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Locus Of Control

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For those unfamiliar with this psychobabble psychological term, an "internal locus of control" refers to the belief that you have the ability to impact the events around you, while an "external locus of control" refers to the belief that events are controlled by outside forces -- be they other people, circumstances, God, or chance. In a given situation, or in general, do you determine your fate or does life just happen to you?

Far too often this season I have seen the A's, led by their skipper, attributing an external locus of control to their fortunes -- as if gosh darn it, bad stuff keeps happening to the Oakland A's and there's nothing they can do about it. And I think this mindset is dangerous and destructive. It scares me to think of a young team falling prey to this way of thinking, because an external locus of control will breed excuses, apathy, and a lack of resiliency, where reflection, adjustment, and resolve are needed. Let me offer a few examples of the "external locus of control" mindset at work with our beloved A's...

* From the players...

Jason Giambi has responded to a .200 batting average by lamenting that he's hitting a lot of balls hard and they just aren't finding holes. This is not chance; this is the result of hitting sharp ground balls right into a defense that has 150% more employees than average stationed on the right side of the diamond. Bad luck isn't happening to Giambi; Giambi is choosing to hit into a shift that is likely to turn most of his well hit balls into outs.

Consider what would happen if Giambi backed off the plate a hair, so that he knew all the pitches that are tying him up inside were balls. This would, of course, leave him "vulnerable" to the outside half of the plate. But in fact, with a "don't try to pull it, just swing" approach he would hit those outside pitches away from the shift -- all while being in a position to mash anything on the inner half of the strike zone.

Some of the outside pitches Giambi connected with would, of course, be fouled off, some hit right at the lone defender (3Bman) or back to the mound, a few others lofted to LF. What is it reasonable to think Giambi would hit if he set himself up to stroke outside pitches away from the shift (it involves the same swing, but less accompanying body torque as the bat comes forward), could still mash pitches on the inner half, while knowing he could lay off anything that might tie him up inside? I figure, giving the very high BABIP you can expect when hitting towards an infield defense that is literally at 50% capacity, and given the need pitchers would have to pitch Giambi away, maybe .300/.380/.420? Who wouldn't want that right now?

And of course the kicker is: If Giambi hit a few singles and doubles to the 3Bman's left and right, they'd stop shifting and Jason would be in a far better position, no matter what his approach, than he currently faces.

* From the manager:

Just last Sunday, Geren bemoaned the third loss to the Rockies with, "If only that drive by Ellis had stayed fair -- and it was just inches foul -- the game might have been tied, and we might have won it." Well yeah, Bob, but what about the previous 8.5 innings? The ones where the team couldn't score, couldn't catch pretty routine fly balls and pop-ups, all backing the A's into a wall where they needed to rely on the fortunes of a single "fair or foul" line drive? Those three hours are worth focusing on, too.

When you focus on one moment of bad luck, you ignore the many, many aspects of the game the players can control, and you lead them to believe they are constantly snakebit, rather than feeling they are capable of setting themselves up better for success and "good fortune."

* From the fans:

I've seen fans fall prey to this way of thinking a lot, too. In May, I read a lot of this: "Holliday's not hitting well, but he's been really unlucky -- his 2009 BABIP is way below his career BABIP." Folks, the first two months of the season, Matt Holliday was not unlucky. His BABIP was low because he was hitting a boatload of weak and routine ground balls and routine fly balls, the result (I felt) of lunging at pitches and not letting the ball get in deep. For every line drive that was caught, a bloop fell in. The problem was not chance; the problem was that Matt Holliday was simply not having the quality of at bats he had, home and away, in 2004-2008.

What might have been accurate was to say, "His career BABIP suggests he's a much better hitter than he's shown, so it's pretty much assured that he'll figure it out, hit the ball better, and improve his numbers." But Holliday's performance was not going to improve on its own, like some unlucky craps player waiting out a run of 7s and 11s. Holliday's performance was going to improve only because he made adjustments, changed the things that were wrong with his approach, and had different at bats.

Now there is no question that as long as the A's keep running out Crosby, R. Davis, and Hannahan against superior hitting, Oakland will lose more than it will win. But at the same time, Jason Giambi doesn't have to be hitting .200, a given game does not necessarily have to come down to a single bounce or a single call, and neither the baseball gods nor Lady Luck has any standing vendetta against the Oakland A's.

The serenity prayer asks, "...grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference." Let's just work on the second part, and the rest might start to take care of itself.