Start with the premise that baseball is a game of failure.
Even the best hitters make outs the majority of the time. Then consider the added difficulty in getting at most one chance a game to succeed and maybe having to wait several days for another.
That is the plight of the pinch hitter. It is easy to understand why the Marlins' bench players refer to themselves as the Goon Squad. The job can drive you batty.
"It's a tough job. You're coming off the bench and you're facing a closer or somebody nasty in a situation where the game could be on the line and you have a chance to do something to really help the team. Believe me, it's not an easy thing to do," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "You have to have a short memory, because most of the time you're not going to have success. That's just the way it is."
Players who develop a knack for coming off the bench and delivering key hits are a valuable commodity, and the Marlins added two of the best in the business this past offseason.
Reed Johnson leads the majors with 11 pinch hits, and his nine RBI ranks second. He is on pace to challenge Ross Gload's team record of 21 in a season.
Jeff Baker is tied for seventh with eight hits and has driven in six runs, including a game-winning pinch-single last Saturday in St. Louis.
"It's a big plus for the team when you go up there and are able to contribute. It provides a lift for everybody," Baker said. "Me and Reed enjoy it. We've done this for a long time together — we played in Chicago for three years and then Atlanta for a year. We kind of take a lot of pride in it and enjoy trying to be the best bench in the league."
And they are doing it efficiently, with Johnson batting .314 in a pinch, and Baker .333. The Marlins' career leader, Wes Helms, with 56, averaged .264.
Like most preeminent pinch hitters, Johnson and Baker are in their 30s with considerable big-league experience. Like any form of craftsmanship, the job takes time to hone and polish.
That is evident in watching rookie Justin Bour, who is 0 for 11 as a pinch hitter and 6 for 14 in other circumstances.
"My first couple years when I was young in Colorado doing it, I scuffled. It was hard. We didn't really have any older, veteran guys on the bench to help us," Baker said. "The biggest advice I got was from [then-Rockies manager] Clint Hurdle basically telling me, 'I'm giving you one shot to go up there and try to clean up everybody else's mess.'
"I just kind of laughed. Because when you're a young player and you're going up there pinch-hitting and you're not playing every day, you kind of feel like it's the end of the world."
The advice enabled Baker to relax and keep the task in perspective. And he showed Hurdle that he got it.
In 2007, Baker got only one at-bat in the National League Division Series. He made it count with an eighth-inning single off the Phillies' J.C. Romero to drive in a game-winning run that clinched the series for the Rockies.
"It took me a while. You get to asking veteran players who have done that in the past and what they did," said Johnson, who found sage advice from Don Mattingly, who outlined a practical approach to hitting that has served him in all situations, not just as a pinch hitter.
Mattingly taught Johnson to learn pitchers' tendencies by studying video. He keeps clips of pitchers on an opposing teams on his iPad, and views them to see their strengths as well as what they don't do well.
That enables Johnson to narrow his focus to looking for certain pitches in specific spots and ruling out others.
"You can start to really narrow down sides of the plate, and you can eliminate pitches," said Johnson, who has hit .256 overall in his career but .291 as a pinch hitter. "If you can eliminate the inside corner and live out over the plate, that's a huge advantage for you as a hitter anytime, not just a pinch hitter.
"I'm already in a big situation, and if I have no idea what this pitcher is going to try to do with me, then all of a sudden my anxiety level goes even higher. So I feel if I can control my anxiety though scouting reports or approach, I give myself the best chance to succeed."