A primer on how pitchers produce movement and vary velocity by gripping and releasing their pitches.
Pitching mechanics tend to dominate the word count here in Raising Aces, so it may surprise some readers to learn that my favorite element of pitching is “stuff.” Nothing lights me up like blazing heat, baffling change-ups, and exploding sliders that paint a catcher's target. Some pitches are so devastating as to take on a personality of their own, effectively defining a player's legacy, such as the cutter of Mariano Rivera or the change-up of Johan Santana. There are even pitches that are so legendary that their reputations have survived the passage of time, to be appreciated by people who never personally witnessed their glory, including Walter Johnson's eye-blink heater and Sandy Koufax's knee-buckling curve.
The quality of a pitcher's stuff is intertwined with his mechanics. Pitch velocity is determined by kinetic energy that is transferred through linear momentum, torque, and the rotational elements of the delivery. Pitch command is directly tied to the consistency of mechanical timing and sequencing, in addition to dynamic balance and posture. The key ingredient to pitch movement is also rooted in mechanics, and though a pitcher's grip on the baseball tends to steal the spotlight, the more critical determinant of pitch break is the angle of the pitcher's forearm at release point.
How much does a pitcher's secondary arsenal, mound presence, and poise play into a scout's evaluation?
In part one, I blathered on about fastball evaluation and the three main components of the overall pitcher grade: command, velocity, and movement. About 2,000 words later (200 to set the mood, 200 to make the point, and 1,600 to expose my weaknesses as a writer), I hope that the reader formed a closer bond with my process, though it sometimes seemed like I cared more about the beef industry than scouting. I’m not going to apologize for that. I care about beef. I’m from Texas. I also ride a horse to work and wear a duster. Moving on.
It’s time to shift our attention to what I look for when evaluating a pitcher’s secondary arsenal [read: complementary pitches, e.g., slider, curveball, changeup, etc.], mound presence/poise, and pitchability. While a good fastball can carry the majority of the load and is therefore set up to receive most of the accolades, the secondary and tertiary components of the arsenal will ultimately define the attainable range of success. Outliers always exist, so you might run across arsenals that aren’t built with the bones of a fastball, or arsenals that consist of one super-wizard pitch (Mariano Rivera’s cutter), but for this evaluation, let’s just assume we are scouting a human, and not a knuckleballer or a Panamanian relief wizard.
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We hear terms like "projectability" and "60-grade velocity" bandied about, but what do they actually mean? Here's a glimpse at what goes into scouting a pitcher.
If you have ever listened to the BP podcast, you have no doubt heard the always-fedora’d Kevin Goldstein and me identify what we look for in a prospect. Every player is unique, but there are certain attributes that tickle the scouting fancy more than others, whether physical or psychological. While we are recidivistic in our velocity whoring, other factors are at play when evaluating a pitcher, just like evaluating hitters is more complex than watching batting practice power displays. In this long-winded series, I’ll identity what I look for when scouting players on the mound, in the field, and in the box.
Not to get overly existential here, but scouting is a profound philosophical pursuit: Are we looking for enlightenment through the physical exceptionalism of athletes? Is it possible to separate our own deficiencies and insecurities from the process? Does the fact that I used to be quite fast influence my ability to appreciate speed in a lower-level prospect? Does the fact that I once had dreams of being a ballplayer heighten my ability to recognize those who are athletically superior to me, or does my failure create a form of subjective justice that I wield upon those that get to play out my fantasy for a paycheck?
The veteran hurler on setting up the pieces, controlling what you can, and employing the wisdom of others.
Paul Byrd knows his craft. Seen by many as a future pitching coach, the veteran right-hander has become a student of the game over his 13 big-league seasons, adding more than a fair share of guile to his repertoire as he has aged. Acquired by the Red Sox from Cleveland in August, the 37-year-old Byrd has pitched for seven teams overall and has a lifetime record of 108-93, with a 4.38 ERA in 338 games. On the season, Byrd is 11-12 with a 4.60 ERA. David spoke with him after his last regular-season start.
It looked like a prime candidate for a blowout, and that's exactly what happened.
Unlike Jim's twice-weekly oeuvre, in which he previews both top-notch
match-ups and lopsided potential laughers, GotW was meant to pick choice
battles, riveting team match-ups, interesting pitching
battles--something compelling. The other mandate of GotW, however, is that
every team must be covered at least once during the season. Since a
Royals/Devil Rays breakdown could cause narcolepsy among non-members of
the Gotay and Cantu families, a Show-Me State tilt seemed appropriate.
Ron Antinoja founded and runs a service called Tendu. The firm--so named for teams' desire to understand player and coaching tendencies to do certain things in certain situations--expects to track the velocity, location and result of about 90% of all major league pitches this season. Tendu tracks those pitches and their outcomes and stores that information in an Internet database that allows users to discover pitcher and hitter tendencies in any given situation. Jonah Keri recently chatted with Antinoja about teams' neverending quest to get the upper hand on the opponent.
Baseball Prospectus: What was the genesis of
Almost one full year ago--June of 1998, to be exact--I had become
increasingly frustrated at Jim Leyland's idea of "entertainment"
in what was turning into The Lost Season in south Florida. My frustration
stemmed from watching as his young and promising pitchers were made to
throw close to a gross of pitches on an all-too-frequent basis. I watched
with dismay as Livan Hernandez twice reached the 150-pitch barrier,
but when rookie Jesus Sanchez labored for 147 pitches one fine
evening--accompanied by deafening silence from traditional media
sources--my disappointment turned to rage and inaction no longer seemed an
option. I had to do something.