To understand Harper's breakthrough, look at what he's done to the breaking balls pitchers threw.
Bryce Harper hit one of the more ridiculous home runs Tuesday night against the Yankees, one of those “oh my goodness I love baseball” ones, on a fast-sinking slider that was about five inches below the strike zone. With what seemed like just a flick of the wrist, Harper had his 10th home run in 12 games. He has as many opposite field homers through 40 games as he did in his first 40 games last year to any field.
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It wasn’t that long ago that features popped up across the baseball world heralding the rise of the cutter and the profound effect it was supposedly having on the hitting-pitching balance. Here’s a Sports Illustratedpiece from 2011:
Many pitchers are relievers because they never developed a great off-speed pitch. Tyler Clippard now has two.
“The terms splitter and forkball are often used interchangeably to describe a pitch where the index and middle fingers are split around the baseball in any fashion. … Nonetheless, very few pitchers actually throw the slow, tumbling, dropping forkball.” – Mike Fast
How the Rockies have obtained and drafted slider-leaning pitchers.
Every day until Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus authors will preview two teams—one from the AL, one from the NL—identifying strategies those teams employ to gain an advantage. Today: unsolvable-yet-succeeding Oakland Athletics and the solvable-yet-losing Colorado Rockies.
I had a feeling we might see a position player in Detroit on Thursday, when the Tigers battled the Tribe for 13 innings and got only 10 outs from Robbie Ray. It could easily have been Don Kelly, who pumped 85 mph heat and a curveball in a 2011 game. But instead, in the top of the ninth, Brad Ausmus summoned utility infielder (“the very utility infielderiest of utility infielders,” according to Grant Brisbee) Danny Worth.
Another position player climbs the mound, but he doesn't linger long.
Steve Tolleson is not flashy. A utility infielder who’s spent (small) parts of three seasons in the majors, he’s just trying to make himself useful. “Player for the Toronto Blue Jays and proud father and husband. Blessed more than I deserve,” is his Twitter self-description.
The skinny on the pitch that's taking baseball by storm.
Would you be surprised if I told you that over a quarter of the curveballs delivered by major league pitchers in 2013 were thrown with a knuckle curve grip? I certainly was. This was one of the results of the first comprehensive study of knuckle curveballs in the major leagues, which I have conducted after months of data collection. It is limited to PITCHf/x data, but the large population sizes give us a good first look at what knuckle curveballs behave like relative to standard curves.
What is a knuckle curveball?
First, let me define clearly what this study entails. A curveball is a pitch that, when thrown from a conventional arm angle, will drop from its normal trajectory due to topspin. It is also typically thrown slower than other pitches, so it drops significantly from the effect of gravity, as well. The two most important fingers in the curveball grip are usually the middle finger and the thumb. The middle finger and thumb rest on or beside seams on opposite sides of the ball, as in this image. At release, the thumb and middle finger spin the ball forward, giving it the desired topspin. The index finger is not needed at all to throw the pitch, and a handful of pitchers even leave it off the ball entirely.
Mike Carp showed off a knuckleball during a rare opportunity to pitch for the Red Sox.
“Any time you end up with a position player on the mound, it’s not been a good night,” John Farrell said after last night’s debacle of a game for his Red Sox. From Farrell’s position, it’s hard to disagree. But for a Yankee fan like myself and someone with particular interest in position player pitchers, last night was hilarious. Mike Carp’s pitching appearance was not the first position player outing of the season, but it was certainly the most notable. Most important for our purposes, Carp threw a total of 37 pitches—enough for a tentative scouting report.
How the dominant Fernandez from Tuesday could become even better.
For those of you who never watched Sandy Koufax pitch, last night was an opportunity to see an equivalent performance (and if you subscribe to MLB.TV, you can watch it in perpetuity). Jose Fernandez was just that good, using a fastball-slurve one-two punch to strike out 14 over eight scoreless innings and induce a lot of weak contact against the Braves, a team that can slug a baseball pretty well.