Steve Springer’s voice screams confidence.
His goal is to instill that same confidence in every hitter at any level of baseball. A man that did not start for his high school baseball team in Huntington Beach, Calif. and only had three at-bats as a freshman at Golden West College may not sound like the ideal person to preach confidence.
So how did Springer gain such confidence?
“I played 14 years of professional baseball and I know how evil batting average is. It is baseball’s Satan,” Springer said. “Around 1987, I stopped letting this evil number dictate my success and I started gaining huge amounts of confidence.”
Springer compares batting average to the devil, yet players, fans and coaches praise hitters based on batting average every year. No stat cuts deeper into the mind of every batter than those three numbers that always result in more failure than success.
Currently, Springer works for the Toronto Blue Jays as a pro scout and “performance coach.” Working with minor league hitters on the mental side of baseball and developing their confidence are his main responsibilities within the organization.
Though he is employed by the Blue Jays, Springer works with many other Major League hitters as well. On April 23, the Los Angeles Angels All-Star DH Mark Trumbo went 2-for-5 with a double and knocked a run in against the Texas Rangers in a 5-4 win, but Trumbo still felt he needed to talk about the mental side of hitting with Springer over lunch the next day. This is no rarity either.
“I talk with All-Star caliber players at least once a week. I have known Mark [Trumbo] for over five years now and he is always working to be better,” Springer said. “I’m in contact with Jose Bautista and Paul Goldschmidt frequently too.”
Not every professional hitter in baseball graduated from Harvard with a mathematics degree, but they all have mathematical minds when it comes to hitting.
This mindset creates two different types of players in Springer’s mind. He understands that every hitter has the confident hitter in his mind and the unconfident hitter there too.
“If every player showed up to the plate with confidence, the ERA leader would be 4.50,” Springer said.
Springer’s claim is impossible to prove, but his point is that every player must stop paying attention to baseball’s evil number and bring out the confident player begging to be released.
When Springer stopped focusing on batting average and started focusing solely on hitting the ball hard and helping his team win, he saw the art of hitting in a new light. This state of mind sparked his two audio CDs that emphasize his own experiences and the key concept of quality at-bats.
With all the new stats being used for analyzing baseball, fans have started to look outside the box. Baseball is turning more and more into an analytical game with WAR (wins above replacement) being used to make a case for Mike Trout to win the American League MVP last year over Miguel Cabrera, who won the first AL Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
So, could quality at-bats be a new stat that baseball evaluators measure players with?
“Ninety percent of a quality at-bat starts with how you feel walking to the plate,” Springer said. “But if you wanted to put it into a category, it’s all about helping the team win.”
If there were a way to somehow compute quality at-bats, Springer would use the following criteria:
1. A hard-hit ball
2. A base-hit (Springer’s least favorite part of a quality at-bat)
3. An RBI
4. Moving a runner over
5. A walk
6. A hit-by-pitch
7. A successful bunt
8. Anything that ultimately helps the team win (Springer’s favorite part of a quality at-bat)
Each year, players at every level are named MVPs, and the batting average leaders are always recognized. Springer wants players to strive for a different award.
“Every coach should have a Quality At-Bats winner. This is an attainable goal that will just make all your stats shoot up anyways. If your coach doesn’t have the award, then make one up with your teammates,” Springer said.
Springer believes in the quality at-bat, because a confident state of mind is a goal that can be achieved every time a hitter steps to the plate. A hit, however is not.
In a game where a successful season results in failing 70 percent of the time, doubt is easily instilled into players’ minds at a very young age. Pressures of success are pushed on players at a young age, and Springer sees this as a problem that starts beyond the players.
“I think every parent needs to listen to my CD,” Springer said. “We have 12-year old players being berated from their parents, when they are trying to be successful in the hardest game in the world.”
A positive mindset is great, but hard to maintain over the course of a 162-game season. That’s why Springer pushes his CDs to his players. Bautista began listening to Springer’s first CD in 2001, and Goldschmidt began listening last season. Just like hitting balls off the tee, taking ground balls and hitting live batting practice, mental exercises are just as important for hitters as physical exercise. Instead of muscle memory, this is mental memory.
“When you buy into the team and quality at-bats, the confident guy shows up. I believe in: hit the ball hard and you win,” Springer said. “I’m trying to change how people view success.”
The success that Springer has had in baseball is one that nobody, including himself, could have foreseen. A small guy that battled to even make his junior college team, Springer wound up playing and coaching in the MLB.
“God’s had his hand in my life,” Springer said. “I went from only three at-bats as a freshman in college, to coaching All-Stars. I am very grateful and I believe in my confident mindset.”