“Tom Seaver, he had the whole package. Power, deception, command, everything,” said Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti last week before FanFest. We’d been talking about tipping pitches, and deception, but any time you hear about an icon in the same sentence as Yusmeiro Petit, you put down your recording device and start looking at some moving images.
Apologies for the graininess, but youtube video uploads from the mid-eighties transferred into GIF files and then through interwebs into your eyeballs were never destined for high-res glory. But if you read about how Yusmeiro Petit had an invisiball last October, then you might see something familiar when you look at this Tom Seaver GIF.
There’s another part of the highlight video that’s maybe in better shape, or at least shows us in slow-mo how deception can work on the mechanical level.
Much like Petit, Seaver holds the ball back behind his elbow and then flips it up at the last second. Makes the pitch hard to see, and when young Seaver was hurling his power fastball, curve, and slider, that elbow flick was part of why he was so good.
“Scouts don’t admit it,” said Righetti. Nowadays you might get a nod to deception in the scouting report, but if it’s not denigrated, it’s usually an asterisk. Maybe it has to do with how hitters see deception. “Hitters can’t tell anyone — they don’t want to admit it to another guy, ‘I can’t see it’ — and some pitchers do it and don’t want to tell,” said the Giants pitching coach on the subject.
But deception is important. That he’ll agree with. Super important, and something that teams could benefit from quantifying. “If a batter can see you and read you, it doesn’t matter how good you are, it’s a waste of time,” said Righetti.
The way Petit gets deception doesn’t even necessarily put him at risk either, thought the pitching coach. “He’s never been hurt — it’s the style he throws,” said Righetti. “He doesn’t lead to the point where he’s pushing the ball. As long as he gets his hand through the baseball and finishes, that’s the key, otherwise everything is up and flat.”
But it’s not always easy to teach. Take Hunter Strickland. By pitch shape and small-sample results, this former farmhand with a starter’s arsenal should be a lock as future closer. Ever since the surgeries, he’s had big velocity — he “gained a little bit of velocity after each surgery” — but maybe relieving just fits him better. “It feels like more my mentality,” Strickland admitted.
In any case, this guy with a 98 mph fastball, an 85 mph breaking ball that got whiffs more than 20% of the time, and a rarely-used (so far) split-finger with a similar whiff rate — this guy should be closing, not giving up home runs.
Maybe he was tipping his pitches. Strickland himself admitted he’d heard about the “glove tap, the tipping pitches thing,” but if you look at the videos below — created lovingly by Grant Brisbee, linked above — Strickland taps his glove on all of his pitches. It’s not easy to see that he’s tapping the glove differently on any one pitch, at least. Ask his pitching coach and he’s succinct: “I’m not going to go into a guy tipping.”
The breaking ball.
Okay then. But Strickland did have one more thing to offer. “I threw a bullpen to Pablo during the postseason, he couldn’t pick up what pitches I was throwing, he said he might be able to see the ball a little longer,” said Strickland. That much maybe you can see. Take a look at his hand once it comes around the side, and try to judge if it’s there longer on the breaking pitch. That might be harder to correct, especially since he doesn’t have that same natural funk in his delivery that Seaver and Petit show.
Command has a part to play in Strickland’s issues late last year. “If I’m going to get beat late in the game, it’s going to be to the big part of the field,” Strickland said about throwing mostly to the outside corner. His problems as he saw it came more from hitting his spots.
But if he was tipping pitches, he was giving up any deception he might have had. And when you let batters see the ball too well… “Even bad hitters can hit you,” as Righetti put it. Or good hitters in the postseason, even.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.