The palm ball

Fernando Rodney throws a circle change-up
Fernando Rodney throws a change-up against the Dodgers on June 13, 2010. (Icon/SMI)

On Friday night, Rob Neyer tweeted the following, “Fernando Rodney supposedly throws a palm ball. Is he the only one?”

I knew Trevor Hoffman threw the palm ball, but I wasn’t sure about Fernando Rodney or anyone else. I did a bit of research, and it turns out that Rodney does not throw the palm ball. He throws a circle change-up, using a grip very similar to the one that Greg Maddux used. There’s another picture of Rodney’s change-up grip here.

Rodney wraps his fingers around the ball, whereas the practitioners of the palm ball leave the index finger and middle finger off the ball so that ball sits more on the palm of the hand and doesn’t get as much spin from the fingertips.

Steven Ellis has the best site out there for describing pitching grips, and he has a post describing various change-up grips. That post referenced an article by John Schlegel about Trevor Hoffman with a great picture of Hoffman’s palm ball grip.

image image
Trevor Hoffman throws a palm ball against the Brewers on May 27, 2007. (Icon/SMI) Trevor Hoffman throws a palm ball against the against the Pirates on July 21, 2009. (Icon/SMI)

The fingers around the ball on the circle change-up grip, like that used by Rodney above, apply sidespin to the baseball as the pitcher pronates his forearm on release. (Thanks to Matt Lentzner for this explanation.) In the palm ball grip, with fewer fingers around the ball and gripping it less tightly, not as much sidespin gets applied to the ball.

Thus we see that the circle change thrown by a pitcher like Rodney has a spin axis that is tilted over by an additional 25-30 degrees relative to the fastball. On the other hand, the palm ball thrown by Hoffman only has its spin axis tilted over by 10-15 degrees relative to the fastball. This gives Rodney’s change-up more sinking action due to spin than Hoffman’s.

The following graphs, courtesy of the Texas Leaguers PITCHf/x site, show the pitch velocity versus the spin axis angle for the pitches thrown by Fernando Rodney and Trevor Hoffman in 2010. Fastballs are shown in red, and change-ups are shown in purple.

Rodney velocity vs. spin axis angle

Hoffman velocity vs. spin axis angle

There may be other current major leaguers besides Hoffman that throw the palm ball, but I’m not aware of any. Harry Pavlidis pointed out one other recent palm-baller to me, though: Cody Cillo of Italy, who threw in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Josh Kalk also wrote about him here at THT.

Cody Cillo
Cody Cillo pitches for Team Italy against the Nationals in 2009. (Icon/SMI)

Is there anyone else who throws the palm ball?

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Comments

  1. JB (the original) said...

    No longer in the league, but Tony Fiore was a bigtime palmballer.  It was his only pitch, but until guys caught on, it was very effective.

  2. JZ said...

    On MLB Gameday I have seen Palmballs reportedly thrown by Livan Hernandez. I tried to search him throwing one, but all I see are 2-seamers.

  3. Mike Fast said...

    Some say Roy Halladay used to throw a palm ball but doesn’t any more.  I don’t know when he abandoned the palm ball, but he appears to have switched to a splitter as his off-speed pitch in 2010.  Whatever type of change-up he threw in 2009, he threw it much less frequently (4% of the time) than he’s throwing the splitter in 2010 (11% of the time).
    Image here: http://www.daylife.com/photo/0cOYfXH0eZ080?q=Roy+Halladay
    Article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/sports/baseball/16yankees.html

    I did manage to find one old image of Halladay throwing a straight three-finger change-up back in 2006:
    http://www.hardballtimes.com/images/uploads/Roy_Halladay_05182006_changeup_50621794_Blue_Jays_v_Angels.jpg
    Roy Halladay throws a change-up against the Angels May 18, 2006. (Icon/SMI)

    Some say Edwar Ramirez throws a palm ball, but he looks like another circle change-up guy:
    http://www.hardballtimes.com/images/uploads/Edwar_Ramirez_08152007_changeup_94248739_Orioles_v_Yankees.jpg
    Edwar Ramirez throws a change-up against the Orioles August 15, 2007. (Icon/SMI)

  4. Mike Fast said...

    JZ, Livan Hernandez apparently throws an occasional fork ball, which is what Gameday is reporting.  I don’t see any palm balls listed in the Gameday data.

  5. b glode said...

    ray culp,my first “ace” with the redsox late 60’s….and my best friend mike had a wicked one in wiffle ball

  6. Ken said...

    One of the Mets relievers throws it. Can’t place which one right now, but I want to say Valdez or Nieve. Saw it a couple weeks ago during a game, and they even had some super slow mos of the grip.

  7. Mike Fast said...

    Guys, I appreciate the interest and comments, but I’m mostly curious about pitchers who throw the palm ball today or did in the last couple years, where I can verify either through pictures or PITCHf/x. 

    Eddie Guardardo, for example, is a recent pitcher who supposedly threw the palm ball, but I’m having trouble tracking down a picture of his grip.

    I’m not interested in collecting a list of old palm-ballers.  Rob Neyer and Bill James already did an excellent job of that in their Guide to Pitchers, and the list runs quite long, well beyond those listed here so far.

  8. Jeff Zimmerman said...

    Robinson Tejeda of the Royals.  I have some links of the grips, by the comments are filtering them.

    Let me see if this one will work.  I have a couple more of the grip:

    cdn2.sbnation.com/photo_images/224110/152307_Royals_Yankees_Baseball dat jpg

  9. Mike Fast said...

    Jeff, thanks!  I’m having trouble opening up your previous comment, but let me see if I can repost it under my name:
    =================
    Mike,

    I think Robinson Tejeda of the Royals might.  Here are two images of him throwing it:

    http://cdn0.sbnation.com/photo_images/544226/GYI0060085598.jpg
    http://cdn2.sbnation.com/photo_images/224110/152307_Royals_Yankees_Baseball.jpg

    Another Royal that might is Bruce Chen it looks like a circle change, but he is has different grip for the circle change (1st image).  The other 3 are of the possible palm ball:

    http://cdn0.sbnation.com/photo_images/189262/148474_Tigers_Royals_Baseball.jpg
    http://cdn1.sbnation.com/photo_images/150352/142602_Mariners_Royals_Baseball.jpg
    http://cdn2.sbnation.com/photo_images/130436/139667_Angels_Royals_Baseball.jpg
    http://cdn1.sbnation.com/photo_images/123836/138341_Royals_Red_Sox_Baseball.jpg

  10. Mike Fast said...

    Jeff, nice work on the images.

    I agree that Tejeda’s looks like a palm ball.  He has his fingertips off the ball.

    Chen’s circle change grip looks like the Greg Maddux grip that Fernando Rodney is using, with the index finger curled under.

    But Chen’s other change-up grip looks to me like the straight, a.k.a. three-finger, change-up.  He has his fingertips wrapped around the ball.

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