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A Visual Scouting Primer: Pitching, Part Three

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

We're back at it again with another round of baseball language. As always, I encourage you to check out the previous installments of this series to catch up on what you missed or to familiarize yourself with the basics of these starters. You can find each of them by clicking on each part of the corresponding article:

PITCHING: Part one and part two
BREAKING: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three

At the end of my last piece, I hinted at going beyond the four seamers, and digging into the types of stitches that often make up the rest of the armory. But as soon as I sat down to begin cataloging the ways in which second-pitch situations are defined, the magnitude of the series' breaking balls and fastball contributions to all of professional baseball quickly became overwhelming. That's largely due to how throwing habits and preferences differ from player to player, and how those individual habits influence how each arsenal is used most effectively.

Asking a major league pitcher how to throw a slider would be like asking a world famous chef how to make scrambled eggs. They probably wouldn't answer the question of how to make scrambled eggs, but instead, they will tell you how. see do theirs scrambled eggs. And those preparation processes will be very different. Others would be of the Anthony Bourdain ilk, with a penchant for old-school sarcasm. Mix the eggs in a bowl without salt and pepper. Throw the butter in a hot pan and add the eggs, then stir them with a wooden spoon for a while. Meanwhile, others will take the Gordon Ramsay angle, insisting that a cold pot, a 60-second timer, and a dab of f—ing crème fraiche are all necessary for perfectly scrambled eggs. The only shared features between these two preparations are the eggs, the heat, and the fact that they are kept moving while cooking. And yet, the results of both, although different in countless ways, are easily classified as “scrambled eggs.”

Similarly, pitchers' grip and the release of their secondary offerings also vary greatly from pitcher to pitcher. Depending on how naturally talented a pitcher is, what he likes, or the length of his fingers or his overall grip strength can determine how he throws a breaking ball or an offspeed pitch. As a result, despite being classified as the same type, the pitch shape from one thrower to another may seem so different that it is almost impossible to compare. So, before we dig into defining the shapes of certain poles, and how those shapes are created by a certain pot, let's boil these categories down to their essential elements – eggs, heat, and constant motion, as it were.

Secondary spaces, while individually distinct, can be divided into basic elements. That is, we can boil them down to the type of spin a pitcher applies to the ball, the angle of the spin axis he creates in doing so, and the degree of supination or pronation in his release that achieves these unique spin qualities. Of course, there is more to design than these things, but understanding them is a good place to start.

So, let's jump in!

Spin axis

The spin axis is the center around which the ball spins. In other words (obviously, I'm on a food metaphor right now), if the ball were a candy apple, and you wanted to use it to represent a certain pitch, the spin axis would be where you would grab it. stick. It is very rare for a ball to have complete forms of any type of spin, with spin axes parallel or perpendicular. Instead, the variation comes from the pitcher's arm position, release position, supination/pronation (which I'll discuss in a moment), and many other personal characteristics. That variation, among other factors, influences the degree to which the direction of the pitch deviates from pure north/south or east/west motion.

Spin Types

Backspin: Michael Kopech's Four-Seamer

On a ball with pure backspin, the spin axis will be directly centered on each side of the ball, horizontal to the ground. As mentioned in Pitching, Part 2: Backspin is created by the pitcher allowing the ball to roll off his fingers.

Kopech keeps his fingers behind the ball when it is released, and the seams go up across the ball as it goes to the plate.

Gyroscopic Spin: Slide by Victor Vodnik

Gyroscopic spin is a term used to describe clockwise or counterclockwise rotation. For a ball with pure gyroscopic spin, the spin axis will be centered directly in front and behind the ball, horizontal to the ground.

To create this dot-like spin, Vodnik moves his fingers to the side of the ball as he releases.

Topspin: Ryan Cusick's Curveball

Topspin, also called “forward spin” or sometimes “tumble,” is the opposite of backspin. In a ball with pure topspin, the spin axis will also be directly in the center of either side of the ball, horizontal to the ground, but turned in the opposite direction.

As the ball goes to the plate, the seams go down and across the front. This requires Cusick to move his fingers to the side of the ball even more than what is required for gyroscopic spin, until his fingers travel down the front of the ball as he releases it.

Supination vs. Pronation

Supination and pronation refer to the direction and degree to which the pitcher rotates the wrist and forearm. Using supination or pitching will often sacrifice some amount of speed in favor of some amount of movement. The exact type of movement, as well as the effect of speed, depends on how the pitched or pitched release is used – ie what kind of spin it creates on the ball, and what spin axis it is.

Hint: Hunter Greene's slide

Supination is when the pitcher rotates his forearm so that his knuckles go outside the ball, and his palm goes higher. This creates a cut on the side of the glove instead.

Pitches that involve supination include cutters, sliders, and curveballs, to name a few.

Pronation: A Cycle Change by Cristian Javier

Pronation is the key to supination. When the pitcher raises his arm, the wrist and arm rotate to the opposite side, keeping his palm facing away from his body or toward the ground. This creates an arm-side run on the pitch.

A non-exhaustive list of thrown pitches includes two-seamers, circle changes, and screwballs.

Again, we're only talking about the basics here, when it comes to understanding tone structure. The fun part happens when these elements are mixed and matched to create different types of pitches. Now that we've defined and illustrated our terms, we can move on to how these terms come together and combine to create a full pitcher's arsenal, and which positions are and aren't open to interpretation. If sliders are scrambled eggs, for example, knuckleballs are scrambled eggs; there is very little variation in how pitchers throw, and the output should be the same from pitcher to pitcher, making mistakes easy to spot. I look forward to digging into these comparisons and more in future installments!

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