Throw like a girl, part II
June 16, 2010 11:33 AM   Subscribe

On Saturday, in her second start as a professional baseball player for the Chico (CA) Outlaws, 18-year-old "Knuckle Princess" Eri Yoshida received her first strikeout as a player in the US. [Yoshida previously on Metafilter.]

It's been a good year for Yoshida. After signing with the Golden League, she had the opportunity in March to work out with her idol, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who was impressed overall.

Yoshida's future in baseball is, of course, anyone's guess. Baseball apocrypha dictates that in 1952, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick sent a memo intended to prohibit women from signing MLB contracts. However, celebri-lawyer Gloria Allred claims that the rule never actually went on the books. She is reportedly planning to urge current commissioner Bud Selig to clarify that there is no policy against women playing professional ball. (The MLB has actively recruited women in the past -- but as consumers, not players.)
posted by mudpuppie (19 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yoshida is awesome and fun, which I assume means Selig will make a rule against women playing in the MLB any second now.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 11:37 AM on June 16, 2010 [11 favorites]

Best of luck, dear.
posted by ZaneJ. at 11:47 AM on June 16, 2010

I was introduced to Ms. Allred by her appearances on The Morton Downey, Jr. Show. I assess her legal credentials accordingly.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:13 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, she's tiny.
posted by delmoi at 12:15 PM on June 16, 2010

Maybe it's just confirmation bias, because I've been thinking about it, but it seems like pitchers (and especially righties) are getting bigger and bigger. Even if Selig were to make a public statement giving the okay for women in the MLB (along with requisite catastrophic infernal cooling), I don't see any team's scouts giving a 5-foot-1 woman a chance unless she's got supernaturally amazing stuff. I'm thinking cartoonish loop-de-loops.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:15 PM on June 16, 2010

uncleozzy: . I'm thinking cartoonish loop-de-loops.

Um, yes, please.

Oh, wait, this isn't the "what could get Mike to watch regular season baseball regularly again?" thread. Never mind.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:04 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

uncleozy the knuckleball isn't thrown vary hard at all; wikipedia says it has a "low average speed (55–75 MPH)." So her size shouldn't be a problem.

She's a submarine (sidearm) pitcher. They are harder to hit than regular pitchers.

A submarine knuckleballer is just a massive headache for batters. (Her cathcer isn't gonna be too thrilled either.) I want to see her pitch so freaking badly.
posted by oddman at 1:06 PM on June 16, 2010

She's a submarine (sidearm) pitcher. They are harder to hit than regular pitchers.

Which explains the success of Byung-Hyun Kim.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:09 PM on June 16, 2010

Sure, knuckleballers don't throw hard, but durability has to be a question when you're that small, even throwing 65mph, and even assuming she can start throwing it for strikes.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:15 PM on June 16, 2010

uncleozzy: I don't see any team's scouts giving a 5-foot-1 woman a chance unless she's got supernaturally amazing stuff. I'm thinking cartoonish loop-de-loops.
But that's the beauty of the knuckleball, uncleozzy. You don't have to be a 6'3" 230 pound Texas hurler to make it as a pitcher if you're a knuckleballer (or named Jamie Moyer). I've long felt that the first successful woman playing in the majors will be a knuckleball pitcher for that reason. It's deceptively hard to do- it seems easy, yet very very very few people can throw one with consistency as opposed to throwing 80% decent knucklers and 20% slow-pitch batting practice. However, if you can throw it with consistency and dance, I believe you will find a place on a major league roster.

That doesn't mean Eri will make it by any means. Wakefield's the only truly successful knuckleball pitcher playing right now as a slightly above average pitcher who until the last couple of years was an innings eater and a steal at $4M/yr, although R.A. Dickey (formerly of the Mariners, now with the Mets) is starting to make a real go of it this year with the Mets. There was also a Charlie Zink who had one cup of coffee with the Sox two years ago where he pitched 3 great innings, then in shades of Brewster's Millions he sadly fell apart in the 4th and hasn't been back to the majors since, as a way of demonstrating the great difficulty of mastering the knuckler.

But my point is that if- and it's a very very big if- she can be successful in the minor leagues and get some 'control' over the knuckler, I don't believe her size or gender will make a difference. A good knuckleballer will eat up innings and outs, rarely miss their starts, and make a good 5 starter, and there will be teams willing to give her a chance if she could be the next Tim Wakefield (not to mention if she's any good, she'll be a fan attraction). However, I think it's more her speed that will inhibit her making the major leagues: she apparently throws 63mph but her knuckler is only 50mph, which is way too slow to be successful (I've read that 65-70mph is when it knuckles the most, and also is fast enough to not be easily hit despite knuckling). I'm surprised more of those women's college softball power pitch phenoms like Jennie Finch or Danielle Lawrie don't dabble in the knuckler, since they've obviously got the arm strength to get it up to ~65 in a sidearm motion. As oddman mentioned above, if you add the wrinkle of a sidearm or submarine knuckler, it's that much more of a headache for a batter.
posted by hincandenza at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've long felt that the first successful woman playing in the majors will be a knuckleball pitcher for that reason

Definitely a good point, and you're probably right, should we ever see a woman in MLB. But even if your knuckler is very good, you've got to have some kind of separation from your fastball, which might require a little more size.

(or named Jamie Moyer)

Moyer faced R.A. Dickey a few weeks ago, actually, and Dickey actually throws harder, which is sort of funny.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:27 PM on June 16, 2010

And after hitting submit, I see you make mention of the stresses of throwing a knuckler closer to her maximum speed. I think the speed itself is going to be a huge issue, and by extension if 65mph is her maximum velocity she'll put more effort into her starts than most knucklers. Most knuckleball pitchers are failed league infielders who learn the pitch to keep their careers going, and can throw significantly harder than the ~65mph they throw the knuckler. That is one of the reasons they have such durability: they're not throwing more than 80% effort, whereas Eri would be putting effort into her pitches more like a typical fastball hurler.

On the flip side, however, throwing sidearm or underarm is a lot less stressful than the traditional 3/4 angle motion. It's way too early to tell if she can throw it for strikes, and consistently make it dance, and even if she can 50mph won't cut it (here's a graph of the pitch speed in Wakefield's last start; you can see it mostly stays around 64-66mph). But if she can get it consistently into the low 60's, even if it takes more effort than it does Wakefield or Dickey... she has a chance.

That said, while I'm certainly rooting for her and think it would be fantastic if she made the majors and broken down those barriers... the odds are strong that she'll never be much more than a news story blip that will be referenced the next time a woman gets a minor league pitching contract.
posted by hincandenza at 1:31 PM on June 16, 2010

Hilarious that Moyer is now getting people out throwing an 80mph fastball!

Yeah, Dickey's odd because he gets his knuckler up around 76-78, which if I recall the graph I saw in "Physics of Baseball" means it should be knuckling far less than it could be. There's a neat graph in that book that shows the plot of pitch speed and how it behaves when moving through the air (Bernoulli effect or Magnus coefficient or Reynolds something something, I can't recall), showing the turbulence and thus knuckling effect increasing and increasing, then right around 70mph or so it suddenly drops off, only to bounce back up at something like 110mph (so I guess if you could throw a 110mph knuckleball, you'd be pretty successful).

When Dickey was pitching for the Mariners I remember thinking "Wouldn't this work better if he took a little something off the speed?". But I guess he's got it figured out now, because he's had a great start to this year.
posted by hincandenza at 1:44 PM on June 16, 2010

Hilarious that Moyer is now getting people out throwing an 80mph fastball!

Location. Location. Location.

First off his 80mph fastball has a little bit of a nice dip to it.

Hitting an 80mph dipping fastball located perfectly inside (so that you stutter and think it could be a ball) is hard when the very next pitch is located perfectly in the low outisde corner (such that it also could be a ball).

Watch how many guys foul the inside pitch off moyer then hit the next strike for an opposite field ground out. It's completely effective.

He's made a career of it.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:58 PM on June 16, 2010

Great to hear how they now have a women's team that has fans all over the place.

There actually isn't a women's team in Chico. She's playing with male baseball players.
posted by skidknee at 7:45 PM on June 16, 2010

Lacking Subtlety, I watched Moyer pitch for several years in Seattle, and remember the classic "Jamie Moyer changeup" ad. I just find it funny that he's still an effective pitcher at his age, with that as his 'fastball', when so much of pitching/scouting is focused on he 95, 97, even 100mph fireballers. I thought he like Maddux at least used to brush the underbelly of 90mph, but it's cool that he's kept his skills and location sharper as his speed goes. Which relates to the success of the knuckler after all; it may go slow but if it moves 3" in the last 10 feet you're justt going to be popping it up or grounding out weekly all game long.

I actually like pitchers like Moyer and Wakefield in how the represent the meritocracy of baseball, when two average looking, middle-aged grinders can consistently win against lineups of beefy cross-trained Greek gods.
posted by hincandenza at 8:49 PM on June 16, 2010

Related to this, here's an interesting (and depressing) article about softball pitcher Danielle Lawrie, who Jay Buhner called "one of the great talents in all of sports." Despite her fantastic ability, since she's a woman there's very little future for her as a professional athlete after she graduates from college.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:50 AM on June 18, 2010

I mentioned Lawrie earlier, tcitl. She could have a more lucrative future if she could become the submarining Jamie Moyer, or a better knuckler than Eri of the op. Sorry to say that her options are not limited because she's a woman, but because she won't make as Buhner puts it millionaire money if she can't compete at the top tier where those salaries exist. It'd be like bemoaning why career AA players don't make millions, or why they need winter jobs.

I'd love to see Lawrie learn the knuckler and give it a go with a Wakefieldean or Dickey-esque attempt. Unlike Eri she has the strength to throw it 70mph. Heck if she could sidearm it a little faster she *could* be the next Moyer. I almost feel that softball itself is preventing these women from competing with and developing the skills parallel to the young male prospects.
posted by hincandenza at 2:20 PM on June 18, 2010

Missed that, hincandenza -- sorry. I do feel that it's her femaleness that's limiting her, though: there isn't a woman's pro league for her to play in.

I agree re softball possibly holding women back. It would be interesting to see what would happen if more girls played baseball in high school and college.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:25 PM on June 18, 2010

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