Recently I was having an issue watching Cubs games.
Not surprising? Well it had less to do with what was happening on the field, and more of a mental issue. I found myself overanalyzing everything. I couldn’t just simply watch the game anymore. Then one game recently, I sat so close to the action it hit me that I was just watching guys play baseball. With all the outside stuff surrounding the game, that is something that is too easy to forget.
These are mostly kids playing a kids game.
There is so much about this game that still can’t be measured. I love statistical analysis, it can help predict future performance of a player. However, it can’t figure in the mental factors that can be game changers.
To paraphrase Yogi Berra, half of the game is 90% mental. Too many times, a talented player may not be able to perform up to his abilities due to too much pressure of living up to expectations or a new contract.
Take Starlin Castro and Jake Arrieta for example. Here we have two gifted players. One, who had gotten too inside of his own head, (maybe with help from others) the other maybe feeling a little more comfortable with a fresh start.
Ultimately, the difference in a talented player succeeding can be attributed to his mental approach. In both Castro and Arrieta's case these players seem to grasp that now. Castro for one has looked much more like the all-star edition of late, and the changes haven’t been mechanical, but mental.
“I was thinking too much, especially thinking about hitting, thinking about defense, thinking about everything,”
“In the beginning, if I missed in the first at-bat I’m done — 0-for-3, you know,” he said. “But now if you miss in the first at-bat, you have three left. Keep positive every at-bat.”
Castro is letting go now and he says he is trying to live his baseball life one at bat at time. Some have put the blame on too many voices in his head earlier in the year. It sounds as if his manager realizes his player needs a comfort zone.
"There have been a lot of things (said) about seeing a lot of pitches and walking more and on-base percentage," Sveum said.
"We've talked about this probably 20 times this year about this whole subject. As much as anything, it is kind of why I thought I would get him in the (leadoff) lineup spot where it is one spot he is the most comfortable and had the most success. So far he has been driving the ball better and swinging the bat better in that spot."
Whatever the case, the kid looks comfortable in his own skin again. He looks more confident and the dynamite charging, barehanded play he made in the ninth flashed that confidence. I have doubts he would have made that play a week ago.
When it comes to Arrieta, the mental block could have been not living up to the lofty expectations in Baltimore. He has always had the tools, now he is trying to refine his approach.
"It's a power arm with a power slider," Sveum said as he described Arrieta's attributes. "He's a big guy (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), good athlete. He can do things on the mound that he is probably still learning against big league hitters … how to get ahead (in the count) and not step on his own feet, as well.
The walks are the biggest thing we've just got to cut down. With that kind of arm and ability, you've got to make them put the ball in play." Said Sveum.
When the Cubs acquired the former top prospect, they had hoped a change of leagues and scenery could allow him a reset of sorts and unleash his potential.
"Overall I think I was good. I would like to be better at first-pitch strikes," he said. "Be more aggressive right out of the gate.” "I have developed some comfort here," says Arrieta.
That comfort could be huge. Arrieta and Castro showed us yesterday they could be a big piece of the puzzle moving forward if they can stay out of their own way.
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