Why’s pitching so good? Look at a 2010 rule change

Aren’t we talking about 2010 and 2011 being Years of Pitchers? I find this interesting for many reasons.

{exp:list_maker}It would seem perfectly reasonable to argue that the effects of PEDs and greenies being out the game is hurting the batter.
Perhaps the ball has changed slightly, giving the advantage to the pitcher.
There has has been enough time for teams to develop a newer crop of younger pitchers, much better equipped to handle today’s modern batter.
Also, we could just be having a regression of sorts.
Perhaps pitching might be catching up to batting.
{/exp:list_maker}

Not like a rule change may have helped, right?

Okay, it was termed a clarification more than a rule change, but it just might surprise you.

Rule 8.02(a)(1) was clarified:

The pitcher shall not:

While in the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s plate, touch the ball after touching his mouth or lips, or touch his mouth or lips while he is in contact with the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher must clearly wipe the fingers of his pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the pitcher’s plate. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.

Now in 2009 it read:

(a) (1) Bring his pitching hand in contact with his mouth or lips while in the 18 foot circle surrounding the pitching rubber. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.

Yes, it was clarified that a pitcher can be on the mound and touch his hand to his mouth but he just has to clearly whip his hand dry.

Now, I have touched on the possible reason for the rise and fall of the spitball previously and while the pitch has slowly been losing favor* it is not completely out of the game.

Remember the rule clarification again: The pitcher is allowed to bring his pitching hand to his mouth while on the mound*.

* Wink, just make sure you dry your hands before stepping on the rubber.

I wasn’t surprised by the rule change at the start of the 2010 season. Mariano Rivera had his “spitball” spotted during the playoffs. While Rivera does not throw a spitball** and the controversy was because of the angle of the video, this change can help head off any unneeded issues.

**The spitball is a very difficult pitch to control while Rivera’s control is just too pinpoint. Also his wrist snap, so vital for the spin needed for his cutter, requires a grip that would make throwing a spitter next to impossible.

BUT, we did have a rule change that would make it very easy load up a pitch. Before you argue that modern video wizardry would make it impossible, ask a magician to show you a sleight of hand trick. Videotape it. You’ll have limited success, if any, of seeing something you know is happening. If you get lucky, you might learn the trick. Videotape yourself. See if you can catch yourself.

Now in reality, this rule change would help players who may try to throw what I call a loaded spitball. Instead of attempting to shoot the ball out from between their thumb and fingers like a watermelon seed, they would load up one side of the ball. This would cause the ball to break more than usual***.

*** I am greatly reducing the complexity of this. I’m trying to not include math on this post.

There lies the larger issue when searching for an increasing in spitballs.

Spitballs are not a mythical powerful, paralyzing, perfect, pachydermous, percussion pitch handed down from Bugs Bunny. They are a fastball thrown with little or no spin, much like an R.A. Dickey knuckleball if thrown conventionally. If the pitcher is just loading the side, it will look much like a slider.

This makes it incredibly difficult to search for spitters via PITCHf/x.

But, we have to wonder. Did Major League Baseball make it easier for a pitcher to add to his arsenal and could it be contributing to the past few Years of the Pitchers?

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Comments

  1. DevilsAdvocate said...

    You know, this rule clarification is one thing…but umpire enforcement is yet another.  A couple weeks ago, ESPN was broadcasting a game in San Francisco against the Reds.  It didn’t appear that it was very cold that evening – I’m guessing around 60 degrees.

    Brian Wilson was brought in to close out a Giants win that night, and typically the TV coverage for closers is quite close-up, highlighting his every move.  Well, the cameras certainly showed his every move, and – to his credit Orel Hershiser picked up on this during the broadcast – Wilson literally stood on the rubber and licked his fingers before every pitch.  Not a spitball at all, but certainly that kind of action would allow a better grip and snap on the ball.

    Hershiser quipped something like, “Wow, I can’t believe they’re allowing him to do that.  I would have been able to pitch another couple of years for sure if they’d let me go to my mouth like that.”

    So perhaps the rule was clarified to be a bit more lenient, but maybe even that light standard is not being enforced at all.

  2. Train said...

    So much speculation, so little proof. Juicing and then unjuicing the ball? Really? And just happens to coincide with the rise and fall of PED usage? I mean, anything is possible, but there isn’t even any correlation there because there is no data on ball juicing to correlate with. At least with PEDS there is clear correlation between the superficially defined increase in steroid usage and the increase in offensive output and then again between the implementation of testing and the decrease is offensive output. I’m not saying that this is the answer, but that at least there is correlation. The same could be said for the rule change examined in this article. Intuitively, the rule change does not seem to be something that would create a significant enough advantage for so many pitchers as to cause the huge decrease in offensive output we are seeing. But, at least the timing correlates with the change, and there actually is a date and rule to correlate. k

  3. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    I still think that Eric Walker’s theory, on his great blog, High Boskage House, is the best explanation of the changes in runs scored over the years:  that the MLB juiced the ball, then recently unjuiced it.

    My guess is that they are doing it to “show” results that their drug testing was helping to “reduce” the number of users as evidenced by less offense.

    Walker also researched and explained how PEDs could not have helped ballplayers, in any case.

  4. Will said...

    Wouldn’t the “increased snap” that Hershiser is talking about be notable on PitchFX since we have before and after the rule change?

    Why “loading” instead of the easier “scuffing”?

    If pitchers are loading, why has this not been caught or at the very least been noted in this age of near infinite video?

    I have to go with the previous commenter. I think Walker (and Jay Jaffe) have nailed this. It’s the ball and it’s always been the ball.

  5. peter ramus said...

    The 2011 wording is indeed a clarification of a rule change that went into effect last year.

    Until 2009, Rule 8.02 read:

    The pitcher shall not—

    (a) (1) Bring his pitching hand in contact with his mouth or lips while in the 18 foot circle surrounding the pitching rubber. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.
    2010:

    In 2010, Rule 8.02 was amended to read:

    (a)  (1)Bring his pitching hand in contact with his mouth or lips while in the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s plate, provided, however, that the pitcher may touch his mouth or lips in that area, so long as he is not in contact with the pitcher’s plate when doing so and so long as he clearly wipes the fingers of his pitching hand dry beore touching the pitcher’s plate. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.

    And finally, in 2011, clarified:

    (a)  (1)  While in the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s plate, touch the ball after touching his mouth or lips, or touch his mouth or lips while he is in contact with the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher must clearly wipe the fingers of his pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the pitcher’s plate. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.

    Cheers.

  6. Brad Johnson said...

    I used to “wipe” my hand dry all the time. By which I mean I would swipe my hand past my pants without drying them at all. But I’ve always found sweat to be a more effective lubricant than spit.

    And now that I set somebody up, who’s going to spike it?

  7. Luis said...

    Gaylord Perry avg 64 BB in 248 IP(Base Ref)
    Drysdale 59 BB in 237 IP
    Sutton 60 in 235

    Granted these are HOF pitchers

    but
    Preacher Roe 58 in 219

    Not disputing your premise that the spitter may be making a comeback, just that it is hard to control.

  8. Mat Kovach said...

    @DevilsAdvocate

    I have been trying to get an umpire view on the rule change, with little luck. Hershiser would have certainly gotten a few extra years. In Cleveland, him and Dennis Martinez team up for a few wonderful wet and wild years.

    @obsessivegiantscompulsive

    The ball certainly has something to do with it. Generally, as with PEDs, there is never one single issue that causes these changes. Accumulation effect is in play.

    @Will

    The increased snap is going to produce a bit more spin on the ball, giving the ball slightly different movement. Pitch F/X does provide the spin rate, but the difference is small and could be because of other issues.

    This change doesn’t make “scuffing” more or less harder. Scuffing happens, some times even by accident. Loading and scuffed balls are thrown the same way.

    It is hard to catch on video. Teams actively taped Gaylord Perry to provide he was throwing a spitter. They never caught him. Of course, he kept his “source” in the crotch of his pants. So, you had to guess was he adjusting or getting ready to load up?

    @Brad Johnson

    I used talcum powder. Easy to keep on the uniform. Did not have a smell, hard to notice on the ball. Did leave a mark on my hat.

  9. Mat Kovach said...

    @Luis

    Just like any other pitcher, some people are going to master it better than others. Perhaps I made a generalization but many pitcher I have talked to said the reason they didn’t use the pitch in game was because they could not master controlling it. It is very much like trying to control a knuckleball.

  10. CJ77 said...

    I always assumed pitchers who obsessively removed or reposition their cap are doing it to wipe brow or hair sweat on to their finger tips.

  11. Mitch said...

    I am confused by your logic with the statement “This makes it incredibly difficult to search for spitters via PITCHf/x.”

    If they essentially can’t be identified through PITCHF/x, then doesn’t that imply they are the same as other existing pitches (i.e. spitters are hiding in plain sight)?

    If they are the same as other existing pitches -  sliders per your example – then why would there be any added effectiveness? If an illegal spitball is the same as a slider, why not just throw a slider?

  12. Mat Kovach said...

    Spitballs do not do something odd. Scuffed (or loaded) balls do not do something odd. Scuffed pitches will break much like a slider. Spitballs will appear to be like sinkers.

    So, one can’t say “if a pitch does X, it is an illegal pitch”. You need more information. My process for looking for illegal pitches is generally:

    Find outliner pitches that have seem out of the ordinary for a pitcher.

    Is he having a bad day with certain pitches?

    Is he working on a new grip?

    Could an injury be causing an issue?

    Is the weather drastically different?

    Is he pitching in a different “climate’’ (The same pitch in Toronto will be very different in Denver)?

    Is he working on a pitch, experimenting with different grips?

    All information not available with Pitch F/X. Pitch F/X is a tool and a data source, but not the only data source.

    As to why pitchers would choose to throw an illegal pitch vs. a legal pitch to get the movement, there are several reason.

    Sliders and sinkers are hard to throw, some pitches might find a spitball easier to throw.

    Look at the history of sinkerball pitchers, then ask Brandon Webb how he is doing? Sliders and sinkers can be hard to throw consistently correct. Incorrectly thrown pitches can lead to injuries.

    Some pitchers like to throw pitches that look the same coming out of their hands. Most pitchers have a distinctive rotational difference between their fastball and slider. Batters can pick that up. Spitters are going to look very much like a fastball.

    Now, you can throw a split-finger to get a spitball type pitch, but once again .. look at the longevity of split-finger pitchers and you see why a pitcher might take a chance with a spitter.

  13. Mitch said...

    Thanks for the clarification, Mat. That makes sense. And great timing, I just logged on to see if there were any more comments.

  14. Brad Johnson said...

    “Sliders and sinkers are hard to throw, some pitches might find a spitball easier to throw.”

    I usually threw my spitball because my arm hurt and I could get hard sinker movement on it without ramping up above 70% effort. Of course it was a real bitch to control which is why I didn’t just throw it always.

    I was taught the grip by Joe Kerrigan (who was telling me how Vicente Padilla threw his “sinker”), which I think is pretty cool. I used sweat rather than saliva.

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