If you’ve recently tried to get your first job, you may know something about the furious catch-22 involved. How are you supposed to get experience if you need experience to get it? There’s a little of that in getting your first major league job. Go out there kid, don’t worry about those major league pitchers, and the crowd, just be comfortable. We’ll talk about whether or not you start tomorrow, tomorrow.
For Blackmon, perhaps the number one reason for his breakout this year has been comfort. “Having a role that I’m comfortable with, a role that allows me consistent at-bats” was more important than anything, the outfielder said before a game with the Giants in mid June — “the hand-eye coordination has always been there.” But confidence lead to the everyday role, and that confidence came from success — “Having some success allows me to relax and just play the game.”
Teammate Dickerson was even more specific about the link between his role and his confidence. “Being comfortable, where every game is just like a game you played in the minor leagues, instead of the game is on the big stage,” is huge, he said. “You know you’re going to be in the lineup again if you go oh-for-four — You’re not really worried about failure as much. You’re going to fail, but you don’t have to worry about it and think that one at-bat is going to matter so much.”
Of course, there were some adjustments that the players made. They weren’t necessarily mechanical, though. Confidence has allowed Blackmon to rely more on his instincts — “I can go based on what my gut feel is a lot more now,” he said. Dickerson has always tinkered with his stance, just based on what feels right. “I adjust all the time. I might have a different stance one day, I might not stride one day. I’m a feel guy, that goes with what’s comfortable and working,” he said of his swing.
The adjustments have come in the decision to swing. “Pitch selection is the most important part of hitting,” said Blackmon. “It’s understanding what you can hit and what you can’t hit and not swinging at everything else.” For him, that’s meant swinging less often at pitches off the plate on the inside, especially down in the zone (2013 on the left, 2014 on the right):
It’s really important for Blackmon to choose the correct pitch to swing at, even more important than for other players. Blackmon’s swinging strike rate is top thirty in baseball, and just like Marco Scutaro pointed out, if you swing at the wrong pitch and have good contact ability, your plate appearance might be over with a thud. “Sometimes I get mad at myself for going up there and swinging at a nasty pitch and instead of swinging through it and missing and being 0-1, and living for another day, I get a ground ball, put it in play, and make an out,” Blackmon said.
For Dickerson, his adjustment been more about the type of pitch than the location. “If you can eliminate what he’s going to throw to your weakness, then maybe you can be better with your strength,” he said of scouting the opposing pitcher. If he boils it down to something he can remember easily at the plate, he can be “thinking about two pitches instead of three pitches or his whole repertoire.”
Though this sounds like a per-game thing, there has been a change in the pitches Dickerson is offering at. He had the hardest time with sliders from right-handers for some reason, so according to Brooks Baseball, it looks like he started swinging at them less (and cutters):
|Pitch Type||Swing 13||Swing 14||Whiffs 13||Whiffs 14|
To some extent, both players have a skill that’s uniquely useful for their home park. Coors field inflates batting average on balls in play as much as than anything, and these guys can put the ball in play to all fields.
Dickerson says this is a goal: “I try to go where it goes — make hard contact wherever it’s pitched.” For Blackmon, it’s more of a necessity. “I’m not a guy who has a ton of power — if you come watch me in BP you’ll be incredibly unimpressed,” he said. “I understand that. I don’t go out there and try to hit home runs. That’s not how it works. I’m a guy that is strong enough that if he makes really good contact, can hit it over the fence.”
The results have been very encouraging for a Rockies team that needed some youthful infusion with their veterans hurt. Whether the success made for more established roles, or the other way around, both young outfielders have learned about their strengths and weaknesses and used that knowledge to their benefit. A little bit of Blackmon’s general philosophy sums it up: “I’ve learned how I work best, what makes me good, certain approaches I’m better at than other approaches. I think for the most part I try to stick to my strengths and know what I do well and avoid what I don’t do well.”
Sounds so simple that way.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.