The Case against Pitch Design
Pitch design is something that has gained a lot of traction recently – and rightfully so. Seeing exactly how the ball comes out of your hand helps significantly accelerate the learning curve for a new pitch by enhancing awareness and understanding for how to create a desired movement profile. Pitchers have always been interested in building a new pitch or finding ways to get their ball to move a little more in a specific direction. It’s fun, it’s sexy, and it’s effective if done in the right populations; but it’s not always necessary.
Will and Eugene worked with several professional arms this past offseason that saw huge improvements in offspeed stuff after training. Here’s the catch: They didn’t do any pitch design work. The only thing they did was learned how to move better. When the movement improved, the secondary stuff became significantly sharper – and it’s not a coincidence.
To explain this, check out a couple of 2018 sliders from Marc Rzepczynski – one of their pro clients from this past offseason. In an outing in April 2018, Marc spun off a 2152 rpm floater that was a pretty easy take for Matt Joyce – largely because it wasn’t too far from his head. It looked something like this:
Just four weeks later, he ripped off a 2535 rpm hammer that sent Joey Gallo back to the dugout. It looked something like this:
If we look into the difference between the pitches, we could theorize plenty of things which include his feel for the pitch that day, the cues he was thinking about, or the visuals he was using. However, the one glaring difference between both pitches is the movement solutions he created when throwing both. Let’s take a closer look.
Notice Rzepczynski’s lower half. On the Joyce slider, Marc comes out of his backside pretty quickly causing his pelvis to drag his arm through. This prevents Marc from getting into good positions so he can rip off a nasty slider (it’s tough to get to the front of the ball if your arm is playing catch up). Now let’s look at the good slider on the right. Notice how Marc stays into his backside much longer which helps him create a better and more efficient sequence. This gives him the ability to get into better positions where his arm is on time at foot strike so he can rip off a better breaking ball. As you could guess, this is something Marc worked on this past offseason.
Marc didn’t necessarily need a new grip or a new cue to create a better breaking ball; he just needed to move better. When the movement improved, his stuff improved. This is a great lesson for anyone looking to add or refine a a pitch from their arsenal: Before you start tinkering with the fun stuff, start by looking at your movement solutions. Trying to refine Marc’s bad slider through pitch design would be putting the cart before the horse. He didn’t need pitch design work – he needed movement work. If you have a kid who moves like shit, working on adding a new curveball isn’t going to solve the problem – moving better will. If you have a kid who consistently throws cement mixers and has played around with 69 different grips, working on grip #70 probably isn’t a great idea. As you can see with Marc, how you move creates the movement profile. Chasing rpms without addressing the movement is going to send you swimming upstream.
With this, being able to throw a good secondary pitch is a learned skill that requires practice and experimentation. If you’re learning how to throw a breaking ball, just dedicating all of your training economy to throwing fastballs isn’t a great idea. The magic then becomes using the movement work to be in good positions so you can start creating feel for how to rip off a proper breaking ball. If we become a slave to the movement profile of the pitch, we neglect the thing that’s creating it: The movement. Good movement creates good secondary stuff; bad movement creates bad secondary stuff.
Pitch design is not a bad thing – it’s a really good thing; just know when and who to use it with.
What we can learn from Neil deGrasse Tyson
Eugene and I took the time to go through Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Masterclass the other evening and it was worth every penny. Through a series of videos, Neil explained the engine that drives how he thinks, interprets information, and determines truth amidst varying perspectives, clutter, and bias. When we can’t rely on previous information to solve problems, we must rely on how we think. Mastering your ability to think gives you range – relying on what you already know creates rigidity. Below are some oh his thoughts from the video series.
“Wisdom is distilled knowledge once you’ve forgotten all the details.”
The best thinkers of this world have gone into the weeds, dove into complexity, and returned with simplicity. They went both feet into a topic, researched it from several different angles, and spread it as thin as they possibly could. This enhanced understanding gave them the ability to see things more simply by looking at them through a different lens. The details are there to help create this understanding – not cloud it. Wise people don’t need to say much because they’ve acquired distilled knowledge through years and years of diving into the complexity. Their journey through the weeds helped them return to the surface with simplicity; not the other way around.
The best teachers are able to take a complex subject and communicate it as simply as possible. As Albert Einstein says it best, “If you don’t know it simply enough, you don’t know it well enough.” If you can’t teach what you know to the dumbest person in the room, you don’t understand it thoroughly. The goal is simplicity but simplicity cannot be achieved without going feet first into the never-ending web of complexity. The wisest people to ever walk this earth have traveled that road; and they’ll be the first ones to tell you there are no shortcuts. Simplicity creates understanding, understanding builds knowledge, knowledge gives you the ability to build wisdom. The best thinkers of our time had unparalleled wisdom – Neil is no different.
“It’s not good enough to be right – you also need to be effective.”
In a world where we’re all seeking objective truth, knowing what is true is only part of the equation. If you can’t effectively relay what you know, why it works, and how to make it work, what you know is useless. Knowledge is power until it isn’t. If you’re not actively applying what you know, testing your theories, and finding ways to get results, you can’t be effective. Everyone wants to be right in an argument – not everyone has the results to back it up.
This brings up another point Neil discussed: If you have results to back it up, the quickest way to lose your effectiveness is to tell someone else they’re wrong. Disagreements typically happen when two people are so emotionally invested in a certain perspective that they will go to great lengths to protect it – and they’re not interested in changing their mind. The best way to win these arguments is to avoid them, but the second best way to win them is to get on their side. Instead of telling them they’re wrong, figure out why they think the way they do. If you show genuine interest in their way of thinking, you’ve given yourself the ability to open them up to a new perspective. People want to be heard. If you make them feel heard, you’ve given yourself a chance to win them over.
Now you also have to explain your point of view carefully. If you force feed it to them, you’re going to wind back up at square one. Spark some interest by saying, “Have you ever thought of it this way?” or “Have you considered thinking about this?” You don’t need to say your stuff works – you just need to suggest that what you do might work. If you can inspire people to research what they do from a different point of view, you’ve created an incredible environment for collaboration. You can’t build a system of beliefs without knowing what’s on the other side. This is why Neil believes search engines are the epitome of bias: You’re one search away from confirming what you already “know.”
The most important thing you can be in this world is curious. Curious people aren’t concerned with agendas – they’re concerned about finding what is true. Effective leaders inspire curiosity; ineffective ones demand conformity.