What is inside Ian Snell’s head?

Dejan Kovacevic’s article on Ian Snell this morning got me thinking a bit. As Snell’s forgettable season has unfolded, culminating in yesterday’s demotion, most fans have grown increasingly frustrated with him. Here is an attempt to paraphrase the most common complaints: “Snell is cocky and selfish, blaming everyone and everything but himself for his struggles, despite the fact that he is the one pitching poorly. He needs to be put in his place. He needs to ride a minor league bus for a while, instead of lounging around, enjoying his multi-million dollar contract.” I admit, those thoughts have gone through my head at times this year. But I think there is a larger, underlying issue here. This is a classic case of small man’s disease. We have all seen instances of this complex. An undersized male tries to compensate for his small stature by picking unnecessary fights with his larger peers. But I would argue that there are other forms of this issue.

For those that don’t know me, I am a 25-year-old adult male that is 5’7″ soaking wet. I am not a big guy. I am shorter than half the women that I know. I know how it feels to be the smallest person on a baseball diamond. I have felt the rush of blocking an attempted lay-up from a man a foot taller than I am. I have chased that feeling, yearned for it. If you visualize that feeling, you will see Ian Snell in 2007. Snell is not very small by normal human standards, but he has been doubted his entire life by the baseball community because of his size. In 2007, he thrived on those doubts. He used it as motivation and he experienced success. Baseball was fun for this underdog.

But life as the underdog is not always fun. Sometimes you leap for a rebound, and you are only able to brush the shoulders of the guy who grabbed the ball without jumping. For those with some form of small man’s disease, it can be difficult to fail. I am a pretty laid-back guy, so I am generally able to handle this issue fairly well. But I can get unnecessarily defensive when I am told that I cannot do something or that I do not do it well. Make a joke insinuating that I am a poor parallel parker, and I might react as if you just insulted my intelligence. It is silly and childish. It is my version of small man’s syndrome.  It is similar to what we are seeing from Ian Snell. He is struggling and has lost confidence in his pitching. Thus, he is excessively defensive about any criticism regarding his performance. I am laid-back, so my defensive actions seem minor (at least, I think they are minor). Ian is a fiery guy, so his defense mechanism is amplified.

I think this excerpt from Dejan’s article says it best:

Davila’s influence on Snell includes passing along to him many of the articles, from newspapers and blogs, with negative references about him. For a time, they seemed to help fuel Snell’s success, especially 2007, his best season with a 3.76 ERA. Jeff Andrews, the Pirates’ previous pitching coach, often would exchange playful insults with Snell as a way of motivating him.

In the past year, though, it appeared to swing the other direction.

When things are going well, Ian loves the criticism. He feeds off it. Remember the Ian Snell insult game from WHYGAVS a couple years ago? Pat acknowledged that Snell pitched better when he was angry about something, so he proceeded to post an insult every time Ian made a start. Now that Snell no longer believes in himself, he is caving under the pressure and attempting to deflect blame to others at all opportunities.

So what does it mean? Two things, I think. First, Snell is probably not the jerk that fans seem to think he is. By most accounts, he is often described as “a good guy with some maturity issues.” Continuing the parallel between Ian and my own personality, I think most people would describe me as “a good guy who can get pretty childish if someone insults his ability to properly make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” I know it is not a perfect analogy, but think of it this way. If the only quotes that the general public ever heard from me came immediately after I ruined a PB&J and someone called me out on it, I would probably come off as a major jerk. The only time we hear from Snell is after he pitches and a reporter asks him what went wrong. We just might not have enough information to fairly judge his character based on those situations alone.

More importantly, what does this mean for Snell’s future on the field? I think that if Snell can regain his confidence, we might see the same Ian that we saw in 2007. The Ian that welcomes all criticism and tries to defeat it between the lines. This may or may not make him a good pitcher again, but it can only help his mental state on the mound. Triple-A just might be the place for him to recapture that confidence.


For the record, I make a fantastic PB&J.

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