The key to career longevity for a Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher is the presence of at least one dominate pitch. If a pitcher possess a 100 mph fastball, the choice is obvious but still isn’t full proof. A dominant fast ball only has one thing going for it…speed. However, speed can be negate-able after a batter has seen it several times in a row.
In the early 1870’s, while baseball was still in its infancy, pitcher’s began to gradually develop “slower” pitches that could be used to counteract a batter’s attempt to time the delivery of each fastball. These “off-speed” pitches were intended to keep each batter off guard and thus allow for greater effectiveness with each subsequent fastball.
This careful development led to several pitches, like the curve ball and change-up, which are common to MLB to this day. However, this period of experimentation also developed several “junk” pitches that, if thrown accurately, can be just as effective. Let’s take some time to examine a few of the most obscure deliveries.
1) The Eephus Pitch:
Often thought of as more of an insult than an actual pitch, the eephus pitch closely resembles the movement of a 12-6 curve ball. Thrown using a motion similar to the standard curve ball, the eephus is significantly slower than any other pitch.
The most common versions are thrown below 50 MPH. The pitch has a trajectory similar to a lob seen in slow pitch softball. This extreme lack of speed and sweeping trajectory makes the eephus difficult to time, thus very difficult to hit. The eephus is a double-edged sword given just how difficult each pitch is to accurately deliver across the strike zone. This tendency led many early hurlers to abort the pitch before it ever reached the light of day.
MLB Examples: Mark Buehrle, Livan Hernandez, and Randy Johnson.
A kin to the modern change-up, the forkball is held with the same grip as a split finger fastball, however it lacks some of the speed common to a fastball. A forkball relies heavily upon the transfer of spin as the ball is released from the hand, which is used to give the pitch downward movement as it approaches the plate. An effective forkball will have significant drop just before it reaches the catcher, which limits the batters ability to make solid contact as their bat passes through the zone.
MLB Examples: Jose Contreras, Jose Valverde, and Chien-Ming Wang.
3) The Knuckleball:
Considered by many to be the most difficult pitch to control, a knuckle ball relies on a pitcher’s ability to deliver the pitch with as little motion as possible. This absence of motion will cause the ball to seemingly flutter as it approaches the plate. Knuckleballs are also known to travel in a corkscrew motion as they arrive closer to the plate, thus giving the batter multiple forms of motion between the pitcher’s hand the catchers glove. This consistent variation is impossible to predict and likewise impossible to prepare for.
MLB Examples: R.A. Dickey, Phil Niekro, and Tim Wakefield.
4) The Screwball:
The polar opposite of the curve ball, a screwball has movement in the opposite of the pitcher’s arm motion. If delivered by a right-handed pitcher, a knuckleball should have a sharp left to right motion that will dive in on a right-handed batter and shift away from a left hander. This gives the appearance that the pitch is being carried way by a strong gust of wind. This movement is extremely confusing since the ball will move in direct opposition to physics.
MLB Examples: Dallas Braden, Pedro Martinez, and Jamie Moyer.
If nothing else, each of these pitches is certainly a change of pace from the standard fastball, change-up, fastball pace that is common to your major league pitchers. The example of Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball is a sterling example of the potential contained in these pitches.
Let’s be honest wouldn’t you enjoy a little junk from time to time?
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