Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Granderson Decides to Visit the Swing Doctor

Wall Street Journal – August 13, 2010 – Brian Costa – KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Curtis Granderson was searching for answers.

More than four months into his first season with the Yankees, he arrived in Texas on Tuesday batting just .240 with 10 home runs, hardly resembling the All-Star he was just a year ago.

So when he approached Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long in the batting cage, he was ready to try just about anything.

“What would you suggest?” he said, according to Mr. Long. “I want to do something different.”

Slumping Curtis Granderson is working with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to re-invent his swing.

That conversation is what sparked a series of hitting sessions over the last few days in which the two worked on what Mr. Long called “a total reformation of the swing.” Essentially, Mr. Granderson is trying to eliminate excess movement in every facet of his swing, from his hands to his hips.

It does not require an advanced degree in the science of hitting to see that something had to change. Mr. Granderson, acquired in a trade with the Detroit Tigers last winter, is having his worst season since he was a rookie in 2004.

Though his average is only slightly down from 2009, when he hit .249, he is on pace to finish well shy of the 30 home runs he hit last year. He entered Thursday with a .722 OPS, down from .780 last year and .858 two years ago.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is his struggle against left-handed pitchers, against whom he entered Thursday hitting just .206.

But making fundamental changes to a player’s swing this late in the season is a radical move. Even Mr. Long called it “a stretch” to change longstanding habits in a matter of days and weeks.

The question, then, is this: How quickly can a swing be overhauled?

Mr. Granderson downplayed the extent of the changes, saying, “It’s just trying to simplify everything.” But what he is working on with Mr. Long is clearly more than the routine adjustments that many hitters make during the course of a season.

Mr. Long compared it to the work he did with right fielder Nick Swisher after he hit just .128 in the playoffs last year. The difference, though, is that Mr. Swisher made the changes to his swing during the offseason. During the season, he likely could not have done what Mr. Granderson is attempting.

“I asked Swish, ‘Would this have worked with you?’ ” Mr. Long said. “He said, ‘I don’t know. It would have been very difficult.’ ”

Mr. Granderson was benched Tuesday and Wednesday, giving him extra time to work on his revamped swing. But mentally, there will likely be a longer adjustment period, according to John Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

“What was previously automatic is now having to be re-learned,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s almost like you’re going back to a beginner’s state of mind.”

Mr. Granderson said he has made changes of similar magnitude in midseason twice before, first when he was in the minors in 2004 and again when he was in Detroit in 2006.

Even if it is too late to save Mr. Granderson’s season, Mr. Long said they have little to lose in trying.

“Like he said,” Mr. Long said, “how much worse could it get?”

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into just another aspect of sports psychology.

What’s Behind A-Rods Postseason Turnaround?

New York Baseball Digest – Mike Silva – October 13th, 2009 – I discussed this on Sunday and once again was criticized for saying that a “relaxed” A-Rod has as much to do with his success than anything. Dr. John F Murray, who appeared on my show back in June, had the following to say in Sunday’s New York Post.

“If he’s becoming a little more honest . . . he would have less anxiety, said Palm Beach sports psychologist Dr. John Murray. “He would sleep better at night and be more relaxed. More focused. That is key.

Dr. Murray was responding to a quote from a team insider who said A-Rod has “ditched his philandering ways and is making a big effort to inject honesty and openness into his relationship with the actress Kate Hudson.? If only he had met Hudson five years ago perhaps the Yankees would already have their 27th World Series. I am kidding of course, but you have to admit that there is a clear change in A-Rod at the plate. That is why anyone who cites “small sample size? is not looking at the big picture.

Ken Davidoff, who embraces all sorts of modern statistical theory, echoed much of what I have been saying on the show and the blog:

It’s never as simple as “Now A-Rod is relaxed, therefore, now he’s great.? Someone has to pitch the ball to him, after all, and that pitch might be sublime, horrible or somewhere in between. But my goodness, he’s playing the game with such a peace now, if you will. In previous postseasons, in tight spots or with runners on base, you could feel the tension oozing from his body. Yes, sometimes such tension can produce a flare, broken-bat single, and results are all that matter. But I can’t remember too many instances in the previous five years where the defense robbed A-Rod of a hit. He just didn’t square up the ball too often.

I have seen most every inning of Yankees postseason baseball the last 10 years. The pressure clearly got to A-Rod, along with many others on the Yankees, during the 2004 ALCS. Davidoff said it best when citing the lack of hard hit balls throughout the postseason. I wish I could get a copy of the ESPN interview before the 06 Detroit series. A-Rod was so tight during the conversation I thought he was going to snap like a rubber band. Obviously none of us are in A-Rod’s head, but it doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to recognize bad body language when you see it.

Finally, I think you have to point out how Rodriguez has made peace with Derek Jeter. The one black mark on Jeter’s captain legacy is how he handled A-Rod’s transition to New York and the Yankees. NYBD contributor Frank Russo mentioned in his Monday column that A-Rod, “stressed by the spotlight of both the Selena Roberts steroid story and his hip surgery, had a heartfelt talk with Jeter sometime during the season, where he “again apologized for the comments he made about him in the April 2001 issue of Esquire Magazine.? I think it was petty of Jeter, and showed that even the great one can fall to one of the seven deadly sins, but at least A-Rod finally owned up and helped put the situation behind the duo. Peer pressure and respect is a big thing in sports. Sometimes confidence can be something as simple as the support of your teammates. Of course, you can’t discount good pitching, fielding, and hitting, however the difference between playoff teams is so minuscule that the “intangibles? often can put a team over the top.

A-Rod is not out of the woods as Anaheim comes to town on Friday. Something tells me that his performance against the Twins was no accident and we will see more of this as the Yanks attempt to win title number 27.

Hope you enjoyed this article about sports psychology.

L.A. Angels keeping memory of late teammate Nick Adenhart close during march through playoffs

The Star Ledger – October 15, 2009 – Brian Costa – One hundred eighty-nine days have passed since the night that changed the Angels season. And not one has gone by without a reminder of Nick Adenhart.

His locker at Angel Stadium remains intact. His mural remains on the outfield wall. Patches bearing his name and uniform number, 34, remain stitched to their jerseys. And his own jersey hangs in the dugout during every game.

When the Angels begin the ALCS against the Yankees Friday night, they will be motivated by the memory of Adenhart, the 22-year-old pitcher killed by an alleged drunk driver on April 9.

He’s definitely been with us the whole way, the entire season and so far in the playoffs, reliever Kevin Jepsen said. And he’s going to continue to be with us every step of the way.

Some players were close to Adenhart. Some hardly knew him. But all have paid tribute to him.

When the Angels clinched the AL West last month, they ran out to touch Adenhart’s photo on the outfield wall at Angel Stadium and placed an unopened bottle of champagne by his locker. And as they have advanced through the playoffs, Adenhart has been a source of inspiration and even confidence.

I can go out there feeling like there’s no pressure on me, said catcher Bobby Wilson, who was one of Adenhart’s best friends. I’ve got my best buddy in my heart right now. If I can’t do it, I know he’s going to help me out.

Only a handful of teams in the history of professional sports have experienced what the Angels went through this year: the death of a teammate during the season.

Some of the most notable examples are the 1979 Yankees, who endured the death of captain Thurman Munson; the 2002 Cardinals, who lost pitcher Darryl Kile; and the 2007 Washington Redskins, who mourned the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor.

All were inspired to play on in memory of a fallen teammate. And while that motivation may not outweigh pitching, hitting and defense, a leading sports psychologist said it can have a powerful impact on a team’s play.

It can actually enhance the team’s performance if the meaningfulness of it is able to be synergized into a battle cry or a unifying theme to play for that player or to do what that player would want, said John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla. It almost adds a spiritual component to performance to have something like that.

That doesn’t make the loss of Adenhart any less devastating.

On April 8, he tossed six shutout innings against the Athletics at Angel Stadium to begin what appeared to be a promising season. It was only his fourth career major-league start, but already, Adenhart appeared to be a much-improved pitcher after giving up 12 runs in 12 innings in 2008. He earned a rotation spot in spring training, making him the youngest pitcher on a major-league roster, and the Angels had high hopes for him in 2009.

I said last year he had all the talent in the world and couldn’t figure it out, said Rangers reliever Darren O’Day, a close friend of Adenhart and former Angels prospect. Then he figures it out, and then six hours later, he’s gone.

Adenhart was killed along with two friends when their car was broadsided at an intersection near Angel Stadium. And the Angels have been playing with him in mind ever since.

Pitcher Scot Shields started the routine of bringing Adenhart’s jersey down to the dugout before each game and hanging it over the Angels’ bench. When Shields went down with a season-ending knee injury in May, Jepsen took over the responsibility.

He’s not necessarily on your mind while you’re playing, Jepsen said. But you never forget about him. There’s always times when in between the games and everything, at least for me, he’ll pop up in my mind.

As Jepsen spoke Thursday, sitting in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, Adenhart’s jersey hung in an otherwise empty locker a few feet away.

It will be there for the rest of the ALCS. If the Angels reach the World Series, they will continue to take it on the road with them. And if they win the World Series, they will give Adenhart’s family a full share of the bonus players receive, along with a championship ring.

It just shows you what kind of guy Nick is, Wilson said. A lot of guys, they love him and they only knew him a short amount of time. It just shows Nick’s character and his upbringing. This group of guys, we’re moving toward one common goal, and we have the inspiration of Nick within all of us.

I hope you enjoyed this article with content related to sports psychology.

A-Rod on Kate & narrow

New York Post – Angela Montfinise and Douglas Montero – It’s another Miracle on the Hudson.

Alex Rodriguez’s newfound playoff prowess after years of choking in the post-season is a product of his steamy — and surprisingly honest — romance with sexy screen siren Kate Hudson, a team source and a top sports shrink said yesterday.

A team insider said A-Rod has ditched his philandering ways and is making a big effort to inject honesty and openness into his relationship with the actress.

“He’s decided to be completely honest with her because what he was doing in the past didn’t work,” the source said, referring to his ugly 2008 divorce.

The healthy off-field relationship with Hudson is translating into October success on the baseball diamond, experts said.

“If he’s becoming a little more honest . . . he would have less anxiety,” said Palm Beach sports psychologist Dr. John Murray. “He would sleep better at night and be more relaxed. More focused. That is key.”

The steamy slugger has a long history of failing in the clutch — and in his personal relationships.

While racking up a paltry .212 lifetime batting average in the playoffs, he carried on “extramarital affairs and other marital misconduct,” according to papers filed by his ex-wife, Cynthia.

Cameras caught him with stripper Joslyn Morse in Toronto in 2007, and he was later linked to Madonna while still married.

In postseason play from 2005 to 2007, A-Rod had a grand total of one RBI. The Yankees were bounced in the first round in each of those years.

But this year, A-Rod has “looked really relaxed, really great,” Murray said.

He has hit .500 over two games and smacked five RBIs, and his game-tying, ninth-inning homer Friday night set up a Yankee win. A victory today in Minnesota would complete the sweep and put the Bombers in the American League Championship series.

Hudson — who has accompanied Rodriguez on road trips and often cheers him from his personal seats in The Bronx — was at both playoff games last week.

“If you get somebody like a gorgeous woman, someone who you admire, somebody who’s behind you, [athletes] know it,” Murray said.

Even when she isn’t cheering for A-Rod in person, Hudson has been rooting for him at bars. In June, she watched the Yankees take on the Indians at Bar 108 in SoHo.

“She was clapping, rooting for him and even hollering. She was very animated. She was pushing him hard, and I think she’s a good influence,” a bartender there said yesterday.

He added, “If I got a woman that pretty rooting for me, I’d do good, too.”

People are realizing more and more the benefits of a solid mental game and sports psychology.

Baseball’s Most-Ejected Managers

Sports psychology commentary in Forbes.com – Monte Burke – June 22, 2009 – Sure, home runs and stolen bases are cool, but the ejection of a manager is baseball’s greatest performance art. Two actors (manager and umpire) meet on center stage in front of thousands to kick dirt, toss bases and hats and spit tobacco juice and obscenities into each other’s faces. The fact that we already know exactly how the spectacle will end–with the outstretched arm of an ump–diminishes it not one bit.

Earl Weaver, the fiery, longtime manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was perhaps the art’s most flashy practitioner. While he argued, he furiously pecked the brim of his hat on an umpire like a bird. He once tore up a rulebook and scattered the pages all over the field. In an infamous incident, Weaver was tossed for smoking a cigarette in the dugout. The next day he delivered the lineup card to the ump with a candy cig dangling from his lip. He was tossed again.
In Depth: Baseball‘s Most-Ejected Managers

Legendary as he was, however, Weaver has nothing on Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox, who is the all-time leader in manager ejections, with 143 (which doesn’t even count his two ejections in World Series games). The most recent one? Yesterday, when he was tossed in a game against the Boston Red Sox for arguing balls and strikes, giving him 34 ejections since 2004. “I don’t know why umpires miss strikes,” Cox grumbled after the game.

Behind the Numbers

To determine our list of most-ejected managers, we looked only at who’s been tossed the most since the 2004 season. Our statistics come courtesy of David Vincent, a contributor to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and the author of Home Runs Most Wanted. Cox tops our list by just a hair, over Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins. But his all-time ejection record may prove unbreakable.

St. Louis Cardinal’s manager Tony LaRussa has the second-highest total of active managers with 78. That’s roughly half of Cox’s all-time total. And LaRussa is only ninth in ejections since 2004, with 11 dismissals. He’ll have to work very hard to catch Cox.

Cox is the Cal Ripken Jr. to Weaver’s Mickey Mantle. The Braves manager lacks flash, but he’s consistent, averaging a little more than five ejections a year in a 27-year career (Weaver, who is No. 4 on the all-time list with 98, averaged almost six a year for 17 seasons). What sets Cox apart is his seemingly shorter fuse: He’s been tossed mostly for arguing balls and strikes, but last August a dismissal came for something as simple as arguing with ump Joe West about turning on the stadium lights.

A fiery manager can be an asset more than a liability at times. Last August, with his team down 4-3 to the Chicago White Sox, The Twins’ Gardenhire was booted for arguing about a hit batsman. As he steamed off the field, he punted his hat 15 feet into the air. The Twins then rallied to win game.

“I hope [Vikings head coach Brad Childress] saw that,” Gardenhire said later. “If he ever needs a kicker, I got good height on it.”

No. 3 on the list is Charlie Manuel from the world champion Philadelphia Phillies, with 21 ejections. A late-season ejection last year was followed by the Phillies winning the National League East, then going on to win the World Series.

Does getting ejected have a material effect on the team’s play? Perhaps. Including Cox and Manuel, seven of the 11 men on our list have won the World Series: the Red Sox’s Terry Francona, the Chicago White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Mike Scioscia (all tied for sixth place), the Cardinals LaRussa (ninth) and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joe Torre (tied for 10th).

Two others, the San Francisco Giants Bruce Bochy (fifth) and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon (tied with Torre) have taken teams to the World Series. On our list, only Gardenhire and the Cleveland Indians’ Eric Wedge (tied for third) have not taken a team to the World Series.

Rallying Cry?

Ejections have had short-term positive effects, too: Lou Piniella, who surprisingly didn’t make this list (he only has six ejections since 2004), had a famous blowup and ejection on June 2, 2007 against the Braves, when his Chicago Cubs were a disappointing 22-30. He kicked dirt on the third-base umpire’s shoes and kicked his hat across the diamond as the crowd bellowed “Loooooooo!” The Cubs went 63-47 the rest of the way and made the playoffs.

Then again, ejections can have no impact whatsoever. At the time of Cox’s ejection last August, the Braves were 55-63 and on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention. After his tossing, they went 17-27 the rest of the season and missed the postseason.

Says John F. Murray, a sports performance psychologist: “The managerial ejection is a way to change the tempo of a game, a very tactical way of delaying and distracting.”

It’s certainly been a useful tool in the careers of most of the managers on our list. But frequent ejections can also be a sign of serious trouble. Former Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost would have been on our list of active managers, with 18 ejections since 2004, but he was fired in September 2008. Former Colorado Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle and former Houston Astros manager Phil Garner also would have made the list, with 14 and 13 ejections, respectively, but they, too, were canned. These guys lost their cool–then lost their jobs.

Hope you enjoyed the comments from sports psychology.

Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys

Wall Street Journal – July 15, 2009 – Darren Everson – Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys: The Gritty, Gutty Players Who Hold Teams Together and Help Them Succeed – There are aces, closers, sluggers and Gold Glovers. And then there are the really important people in a ballclub: the glue guys.

“Glueâ€? guys, in baseball parlance, are the players whose oft-overlooked performance quietly holds winning teams together—and without which, presumably, the team would fall apart. Statisticians don’t buy that they exist, but psychologists do. And players and managers swear by them.

“He’s the scrapper,â€? says Charlie Manuel, manager of the defending World Series-champion Philadelphia Phillies. “The guy who plays every day. Who gets big hits. Hustles. He’s the guy who, in his own way, whether it’s quiet or spoken or whatever, he leads.â€?
Getty Images

Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies

Jason Bartlett is a glue guy. Before he joined the Rays last season, Tampa Bay had baseball’s worst record in 2007, due greatly to having the majors’ worst defense. Then Mr. Bartlett came over from the Twins and took over the shortstop position. The Rays’ defense became the best in baseball last season and they reached the World Series.

Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox’s knuckleball pitcher, is a glue guy. As Boston’s pitching staff has evolved over the past 15 years—with youngsters coming, veterans going and pricey additions like Daisuke Matsuzaka not always delivering—the dependable constant has been Mr. Wakefield, a first-time All-Star this year at 42 who has made at least 15 starts each season.

As baseball enters the second half of the season Thursday, the top contenders all have a glue guy or two whom they attribute part of their success to. With the Tigers, it’s All-Star third baseman Brandon Inge, who not only has a surprising 21 home runs but is also hitting .348 in close, late-game situations. With the Yankees, as usual, it’s shortstop Derek Jeter, who owns the highest on-base percentage among the American League’s starting shortstops despite being its oldest (35). And the Phillies insist slugger Ryan Howard is a glue guy—despite not fitting the tag’s small, scrappy stereotype—because he quietly never takes a day off.

“They’re the reliable guys,â€? says Braves president John Schuerholz, “who, in the toughest of circumstances, in the biggest of moments, deliver the goods.â€?

The legend of the glue guy is an extension of the age-old question in sports over whether natural “winnersâ€? exist—players who are greater than their statistics indicate, who win in part because of their force of will or ability to perform under pressure. Whether it’s with superstars who make clutch plays or unknowns who have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, fans and observers ascribe special talents to these players—often exaggerating their actual contributions.

Michael Jordan famously said in a 1997 Nike commercial that he’d missed 26 potential game-winning shots. “He’s probably been successful about 50 times,â€? then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson said at the time. But when Mr. Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1999—seven months after making his iconic shot to beat the Jazz for the championship—the total number of game-winning shots he’d hit was 25.

Skeptical about whether winners exist, statistician Scott Berry of Berry Consultants studied the matter in 2005. Taking the statistics of more than 14,000 players who had played in Major League Baseball, he created a formula to find the ultimate winner: the player whose teams exceeded their win-loss expectations the most when he happened to be on them.
Getty Images

Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox

The winners’ winner? Dennis Cook, a journeyman lefty reliever in the 1990s. Several players whom fans widely regard as winners and glue guys did fare well: Mr. Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, was in the 97th percentile, and David Wells, a noted big-game pitcher in the 1990s and 2000s, was in the 99th. But the presence of the relatively unknown Mr. Cook at the top, Mr. Berry says, proves his point. “Announcers refer to players who just have the will to win,â€? he says. “The fact that he comes out on top pokes fun at that notion.â€?

But Mr. Cook does believe in glue. Although he admits he was lucky to bounce from one winner to the next—including the 1996 division-winning Rangers, the 1997 world-champion Marlins and the 2000 National League-winning Mets—Mr. Cook says his teams won in part because they invested in overlooked roles like middle relievers.

“A long man who eats up 100 innings a year, he saves the rest of your pitching staff,â€? he says. “Those guys don’t get recognized, but they’re every bit as important. Baseball people see that, but number-crunchers don’t.â€?

Psychologists say there is indeed a spill-over effect with glue guys that helps their teams win, one which goes beyond quantifiable contributions. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist
in Palm Beach, Fla., says that teams are much like fraternities or high schools in that players spend a massive amount of time in close proximity to each other. Because of this, “they’re constantly influencing one another,â€? he says. “One of the keys to confidence is social support and modeling. If you have some outstanding role models who deal with pressure effectively, that glue is going to spill out of the bottle and help everyone.â€?

A huge hole in the reasoning of glue believers is that it’s impossible to know in retrospect how teams would have fared without their glue players. For example, the Rays won 58% of their games (11 of 19) earlier this season when Mr. Bartlett, their slick-fielding shortstop, was out with an injured ankle. They’ve won 54% overall. But the first-place Phillies’ abundance of glue, according to both them and their opponents, appears to be what’s put that franchise over the top—just a few years after it had a reputation for underachieving. “It’s not about just one guy,â€? says All-Star second baseman Chase Utley.

The Phillies’ most-talented players also happen to be their glue guys, including Mr. Utley, who has led the majors the past two years in times hit by pitch, and Mr. Howard, who has played in 362 of Philadelphia’s last 363 games. Unlike many left-handed hitters over the years, he even refused to take a day off against Randy Johnson once last season.

“He’s definitely a leader, just by keeping his mouth shut,â€? Mr. Manuel says. “I call him the Big Piece. As in the big piece of the puzzle.â€?

… just another example of the benefits of sports psychology.

Indians’ Snell deals with depression

Sports Psychology Commentary in the Indianapolis Star – July 2, 2009 – Phillip B. Wilson – He feared he would hurt himself while struggling with Pirates.

Ian Snell’s return to Indianapolis couldn’t have been more unusual. It’s not often a major league pitcher asks to be demoted.

Then he comes down to Triple-A and strikes out nearly everybody. His fastball clocked consistently between 94-96 mph, Snell struck out 17, including 13 in a row, Sunday at Victory Field. This was the same pitcher who threw the stadium’s only no-hitter on May 15, 2005.

But after his outing Sunday, Snell told WTHR-13 he has been battling depression and considered drastic measures about a month ago due to the growing negativity surrounding his struggles in Pittsburgh. He was 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts with the Pirates this year.

“Sometimes people do stupid stuff and I had to fight it, not to do something stupid and take my life for myself and from my family and my parents,” Snell told the station.

The demons, Snell called them, can be common in the high-pressure, big business world of professional sports. But they have earned more publicity recently in baseball. In the past two weeks, major leaguers Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis and Joey Votto have been on or off the disabled list with what have been described as anxiety-related issues.

One of the game’s best pitchers, Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, left the team for a while three years ago with a social anxiety disorder. Now he’s 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA.

Snell, 27, decided he needed to get out of Pittsburgh to get his mind right. He lashed out then at the media and fans.

“I just made a decision for myself, for my career and better for my life, so why not do it now than wait for later, until everything really blows up?” Snell said last week after a game in Pittsburgh.

The Indians said Snell is finished discussing the issue. Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark wrote in an e-mail the team does not want to do interviews on a private matter, but added “(we) have taken the appropriate steps to get the appropriate people involved. We are here to support Ian.”

That Snell seeks help is most important, said John Murray, a prominent sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

“They’ll say they have a dislocated throwing shoulder, but they won’t say they have a social phobia,” Murray said of the most common problem with clinical depression and anxiety disorders. “Many people are suffering in society because they don’t seek help.

“The more we avoid problems, the more they have a hold on us.”

Snell had an impressive Triple-A season with the Indians in 2005. He went 11-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 18 starts, including that no-hitter. He overpowered Triple-A hitters with 104 strikeouts in 112 innings and had just 23 walks.

He stuck with the Pirates coming out of spring training in 2006 and went 14-11 with a 4.74 ERA, then went 9-12 with a 3.76 ERA the next year.

Last year’s ERA ballooned to 5.42, when he went 7-12. He walked a career-high 89 batters in 1641/3 innings.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged in a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Snell has struggled with the backlash from bad outings.

“Sometimes, a player can be his own worst enemy,” Huntington said. “In this case, we have to find the right buttons to push to help Ian reach his potential.

“The most successful players block it out. The ones that aren’t able to, it wears on them. In Ian’s case, for the better part of a year and a half now, he hasn’t felt like he’s been supported by the fans because he has struggled, and he has not been able to block that out. I think it will be a big step for Ian to make that jump.”

Snell’s next scheduled start is Saturday. The July 4 fireworks crowd at Victory Field is again expected to be a sellout, in excess of 15,000 fans.

“Seek God and positive people around you and look for your true friends, and they’ll come out and support you,” Snell told the station. “A lot of people support me right now. I’m just grateful, because if I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

Hope you enjoyed the commentary on sports psychology

CBS: Lesley Visser on How Sports Psychology Would Help David Ortiz

CBSSports.com – June 8, 2009 – See NFL Hall of Famer Lesley Visser’s new article about the unbelievable struggle faced by David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. In the article she speaks with sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray about his struggle and likely solution at:
http://www.cbssports.com/cbssports/story/11834418
Many athletes benefit from sports psychology.

Dr. John F Murray Talks Sports Psychology on NY Baseball Digest

Sports Psychology Interview with Dr. John F. Murray

Click here to hear Dr. John F. Murray in a 20 minute interview with Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest

This interview was conducted on May 28, 2009

Niners need to get their heads checked for stance on Stafford

Si.com – Austin Murphy – Murphy’s Law – The Jay Cutler telenovela having played out, a consensus seems to be coalescing among NFL draftniks that the Detroit Lions will make Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford the top pick in the draft.

They like his potent arm, his intelligence, his field generalship, forged in the crucible of the SEC. (Cue NFL Films orchestra, please.)

But are they missing something? Might Stafford be concealing a flaw, some pathology of character that could give fresh life to the Bobby-Layne-leveled curse that has plagued this franchise for the last half-century?

The San Francisco 49ers have done their homework, having gone spelunking in Stafford’s brain, and they’ve found something to give them pause. And we need to listen to the 49ers. It’s not as if they’re some sad-sack franchise like the Lions, who’ve been down so long it looks like up to them. No, the Niners have won 32 times since 2002 — a whopping six more victories than Detroit has managed in the same period.

In a recent SI feature, Stafford revealed to Peter King that during an interview at the NFL combine, the 49ers team psychologist pressed him on the subject of the divorce of Stafford’s parents when the quarterback was in high school. Stafford says he assured the shrink he’d adjusted well, only to be told he “sounded if he might have unfinished business.” After wisecracking to King that he wondered, in that moment, “how much I’m being charged per hour for this,” Stafford was quick to point out that he got it: with clubs forking over fortunes for first-round talent, no one wants to leave a stone unturned.

That mini-controversy was given fresh life recently, when Niners head coach Mike Singletary all but dismissed the possibility of drafting Stafford in a radio interview with KNBR in San Francisco. “If you’re going to look at drafting a guy in the first round,” he told host Ralph Barbieri, “and you’re going to pay him millions of dollars, and asking him about a divorce about his parents, if that’s going to be an issue, then you know what? Maybe he doesn’t belong here.”

By that point in the interview, it bears noting, Singletary was a bit testy. Hoping to talk about minicamp, he was instead peppered by Barbieri with knottier questions: Who is in charge here? What is the club’s chain of command? Did the 49ers get played by Kurt Warner? What happened with Stafford?

By refusing to wilt before Singletary’s clear and mounting displeasure, Barbieri served as an advocate for 49ers fans desperate for salvation from, among other things, the club’s ghastly play at the quarterback position in recent seasons. Things aren’t exactly looking up in ’09, as the Niners get ready to roll with the hydra-headed three-and-out machine otherwise known as Shaun Hill, J.T. O’Sullivan and Alex Smith.

Of the 49ers myriad needs, none is more pressing than this position. So you can’t blame Niners fans for their confusion and frustration over the fact the club has taken draft’s highest-rated signal-caller off its board because some shrink divined a buried trauma from Stafford’s adolescence.

Who is being unreasonable here? I asked Dr. John F. Murray, a Florida-based author and sports psychologist, to provide some perspective.

Of Stafford’s reluctance to “go deep” on the divorce issue, says Murray, “I can see how Singletary might view that as possibly an example of not coping with stress; of exhibiting defensiveness. They’re going to need to work closely with this guy, so if he’s reluctant to open up, that could be a red flag for the future.”

At the same time, he says, “It’s easy to see how questions about family, about sensitive situations, during a brief interview at the combine could put [Stafford] off.”

Before they tackle heavy issues, Murray explains, psychologists first spend many hours establishing a rapport and comfort zone with patients. “I’m getting to know them,” he said. “I’m asking questions in a confidential way to develop a profile so I can help them over time.” If Stafford was grilled by a stranger he viewed as a “tool trying determine his fitness for the NFL,” says Murray, “it’s easy to see why he would get his back up.”

The problem, he says, is that while NFL coaches are finally realizing “how critical mental skills are to success, they’re still experiencing growing pains in terms of understanding and dealing with psychology.” Some teams don’t get, in other words, “that it’s inappropriate to kind of shove a psychologist in somebody’s face at the last second for a particular test.”

Stafford’s awkward interview typifies the sort of heavy-handed, Orwellian overkill with which the NFL combine has become synonymous — and for which Singletary, for one, does not apologize. Once he’d simmered down on the KNBR’s air, the coach defended his team’s decision to subject Stafford to the Freud treatment.

Emphasizing the need to do homework on these guys, he pointed out that “there’s only about five or six [first-round picks] that really make an impact … It’s not an exact science, but you just have to work your tail off.” That’s why they flew in a psychologist, he went on. And even if the shrink’s questions sound “silly” and “dumb” out of context, “all of that information goes into our decision-making.”

This is where they run into problems. How much weight to attach to different nuggets of information? J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI compiled smaller dossiers on suspected reds than NFL teams have on potential free-agent signees. They’ve got two or three or four years worth of game tape. They’ve got combine results, pro day results. They’ve invited guys to visit them at their headquarters. By the time the draft rolls around, they are drowning in data.

Of course it’s important to work hard. Everybody in the NFL works hard. The 49ers are trying to return to the heights they first scaled under Bill Walsh, who died in 2007. While they scan the reports submitted by the team psychologist, members of the 49ers brain trust (such as it is) would do well to remember that, as much as he valued hard work, Walsh believed it was even more important to work smart.