July 17, 2006


Searching for baseball's Bigfoot (Jeff Passan, March 13, 2006, Yahoo! Sports)

The search started Saturday afternoon. I was looking for the pitch that doesn't exist.

I saw Daisuke Matsuzaka trotting off the field at Angel Stadium. He is the best pitcher in Japan, 25 years old with a grown-out mohawk streaked with red dye. His face is round, his body angular, his gait tall and proud. When he swooped into the dugout, I asked him about the gyroball. [...]

The gyroball is baseball's version of alien life. No one knows if they've seen it. No one knows what it looks like. No one knows much about it. Except there's a small pocket of American fans who graze the Internet champing to see Matsuzaka, because they're all convinced that he throws a gyroball and they're all convinced it will revolutionize the sport.

There hasn't been a new pitch in baseball since the split-finger fastball, and it did everything from making Bruce Sutter a Hall of Famer to prolonging Roger Clemens' career by 10 years. Baseball evolves so slowly, unearthing a new pitch is like finding an Easter egg that happens to be filled with gold.

In the minds of the gyro-obsessed, Matsuzaka is their 24-karat answer. So when he heard the gyroball question, chuckled and started talking, it was obvious he did know the pitch, and that maybe, just maybe, it existed after all.

The concept of the gyroball was perfected in a supercomputer by two Japanese scientists named Ryutaro Himeno and Kazushi Tezuka. In simulations, they showed how a pitcher with good mechanics could throw the baseball in a way that it spun like a bullet – or, in sporting sense, like a perfect football spiral – and broke like nothing anyone has ever seen.

Roughly translated, the title of their book is "The Secret of the Miracle Pitch," and it's loaded with anime cartoons and mathematical formulas that attempt to explain how to throw a gyroball.

The Ghost Pitch (Will Carroll, RobNeyer.com)

The pitch is like a ghost. People claim they have seen it, but like a UFO or the Loch Ness Monster, the evidence is a bit harder to come across. Jerky video from Japan hides in the depths of specialty baseball discussion boards. Breathless tales from scouts and fans discussing this ghost would be laughable...

If they weren’t true.

Not since the advent of the split-fingered fastball has there been a real "new" pitch. Sure, there are variants like R.A. Dickey's "Thang" and others that recall Rick Vaughn's "Terminator," but the gyroball is not only real, it's teachable.

The gyroball is less a pitch than an effect. Over the past five years, a new science of pitching is beginning to take hold in Japan. While the translations are non-existent, the best available to me is "Double Spin Mechanics." Rather than using high-speed video like advanced pitching gurus Tom House and Mike Marshall use, the Japanese have gone to supercomputers.

Simulating various mechanical models, Japanese researchers -- and I would name them if I could find someone to translate their book -- discovered a series of biomechanical techniques that would remove much of the stress from throwing a baseball. This new mechanical paradigm takes a book to explain properly, but the short version is that instead of using the linear kinetic chain that’s the subject of American research, the Japanese attempt to coordinate two circular motions. The first is a motion of the hips and is very similar to the findings of Dr. Glenn Fleisig of ASMI. There is a nearly one-to-one relationship between hip velocity and ball velocity; increase one and the other increases.

The second "spin" -- and this is what’s revolutionary, perhaps -- is the motion of the upper arm. This differentiates from Mike Marshall’s Newtonian model and demands a forceful yet controlled rotation of the humerus. To get the idea of this in your head, hold your arm out so that your upper arm (humerus) is parallel to the floor. Have your forearm at a ninety-degree angle and hold the ball so that the ball is between your hand and your ear. The proper second "spin" is done by rotating the upper arm so that the forearm goes from pointing up to pointing down and the hand goes from pointing in at the body to pointing away from the body (pronation) just after the release of the ball.

Got all that?

Double-spin mechanics are almost unknown in America, but slowly they're reaching these shores.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 17, 2006 10:37 PM

Still probably not an improvement on the greatest pitch of them all. The knuckleball.

On the other hand, even without that mythical pitch, Daisuke Matsuzaka is going to make a fine # 2 in the Yankee rotation behind Phil Hughes.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 18, 2006 9:40 AM

Hughes can't even retire the Wlad Balentien's of the world.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2006 9:49 AM

Wasn't the gyroball Sid Finch's third pitch?

Posted by: pchuck at July 18, 2006 10:43 AM

Hughes' minor league record compared to, say, Lester's, makes the latter look like he throws like a soccer player.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 18, 2006 10:46 AM

Would the gyroball help A-Rod on his throws to first base?

Posted by: John at July 18, 2006 11:10 AM

Computer simulation has the potential to effect all areas of human endeavor in this way. We already see that chess-playing computers come up with styles of play that humans have not invented in centuries. I once attended a talk by spectroscopist Tomas Hirschfeld, where he said that the discovery reported in a recent paper of his was the result of a computer program highlighting a correlation that he would never have thought to look for. (He hadn't mentioned this fact in the paper because "I am not going down in history as the first person to co-author a paper with an IBM.")

Martial arts moves could be developed that have never been seen before. Offensive line techniques in football are an obvious application.

In general, computer simulation opens up things that humans can do, but can't develop (or "evolve," if you prefer).

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at July 18, 2006 11:22 AM

Lester beats major league teams, Hughes can't even beat Wang out of a job.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2006 12:48 PM

it's a flippin' screwball

Posted by: Palmcroft at July 18, 2006 2:47 PM

No, a screwball you just turn your wrist.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2006 3:43 PM

and the reason most people don't throw it is that it messes-up your elbow; and the computer is too flippin' dumb to know this

Posted by: Palmcroft at July 18, 2006 4:33 PM

"The proper second 'spin' is done by rotating the upper arm so that the forearm goes from pointing up to pointing down and the hand goes from pointing in at the body to pointing away from the body (pronation) just after the release of the ball." THAT'S A SCREWBALL

just go out back and try it; it is to throwing what running in scuba flippers is to running in barefeet; it's awkward, unnatural, and it eventually hurts like hell

Posted by: Palmcroft at July 18, 2006 4:38 PM

No, they're saying it can be thrown as you would a football, a proposition about which I'm dubious.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2006 4:39 PM

That's because you're throwing it like a slider, which it sort of resembles. The real problem is that it will likely exacerbate the biggest flaw in the slider, that when you accidentally slide youyr fingers under the ball you end of throwing it like a frisbee and since it breaks along just one plane the hitters hammer it. No pitch gets hit further than a badly thrown slider.

Posted by: oj at July 18, 2006 4:46 PM