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What IS The Big Pull?

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Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Dan Johnson, and the list goes on and on--with the A's hitters, and with hitters on teams all around the major leagues. It goes something like this: Hitter tries to pull everything, hitter makes lots of outs, coaches try to get hitter to "go the other way more," hitter doesn't, hitter makes lots of outs, hitter suddenly decides to go the other way more, hitter starts hitting better. Hitter tries to pull everything again...

Why exactly do hitters want to pull the ball so much? Even when he was hitting some HRs to left field, Chavez spent ginormous portions of each of his first 5 seasons rolling over on outside pitches and grounding to second. Even when there are three infielders blocking the right side, and pasture-like regions open on the left side, Johnson pulls into the shift--even when he's batting -.012 and you would think that a dinky single would feel just fine right about now. Every time Crosby starts hitting as much to right and right-center as to left and left-center, he suddenly has a stretch of batting around .400 instead of around .200.

It's not exactly surprising. After all, there are plenty of specific reasons to expect more success if you look to hit to the off-field and much as you look to pull the ball:

  • You can see the ball longer, which is the same, in effect, as slowing the pitches down.
  • You force the defense to spread out more, meaning more balls will get through, or drop in, for hits.
  • Most pitchers are more comfortable pitching more to the outside corner than to the inside corner.
  • If a pitch is tailing away--as many pitches will in a given sequence--you can hit the ball more squarely by going with the movement than by going against it.
Yet after tasting failure, and then success, what do these--and so many other hitters around the league--do? They go back to pulling everything again and having less success again. Aaaahhh!!! <pulls hair out, realizes it's not my hair, runs like crazy away from the person whose hair I just pulled>

I don't get this obsession with wanting to pull the ball. As electroshock therapy has proven (and not just with my 6th graders), most human beings gravitate towards behaviors that are routinely rewarded and away from behaviors that are routinely met with failure (or immense pain, but let's not get bogged down in discussing my 6th grade right now).

Yet athletes keep going back for the shocks. Why? I'm fascinated, in that "I'm not so much fascinated as I am incredibly mind-boggled, perturbed, and ready to check myself into an institution" way. Why are these people so slow to embrace the habits which tangibly, and immediately, breed success, and so slow to discard habits that breed failure? Heck, take it a step further: Why aren't hitters so obsessed with going the other way that coaches have to urge them to pull the ball more?

Hmm?