Polo Grounds

Polo Grounds

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas pitch wish list

With Christmas fast approaching, it is that time of year when kids (from one to ninety-two) begin to fantasize about what gifts they will find under the tree on Christmas morning. As a lifelong baseball fan, I have yearned for everything baseball related under the sun: baseball cards, autographs, posters, bobbleheads, bats, gloves, tickets, etc. and I have acquired a huge collection of memorabilia. However, as a left-handed pitcher who never quite touched 80 mph, a lot of my talent wish list was never fulfilled. So I present to you my Christmas pitch wish list, a collection of the five dream pitches that I wish I had in my arsenal. Equipped with this collection of heaters and hammers, no hitter is safe.

1. Randy Johnson's fastball

The Big Unit, a surefire HOFer when the ballot is announced in early January, was known for his looming, 6'10 frame, scary demeanor, great slider and excellent strikeout numbers, but was known primarily for his wicked upper 90's fastball. With a 6'10 frame, Johnson was able to explode down the mound and release his heater six or seven feet closer to home plate, giving hitters roughly .38 seconds to make a decision (or to get out of the way). In the case of the bird casually flying through the infield one Spring Training game in 2001, he had even less time, and unfortunately did not make the right decision:

2. Jeremy Bonderman's Slider

Randy Johnson's fastball was a pretty obvious choice, so I'm taking a less heralded slider in the form of former Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman, aka Mr. Snappy. Armed with a mid to high 90's fastball, Bonderman was able to use his fastball to set-up his very nasty slider. Bonderman's slider was around 81-84 mph, and had an incredible late break that made it extremely hard to hit. According to fangraphs, Bonderman saved about 1.42 runs per every 100 sliders that he threw (a solid explanation of this can be found here: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/interpreting-pitchfx-data/) Effectively this means that his slider was substantially above average throughout his career. Statistics can only prove so much, however, so I turn to video for the rest: 


3. Trevor Hoffman's change-up.

It is pretty rare, especially in today's game, for a closer to rely on a change-up the way Hoffman did. However, Hoffman's change-up was nasty enough to help him become the MLB's first 600 save man. Take a look at this chart showing the average movement (From the side portrait) of both Hoffman's fastball and his change-up: 
This chart shows the nearly identical trajectory both his fastball and changeup took, making it that much more difficult to recognize out of his hand. 
Hoffman finished his career with a 9.36 K/9 and was able to hold hitters to a .208 average for his career, thanks largely in part to his devastating change-up.

4. Mariano Rivera's cutter

Quite possibly the most devastating pitch in the history of the Major Leagues, Mariano Rivera relied on one pitch for his entire MLB career, his cutter. Rivera finished with an 8.22 K/9 and held batters to a .209 batting average, en route to an all time high 652 saves. Rivera had previously relied more on his fastball, but later in his career began to use the cutter more and more, eventually leading to his final season in 2013 where he threw his cutter a whopping 89.2% of the time. Interestingly enough, Rivera averaged 92 mph on his cutter, compared to 93.2 on his fastball. Considering the movement his cutter had compared to his fastball, it is not surprising to see him move toward making the cutter his number one pitch. 

5. Kazuhiro Sasaki Split-finger AKA "The Thang"

I had a really hard time selecting my fifth pitch. I considered adding a big, heavy curveball to compliment the hard cutter/slider that I already have. I looked heavily at curveballs from Bert Blyleven, Kenny Rogers, Barry Zito, and Clayton Kershaw; and the 12-6 hammers of Justin Verlander and Tim Lincecum. I also looked at two seam fastballs, including Jeff Nelson, Greg Maddux, Brandon League and Felix Hernandez. Other splitters considered included Bruce Sutter and Hisashi Iwakuma, and even knuckleballers Phil Niekro, RA Dickey and Tim Wakefield were given some thought. 

Eventually though, I settled on a pitch that earned it's own nickname, having simply been called "The Thang". It may seem odd to select a pitch by a pitcher who earned 7 career wins and only threw 233 innings in his career, but Sasaki very quickly earned a reputation as a dominant closer, mainly because of the effectiveness of his split finger. Sasaki threw his splitty roughly 40% of the time, and the average of 84 mph along with the devastating drop that it had would create quite a deadly combination along with the other pitches already established.

Hitters from either side of the plate would have an extremely hard time handling the heat by Johnson, the late, sharp movement on Rivera's cutter and Bonderman's slider, and the devastating drop on Hoffman's change-up and Sasaki's split finger.

Merry Christmas everyone! And may all your Christmas wishes come true, whether it's for a iPad or a 92 mph cutter.

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