 

This past Monday, eight of the greatest home run hitters in Major League Baseball took the stage in Cincinnati for the Gillette Home Run Derby. Featuring a new format with a clock and head-to-head competition, this derby had the most action and excitement since its outset. The night made for a great story as Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds—the hometown guy—won the title. In their bracket set-up, a total of seven head-to-head competitions took place, in which the guy who hit second won all but once. While one may argue that the reason for the second batters’ high success rates were due to those batters being higher seeds, we cannot neglect the power that comes with watching your competition.

Now, think about it. In this competition, all you need to win is to just get one more home run than your opponent. If you bat second, you know what number you need to hit in order to advance to the next round. As the four minutes wound down, each of the sluggers knew exactly how many more they had to hit, and therefore knew whether they needed to press or had time to relax and wait for their pitch. As those four minutes passed, the second batters’ stress levels fluctuated much more than the first batters’ did. The first batters were charged with hitting as many pitches as they could, while those who batted second had to hit a specific number to stay in the game.

In economics, this scenario is referred to as the “second-mover advantage,” which means that Company X just entering a market has an upper-hand over those already in the market because Company X has the all-seeing eye. Company X has watched the market develop and knows the strategies of every other company. Therefore, they can tailor their product to one-up every other product already in existence. The same is true in sport—if you know what your competitor has done, you know exactly what you need to do in order to beat them. You can now formulate a strategy with more knowledge than your opponent had. You now have a strategy your opponent didn’t have. You have the upper-hand.

The next time that you’re in a situation where you want to go first to just get it over with, like giving a presentation at school or playing a scrimmage at practice, volunteer to go second instead. That way, you’ll see what you’re up against and can devise the best way to come out on top, just like six of the seven rounds of the 2015 Home Run Derby.

To learn more about the business and economic side of the second-mover advantage, check out this post from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.

The Rarity of Feats Like Horseracing’s Triple Crown

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Horseracing’s Triple Crown has only been achieved eleven times since its first winner in 1919. Of those twelve, only four have occurred since 1948—3 in the mid 1970s and then American Pharoah this past weekend. The media has been talking about how rare the Triple Crown is, but just how rare is it? Compared to other sports, is winning the Triple Crown really as profound as we all make it out to be?

Horseracing

The Triple Crown has been won 12 times in 97 years, or once every 8.0833 years.

Baseball

In Major League Baseball’s modern era, (1900-present) pitchers have thrown only 21 perfect games. That’s 21 perfect games in 115 years, or once every 5.476 years. Think about it this way, there are 4,860 chances for a perfect game in each year that has 162 games, meaning that there have only been 21 out of approximately 780,000 chances, or 0.00269% of the time.

Hockey

Only 60 times (44 players) has someone scored at least five goals in a single NHL game. Over the NHL’s existence, that’s one every 1.324 years.

Golf

With four major tournaments each year, you’d think this would occur more often, but only 25 times has a golfer won back-to-back majors. That’s 25 since 1860, or once every 6.16 years. 

Basketball

The NBA quadruple double, or when a player records at least 10 in four of these categories—points, assists, rebounds, steals, or blocked shots—in a single game has only been achieved four times since steals and blocked shots began being recorded in 1974. This is one quadruple double every 10.25 years.

Football

The Heisman trophy has been awarded each year since 1935, but only once did the same player win it in multiple years. Archie Griffin, who ended up playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, won it twice—1974 and 1975.

Achieving any of these feats would require different time, talents, and skill, and no one team or athlete is guaranteed at having equal chances of them occurring. We should consider the perceived rarity of this one incredible endeavor—the Triple Crown—and perhaps lend some of that awe, spectacle, and inspiration to others.

Congratulations to American Pharoah and his team on winning the Triple Crown!

The Wild Go Wild

By: Premier Sport Psychology

By: Premier Intern Staff

The 2014-2015 NHL Season is officially underway, and with it comes Minnesota sports fans the country over hoping for a successful season. After an MLB postseason without the Twins, and with the Vikings off to a shaky start, Minnesota sports fans really need something they can put their hearts into.

As of right now, the Minnesota Wild look like just that something.

Starting their season with an impressive 5-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, the Wild look like a team going in the right direction. Proving they can produce on the offensive end, while also showing stout defensive and goaltender play, the team seems to be firing on all cylinders.

It’s still early, of course, and we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves, but this could be the start of something special. With an initial optimistic outlook on the season, and a huge boost of confidence coming from their opening win, there seems to be nothing that could hold the Wild back. You could even say they’re going wild this season.

Moving forward with heads held high, confidence at a maximum and a positive outlook on the rest of the season, the Wild look like Minnesota’s team. The physical talent is there, and the mental strength is only helping to make it better.

 

 

Success with Sport Psychology: A Comparison of The 2014 Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs

By: Premier Sport Psychology

Entering the 2014 Major League Baseball post-season, two of baseball’s longest streaks were going strong: the Baltimore Orioles had not made it to the playoffs in 28 years, and the Chicago Cubs had not won a World Series championship since 1908. For one of these teams, the start of the post-season marked a change in history. The 2014 Baltimore Orioles won the American League East Division and entered the American League playoffs as the #2 seed. The 2014 Chicago Cubs finished with a 73-89, earning them last place in the National League Central Division and ensuring their streak would continue.

So what ties the two together? In 2014, the Baltimore Orioles utilized a sport psychologist as a part of their professional staff. In 2014, the Chicago Cubs fired their sport psychologist. There are a lot of factors that go into whether or not a baseball team is going to be successful. It depends on things like the schedule they play, the players they have, the weather they face during the season…and countless other aspects. There is no one recipe for having a successful baseball program. However, if you asked the Orioles themselves, they’d tell you first hand that a sport psychologist is an important ingredient.

“We never had anybody we could really go to or talk to before,” said Zach Britton, part of the Orioles pitching rotation. “You know, we always talk among each other, but if we are all having a tough stretch, you are all thinking negatively, you don’t really have someone outside the situation you can go to and talk to because he has a different perception.”

It’s not just the players–the coaches are all in too. After considering off-season changes that could happen, the coaching staff decided that having a sport psychologist on staff that could address the concept of “mental toughness” was a piece that the Baltimore players could benefit from.

Said Rick Peterson, pitching director for the team, “It’s huge…It was really educational for the players to talk about [motivation, anxiety, goal-setting].”

They had no idea just how right they would be. The Baltimore Orioles took the 2014 season by storm, winning a competitive division with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and then entering the post-season itself with a decisive sweep in the ALDS. Look for the Orioles to continue to make a strong post-season push, confident and mentally strong all the while.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are right where they seem to have been stuck the last number of years. With management changes (and with them, personnel changes), the clubhouse that has seen so much adversity in their long history seems to be looking at even more. The Cubs shouldn’t be entirely discredited just yet, though. President Theo Epstein has made it clear that he intends to bring another sport psychologist back onto the staff as soon as possible. Hopefully, all has not been lost. Maybe they’ll even end up being the team that makes the big push.

In any event, we can be certain of two things: 1) what the 2014 Baltimore Orioles are doing is special, thanks at least in part to their sport psychologist, and 2) the Chicago Cubs are in the process of rebuilding, and with talks of bringing a sport psychologist on again, the future seems to be bright.

The Tigers are Tamed; The Royals are Kings

By: Premier Sport Psychology

A coach of mine once told me that momentum is made up. He said all that really happens is we convince ourselves mentally that we are in a state of retreat, when in reality we are still every bit “in the game” as our opponents are. I 100% agree with him, but the Kansas City Royals may need some more convincing.

After not being in the playoffs for 29 years, the Royals have gone 4-0 in their first four playoff games. In doing so, they have secured themselves a spot in the American League Championship Series and are now just eight wins away from bringing home a World Series Championship. All things seem to be “go” for this 2014 Royals team, and if these last games are any indication, they have no intention of slowing down.

They overcame the Oakland Athletics in an extra innings battle, and then came back only a few days later to sweep the Detroit Tigers (one of the postseason favorites). In doing so, the Royals overcame three of the most dominant pitchers in baseball: Max Sherzer, Justin Verlander, and David Price–and outhit some of the best bats the sport has to offer: Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Torii Hunter. How did they do it?

The answer is simple: with a smile on their face.

“They’re all enjoying it…we get to this type of atmosphere and we’re flourishing,” Royals Manager Ned Yost said after the ALDS sweep. He wasn’t alone in the sentiment–Royals starting catcher Salvador Perez added, “We feel so happy to win the last two games.”

So how can it seem so simple yet do so much? Because in reality, it can be that simple. The influence of a positive mindset is so vastly overlooked in competitive sport, but as we can see through the success the Kansas City Royals are having, it can really make a difference. Especially considering they were up against the odds, on short rest, and playing against one of the best teams in baseball. The impact can’t be overlooked.

Give it a try sometime. Next time you need to do something, no matter how daunting it seems, tell yourself that you can be successful. Put a smile on your face while you do it. Do it again and again until it becomes genuine, and you won’t be disappointed. Change your mindset, and the results will follow.

Konnor Fleming

Baseball Vision

By: Premier Sport Psychology

In the game of baseball, things happen fast. The higher levels you play, the faster it gets. And at the top, with the big boys in the MLB, things happen almost so fast that you can’t even see it. With pitchers like Justin Verlander, Brian Wilson, and Aroldis Chapman throwing fastballs at up to 105.1 mph, you can quite literally blink and miss it. Couple a pitcher’s ability to blow fireballs past a hitter in .395 seconds with their ability to come back with a changeup that seems to mosey in at 80 mph and it’s clear to see that hitters have their work cut out for them. That’s why so many hitters in the MLB log countless hours in the batting cages, studying opponent pitchers’ tendencies, and doing whatever they can to get an edge.

One such technique is pitch recognition, the ability to quickly determine the pitch thrown based on the rotation of the ball and appearance of the laces. But how can players practice such a thing without getting out on the field and facing live pitching?

Don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

Developed by scientists at the University of California Riverside, a new app called UltimEyes was created to help train batters’ brains to work better. In an effort to help “expand brain power,” the app shows a series of blurry, wobbly lines that overtime get closer and closer. By studying such lines, players can become better at distinguishing different lines and help make their vision more acute, which translates to being able to tell the difference between a slider and curveball, for example. UltimEyes was an instant success at California Riverside, helping their team score 42 more runs and earn five more wins than in their previous season. It was so successful, actually, that it made a believer of Coach Doug Smith, an admitted skeptic.

“I’m a bit of an older school guy, but I think if you don’t look at the science part of it when it’s staring you right in the face, you’re not very bright,” Smith said of the app and the process.

UltimEyes is available on the App Store via iTunes for $5.99. While that may seem like a hefty price for a single app, it seems a small price to pay to strengthen your brain and take your game to the next level.

For a look at the different pitches themselves, check out this article by ESPN also accounting the importance of pitch recognition.

Konnor Fleming

References:

New vision app helps baseball players keep eye on the ball. (2014, July 10). CBSNews. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-vision-app-is-changing-the-game-for-baseball-players/