Pitch(ing coach) Perfect: Matt Schissel’s mental side

By Shane Hulsey

When you’re a struggling pitcher, especially a struggling college pitcher, getting those bad memories out of your head is the first step toward moving on. But it’s a lot easier said than done.

Just ask Quincy University pitching coach Matt Schissel, who pitched at Central College in Pella, Iowa, before coming to QU as a graduate assistant in 2017.

“I honestly never really got good at (moving on),” he said. “If I struggled, I felt like I would struggle the next week…and the next week.”

But Schissel, who is in his first year as QU pitching coach, said his struggles in this aspect have made him a better coach.

“I tended to overthink a lot,” he said. “I had a very mentally heavy approach on the mound, and I try to keep our guys away from that. Every week they know how we want to pitch certain guys, how we’re trying to get outs, who’s going to pitch when, those types of things. Knowing those things going into a game allows guys to understand their role and visualize when they could throw and when they can’t.”

As much as pitchers want to limit their mental distractions and “stay in the moment,” so to speak, it’s important to look back on previous outings and evaluate them. Schissel said it’s as simple as taking an elementary school concept and applying it to pitching…but it’s not really that simple.

“Whoever it is, it’s about relating back to certain games where they did really well, and then getting them back in the right frame of mind.

“What was different from a game where you were really good compared to a game where you struggled? What did you do different? What was different during the week? Did we change something? Was your bullpen different? Was it worse? Better? I just try to find similarities and differences between their weeks and compare and contrast.”

In some cases, these reflections can take pitchers back longer than just a few weeks.

Dalton Overstreet missed the entire 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery and had a 9.00 ERA in just 11 innings in 2018. Between 2016 and 2018, Overstreet threw just 28 innings for the Hawks and his ERA during that time was north of 10.00.

His redshirt junior season has been a much different story.

As of April 24, 2019, Overstreet had started six games and tossed 32 innings. His 3.94 ERA puts him third on the team among pitchers who have made at least one start. This includes an April 19 start against Bellarmine in which he gave up six runs in three innings. Prior to that game, his ERA was 2.48 in five starts.

When Overstreet struggles, Schissel points back to, and encourages him to reflect on, this journey.

“Knowing the hard work he’s put in, I relate back to that and push on that,” Schissel said. “I tell him, ‘Think about all the work you put in to come back from Tommy John. Think about the work you put in over the offseason, the summer, the fall, and the winter.’ When he struggles, it’s about relating back to those things that put him in a good frame of mind.”

Pitch framing has become an area of more and more emphasis in recent years. This type of framing can get pitchers a couple extra strikes and is undoubtedly one of the most valuable skills a catcher can possess.

But for the player standing 60 feet, 6 inches away on the mound, the framing goes on where no one sees it.

What goes on between the ears of a pitcher is just as important as what goes on between the white lines.

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