I was having a conversation with a Yankee fan today and he said "Aaron Judge can't hit anymore." The best player in the first half of the season, the front runner for MVP and Rookie of the Year can't hit anymore? While he has gone 1-21 in the first few games after the all star break, he certainly is still one of the best players in baseball. Aaron Judge will be fine, but this conversation highlights the ups and downs of a hitter. Simply put, Aaron Judge is in a slump.
I often tell people that from the start of the season to the end of the season, I play the role of psychologist more than hitting instructor. During the season, unless there is a glaring mechanical flaw, I tend to focus more on the mental side of hitting because this often times can be the reason for a hitter struggling. So, lets take a look at slumps: what they are and how to fix them.
The first thing to remember is that hitting is hard. My job is to help hitters be successful, but even the best hitters I have ever worked with still fail more than they succeed. Unfortunately, that's hitting. We have more than 150 years of baseball history to go off of, and one thing is certain, hitters fail at an incredible rate. Every hitter, the best hitters in the world, even Hall of Famers fall into this category. Probably the most notable slump of the past 20 years was Derek Jeter in 2004. In the first half of the season, the future Hall of Famer went on an 0 for 32 stretch.
What constitutes a slump?
While there is no definition a what actually makes up a slump, I would consider a slump a period of 5-6 games without hitting the ball hard. Why do I use hitting the ball hard as the measure? Hitting the ball hard is the only thing we can control as a hitter. If we go 0 for 10 and hit the ball hard at someone 10 times, that is just bad luck, not a slump.
Also, a stretch of a few games with struggles does not mean you are in a slump. Just remember, everything regresses to the mean. This simply means that over time, everything balances out. Lets look at an example. In one game, a hitter goes 4 for 4. The next game, the hitter goes 0-4. The next they go 0-3. I have had to talk kids down after a 3 game performance like this, however, this is not a slump. Over those 3 games, this hitter has a .363 batting average. Not too bad.
Why do hitters go into slumps?
Hitters can go into slumps for a bunch of different reasons. Mechanics can go awry, timing can get off track, injuries can contribute, thinking too much, trying to impress college coaches or scouts, or just plain bad luck. Lets take a look at the 2 most prevalent reasons that hitters go into slumps.
1. Mechanical: If a hitter continues to get out in the same 1 or 2 ways (weak hits or strikeouts), there usually is a mechanical component to their struggles. Video taping swings and comparing them to better swings can often times highlight a mechanical flaw that is causing the issues.
How to fix: If there are mechanical issues, focus on 1 mechanical change. No more than that and never think mechanics in the batter's box. Mechanical slumps can quickly turn into mental slumps if too much enters the hitter's mind.
Mental slump: A hitter is either just experiencing bad luck, or are thinking too much at the plate, either about mechanics or trying to do too much.
How to fix: A hitter needs to focus on something other than the swing mechanics and the result of the hit. Aaron Judge has a trick that he often uses when he feels like he is struggling at the plate. He will pick up dirt and rub it between his hands. This is simply to take the focus off of the previous pitch or at bat and focus on something other than his struggles. Check out the article on this habit here
1. Don't think about more than 1 mechanical change at a time
2. Don't think about mechanics or timing in the box
3. Take each game one pitch at a time
4. Relax. If you have had success as a hitter at some point in the recent past, you will regain your form. It usually takes 1 hit to break out and get back on track.