Tom Hackimer loves Driveline, uses a Motus Sleeve, and is one class short of earning a physics degree from St. John’s University. In other words, Minnesota’s 2016 fourth-round pick is a pitching nerd. He’s also an intriguing prospect. In 43 relief appearances this past season, the sidearming 5-foot-11 right-hander logged a 1.76 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings between Low-A Cedar Rapids and High-A Fort Myers. He followed that up with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League.
Hackimer discussed his scientific and methodical approach, which includes slow-motion video and the modeling of his motion after Joe Smith’s, earlier this month.
Tom Hackimer on being a pitching nerd: “Before I knew that I was going to be any good in baseball, I thought I would go to grad school and get a degree in civil engineering. I like to build things. That seemed like a logical step, as civil engineering would be building things on a bigger scale, such as bridges. I’ve always thought that would be cool.
“As it pertains to baseball… I try to build things that will help me. My senior year of college, I built sort of a pitch-tunneling device. At least that’s what it was in theory. It was basically a window that I could change the height of. I put it 20 feet in front of the mound and would work on throwing all of my pitches through it, wanting them look the same all the way up to that point, at least.
“Unfortunately, I made the window out of pine wood, not factoring in that I was going to hit it a few times. It didn’t stand up to that very well. It got destroyed and put into a dumpster about a month after I finished it.
“I got the idea from Trevor Bauer having done something similar. In terms of baseball — going about it in a methodical, scientific type of way — I suppose I am [a little like Bauer]. Another way I’m similar is that I’m a big Driveline acolyte, supporter, believer… whatever you want to call it.
“I went out to Driveline last offseason and am hoping to go again this winter. It’s a really fun environment. They do a lot of stuff where they draw on the baseball, so you have a better visual idea of how the ball is spinning or how it’s coming out of your hand. I recently purchased a slow-motion camera to help me look at some of that during the offseason. Another thing I’ve used is a Motus Sleeve, which is a huge step forward as far as making arm stress and other metrics easily available for someone training at home.
“I study movement, and I study pitchers who are similar to me. I try to find out how they grip the ball, I watch video of their release and try to recreate what they do — what they have success with. I’m a sidearmer, so my arm angle narrows down my potential pool of pitchers to choose from.
“I’ve modeled part of my motion after Joe Smith’s. Instead of a conventional leg lift I do a toe tap. I started doing that because I’ve always thought his delivery is the closest to mine. One thing I saw that he… I was comparing video, side by side, of myself, Steve Cishek, Darren O’Day, Pat Neshek, and Smith. Those are the four sidearmers you can get good video of at the big-league level. I was going through it frame by frame and noticed that Smith and I are nearly identical at most points of our delivery.
“As far as movement goes, I don’t have enough information on my own pitches to make a comparison, but I’d say it’s pretty similar. Smith’s slider seems to jump across more at times. I’ve tried to figure out exactly what he does to make that happen. I think it’s partially an illusion, where if you yank a slider it looks like it moves more. It seems crisper in some way. I finally found a picture of his grip and he spikes it a little bit.
“At the moment, my best pitch is probably my fastball. I can throw it in the low 90s from a low arm slot — on a normal day I’m 89-91, but I’ve been up to 94 — and I have a deceptive release point. The ball is moving a lot and is apparently difficult to pick up for right-handed batters. The movement is mostly arm-side run, with a little bit of sink.
“I’ve thrown a two-seam for most of the last five years, but in my last two outings in the Arizona Fall League I switched to a four-seam and had the same results. Looking at video, the movement was pretty similar. It kind of felt more comfortable and like I could control it better, so I may stick with that. With my arm angle, a two-seamer and a four-seamer aren’t the same as they are for a conventional pitcher.
“I don’t know what my spin rate is — we were focusing on other things when I was at Driveline — but, in general, I imagine spin rate is the same sidearm. If you took a guy who throws straight over the top and he has a high spin rate, the ball will have positive vertical movement. If you drop that arm slot to zero degrees, parallel to the ground — a sidearmer — that just translates to straight arm-side movement.
“My height — not being tall — is almost a non factor because of my arm slot. It’s not like I’m losing downhill plane that might help me create movement. Whether I’m 6-foot-5 or 5-foot-10, the reach isn’t going to be that varied — it wouldn’t really change the extension that I’m going to get. And I actually get pretty good extension. I have abnormally long arms for the height that I am. I also have large hands.
“I’ve started to work in a changeup a little bit. I’m trying to get something with a little more depth, a little more downward movement, and I’m finally having some success with that. I need to make it more of a weapon for me, so that I can have three pitches working off of each other, more ways to fool a batter. That’s what you’re trying to do out there.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.