Thursday, January 11, 2007

Interview with Gyroballer Kyle Boddy, Part 1

Baseball Prospectus's Will Caroll has made it his personal mission to teach people the gyroball - a new pitch created by a group of Japanese scientists. Several Japanese pitchers have been rumored to throw the gyroball, including the newest Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. I talked with one of Caroll's students - amateur pitcher Kyle Boddy. This is the first part of the interview.

Pinstripes Potentials: Kyle, how did you learn about the Gyroball?

Kyle: Reading Baseball Prospectus and Will Carroll's articles. I have followed Japanese baseball for about 6 months now and I'm very interested in the double-spin mechanics and their theories on pitching.

PP: After learning about the pitch, how did you learn to throw it?

Kyle: Will Carroll agreed to teach me in December if I flew out to Indianapolis. He showed me the infamous gyroball book and how to throw the pitch, and gave me basic instruction on other pitching mechanics

PP: How easy was it to learn the pitch?

Kyle: Fairly easy, actually - learning the concepts is easy when done by a pitching coach, but throwing it well is very tough - not unlike most breaking balls

PP: What other breaking pitches are you familiar with?

Kyle: In high school and college I threw a fastball, circle change, splitter, and cutter. Eventually I learned to throw a slider and curveball, and recently learned how to throw multiple gyroball variants. I now throw a fastball, changeup (experimenting with grips that I like), slider, and side force gyroball.

PP: Exactly what makes a Gyroball a Gyroball?

Kyle: The pitch is thrown without spin on the x/y axes - much like a bullet from a chamber of a gun. The spin is rifle-like in nature, and spins only on the z-axis - better known as gyroscopic force. As such, it removes the lift force from the equation of the Magnus forces on the pitch, and if thrown with the basic grip, will produce a late break downards. The four-seam fastball is thrown with lots of backspin on it with all seams catching the air - giving it a "rising fastball" optical illusion. This is due to the lift force being generated by the Magnus forces. The gyroball has no lift force imparted on it - neither negative (similar to a breaking ball) or positive (a fastball).

PP: Almost like a football's spin?

Kyle: Exactly like a football spin. It is thrown in a similar fashion - imagine pulling down across the laces of a football to impart spiral spin.

PP: How is it thrown?

Kyle: The basic grip for the gyroball is held like a football with the ball between the ear and the hand and the index and middle fingers touching a seam where they are closest together on the baseball (think: two-seam fastball, at the seams – not across the seams). The thumb is positioned directly under the baseball. The gyroball is typically thrown from the same arm slot as any other pitch. After reading these sentences, you may be envisioning a slider grip, but it’s not. The hardest part of envisioning the gyroball grip without seeing it is the ability to grasp the concept of holding a baseball like a football.

When you deliver the pitch, all the motions should be the same as a normal pitch is thrown. However, when you are bringing the arm up to speed, the wrist never breaks at the release point. After throwing the pitch, your wrist will naturally pronate, just like a circle changeup. If this is all you did when throwing the gyroball, it would be an effective off-speed pitch with similar actions to a knuckleball. However, the real “magic” of the gyroball comes when you are at the release point with your wrist locked. As you are about to release the ball and your thumb comes off the ball, pull down with your index and middle fingers, imparting true gyroscopic spin on the ball. Again, remember the analogy to throwing a football – when you throw a football, you pull down with your fingers across the laces to impart spiral spin.

PP: On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is the slowest changeup that you throw and a 10 is the fastest fastball that you throw, how fast to do throw a gyroball fastball?

Kyle: Well, there are four variants of the gyroball (at least). The regular grip can be thrown the hardest, and on that scale, I'd have to say I throw it around a 6.

PP: When you throw the Gyroball with a locked wrist - imparting true Gyroscopic spin on the ball - how much will it break?

Kyle: It's tough to say - the downward break is about a foot, and the side break has been increasing as of late on my pitches. I think I'm really developing it well. Will Carroll says the pitch breaks late and sideways between 1.5 and 2 feet, but I haven't had that kind of success.

PP: Will Carroll writes that in addition to the grip and the wrist action, that to correctly throw a gyroball you have to create "Double spin" by moving your hips. Is this how you throw it?

Kyle: Yes, absolutely. The double-spin mechanics that the Japanese write about have helped increase the velocity on my pitches for sure. Generating the necessary loop-like motion on the delivery requires turning the back leg early to generate powerful spin from the hips, which then turn the shoulders and deliver the ball through the fingers. By doing this, you can gain velocity on the pitches and create a tailing fastball in addition to throwing an effective gyroball. My four-seam fastball has pretty good tailing movement for an amateur league player, I think.

PP: Does it make it mechanically difficult to throw?

Kyle: No, it's very easy on the arm. However, the motion itself is unnatural - just like any changes to your delivery. By "unnatural", I really mean "unfamiliar" to most players.

PP: So it's not going to blow out anybody's elbow?

Kyle: I highly doubt it, but high-speed camera work and other analyses have not been done on the pitch. This is a major reason why I'm not willing to take pictures of the grip and write a tutorial on how to throw it beyond what I have already done - I don't mind risking my arm since I'm an old amateur league player, but I don't want a 16 year old kid in high school reading what I have to say and throwing it incorrectly, leading to injury. Injuries at the youth level are the highest concern of mine, especially when I coach Little League.

PP: So you would not recommend a High School pitcher reading this to go out and experiment?

Kyle: I definitely would recommend against it. The most important thing for youth pitchers to learn is to locate their fastball well and to develop a strong change-up. Breaking pitches, while very awesome looking, aren't the mainstay of any pitcher in the big leagues. They all made it by throwing an effective fastball to spots they want to, and changing speeds easily. However, if they really want to learn (and most kids will experiment no matter what you tell them), they should seek out someone who can help them throw the pitch and coach them every step of the way. Unfortunately, very few people seem qualified enough to do that. Will Carroll is basically the only one in the U.S. I could teach the basics of it, but that's about it.

I'll have Part 2 up tomorrow. Kyle maintains the website Baseball Delusions.