Tyler Griffey has missed his last 20 3-point attempts. That's a zero-percent shooting percentage. Zero. He hasn't knocked down a three-ball since garbage time on Jan. 2 against Purdue.
Griffey's recent drought is incredible given his shooting percentage for the first part of the season. Through eight games, Griffey was stroking the ball, shooting 17-of-30 from behind the arc. Some would credit that success to the lack of big game pressure Griffey had to deal with against easy competition early on. But that argument goes out the window when you consider that with the game on the line against Gardner-Webb, Griffey knocked down a last second 3-pointer. Believe it or not, Tyler Griffey is a good shooter.
In sports, players are often defined by their slumps and their abililty to bust out of them. But Griffey is only spiraling deeper and deeper into a rut. His desperate body language says it all.
Now, I'm no sports psychologist, nor do I pretend to be. But, to me, this sounds like a classic case of the yips. That's right--the YIPS: An unexplained inability to do something athletically that at one point was done with proficiency.
Let's look back at recent historical yips cases as a point of reference.
Chuck Knoblauch, New York Yankees, 1999
Knoblauch began his career with the Minnesota Twins where he won AL Rookie of the Year in 1991. He had below average power but was a solid contact hitter, carrying around a .300 batting average during his tenure in Minnesota, once finishing a season as high as .341. His best attribute, however, was his speed. He was a phenomenal base stealer. His speed also propelled him to become one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball, and he won the Gold Glove award in 1997.
He was traded to the New York Yankees in 1998. Problems began to arise early and in 1999, Knoblauch came down with a full-blown case of the yips. Suddenly, he could no longer throw the ball to first base. Physically, Knoblauch had proven himself as an excellent defender, so the issue had to be psychological. Almost overnight, he went from a Gold Glove Award winner to throwing the ball into the stands on routine ground balls. He never recovered. In his three seasons as the Yankees second basemen, Knoblauch committed 43-percent of his career errors.
The rest of Knoblauch's game was affected by his defensive struggles. His batting average, home run totals and stolen base totals dropped considerably, and, after hitting .056 in the Yankees' 2001 postseason run, Knoblauch was not re-signed by New York. He was out of baseball one year later.
Rick Ankiel, St. Louis Cardinals, 2000
Ankiel burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old promising pitching prospect for the Cardinals in 1999. After only 30 innings his first season, Ankiel became a full-time starter in 2000. His line for that season was the following: 30 games started, 11-7, 3.50 ERA, 194 strikeouts.
His regular season performance was impressive enough to earn him a second-place finish in NL Rookie of the Year voting. He was also named St. Louis' Game 1 starter in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. That is when the wheels fell off. Courtesy of Wikipedia, here is a batter-by-batter recap Ankiel's second inning performance.
- Greg Maddux walks on four pitches.
- Rafael Furcal fouls out to first baseman Will Clark.
- Andruw Jones at bat: two wild pitches (on 0-1 and 2-1) would advance Maddux to second and then third. A. Jones walks on five pitches.
- Chipper Jones at bat: a third wild pitch (on 2-2) would advance A. Jones to second. C. Jones strikes out looking.
- Andrés Galarraga walks on a full count. Ball four would be the fourth wild pitch of the inning, scoring Maddux and advancing A. Jones to third.
- Brian Jordan singled to center. A. Jones scores, Galarraga to second.
- Reggie Sanders at bat: a fifth wild pitch (on 1-1) advances Galarraga to third and Jordan to second. Sanders walks on five pitches.
- Walt Weiss singled to center. Galarraga and Jones score. On the throw home by Ray Lankford, Sanders to second.
Five wild pitches in one inning. In the NLCS, Ankiel pitched 1.1 innings and threw four more wild pitches. In 175 regular season innings of work, he only threw two.
Like Knoblauch, he never recovered. Ankiel began the next season with the same problem, he couldn't find the strikezone. Soon, he was back in the minors, then out of baseball. However, in 2008, he broke back into the Major Leagues, but this time as an outfielder, and he is still a big league ballplayer.
He didn't overcome the yips. He simply adapted to them.
David Duvall, Golfer, 2002
Duvall's case may not exactly be a case of the "yips", as yips in golf commonly refer to an unconscious tremor that makes one unable to putt with any accuracy. However, he does fit the bill as a star athlete who suddenly became worthless.
In the late '90s, it was Duvall and Tiger Woods at the top of the money list and at the top of nearly every leaderboard. In 1998, Duvall was the world's No. 1 golfer. In '97 and '99, he was No. 2. Also in 1999, Duvall tied the scoring record, shooting a 59 in the final round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. In 2001, he won the British Open.
Then, he fell off the face of the Earth. At first, he was shooting ridiculously high scores. Then he would disappear, come back at seemingly random times, shoot in the 80s, miss the cut by a dozen strokes, and disappear again. He has not won a tournament for 11 seasons.
Does Tyler Griffey have the yips? Those who say "yes" have an argument. Yips are a very real thing. He has missed his last 20 3-pointers for goodness sake.
Those who say "no, it's too early to tell," or "no, at least he's still hitting the rim, sometimes," also have a case, and I commend them for their optimism. They'll be the people telling you the Fighting Illini are on their way to a 5-seed. But to those optimists, honestly answer this question: Would you be surprised if Tyler Griffey doesn't hit another 3-pointer for the rest of the season, or hits some pitiful amount, like 9-percent? Would you be surprised if he stops shooting threes all together?
To those pessimists, where does Griffey go now? Does he reinvent his game as a post player, similar to what Rick Ankiel did? Or does he keep sliding and sliding, never overcoming, never adapting, like Knoblauch and Duvall?