Gyroball...fact or fiction?
April 2, 2006 8:06 AM   Subscribe

In their book The Secret of the Miracle Pitch, Japanese researchers using supercomputers modeled a potentially unhittable breaking pitch called the "Gyroball". Baseball has been simmering with debate over whether anyone can actually throw it. Seekers of the elusive pitch claim that Japanese superstar and MVP of the 2006 World Baseball Classic Daisuke Matsuzaka throws one, and cite this high-speed video (YouTube) as an example. Another video exists, of high school ace Joey Niezer purported throwing it. If it actually exists, the Gyroball would be the first new pitch developed in almost 40 years.
posted by edverb (30 comments total)
 
Great post. Thanks.
posted by ajr at 8:31 AM on April 2, 2006


why the mystique?
posted by reflection at 8:31 AM on April 2, 2006


why the mystique?

Just guessing...but I think it's a combination of factors. Claiming a new pitch is akin to claiming a new planet in the solar system. It's so rare that by definition it merits skepticism.

Notice that even pitchers who believe the pitch exists are circumspect about it...Matsuzaka claimed he had never thrown one in a game on purpose. Maybe it's a way of hiding an advantage.

Plus no major leaguer in America throws it (at least not to my knowledge). But I'll bet even the ones denying it are toying with it in practice, like secretive alchemists.

Also, there's some layman's distrust of bold baseball claims using physics....I've read detailed physics essays that claim that a fastball (even one thrown 100 MPH) cannot overcome gravity to rise...which seems eminently reasonable and scientific until you've faced a rising heater in the batter's box.

Perhaps American major leaguers baffled in the WBC by Matsuzaka's knee buckling breaking pitches (which start out looking like meatballs) will have served to convince them.

Anyway, I figure this will turn into a fascinating little subplot in baseball, maybe this season, in the wake of facing Matsuzaka in the WBC. If some MLB journeyman starts blowing batters away with a gyroball (as has saved many a career when pitchers add something new to their arsenal, see mid-career pitchers adding splitters as a prime example)...everyone will want one.

To me, it's amazing to watch how the 150 year old pastime continues to evolve.
posted by edverb at 9:07 AM on April 2, 2006


Just what baseball needs--an unhittable pitch. I'd suspect that like every revolution, somebody will be able to hit it soon enough.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:07 AM on April 2, 2006


Matsuzaka's looked, from that camera angle, like a conventional slider with an additional up-and-down movement; I didn't see anything special in it, but that's probably because of the camera angle (no perspective).

Niezer's, though, looked pretty impressive; "unhittable" may be a stretch, but because it's a "new" movement, it'll take hitters a while to catch up to it...
posted by pdb at 9:08 AM on April 2, 2006


which seems eminently reasonable and scientific until you've faced a rising heater in the batter's box.

It doesn't rise, but boy, it sure looks like it does.

Why? Two reasons:

1) The backspin on a rising fastball imparts lift. An experienced batter knows how a pitch drops over time, so the faster the pitch, the less the drop before it reaches the batter. But, if there's backspin, the ball doesn't drop as much. This leads to...

2) ...The batter guessing wrong. He thinks the pitch is slower than it is, thus, it has more time to drop. When the ball doesn't drop enough (and arrives early), it seems that the ball rose and accelerated when it got close.

The second is the biggest factor. Inexperienced batters never see a rising fastball, because they don't know how pitches behave. It's only after you learn the basics that you can be fooled.

Having said that -- if anyone can make a curveball break three feet, it'll bring the curveball back into the game, and bring some much needed balance back to the pitchers. The problem is in recent years, with the lowering of the strikezone, the curve is much less useful, since it tends to be high. It doesn't do you any good if your curve freezes the batter, hit the strike zone dead center at the beltline, and gets called a ball.
posted by eriko at 9:20 AM on April 2, 2006


I would love to see baseball become a pitcher's game once again. The DH is a travesty, and the best game I ever went to had Greg Maddux one-hit my beloved Cardinals. Just pure mastery. A pitcher's game has much more subtlety than the smash-fests the past few years have become.
posted by notsnot at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2006


Excellent post.
posted by Falconetti at 9:30 AM on April 2, 2006


this comes damn close to making baseball interesting.
posted by Busithoth at 9:44 AM on April 2, 2006


Some basic baseball n00b questions:

1) Why, if the ball has the same spin as a bullet or a football - as the yahoo article says - does it break at all? Isn't the point of imparting upon a projectile spin along an axis parallel to its motion to eliminate deflection? Further along this counter-intuitivity fest, why does giving a ball rifle-like spin make it break more than other pitches do?

2) Based on the way its being thrown, it looks like, when being thrown by a righty and from the pitcher's perspective, the gyro ball involves right-hand spin; that is, clockwise. Why, then, again from the pitcher's perspective, does it break to the left?
posted by ChasFile at 9:49 AM on April 2, 2006


Busihoth, the operative word there is close. :-)
posted by mikeweeney at 9:54 AM on April 2, 2006


What is meant by "break"?
posted by phrontist at 9:55 AM on April 2, 2006


Busithoth. Sorry mate!
posted by mikeweeney at 9:55 AM on April 2, 2006


A pitch that breaks is a pitch that moves, like a curve or slider.
posted by ChasFile at 9:58 AM on April 2, 2006


Eriko: if anyone can make a curveball break three feet,

There was a guy who could do that, but he's in a bit of hot water right now...
posted by deadmessenger at 10:32 AM on April 2, 2006


Top post.
posted by nthdegx at 11:07 AM on April 2, 2006


You guys should really get into cricket if ball movement is what gets you interested...[link]
posted by i_cola at 11:33 AM on April 2, 2006


With yesterday being April 1, my first thought was Sidd Finch.
posted by Frank Grimes at 11:59 AM on April 2, 2006


Great post. So if pitchers start throwing gyros, how long before hitters find a new kind of steroids to make lots of home runs, thereby "saving the game" again?
posted by Nelson at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2006


I am really amused that this is a Japanese supercomputer-derived invention. Gyroball! ... but baseball is still pretty ridiculously boring.
posted by blacklite at 1:16 PM on April 2, 2006


Why, if the ball has the same spin as a bullet or a football - as the yahoo article says - does it break at all? Isn't the point of imparting upon a projectile spin along an axis parallel to its motion to eliminate deflection?

For bullets and footballs yes, for baseballs no. You want the ball to move in a manner that makes it more difficult for the hitter to make good contact with the ball.

The reason the ball deflects is because a baseball isn't a perfect sphere. The seams impart irregularities that can dramatically effect the path of the thrown ball. Different pitches call not only for different ball rotations out of the hand, but diferent placements of the seams before the ball leaves the hand.
posted by turbodog at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2006


For bullets and footballs yes, for baseballs no. You want the ball to move in a manner that makes it more difficult for the hitter to make good contact with the ball.

Well that was entirely unhelpful. I mean, I said n00b, not moron, right?

My first question is pretty much just pissing in the wind. I get the fairly obvious notion that putting spin on a ball makes it curve - anyone who's seen my 5 iron slice can attest to that. I also get that a 2-seam split-finger fastball will have a dramatically different trajectory (mostly down) than a slider (in the case of a right handed pitcher, mostly left) than a circle change-up (if done sneakily enough, then who knows?) because of different grips and release methods and whatnot.

My confusion arose from my perception that this delivery - a kind of modified slider where instead of coming around the ball you snap your wrist toward third, pushing downward on the seam with the fingers - looks like its designed to deliver some pretty wicked right-hand spin, yet the ball appears to break left. Is the idea to do that door-knob turning motion and come all the way around the ball on release, kind of like a slider but without the curveball aspect of at the same time coming over the top? I guess that would make some sense. It just looks from the deliver like he's flicking the ball with his index finger more than he's coming around it with his middle finger.

But like I said, I don't know much about pitching. Anyone know how to throw one of these things, and how its different, if at all, from a slider?
posted by ChasFile at 1:43 PM on April 2, 2006


I get the fairly obvious notion that putting spin on a ball makes it curve

Strangely, so does not putting spin on a ball.(.mpg)

How long 'till Alan Nathan weighs in?
posted by Kwantsar at 2:01 PM on April 2, 2006


ChasFile, this is more speculation but at least I've got an interesting link. If you note the cute animation at the bottom of the page, you see that a spinning ball will deflect perpendicularly from where it is travelling due to drag.

Suppose the (right-handed) pitcher applies a downward force to the ball, and it's spinning clockwise (from the pitcher's perspective). Then it should travel leftwards, no? (At least, this is how it seems when I apply a flip and 90 degree counterclockwise rotation to the animation.)

This would seem to justify the name "gyroball". But it's not clear how important the downward motion is in the release.
posted by A dead Quaker at 3:53 PM on April 2, 2006


Best post in quite some time.

Thanks!
posted by caddis at 4:48 PM on April 2, 2006


I really enjoyed this as well. Great post.
posted by davidnin at 7:07 PM on April 2, 2006


I'm also puzzled where the breaking force is supposed to come from. If the axis of rotation is parallel to the ball's trajectory, then there should be very little Magnus force. If you ignore the ball's drop due to gravity, and assume that the ball is uniformly rough, then the air pressure on the sides of the ball should be symmetric. If you do take into account the drop due to gravity, then a right-handed pitch ought to generate some Magnus force pushing to the left, but it should be small relative to that of a curveball.
posted by Galvatron at 7:16 PM on April 2, 2006


Great stuff, edverb!
posted by BobFrapples at 9:55 PM on April 2, 2006


Great link!

If this pitch is real it will only be a matter of time before it makes its appearance in the Major Leagues.

Go Phillies!!!
posted by JKevinKing at 1:27 AM on April 3, 2006


ChasFile

Try throwing a beachball so that it has this type of spin. Put one hand on the ball, the other under it, and pull them apart as you throw. The flight has a corkscrew shape to it, spiraling away from the standard parabolic trajectory. Admittedly it goes less than 97 mph...but it serves as a demo.
posted by apodo at 2:21 PM on April 3, 2006


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