Pitcher

Pitchers Use Everything But Kitchen Sink

Pitchers Use Everything But Kitchen Sink

Pine TarBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — Throughout the history of baseball, pitchers have utilized everything they could get their hands on to tame the bats of hitters.

Some of the substances used by pitchers over the years include pine tar, spit, tobacco juice, emery paper, slippery elm (routinely chewed by spitball pitchers prior to 1920 to help keep up a good level of saliva), licorice, alum, Metamucil, hair tonic, Vaseline, vaginal creams, mud, beeswax, fine cinders, baby oil, turpentine, resin, sandpaper, belt buckles, tacks, steel phonograph needles, and on and on the list goes.

According to The Cultural Encyclopedia Of Baseball written by Jonathan Fraser Light, Russell Ford of the 1909-1913 Yankees, among others, glued an emery board to the heel of his glove. Ryne Duren of the Angels spread white soap flakes on his uniform and then applied them to balls.

Pitchers years ago threw the shine ball which was thrown with licorice, alum, tobacco juice or slippery elm saliva by the pitcher.It wasn’t unusual for a pitcher to scrape the cover of the ball with his spikes to give it grooves and cause it to wobble through the air.

According to John Herbold, Hall of Fame baseball coach at Cal. St. Los Angeles and Lakewood High School in Long Beach, Calif. who has talked to many old time pitchers over the years, some hurlers even jammed BB shot or duck shot into the seams of baseballs to gain an advantage.

After the 1920 season, Major League Baseball banned the use of foreign substances by pitchers. The rule prohibited the pitcher from having in his possession any slippery substance or anything which could scuff or gouge the surface of the ball. However, the pitcher was allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands and also utilize a rosin bag.

A former Major League pitcher contacted by Collegiate Baseball, who wished to remain anonymous, was signed in 1949 by the A’s and played in the 1950s. He said not many pitchers during his playing career utilized foreign substances.

“Most of the pitchers who used illegal substances were very discrete about it. Umpires always watched pitchers closely. One relief pitcher I knew threw a spitter. He was a master at getting saliva on his fingers and not much on the ball. It was just enough to keep his fingers moist but not enough to attract attention by the umpire. Umpires really didn’t know he threw a spitter mainly because his didn’t break that much.

“But the pitchers who had real good spitters at the time were watched very closely by umpires. Some pitchers used Vaseline and put it in a certain spot in their hair. I knew one pitcher who fixed a razorblade in one of the fingers of his glove to cut a little slice in the cover of the ball which caused the ball to sail a little more. But the ball was only good for one pitch when he used this technique.

“Keep in mind that back in those days — 50 years ago — balls were kept in games until they had rough spots on them. Today, any ball that hits the ground is thrown out during Major League games. Some pitchers had a great technique when using rosin, which was perfectly legal. They rubbed their hands vigorously, and the rosin would get sticky. It was great for curveball pitchers.

“One technique that was used for one pitch during a key at bat was to kick dirt around the rubber. With the rubber covered with dirt, the pitcher would stand 4-5 inches ahead of the rubber and throw his pitch to home plate which would usually blow by the batter with the closer distance. Keep in mind pitchers used this technique on rare occasions because they were watched closely by umpires.

“Balls in those days were not as tight as they are today and were hand sewn. Some of the big, strong pitchers would rub the ball real hard and loosen the cover a bit. When a batter did hit the ball, it wouldn’t go anywhere. Today, it would be almost impossible to do this.”

More On Illegal Substances: Read the entire story about the wild and wacky products pitchers have used through the years to gain an advantage over hitters. This story appeared in the Feb. 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. To purchase this issue or subscribe, CLICK HERE.

Greatest Closer Was Once An Afterthought

Greatest Closer Was Once An Afterthought

UCLA Closer David BergBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball

OMAHA, Neb. — UCLA closer David Berg is able to juggle four balls at a time and six with a partner.

It only seems fitting since he is the greatest closer in college baseball history and seems to juggle anything batters have waiting for him.

No closer in college baseball history has put up the staggering numbers that Berg has in his first two years with the Bruins.

As his sophomore year recently concluded with UCLA’s first national baseball championship, Berg has now appeared in 101 games in two years (50 as a freshman and NCAA record-tying 51 this season) as he saved an NCAA record 24 games in 2013.

In 101 appearances, he only has two blown saves. And both times, he came back to post a win.

The Louisville Slugger first team All-American also posted a 7-0 record this season in 78 innings with a 0.92 ERA (second best in the nation) and struck out 78 batters with only 11 walks.

As hard as it is to believe, three seasons ago at Bishop Amat High School (La Puente, Calif.), his pitching career was on the rocks.

During his junior year, he only was allowed to pitch 9 1/3 innings as he was learning to throw as a sidewinder from his normal ¾ arm slot. He had a 6.00 ERA with 4 walks and 3 hit batters as he gave up 8 earned runs. 

“David came in as an outfielder/pitcher as a freshman and was a good athlete,” said Bishop Amat Head Coach Andy Nieto.

“Entering the fall of his junior year, he was having some difficulty pitching on the varsity level. It just wasn’t happening. I talked to my pitching coach Chris Beck and told him that we had to ‘Muckey’ him.

“There is a well known coach in Southern California by the name of Scott Muckey at Crespi High School who annually turns one of his pitchers into a sidearmer to give opponent hitters a different look.

“Both Chris and I felt David would be a good candidate to try this. There was no guarantee it would work.

“So we talked to David about it, and he took it from there as he worked extremely hard to learn this new delivery. And he wasn’t allowed to throw over the top any more.

“From that point on, he was only allowed to throw as a sidearmer.”

Nieto acknowledged that Berg had a tough junior year as he worked on his new arm angle.

“In fact, it took about a year for him to figure out how to throw from this arm slot with a completely new release point.”

During Berg’s junior year, he appeared to be a nervous wreck when he did pitch as he walked halfway to the plate to retrieve balls from his catcher and constantly paced around the mound.

Nieto and pitching coach Chris Beck had to remind Berg to stay on the pitching circle.

“He was definitely a pacer at that time. But now he has grown up physically and mentally and has a chance to pitch in the Big Leagues in a certain role.

“He has shown he can pitch to both right and left handed hitters which is rare for a sidearmer.

“We could see the potential he had, but David just needed some work at the change.

“We knew he was a diamond in the rough. The movement he had with the new arm angle was terrific, and the deception was superb.

“We felt if he tackled this new arm slot with the commitment he had in the classroom, he would make it work. And boy has he ever.”

Amazing Senior Year
His senior year at Bishop Amat was sensational with a 7-1 record, 1.05 ERA and 4 saves as he led the Lancers to the CIF championship with a 29-4 overall record.

He had 21 appearances in 33 games that season and threw 46 2/3 innings. It was a transformation for the ages.

“During his senior year at Bishop Amat, he was our salvation,” said Nieto.

“He pitched in every big game we had. I will never forget his outing against Torrance High School in the CIF semi-final game. We were down 4-0 after two innings, and he came in and no-hit Torrance for the next five innings as we rallied to win, 5-4. We then won the CIF title at Dodger Stadium in the final.”

Berg’s pitches darted under and over bats as hitters had trouble even making contact.

With renewed confidence, he was now a mentally tough pitcher who could conquer anything.

The breakout game of his senior season was at the National Classic when Bishop Amat took on St. Francis High School (Mountain View, Calif.) which was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time.

The game didn’t start well for Bishop Amat as starting pitcher Daniel Zamora was chased from the game after 2 1/3 innings.

Berg came in to face this remarkable ball club and struck out 10 of the final 14 batters over 4 2/3 innings of relief work. Nobody could hit him as a re-tooled sidearmer.

Strangely, no college offered him an athletic scholarship despite his superb senior season.

His only offer was an academic grant from NCAA Division III Cal. Lutheran. Late in May, UCLA Recruiting Coordinator T.J. Bruce felt the Bruins should take a chance on him, and Bruin Head Coach John Savage agreed. U.C. Irvine and Nevada-Reno also started showing interest.

More On David Berg: The full story of David Berg is in the July 12, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. He explains that he hasn’t been on any scholarship his first two years at UCLA despite throwing in 101 games and why he might not next season as well. He delves into how he made the adjustment to throwing sidearm, what type of pitches he has and the challenge of being a closer. Head Coach John Savage discusses why Berg is so special is as well as UCLA baseball team sports psychologist Ken Ravizza. To obtain this issue, CLICK HERE.

Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Are Pitchers Being Coddled Too Much?

Hand CounterBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

HOUSTON, Tex. — Talk to any pitching coach, and the subject of pitch counts will undoubtedly come up.

While the sport hemorrhaged more than half a billion dollars for players on the disabled list last season, the answer to elbow and shoulder injuries is still an elusive mirage.

On the college, high school and youth baseball levels, elbow and shoulder surgeries to pitchers are costing parents millions of dollars each year. For years, the medical community has recommended that college and professional pitchers throw 120 or fewer pitches a game. 

But that is hardly the total answer when you are dealing with pitching mechanics or hurlers throwing a large number of stressful pitches in one inning. According to The Cultural Encyclopedia Of Baseball,  pitch counts were not utilized for many years in pro baseball. The main factor was how successful the pitcher was. If his velocity went down or he was laboring, the pitcher was simply taken out. Common sense ruled the day.

Sandy Koufax averaged 155 pitches per game in one season during the early 1960s which was not unusual for that era. Nolan Ryan was an absolute workhorse. He threw 235 pitches in a 12-inning game against the Red Sox in 1974. He also threw 241 pitches in a game for the Angels in the mid-1970s. Ryan believed he averaged between 160-180 pitches per game in 1974. Washington Senators’ pitcher Tom Cheney threw 228 pitches in 1963 as he struck out 21 Orioles in a 16-inning game. Luis Tiant threw 163 pitches in a complete game win by the Red Sox over the Reds in Game 4 of the 1975 World Series.

In 1987, there were 106 performances where a pitcher threw at least 140 pitches in a Major League game. Eight years later in 1995, that total was only 36. The protocol by the late 1990s was 120 pitches as the limit to keep pitchers healthy.

If you think these numbers by starting professional pitchers were high years ago in pro baseball, the Japanese really push the envelope when it comes to high pitch counts.

In a remarkable story by Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently, he discussed Japan’s national high school baseball tournament which takes place twice a year. Recently the spring championship took place, and a young 16-year-old boy named Tomohiro Anraku of Saibi High School threw 772 pitches over 46 innings in five days.

He started the tournament with a 94 mph fastball and threw 232 pitches over 13 innings in his first contest. Then he threw 159, 138, 134 and 109 pitches in succeeding games. In his last game, not surprisingly, he could barely muster enough arm strength to throw fastballs 80 mph as he gave up nine runs during an eventual 17-1 drubbing.

According to Passan, the ultimate compliment for a baseball player in Japan is to be called Kaibutsu which translates to “Monster” and symbolizes an athlete who performs at a remarkable level during the national tournament.

Passan also pointed out that 15 years ago at the Japanese national high school tournament that Daisuke Matsuzaka threw 250 pitches over 17 innings during a quarterfinal game. Then he pitched the next day in relief. And a day later, Matsuzaka fired a no-hitter in the finals.

He pitched eight seasons in Japan pro baseball dominating hitters and signed with the Red Sox for $103 million for six years. In his fifth year at 30 years old, he blew out his elbow which required Tommy John surgery. And he wasn’t able to make the Cleveland Indians as the fifth starter out of spring training.

Tracking High Pitch Counts
For years, Boyd Nation has produced a web site called www.boydsworld.com which features college baseball ratings and analysis.

One of his categories is the Pitch Count Watch in NCAA Division I.

This season, he uncovered 13 outings by pitchers that resulted in 140 pitches or more. Box scores either have actual pitch counts or the number of batters faced. So some of the counts are estimates that are extremely close.

The highest number this year was an estimated total of 183 by pitcher Josh Freeman of Alabama A&M when he threw 9 2/3 innings against Jackson St. on April 6. He faced 50 batters, walked 11, and had 4 strikeouts as he gave up 10 hits in the 5-4 loss to Jackson St.

No actual pitch count was listed in the box score of this game — only batters faced. But if Freeman threw an average of 4 pitches to each of the 50 batters, the count would be 200 pitches.

And it isn’t unreasonable to assume he hit that figure or higher with the number of walks he registered and strikeouts. Alabama A&M’s sports information department and baseball office were called to seek an actual pitch count for Freeman. But nobody called Collegiate Baseball back with Freeman’s pitch count total for this outing as of press time.

Late-Season Heroics
Last season saw two pitchers go far beyond what hurlers normally do.

RHP Taylor Sewitt of Manhattan College pitched 22 scoreless innings over three straight days at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament to guide the Jaspers to the league title. He struck out 20 batters, allowed 10 hits and won three games as he threw 296 total pitches. He began with a nine inning complete game, 1-0 victory over Fairfield on a Friday with 12 strikeouts. The next day, he came out of the bullpen and held Canisius scoreless in the final two innings of a 5-4, 10-inning walk-off win. Then on Sunday, he pitched 11 scoreless innings to lead Manhattan to a 3-2 win.

Mitch Crocker of Westmont College (CA) accomplished something that may never have been done in college baseball history as he recorded three wins over a 25-hour period. Those wins allowed Westmont to quality for the Golden State Athletic conference tournament for the first time in 15 years.

After losing the first of the four-game series to Vanguard, Westmont went on to win the next three in must win scenarios.

In game two, which was scheduled for seven innings, Crocker took the mound in the bottom of the seventh with the bases loaded, two outs and the score tied at three. The righthander coaxed Van-guard’s Alec Rosales to ground out to end the threat. After Westmont scored three runs in the top of the eighth, Crocker returned to the mound and pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth to record the win.

The next day, Crocker was called in the seventh after the Warriors had given up five runs and fell behind, 9-8. With two outs and runners on the corners, Crocker struck out Adonis Tountas to end the rally. After Crocker pitched a scoreless top of the eighth, Westmont’s Tim Leary belted a 2-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to put the Warriors back on top, 10-8. Crocker then retired the side in order in the top of the ninth to earn his second win. Upon returning to the dugout, Crocker told his coaches that he was ready to go back out in the second game of the doubleheader.

Crocker then went out and pitched a complete game, giving the Warriors an 8-2 win. He gave up one run in the second and third innings, but kept the Lions scoreless in the final six innings. In those three games over 25 hours, Crocker threw 173 pitches in 12 2/3 innings of work. He allowed two runs on 10 hits, struck out nine and walked three.

Where Baseball Is Today

Derek Johnson, pitching coordinator with the Chicago Cubs, weighed in on pitch counts in baseball.

“The reality is that pitch counts are where baseball is today,” said Johnson.

“Years ago when I played, starting pitchers would have much higher pitch totals than today. And common sense was the tool that determined when a pitcher was pulled or not. If pitches were getting up in the zone or you saw velocity drops, fewer strikes and a change in mechanics, then pitchers were getting tired and were usually taken out.

“On the professional level, we are talking about protecting pitchers who are being paid millions of dollars. We always have to be vigilant on whether we need to have pitchers back off on innings or games or continue pitching. And every pitcher is different.

“There are variables within the pitch count as well. One is how stressful innings are and how quickly he got to 100 pitches and the history that a pitcher may have. Was his arm abused in travel ball at a young age or at another level? At the end of the day, the game needs a subjective measure on whether a pitcher will break down. But that’s not the easiest factor to determine.”

Johnson was asked if pitchers are being babied too much now.

“There is a fine line to walk between coddling a pitcher and abusing him. You obviously don’t want to be overprotective. But you don’t want to injure him either. The bottom line is that each pitcher is different, and you must treat them accordingly.”

Unique Approach In 2012
While more teams than ever are monitoring pitch counts on the high school, college and professional levels with precision, and utilizing closers late in games, the University of Arizona won the 2012 national championship by extending their starting pitchers deep into games.

Wildcat starters finished with 16 complete games, including eight over its final 19 contests. It was the most complete games in a single season at the school in the last 23 years.

To put this in perspective, Arizona had the same amount of complete games as the entire Southeastern Conference made up of 12 teams.

In 36 games, their top three starters worked into the seven inning at a minimum.

Kurt Heyer ultimately threw 2,212 total pitches while Konner Wade fired 1,851 pitches and James Farris 1,612.

And interestingly, there were no pitching injuries last season.

“From a pitch count perspective, our magical number is 125 pitches,” said Wildcat pitching coach Shaun Cole.

“Once a pitcher hits that number, we really watch him carefully. We usually make a decision at that number. But we also watch pitchers throughout the game and monitor their velocity. If it drops or command starts being an issue, we might pull them.

“There were plenty of times last season when we went out to visit Kurt Heyer at the 125-pitch mark, and he still had a lot more in the tank. The most we ever allowed Kurt to go to was 135 pitches.

“But other guys might not be able to go past the fourth inning without showing problems.

“Every pitcher is different when it comes to how far they can go in games.”

Cole said that the time of year must also be taken into account.

“If it is early in the season, why would any coach press a pitcher to go 125 or 130 pitches? But late in the year if a pitcher is conditioned well and his velocity hasn’t dropped, you probably should consider letting that pitcher go a little longer depending on the game.

“But at the same time, nobody really knows what the exact number should be in a pitch count. From a coaching standpoint, you never want to hurt a young man’s arm. Staying consistent with what works well helps tremendously. Knowing what a pitcher can handle is important as well.”

Cole feels pitchers are babied too much today.

“In Nolan Ryan’s day, there was a mentality of finishing games by starting pitchers. Pitchers today, and probably a lot of position players, simply don’t throw enough.

“I feel catchers should throw more than they normally do. Catchers can strengthen their arms by throwing to second but with the second baseman standing behind the bag on the outfield grass.

“When the middle infielder comes back to the bag, the throw by the catcher is much easier. Throwing more often with position players is an area that is not addressed much.”

Youth Baseball Limits
With the rise in elbow and shoulder injuries to youth baseball pitches, the American Sports Medicine Institute feels important steps must be taken to minimize such injuries.

ASMI suggests watching and responding to signs of fatigue (such as decreased ball velocity, decreased accuracy, upright trunk during pitching, dropped elbow during pitching or increased time between pitches).

If a youth pitcher complains of fatigue or looks fatigued, let him rest from pitching and other throwing. For specific pitch count limits in the different youth age groups, go to www.asmi.org  

To obtain this issue of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe, CLICK HERE.

Pitchers Need Head Protection

Pitchers Can Be Sitting DucksIn the Jan. 4, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball, we noted that Major League Baseball has been discussing ways to protect pitchers from being injured by batted balls. Hat liners are a possibility in the minor leagues next season, according to an article carried by the Associated Press.

At one time, batters in baseball didn’t wear helmets. But now, every hitter and runner is required to wear helmets. In fact, base coaches on many levels are required to wear helmets after minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh was killed by a line drive in 2007.

Simple common sense should dictate that head protection be mandated for pitchers. After a pitch is released, he is close to 50 feet away from the batter and in harms way for a line drive injury to the head.

Steve Henson of Yahoo Sports, one of the most respected writers in the nation, penned an in-depth article on pitcher head injuries several years ago which quoted Frederick Mueller, a University of North Carolina professor and chairman of USA Baseball’s Medical and Safety Advisory Committee, as saying that an average of one serious injury or death from high school and college pitchers struck in the head by line drives per year has taken place since 1982.

It’s time that all rules committees in college and high school baseball require head protection for pitchers. Bats and balls are not the problem. Lack of head protection is the issue.