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The Psychological Profile of MLB Hitters

Posted: 2022-09-20 14:09:31 (ET)    [ 789 views ]

The Psychological Profile of MLB hitters when the team reaches the extremes of extra ball movement, very little ball movement and the "Zero Plateau" as gauged by the Visual Memory Index.

This is too large a study to handle in one article, so I’ve split the articles into three.  The Zero Plateau is unique because many of the day-to-day games land in this spectrum of the VMI.  Zero, is where the VMI, which gauges how familiar are the hitters to the movement the pitchers will have in today’s ballpark given the weather conditions, has reduced to near “zero.” Zero means the hitters are well adjusted to the amount of late movement on each of the pitches they’ve been seeing for the past week.  One would think that in this condition, the hitters would be at their best, and many times they are.  However, the opposite is true about as often and that is the most interesting aspect of MLB.  Why would the hitters just as often, perform so poorly, when they are extremely familiar with the conditions and even with the opposing pitcher?  

The Coors Field Effect (both coming into Colorado from other venues and upon leaving Colorado to a more typical environment).

For MLB hitters, Colorado’s Coors Field is an enigma to figure out.  It has been the most prolific baseball park in the history of Major League Baseball.  The Colorado Rockies is perennially the best home team in terms of winning percentage in MLB.  Yet, on the other hand, this same Colorado team has perennially been the worst road team in terms of winning percentage in history.  

Since I began this quest in 2001, most of MLB now knows the truth about what the problem is.  Early in Colorado’s first decade of existence, the major discussion centered around the distance the ball flies at higher altitudes and the size of the outfield.  However, much of the baseball world now knows that pitching through thin air is a larger issue and the hitters who see that type of pitching for several games are extremely prone to difficulties in adjusting back to more normal movement on pitches when they leave.  This difficulty adjusting has become known as the “Coors Field Hangover.”   But what is it all about?

As all the members of this website know, I focus on the density of the air.  For those of you who are not members, I ask you this question as an introduction, ‘what causes a pitch to curve in the first place?’  Of course, it is the air.  So, why would a pitch not curve more if the air is heavier?  Of course, it would.  So, the next question is how much more?  And the next; how does it affect the game?  These are the questions this website answers.  

MLB knows about the air density--as they once commissioned the late Yale University Professor, Dr. Robert Adair to write a book on the subject.  Dr. Adair explained everything he knew and could test in his book titled ‘The Physics of Baseball.’   Despite his lack of baseball experience, he tested and verified everything about the flight of a baseball through three densities of air—Sea Level, the Midwest and Denver, Colorado.  

So, what’s up with the Rockies?  Well, they have both the best hitters park for home games in MLB where fast pitches are straighter than elsewhere, and ‘very’ slow curving pitches work fairly well at keeping the opponent off-balance.  But, the park is prolific at giving up runs on both sides of the competition.  `We, at BaseballVmi, gauge how much less movement is on the pitch and how familiar to the hitters is that movement in the first game (+20.0 VMI), the second game (about +13.0 VMI) and the gauge moves closer to zero as games continue in Coors Field, and as the teams become more familiar with those pitches.   During such a series, the hitters’ muscle memory and visual memory adjust to the amount of late movement available within the confines of Coors Field.

Unfortunately, the homestands for the Rockies come to an end, and they must adjust to greater late movement on all the pitches upon leaving for a road trip.  This is where, each season, the Rockies quickly become the worst road team in all of MLB and its history.

It’s not Just the Colorado Rockies

All teams leaving Colorado for home or additional road games match Colorado’s woeful road win percent.  Yes, in the first series away from Coors Field, all teams have traditionally performed at less than 40% wins.  We begin gauging the VMI (familiarity index) at -20.00 upon leaving Coors for a sea level location.  Essentially, it is the difference between Colorado’s altitude vs Sea Level that causes the needed huge adjustment for hitters.  Minus 20 on the VMI scale means the hitters will be about 4 inches below the--most used--four-seam fastball to begin their series.   This is the Coors Field Hangover.

By mid-season, the Rockies teams are normally so frustrated at needing to adjust to greater, upward-hopping fastballs and harder diving curves, cutters and sinkers that it starts to wear on their psyche as a team and as individuals.  Soon, it begins to affect the players’ defense, decision making at the plate, base paths, and strike zone awareness due to the building lack of confidence.  It affects the manager too, as his players can’t even put a bunt down to get “small ball” going for the team. 

So plus 20.00 or greater on the VMI scale means the hitters will be above the fastball (where Barry Bonds said they should try to remain).  All MLB hitters will normally be extremely prolific at hitting and production against all pitchers sometimes before or immediately after the first game of that series in Coors Field.  Coors Field is the only ballpark that produces a plus 20.00 or greater VMI.  However, for visiting teams, the difficulty of figuring out Coors Field and its place in all of MLB parks and pitch-movement creates a psychological nightmare for hitters.  It begins to occur with the fastball being straighter and not lifting and tailing off like in most of the league's ballparks.  Then, the mental frustration builds trying to figure out the difference in movement of the other pitch-types.  So, the hitter becomes a little hesitant if he is not having a good first game.  However, the difference in movement causes him to focus really hard and if he had a bad first game he will most likely rebound the next day as he adjusts his hand and eye coordination to what he sees in Coors Field.  Every team member goes through this, but the hitters who are immediately successful at hitting lesser movement begin their conformity earlier and by the end of the series are "Coors Field Hitters."

When they leave Coors Field, all hitters in MLB show the effects of it in their production. 

Minus 20.00 or so, traveling to their next series location, means the hitters will be approximately 4 inches below the fastball (with their setup and swing) upon leaving Coors Field for a Sea Level Location.

The effects of more movement than the recent exposure for the hitters transfers to other pitch-types, as well.  Teams going back to their home stadiums take less time to re-adjust than those moving on to additional road venues.  

See Pitch-Mix on the menu items on this website for further explanation of the normal production within the additional descending VMI’s both positive and negative. 

The Zero Plateau

A study like this could not be done without the Visual Memory Index.  The VMI gauges the “physical differences” between that late pitch-movement which the hitters are used to seeing vs what they will see in today’s game.  Without VMI, there would be no way in which to divide the reaction of the hitter to the physical difference of the pitch from the mental side.  So, it would be impossible to study the mental effect/focus of such a change to the hitter in typical pitch movement versus the physical effect of the pitch against his hand-eye coordination.  This is especially true when considering the amount of data generated daily in MLB across 600+ hitters, in various temperatures, against over 600 pitchers who are all armed with a bevy of pitch-types within varied pitchers’ parks and hitters’ parks across the entirety of the United States.   

The psychological impact of the above-mentioned variables could never be studied by using only the comments of hitters, pitchers, catchers and coaches without the aid of both the VMI and the Air Density Index (ADI).  By categorizing both the daily changes in pitchers’ parks using the ADI and the daily changes in hitter exposure to greater or lesser late movement on pitches utilizing the VMI, we can study a multitude of cases.  Then utilizing the actual production within those segments of pitchers parks and hitters parks we can make reasonable conclusions based on voluminous performance examples within similar conditions.  

The “zero plateau,” is one of the phenomena that comes from this study.  We have observed that all the teams experience a trend that would appear to be opposed to logic.  That is; when a team remains in familiar late pitch-movement for a long enough stretch of games for the VMI to drop toward zero (either plus or minus) then, there exists a huge tendency to either ‘zero out’ in terms of hits and runs scored, or for the team to ‘break out’ in large numbers of scoring and hits with fewer teams producing in between that high and low.

There does not seem to be a dividing point, or an identifiable marker whereby one could predict such an occurrence, other than the VMI being at zero “something” decimal strength in familiarity.  So, as of this time, I cannot identify which team’s hitting and scoring will hit the “zero plateau”, or are going to break out, but it will be one or the other with a fewer number of teams remaining unaffected by the “zero plateau.”   I am still trying to find that point between physical performance and mental performance that will help to identify “when” a team will wash out and when will they break out.

Another aspect of the “zero plateau” that is identifiable on the website via the “View Game” is that the specific pitch that is the primary one the teams tend to wash out against is the four-seam fastball.  Yes, the one the players have been hitting since Little League.   That pitch, “safe hits per strikes seen” production by the team is often at a rate of less than half the normal rate of 9%.  Other types of pitches cause struggle, as well in this plateau, but the upward lifting four-seamer is the most prominent, as it is the toughest pitch to be successful against in all of MLB yet is also the pitch most used by the pitchers.  

Teams that begin a new series in a slight pitcher’s park directly from a slight hitter’s park will be in a higher minus VMI until they get 2 or 3 games of exposure.  By about the third game, the visiting team, and sometimes the home team, will land in that minus “zero plateau” range of VMI.   At that point they will either wash out against the 4-seamer or break out against it.  

In a plus VMI series, the team that arrives at a hitter’s park directly from a pitcher’s park will sport a higher plus VMI to begin, but during the series the VMI will reduce closer to the plus “zero plateau.”  It appears that the plus zero plateau is prone to the wash out and the minus zero plateau is prone to the breakout.  However, that is not determined at this time.

The mental aspect is likely to cause the wash-out, because the hitter begins to lose focus on the little things of which unique pitch movement causes him to maintain a keen focus.  When the movement of the pitch becomes too familiar, it is easy to allow the focus to wander somewhat. 

So, at this time, I would recommend that you watch for two team losses in the small minus VMI range and then expect a breakout game when the VMI hits minus zero-something. 
I would also recommend that you watch for two team wins in the small plus VMI range and then expect a washout game when the VMI hits plus zero-something.  


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