There's no such thing as a pitching prospect
August 25, 2015 5:24 PM   Subscribe

In 2010, a Metafilter post featured a 13 year-old girl who lit up Little League baseball with a killer knuckleball. In 2015, Chelsea Baker is still ringing up batters, and is catching the eye of major league scouts.
posted by chrchr (57 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Someone once asked Willie Stargell (a Hall of Fame hitter) about the knuckleball. He said "I just take my three swings and sit down on the bench. If I try to hit it, I'll mess up my swing."

It's hard to hit and even harder to master (and if I recall correctly this girl was tutored by Phil Neikro the master of the form). With the departure of Tim Wakefield and the fading of R.A. Dickey, this kid needs to be signed (I'm looking at you Mets).
posted by jonmc at 5:34 PM on August 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


"She's there for the right reasons. She busts her butt," Valdes said. "You don't know that she's a girl when she's out there."
</almost_politically_correct_redneck>
posted by J.K. Seazer at 5:46 PM on August 25, 2015 [16 favorites]


Hopefully she gets an offer to pitch D2 or D3 college ball. Based on her numbers anything more really is incredibly unrealistic.

But there's nothing wrong with that. That's above the ceiling of tens of thousands of other high school players. Being a good baseball player isn't anywhere near sniffing the major leagues. There are just too many insanely great baseball players.

Hope she does well in college and enjoys her life.
posted by paulcole at 5:49 PM on August 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


knuckleball, motherfucker.
posted by jonmc at 5:51 PM on August 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


This makes me sad: such a long way still to go.
posted by francesca too at 5:52 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree it's sad that she's not getting any college attention, but that should be the story, not that she's got a chance at the majors.
posted by paulcole at 5:58 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


"When I was playing in Little League, I didn't know I'd play high school ball," Baker said, her voice resonating with the pleasant twang you'd expect from a Florida girl. "And then, to throw two perfect games, to be honored by the Hall of Fame, parents would still be talking trash about me, saying she can't play and stuff like that. To a lot of people, that would make them upset, and want to quit. I was like, I'm gonna show them I can play high school ball."

To be fair to those parents, it's their lifetime dream to be portrayed by Beth Grant in a TV Movie.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:01 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I appreciate that women like to be competative, but when is it time to sit back and realize what would happen to your skull when a 110 mph line drive hits you between the eyes
What happens? Do your ovaries, if you have them, explode through your skull in a stadium-razing fireball, but otherwise it's ok?
posted by Wolfdog at 6:02 PM on August 25, 2015 [83 favorites]


This was from February, so she'd be entering college now. Any updates?
posted by mr_roboto at 6:04 PM on August 25, 2015


Don't all great knuckleball pitchers take a while to develop their top form? So despite numbers that now don't indicate she'll be a major league star, there's still hope for her?
posted by glaucon at 6:07 PM on August 25, 2015


It does take a while to master the knuckle.
posted by drezdn at 6:14 PM on August 25, 2015


A woman throwing a knuckleball is sadly in a no-win situation. If she's successful, people will say it's only because it's a junk pitch she can barely control and she's a fluke. If she's not successful, people will say, "See, I told you a woman had no place in baseball."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:47 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Looks like she's going to Florida Atlantic University in the fall, and isn't planning on playing college ball.

Plant City Observer:
It’s been one heck of a ride for Chelsea Baker: a high school career full of ESPN cameras, trips to Japan and team success. But now that the FHSAA 7A State Championship tournament is over, the Durant senior has other plans.

Chief among them is being a normal student again. The incoming Florida Atlantic University freshman believes she’s done with baseball as a full-time commitment and will be heading to Boca Raton after one last summer tournament.

“My goal was always high school,” Baker says. “I never even looked for college. That would be awesome to do, but I’m happy with where I’ve gotten.”

She’ll be training for a week-long tournament in Virginia, for which she’ll depart June 12, and will then begin the moving process.

“I’m not playing baseball there, but I’m playing baseball with other teams,” she said. “I know I’m going to Virginia this summer, for a week, to play with a travel ball team. I’m going to do tournaments here and there, but college-wise, as of right now, I’m not doing anything.”

posted by jenkinsEar at 6:49 PM on August 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


The knuckleball is such a weird pitch and jokes about it abound. Uecker's reponse to "How do you catch a knuckleball?" was "Wait until it stops rolling, then pick it up."

Hopefully she gets an offer to pitch D2 or D3 college ball. Based on her numbers anything more really is incredibly unrealistic.

Which numbers? I can't pretend I'm that familiar with the subtleties of high school baseball stats but the 0.74 ERA doesn't sound like it should limit her.
posted by mark k at 7:42 PM on August 25, 2015


She's throwing the one pitch that can dominate at the major league level that does not demand pure strength of some muscle group -- the knuckleball. It's the perfect pitch for a woman to throw at the MLB level, because it doesn't need anything that a woman wouldn't have that a man would. It's not a power pitch. You don't need to get a ton of spin on it -- indeed, spin *wrecks* a knuckle. It's a pure technique pitch. You master it, you can throw it. And she's apparently throwing it faster than R.A Dickey is throwing it right now, and he's the #2 starter for the Toronto Blue Jays, who are currently 69-55 and tied for first in the AL East.

If Joe Maddon, one of the smartest managers in the game, says it's real, it's real. But she's still very, very young. The peak age of a MLB player is 27. 21 year olds in the bigs are rare. She's 17.

And you know what? If she is this good? Everyone's looking for an edge. Somebody will give her a look. Right now they're not looking because they don't know to look. But if she keeps throwing like this, and stories keep getting written like this? She'll get a look. Indeed, I'll bet you the Cubs have someone looking at her right now, because Joe Maddon Is Not Dumb About Pitching.

But it will be at least two years before she would get a Single-A shot, and at least 4 before she'd get even a sniff at the big show -- and again, 21 year olds in the show are still pretty rare. Yeah, the Cubs are starting four rookies, but the Cubs are a serious outlier this year.*

But knuckleballers? They're...odd. All of them. It's the Feast or Famine pitch. When they're on, it's famine for the batters. They're going to hit nothing but ground balls if they're lucky, and nothing at all if they're not.

But if they're not on? It's feast for the batter. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. There are no average outings for a knuckleballer. They're giving up two hits in a complete game -- or they've given up five runs in two innings. They tend to have highish ERAs because of that -- when they get lit up, it hurts. When they don't, they're gold, and they give you a complete game, so your bullpen gets a day off.

The great thing about them, though -- they're not throwing fast. They're not spinning the ball, indeed, any spin at all ruins the pitch. Which means it's the easiest pitch in the world on the arm. A great knuckleballer can throw all day, and they can throw for years. You get one, they last *forever*. You don't count pitches on a knuckleballer, you count years. When they get to around 40, then you start wondering when they'll retire. R.A. Dickey started pitching in the big leagues in 2001, he's still going at 40. Phil Niekro pitched 864 games. Hoyt Wilhelm pitched over 1000 games in a 20 year MLB career!

And, in the end, it's simple -- if she can get batters out, then she'll get a look. If she keeps getting batters out, she'll get an offer at the next level. Fundamentally, if you give somebody a shot at winning, they'll give you a shot at playing. If she reaches a point where she can't, that's where it ends.

Baseball used to be far too conservative -- but Beane and Company came along, and anymore? It's all a matter of WAR. If a team thinks she might give them Wins Above Replacement, she'll get a look. If she pans out? She'll get a contract. Because it's all about wins, and if she can keep batters from getting on base? That's wins.

And that's *all* a club cares about -- at least, that's all a winning club cares about.

* How much of an outlier? 4th best record in baseball, which makes them THIRD in the NL Central because CUBS! Seriously, WTF, we knew the Cardinals were good, but the Pirates *and* Cubs had to turn into monsters as well? Seriously, the Cubs are in first by at least three games in *any* division in Baseball except the ones with the word "Central" in them. But third? That's just crazy.
posted by eriko at 7:45 PM on August 25, 2015 [19 favorites]


"Baseball used to be far too conservative -- but Beane and Company came along, and anymore? It's all a matter of WAR. If a team thinks she might give them Wins Above Replacement, she'll get a look. If she pans out? She'll get a contract. Because it's all about wins, and if she can keep batters from getting on base? That's wins. "

Psst — y'know that they use better stats than WAR now right? (But baseball overall is still far too conservative.)

But if she can keep locating that knuckleball, she could be a Jackie Robinson. I'd love to see her pitching for the Tigers. Hell, even if she just ends up short relief, she could be a phenomenal one-inning specialist.
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Luis Tiant was another famous knuckle ball pitcher.

The knuckle ball is hard to pitch and hard to hit. The real problem with it is that it's also hard to catch. You get proportionally more passed balls with the knuckle ball, and that's not a good thing.

If your catcher can handle it, it's a very fine pitch. If your catcher cannot, it's suicide.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:47 PM on August 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


R.A. Dickey knuckleball in slow motion. Nickeas has to work it.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:10 PM on August 25, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's NHL goalies vs MLB pitchers to see who the first woman will be.
posted by GuyZero at 9:20 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also too bad this woman isn't going forward with baseball, but do pitchers really get by with only one meaningful pitch? They don't mention it but I gotta sure she can throw some other pitches reasonably well.
posted by GuyZero at 9:24 PM on August 25, 2015


but do pitchers really get by with only one meaningful pitch?

Some can.
posted by edeezy at 9:28 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Don't forget that R.A. Dickey is also a speed-demon baserunning menace five-tool legend.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:29 PM on August 25, 2015 [7 favorites]


I read through all of this and didn't come across the words minor league. Baseball has a vast farm system to see if you can cut it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:38 AM on August 26, 2015


It's NHL goalies vs MLB pitchers to see who the first woman will be.

I think it's more likely we'll see a woman MLB pitcher before a woman NHL goalie. All the top NHL goalies are now over 6' tall; their net-filling size and long legs spread out in the ubiquitous butterfly stance give them an important edge over a net minder with an average frame regardless of quick reflexes.

I do wish a college would offer Baker a spot. She deserves a shot at playing full time.
posted by praiseb at 12:54 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a shame she's not a lefty, because I really want to see what the female version of LOOGY is. LOOW? LOOLP? LOOEF?
posted by Sphinx at 1:41 AM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


but do pitchers really get by with only one meaningful pitch?

Rarely, but she probably has two -- put a little spin on it and it's a changeup. Now that she's probably close to or has reached physical maturity, she could probably also develop a curve or a knuckle curve (where you put a slight side turn on the ball.)

But look again at that R.A. Dickey pitch. By all rights that pitch should have been drilled, but all the batter can do is look dumbfound at it. It's going way outside...no, inside...fuck a strike? Heck, look how it fakes out the catcher, who leans outside to block it thinking Dickey's let one fly, but then it comes back in. The ump is "Just wait and call it...fuck I hate these fucking things."

I loved Uecker's comment on the kuckleball. 'The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling and pick it up."

One problem with knuckleballers getting into the show is that scouts are lazy and if you're not showing up big on the radar gun they don't bother to give you a look. The stats revolution is helping here, because good knuckleballers do show up well in pitching stats, even if they're not showing up on radar guns.

Don't forget that R.A. Dickey is also a speed-demon baserunning menace five-tool legend.

I will always, always, always be thankful to those Houston Asstros for keeping the Cubbies, even in their darkest hour from being the worst team in baseball.
posted by eriko at 5:07 AM on August 26, 2015 [6 favorites]



It's NHL goalies vs MLB pitchers to see who the first woman will be.


Why not the NBA?
posted by drezdn at 5:14 AM on August 26, 2015


She's throwing the one pitch that can dominate at the major league level that does not demand pure strength of some muscle group -- the knuckleball. It's the perfect pitch for a woman to throw at the MLB level, because it doesn't need anything that a woman wouldn't have that a man would. It's not a power pitch. You don't need to get a ton of spin on it -- indeed, spin *wrecks* a knuckle. It's a pure technique pitch. You master it, you can throw it. And she's apparently throwing it faster than R.A Dickey is throwing it right now, and he's the #2 starter for the Toronto Blue Jays, who are currently 69-55 and tied for first in the AL East.

Not sure why my comment was deleted, but I'll try again.

Pitching is more than throwing the ball over the plate. OK so she throws a great knuckleball - what happens when there's a runner on first taking a big lead?

The knuckleball is a slow pitch, difficult for the catcher to handle as others in this thread have already mentioned, and so runners like to steal on knuckleballers. That's the downside of the knuckleball. To compensate, the pitcher needs to have a quick move to first base and throw a straight up fastball strike to the first baseman or the runner steals second and is in scoring position.

Also in anticipation of a runner getting the green light, pitchers have to be able to pitch out (that is throw wide of the plate to the catcher who jumps up from the crouch) with a fastball in order to pick off the runner at second place.

Potential basestealers would be inclined to be aggressive against any pitcher of Dickey’s caliber, but the particulars of Dickey’s pitching approach would seem to make every baserunner a true threat to go. And yet only six have tried, three of whom succeeded.
posted by three blind mice at 5:19 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


I imagine that assuming every baseball player wants to play MLB is like assuming every computer programmer wants to work for Google or Apple. There are other ways to carve out a great life playing baseball, whether for money or pleasure.

Not to mention that the pitch is only one part of what has made her stand out (there's also work ethic, perseverance, willingness to self-promote). Maybe it's not even her favorite part of playing. Maybe she gets a rush out of proving people wrong and winning, and will end up as an entrepreneur or something.
posted by mantecol at 6:06 AM on August 26, 2015 [6 favorites]


As someone who grew up a Senators fan, I love the knuckleball; both were before my time, but the two legends I grew up with were Walter Johnson and this:
The 1945 Washington Senators finished 1½ games out of first place with a starting pitching staff that almost exclusively used the pitch, with four knuckleballers in the rotation. That season, the team's three catchers — regular catcher Rick Ferrell and backups Al Evans and Mike Guerra — combined for 40 passed balls, more than double that of any other team in the league.
posted by languagehat at 7:09 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


The knuckle ball is hard to pitch and hard to hit. The real problem with it is that it's also hard to catch.

Which is why the Red Sox brought Doug Mirabelli back to Fenway with a police escort. From Wikipedia:
It took a private jet and a Massachusetts State Police escort to get Mirabelli to the field in time. His plane from San Diego touched down at Logan Airport at 6:48 pm, he arrived at Fenway Park at 7:00 pm, and took his place behind the plate just in time for Wakefield's opening pitch at 7:13 pm. In an effort to conserve every second possible, the Red Sox sent a uniform along with the police escort for Mirabelli to change into while en route to Fenway Park from the airport. A special glove (which is actually a woman's softball catcher's mitt) which Mirabelli had used in previous years to catch Wakefield had been left in Boston by Josh Bard for Mirabelli.
posted by maryr at 7:42 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


No one has ever made it from Logan to anywhere in 12 minutes before.
posted by maryr at 7:46 AM on August 26, 2015 [5 favorites]


Pitching is more than throwing the ball over the plate. OK so she throws a great knuckleball - what happens when there's a runner on first taking a big lead?

Okay, let me introduce you to Jon Lester. Three time All-Star. Two World Series Rings.

And he is completely and utterly incapable of throwing a ball to first base. Not just bad at it. Not just really bad at it. He is cannot throw it there bad. We're talking "Mental Yips" bad. Cursed bad. Throws it to the outfield bad. LEGENDARY bad.

And yet he's not only playing, he's one of the best pitchers out there!

If Jon Lester, who not only has problems, but has completely and utterly failed at this task, who cannot hold a runner at first period, can become an All-Star pitcher and an leading starter, making $35M a year, I think a person throwing 75mph knuckleballs can. Other 75mph knuckleballers hold people on first. What catches a runner on first isn't really the speed of the throw, it's timing -- you catch them leaning the wrong way or not looking.

And I find it completely unamusing that you think that she can't throw a ball ~67 feet, when we know she can throw the ball 60 feet 6 inches in the strike zone, and that what gets a runner picked off isn't speed, it's timing -- catching the runner not looking or leaning the wrong way --and placement -- putting the ball in the right place, in between the runner and the base so the first baseman is catching the ball in the place where they are going to make the tag.

The speed of the throw adds almost nothing to this, because of the short distances involved and the slow speed of the runner in comparison to the speed of the throw. Going from 70 to 80mph on the throw means an about an inch of travel for the runner. That may be one out in the course of the season. If that's what keeping you from bringing her up? Sorry, but that's bullshit.

We know nothing of her fielding skills or of her pickoff moves, but we know -- because we have proof in Jon Lester -- that a team that is competing (like the Boston Red Sox or the Chicago Cubs, who have had/currently have Jon Lester) will accept a starting pitcher that absolutely cannot hit and cannot field if they can get outs. If she's as good as R.A. Dickey and no team is giving her a look, it's sexism, pure and simple. We don't know if she's as good as R.A. Dickey, true, but there are signs that she might be -- she throws a wicked knuckle with his velocity -- and she deserves an honest look.

Now, I'm not saying she's as good. Right now, she can't be. She's 17. She's probably not physically mature yet, though she might be, women mature a bit faster than men on average. Male baseball players typically reach peak performance about 27 (think I already said that) and if we take that straight across. Risky, but we've got no other data, so we'll take it as "human ballplayers peak at 27") then she's a decade from her physical baseball peak.

Her biggest issues are 1) Sexism, 2) Knuckleballerism, since lazy scouts live by the radar gun, and thus 3) lack of quality play time. If she's not getting quality play, she's not getting the challenge she needs for the scouts to truly know how good she is. To know you can play at the next level, you have to be good at your current level, but if you're not getting a shot there, then you don't advance. If she keep striking out high schoolers and doesn't get a chance at college, pro scouts won't see her against quality competition and won't count her high school numbers.

Countering that are the rise of better stats which highlight pitchers who get outs and scouts who've learned to find pitchers by using those stats, and if she is dominating there, then hopefully somebody is going to give her a shot at the next level, when it's cheap to do so, and see what she can do. Until Triple-A, nothing costs anybody any real money, and it's only when you get inked onto a major league roster than your pay hits six digits, and she's a *long* way from there.

I hope she gets a shot. She may well fail. Odds are she will, because frankly, most people do. There are 30 Triple A teams, 16 Mexican League Teams, 30 Double A Teams, 60 Single A teams, 22 Short Season A teams, the rookie leagues, the Dominican Summer league, the Gulf Coast League, the Fall league, and the Independents. All of these, with the exception of the few rostered players in AAA and the guys on rehab assignments, are people trying to make the show, and almost all of them *will not* -- and then there are all the people in college ball who didn't make it that far.

It's hard to make it to the Majors. The default answer to questions is "almost certainly not", and that applies her. It's not until a player is succeeding in AA ball that you can honestly say "I think this person has a real shot" and more than once someone has made it, and gone right back down and never come back.

And she has to fight all this other stuff as well. Long row to hoe.

I hope she gets the college call. Because, regardless of all else, I just want to see another knuckleballer in the game.
posted by eriko at 8:11 AM on August 26, 2015 [17 favorites]


I love this thread unreservedly, and would welcome more knuckleball stories. (And would welcome seeing Baker play at higher levels! Maybe even eventually for the Rockies, where she could be the only knuckleballer who pitches with balls kept in a humidor.)
posted by asperity at 8:44 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


"And she's apparently throwing it faster than R.A Dickey is throwing it right now"

eriko, I don't know where you're getting that. The article mentions that her fastball is in the upper 70s, which means her knuckleball is probably significantly slower. Dickey throws his knuckleball at various speeds to throw off hitters' timing, but he routinely throws it in the high 70s, sometimes low 80s.
posted by HighLife at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


^ ah, missed the actual speed of her knuckler in my reading (73mph). But still, Dickey generally throws his in the mid-upper 70s.
posted by HighLife at 9:11 AM on August 26, 2015


Why not the NBA?

So I don't have a real answer but I have random ideas:

1 - the WNBA may not be as popular as the NBA but it's pretty popular for a all-women's sports league. So there's less motivation for women to try to get into the NBA.

2 - There's no equivalent to a pitcher or goalie in the NBA where a less physical but technically competent player can excel. There are smaller NBA players though, so never say never I guess.

But could the best WNBA player play in the NBA? Someone who knows more about basketball than me would have to answer that.
posted by GuyZero at 9:21 AM on August 26, 2015


I guess the other interesting question is why, seeing as she's already been accepted by FAU, she apparently has no prospect of going anywhere near the Owls? Is sexual segregation really that bad in American collegiate sports?
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:26 AM on August 26, 2015


There's a fair amount of discussion of the prospects of women in the NBA in the previous thread about Baker.
posted by chrchr at 9:39 AM on August 26, 2015


Is sexual segregation really that bad in American collegiate sports?

It's definitely bad, but women do play college baseball. For instance, Sarah Hudek won a college scholarship.

I'm guessing in Baker's case she either doesn't want to play college baseball, or coaches are put off by her knuckler. Hudek has a more conventional set of skills.
posted by chrchr at 9:48 AM on August 26, 2015


And I find it completely unamusing that you think that she can't throw a ball ~67 feet, when we know she can throw the ball 60 feet 6 inches in the strike zone, and that what gets a runner picked off isn't speed, it's timing -- catching the runner not looking or leaning the wrong way --and placement -- putting the ball in the right place, in between the runner and the base so the first baseman is catching the ball in the place where they are going to make the tag.

Well be amused. Picking off a runner at first requires you to throw a well-aimed fastball to the first baseman, often from an awkward position. You have to have arm strength cause there's no wind-up or stretch. It's an off-balance arm throw - which is a different skill than throwing a knuckleball from the stretch.

If you read the Dickey link I provided, he's got some special skill here that everyone does not have. Without it, his ERA would be a lot higher and he might not be pitching in the majors. Yeah it isn't just speed, but speed - and accuracy - are utterly essential.

If you can't pick off a runner, the runner takes a bigger lead even if he doesn't attempt to steal and that's a big advantage in avoiding a double-play.

My point is simply that baseball is a multifaceted game - at every position. Being able to throw one pitch well does not a pitcher make. You need a lot of other athletic talent in which unfortunately size and strength matter.

Even if she is successful from the mound and develops a wicked pick-off, can she hit? Can she beat out a bunt? Or would she be confined to the American league where they have white tees for pitchers?
posted by three blind mice at 10:08 AM on August 26, 2015


... women do play college baseball. For instance, Sarah Hudek won a college scholarship.
Interesting. Thank you. I know practically nothing about baseball, and I'm trying to understand the issues around mixed competition from a cricket angle. There was a good deal of talk two seasons ago that English wicketkeeper/batsman Sarah Taylor, one of the stars of the women's game, was in talks to play first-class men's cricket for Sussex. That, ultimately, never happened, and I guess some of the same issues are in play. Having said that, England international fast bowler Kate Cross has been playing in the Central Lancashire League this season (a couple of steps down from first-class level: think Minor Leagues) and made headlines recently when she almost single-handedly destroyed Unsworth in a league match.
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:32 AM on August 26, 2015


Even if she is successful from the mound and develops a wicked pick-off, can she hit? Can she beat out a bunt? Or would she be confined to the American league where they have white tees for pitchers?

There are National League starting pitchers who have pretty much never had a hit. There are even National League starting pitchers who can't successfully field bunts (*cough* Matt Garza *cough*). There are pitchers who are terrible at holding runners (Jon Lester). There's plenty of room in baseball for people who can only do one thing, as long as they do that one thing well enough.
posted by drezdn at 10:42 AM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


From the article:

Hudek is a left-handed pitcher with an 82 mile-per-hour fastball, making her “as good, or better, than most boys around here,” Vorachek said. Hudek has played baseball against the boys since Little League and has also shined in women’s competitions: she earned USA Baseball’s Sportswoman of the Year award last year after helping the United States win the silver medal at the 2014 WBSC Women’s Baseball World Cup. Hudek went 1-1 with a 0.53 ERA on the mound during the World Cup while hitting .444 at the plate.

So that's more than enough to pitch in college. I mean, geez. Lefties do get off a bit easier in that they don't have to pitch just for pure fastball speed.

Also, she's the daughter of a former MLB pitcher - clearly part of the issue is that no one is giving women the training they need to become MLB-caliber pitchers.

At work women point out all the time that a lack of female software developers is not just a pipeline issue, but I suspect for baseball yeah, it's very much a pipeline issue.
posted by GuyZero at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Women who have an interest in playing baseball mostly get sucked into playing softball. That's got to be a huge part of the pipeline problem. Pitching in softball is a totally different skill from baseball pitching.
posted by chrchr at 11:16 AM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Pitching is more than throwing the ball over the plate. OK so she throws a great knuckleball - what happens when there's a runner on first taking a big lead?"

She pops it over to first? You know that you don't have to be able to wing a 95-mile fastball to first, right? And that power pitchers often do worse at picking guys off because of overthrows?

"Well be amused. Picking off a runner at first requires you to throw a well-aimed fastball to the first baseman, often from an awkward position. You have to have arm strength cause there's no wind-up or stretch. It's an off-balance arm throw - which is a different skill than throwing a knuckleball from the stretch. "

Right, but one that you've given no evidence that she's unable to master, and one that's traditionally much, much easier than throwing a consistent knuckleball, and a skill that's not necessary to pitch at the top of the MLB.

"My point is simply that baseball is a multifaceted game - at every position. Being able to throw one pitch well does not a pitcher make. You need a lot of other athletic talent in which unfortunately size and strength matter. "

You know that there are a ton of relief pitchers who have long careers by being able to throw one pitch well, right? You sound like Cobb complaining about Ruth.

"Even if she is successful from the mound and develops a wicked pick-off, can she hit? Can she beat out a bunt? Or would she be confined to the American league where they have white tees for pitchers?"

WELL IF SHE HAS TO PLAY IN THE JUNIOR LEAGUE SHE MIGHT AS WELL JUST STAY HOME
posted by klangklangston at 11:24 AM on August 26, 2015 [4 favorites]


Anybody remember this guy?
posted by chrchr at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


Picking off a runner at first requires you to throw a well-aimed fastball to the first baseman, often from an awkward position.

This is a pointless argument.

The purpose of the pickoff move is to hold the runner at first by demonstrating the threat that they might be picked off if they stray too far from base. Actually getting an out here is a happy accident. Even a great pitcher like Clayton Kershaw succeeds only 2 percent of the time. Felix Hernandez? Zero pickoffs this year, and only 22 actual attempts.

Holding a runner at first doesn't even require the pitcher to throw the ball. The pickoff move is an example of a fleet-in-being, something that exerts a controlling pressure without ever having to be used.

One could argue that since pickoff throws add to the general wear-and-tear of a pitching arm, and since caught stealing averages hover around 30 percent, you're mathematically better off never making an actual pickoff throw at all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:16 PM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


[One comment deleted. We don't have to go to first principles on Why Are There Even Women's Sports At All Isn't THAT the Real Sexism every time there's a thread about a female athlete.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:16 PM on August 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


But could the best WNBA player play in the NBA? Someone who knows more about basketball than me would have to answer that.

I've posted before in MeFi sports threads that I thought Teresa Edwards could've done it, as a shooting guard in the vein of John Paxson and Steve Kerr. But typically the "12th man on the bench" is a big forward used only as a defensive replacement and six fouls to give.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:20 PM on August 26, 2015


She's throwing the one pitch that can dominate at the major league level that does not demand pure strength of some muscle group -- the knuckleball. It's the perfect pitch for a woman to throw at the MLB level, because it doesn't need anything that a woman wouldn't have that a man would.

According to my coworker, a woman who tried out for the San Diego Padres in 1997, differences in forearm make it easier for women to throw a more 'pure' curveball with a 12-6 drop.

FWIW - you would think that at this point women who are competing in sports would take less shit now than when my coworker tried out, but it looks like it's the same or more. In fact, I will venture to say that when a man is talented in a competitive sport, the amount of crap he takes is inversely proportional to his talent whereas with a woman it is proportional. And that right there is beyond fucked up. She is not a threat to other players or to the sanctity of the game (which is itself a laughable phrase). She is a talented pitcher and should be treated as one.

I was about to tell me favorite knuckleball story, when I realized I already had:
When I was a kid (1978, I think), my dad took me to a Yankees home game. It was a pleasure to be there early, because we could see the players shagging flies to warm up and generally playing around. In the bull pen, Rich Gossage was fooling around and my dad, who has always had a good eye for the game pointed out that he was throwing knuckle balls. These were not just knuckle balls. They were Gossage knuckle balls, which means they were going very fast. I had just asked my dad why he never used those in the game when he fired a knuckle ball into the stands.

OK then.
posted by plinth at 1:23 PM on August 26, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's hard for me to imagine that Cheryl Miller wouldn't have done at least as well as a lot of others in the NBA.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:36 PM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]


The gap in strength and speed between men and women at elite levels is vast, and it matters in the major sports. This has been discussed a lot on metafilter in the past, including the previous Baker thread linked above the fold.

In that thread Homeboy Trouble cites the example of the quadrennially gold medal winning Canadian women's hockey team, a team composed of the best women hockey players in the hockey playingest country in the world. They train against teams in the Alberta Midget Hockey League, a AAA league for boys aged 18 and under. They regularly lose. It looks like there are over 140 AAA midget hockey teams in Canada, so these aren't even all star teams they're losing to.

This doesn't take away from the amazing accomplishments of women athletes, because their athleticism doesn't have to be measured against that of men to be significant and remarkable.

Now, a left-handed pitcher in major league baseball doesn't need to be an elite athlete the way an NBA player does, so if a woman is to crack into one of the big team sports, she is likely to be a left handed pitcher. I mean, Jamie Moyer was throwing 70 mph "fastballs" in MLB at age 49.
posted by chrchr at 11:33 PM on August 26, 2015


Lest you think it is just hockey, here are some forum posts (a poor citation, granted) about the2009 U.S. Women's National soccer team losing to a team of 15-16 year old boys. This boys' team was a regional all star team and part of the Olympic Development Program.

But the thing to keep in mind is that that game literally doesn't matter. The game that mattered was their 5-3 victory over Brazil in the Women's World Cup in 2012, a feat for which they are rightly celebrated.
posted by chrchr at 12:18 AM on August 27, 2015


Now, a left-handed pitcher in major league baseball doesn't need to be an elite athlete the way an NBA player does, so if a woman is to crack into one of the big team sports, she is likely to be a left handed pitcher. I mean, Jamie Moyer was throwing 70 mph "fastballs" in MLB at age 49.

The big thing here -- if Baker can master the Knuckleball, and pitches in the AL (or the NL god forbid adopts the DH) then every single factor that men have over women is no longer in play. Men are faster -- she's not a runner, she's not a fielder. Men are stronger. She's not a hitter, she's not a power pitcher. Women are more flexible -- she's a pitcher that has to bend her arm. Women have a higher pain threshold -- she's a starting pitcher than has to throw many pitches every five games.

Even in the NL, she's putting herself in a spot where her sex's general weaknesses compared to men -- speed and power -- are already accepted. Pitchers can't hit, and since they can't, they don't get on base enough to worry about them being runners. Fat pitchers are fine, they run like crap. Fielding? Most of the time, they don't field because they're coming off the pitch -- it's a bonus if they can. In the AL, the hitting and running issues are moot -- she'll never appear on the offense.

It's one of the few cases -- like competitive 8/9 ball pool or darts -- where sexual dimorphism isn't important. She doesn't need power or speed to succeed as a knuckleball pitcher, so the fact that genetically, she's not likely to have those compared to a male doesn't matter. She needs to be on the strong side compared to women, yes, but that's a different matter than being strong compared to men.

I'll say it again -- it's is very likely she does not have the talent to be a major league pitcher. But this is not because she is female. She has everything she needs to be a kuckleball pitcher. The reason it's very likely she doesn't have the talent to be a major league pitcher is that it is very rare to have the talent to be a major league pitcher.

Sex doesn't enter into it. There are roughly 5 starters and 8 relievers on each club on the 25, and 7-8 more on the inactive roster -- call it 20 of the 40 on a MLB roster. There are 30 clubs. That's about 390 pitcher in the show now, and 600 that can call themselves major league players, even if they're not in the show right now.

How many people in Baseball Playing nations? Less than a billion? Call it a billion, and that's being generous. US, Japan, the Caribbean Nations and Mexico are the biggest ones -- hmm, US/JPN/MEX are close to 600M, so lets say 750M worldwide in nations that play baseball as a hand wave.

Out of 750 million people, 600 people are major league players. That's the kind of odd, really. Yes, at least 740 million won't even try. But still -- very damn few make the show. So, even if she gets all the shots, she's probably not going to make it.

I just want her to get a fair shot. That's all. I don't want to be told now why she can't make it. I just want her to get what dozens of other people who will fail will get. A fair shot. She can fail just like they can, right?
posted by eriko at 6:56 AM on August 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


One could argue that since pickoff throws add to the general wear-and-tear of a pitching arm, and since caught stealing averages hover around 30 percent, you're mathematically better off never making an actual pickoff throw at all.

That is certainly the attitude I remember the late 90s Red Sox having, except towards all the bases and for the catcher too.
posted by maryr at 1:31 PM on August 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


"It's hard for me to imagine that Cheryl Miller wouldn't have done at least as well as a lot of others in the NBA."

Yeah, that's who always comes to mind when people talk about a woman in the NBA. If she had been a generation younger, she might have been able to make it. I know that even when Reggie was on the Pacers, he talked about her being able to take him 1-on-1. He's a HoF player, so even if part of her edge was sibling mind juju, she should have been at least on Muggsy's level.
posted by klangklangston at 1:53 PM on August 27, 2015


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