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The perils of overthinking in the batter's box

The charts are posted alongside the starting lineup every day in the Buffalo Bisons’ clubhouse breaking down the opposing teams’ pitching staff.

How hard does he throw? What percentage of fastballs does he throw to right-handed hitters vs. left-handed hitters? Same for sliders and changeups. All kinds of stats are available for study. The information is everywhere.

And sometimes, maybe, it’s information overload.

It’s one reason that Bisons’ manager Gary Allenson proposes to explain his club’s collective struggle at the plate, particularly in its latest nine-game losing streak heading into Friday night’s matchup with the Syracuse Chiefs at Coca-Cola Field.

“You get a tendency to overthink,” Allenson said. “Too many numbers and stuff. I tell you what it was probably a month and a half ago, Kevin Pillar said the same thing in an interview … that he finally decided to quit looking at the video of the other pitcher. I know what he throws, so I’m just going to get in the batter’s box and look for my pitch to hit, not overanalyze and think what this guy’s going to throw in this count or what he’s going to throw in that count.

“Didn’t have that stuff when we played,” Allenson said of the advanced stats that weren’t in fashion when he was a catcher with the Boston Red Sox from 1979-84. “So when a guy got on the bench and I hadn’t hit yet I’d say, ‘Hey what’s his fastball doing?’ The tendency is to think a little too much nowadays.”

The basic numbers for the Bisons aren’t so pretty. In their nine-game losing streak entering Friday’s game there were batting .240 (67 for 279) while hitting just .166 (11 for 66) with runners in scoring position. In that span they’ve been outscored, 36-14.

Has information overload been to blame? Well maybe not, but it’s certainly a tool which needs practice to use for individual hitters.

“I think some information is good and some can be too much and it’s a matter of dissecting it and using what you need and getting rid of what you don’t,” said Bisons’ utility man Andy Burns. “I know what I need and try to just not even look at the rest and just stick to my plan and my process. I think whatever the pitcher has so be it. It’s more about us as hitters sticking to our process and sticking to our approach and that’s where we’ll have success.”

That can be difficult for a guy like Burns who has been promoted to Toronto three times but has yet to start a game and has gotten just six at-bats in 10 games. That means when he returns to the Bisons, he’s usually been out of game action for a few days. Hitting is all about timing and repetition – two things which come back together slower than most players would like.

“There’s no comparison to being out and facing a guy who’s throwing 95,” Burns said. “There’s really no way to replicate that. Until you get that timing back, you’re just trying to fight for it, fight to get that timing back.”

The key to hitting for Burns is “just getting started on time. I know that’s pretty vague and there’s not a lot of substance to that but that’s really all it is,” he said. “You’re just trying to create that rhythm with the pitcher and that’s the tough part, trying to be on-time for 95 but still recognize a slider and put a pretty good swing on that. That’s all stuff that if you go a fair amount of time without seeing it takes a couple of days to get back.”

Hitting is timing for Burns.

For Allenson hitting is being “patient to get your pitch and aggressive when you get it. I see too many times where swinging early in the count and it’s not our pitch, at least doesn’t look like it from the way the hitter reacted.

“I always say hit one off the guy’s forehead. That’s where the ball’s coming from so get mad, have a reason for not liking the guy even though it’s just a baseball game. We get clouded with too many different things then we don’t see the ball to hit the ball.”

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