Monday, February 26, 2007

The Mystery of the Gyroball

The Gyroball…real pitch or just a myth? This is a question I’ve been borderline obsessing over for the last few days. I’ve read Jeff Passan’s Yahoo! Sports story about the gyro, I’ve read Patrick Hruby’s E-Ticket story and I’ve read every single post relevant to the gyroball on Sons of Sam Horn, but I still don’t really understand what it is.

I’ve heard all kinds of crazy rumors. That it is a sinking change up reverse slider, that it breaks far more drastically then a curveball or a slider and it’s supposed to be the first new pitch since the splitter, which is essentially just a variation of a fork ball (thrown harder and with a different grip).

I know that it’s not a demon, or miracle or magical pitch and I know it doesn’t break three or four feet like some BALCO Slider but does it exist at all?

The Gyroball as defined by
This is a baseball pitch that gets the kind of spin similar to a spiral thrown by a quarterback in American football. There is much debate as to whether the pitch actually exists, but Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka allegedly throws such a pitch, similar to the slurve(cut fastball/slider) but he is usually extremely vague, saying that he has only seen the gyroball-- in japanese comic books.

The idea behind the gyroball sounds simple enough…when you strip away all the computer models and advanced physics that went into “inventing” or “discovering” it anyway…maybe I need to make friends with some MIT kids.

The basic idea of the gyroball is that the ball spins like a bullet or football. This ‘bullet spin’ theoretically would mean the ball would face less resistance as it traveled through the air then it would if it rotated end over end as traditionally thrown.

One school of thought is that the gyroball utilizes ‘double spin mechanics’, meaning that the bullet spin causes the ball to break sharpely. However one of the ‘creators’ of the pitch Kazushi Tezuka claims that if thrown correctly the gyroball shouldn’t move at all. It would then be just a strait up fastball thrown differently, which, in all honesty makes the most sense.

It doesn’t sound like much of a phenomenon, but upon further review, the bullet spin would make the pitch look like a slider as it left the pitchers hand. It gets the batter thinking slider but has fastball speed so the hitter gets crossed up and ends up throwing a feeble hack at a pitch that is already by him.

That’s the reverse change up part. If this is the case the gyroball could certainly prove to be a devastating pitch assuming the guy on the mound has a serviceable slider. If the hitter has to respect the pitchers slider and the pitcher has a fastball that looks like a slider he can mix that in and really confuse hitters.

If this is really what the gyro is, just a fastball or reverse change up, fastball that kinda looks like a slider...I see why they went with gyroball…it would be a great addition to a pitchers arsenal and the more and more I read the more this makes sense.

It seems like the story with the least hole in it and who knows maybe creating all this mystery about the gyroball is just a smoke and mirrors tactic, get everyone thinking about a crazy new breaking ball instead of thinking about how to pick up the gyro as opposed to a slider or a fastball.

In my opinion, and it’s simply my opinion, (I don’t claim to be a physicist or anything but I’ve watched my far share of baseball and it is a game that I fundamentally understand) I think that the gyroball is what Passan talked about and what Tezuka described. It’s most likely just a fastball that is disguised like a slider. I guess that would make it a reverse change up, fake slider, fastball.

I think the biggest factor in the gyroball is the mechanics of the Japanese pitchers. That is the major reason why we haven’t heard a great deal about bullet or football spin on baseballs in the US until recently.

If you look at video of Japanese pitchers they all have a distinct motion, it’s unlike the way pitchers throw here in the US. The Japanese pitchers use more of their hips and torque their whole body when they throw.

It is said that this set of mechanics puts less stress on the arm, that’s another discussion, but regardless I think the mechanical differences between Japanese and American pitchers plays a large role in the fact that we don’t hear a lot about bullet spin with American pitchers or latin American pitchers for that matter.

After doing all the “research” that I’ve done about the gyroball there is something that is more interesting to me then whether or not it exists or whether or not it’s a slurve or a knuckle-curve. I haven’t seen much about it, even on the SoSH boards it hasn’t been talked about too much. It’s the idea that Ichiro throws the ball like a football, utilizing gyroball bullet spin to get more on his throws, despite his smaller frame.

It was mused over in the Hruby piece but something like that could have just as big if not a bigger impact on baseball than the gyro pitch, especially for the Red Sox. If it’s true that Ichiro throws with bullet spin from the out field and the fact that the bullet spin allows the ball to travel through the air with less resistance then the Red Sox should start working with Coco Crisp.

Crisp doesn’t have a great arm in center but if this bullet spin thing is as effective as it is supposed to be it could ad another dynamic to Crisp’s game. I’m not saying it would make him Ichiro or Roberto Clemente or something but it could make people think about stretching singles into doubles or scoring from second or first on deep balls.

At any rate I will be attempting to develop a gyroball from wiffleball this summer. I’ll keep everyone posted on my progress.

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