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Brewer Minor League Gyro-Baller

Mass Haas

There was a Brewerfan thread on this pitch a while back.


Here's an article that mentions the Brewers' 6'10" RHP Steve Palazzolo, kind of a neat inclusion:


Link while active, text follows:




The Gyroball: Miracle or myth?




Could the land of Bigfoot be getting its baseball equivalent?


You've probably never heard of the gyroball. Don't feel bad -- Mariners manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Rafael Chaves haven't either.


But as American suitors, likely including the Mariners, court Japanese superstar right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka this winter, expect to start hearing about the mystery pitch that might be in Matsuzaka's repertoire, but then again might exist only in legend and computer models.


"It's kind of like an inside joke for baseball, except it's actually real," said Will Carroll, a columnist for Baseball Prospectus who has been chasing the legend of the gyroball since running across an obscure Japanese book in 2002.


That book, roughly translated as "The Secret of the Miracle Pitch," describes computer simulations developed by Japanese scientists Ryutaro Himeno and Kazushi Tezuka. They theorized that if a ball could be thrown with the spin they envisioned, it would be a breaking pitch that could revolutionize the game.


From the batter's perspective, baseball pitches have either a backspin (as with a fastball) or a forward spin (as with a curveball). The gyroball spins like a bullet or a football spiral. In fact, the throwing motion -- witnessed only in unclear or strangely off-kilter online videos, just like Sasquatch -- looks a lot like the way a football is thrown.


The gyroball is thrown a few miles per hour slower than a four-seam fastball, at about the velocity of a two-seamer. The visual effect is tough for the batter to track, but the ball's path is what makes the gyroball work. It starts on a flat plane like a hanging curve, then takes a drastic dive away from the batter (with a right-hander pitching to a right-handed batter). Supposedly the break can be measured in feet, not inches.


"If they start throwing a ball that breaks 3 feet," Chaves said, "they're going to have to lower the mound 4 inches."


"This idea that it is a game-changing Bugs Bunny pitch is a little out there," Carroll said. "It's just a really good breaking ball, and it really, really moves."


Himeno and Tezuka's model uses a "double-spin" technique that coordinates two circular motions -- that of the hips and that of the upper arm. The upper arm rotates at the end of the delivery such that the palm faces outward and the arm travels away from the body, as opposed to directly across the body, as is seen with a fastball.


The release looks unusual and recalls the screwball, a pitch that is all but extinct after wrecking countless arms. One of the contentions of the Japanese researchers, however, is that the gyroball is considerably less stressful on the arm than other breaking balls.


"(The pronation) is only at the release," Carroll said. "And it's no worse than what people are doing already. Watch (Tigers pitcher Jeremy) Bonderman's fastball. He pronates harder than anybody would throwing the gyroball."


The gyroball also is theoretically a lower-risk pitch in another way. If it doesn't break like it's supposed to, it just looks like a slider. If a slider doesn't break, it's a home run waiting to happen.


The question is, does the gyroball exist outside theory?


In practice, it might just be an amalgam of other pitching motions. Those who teach pitching generally say there is a continuum that runs between the release of the fastball, in which the ball is last touched at the top, and the release of the curveball, in which the bottom of the ball rolls out from the outside of the index finger. Along that continuum are the cut fastball, the slider and the in-betweener known as the slurve.


Using what he's learned about the gyroball, Carroll has actually taught it to two pitchers: Steve Palazzolo, a one-time independent league pitcher who last year was with the Class A Helena Brewers, and Indianapolis-area high-schooler Joey Niezer. Both achieved a large break, but video makes it difficult to tell exactly how the ball is being released. CBS news taped Palazzolo learning the pitch, but the piece has not yet aired.


There hasn't been a truly new pitch brought into the major leagues since Bruce Sutter introduced the split-finger fastball in the late 1970s. Baseball isn't quick to embrace change, and so far nobody inside the game -- at least among the few who know about it -- seems ready to lead the charge for the gyroball.


"I've had GMs and pitching coaches ask me, and I tell them it exists, and that is about the end of the conversation," Carroll said. "I'm waiting for one of them to say, 'Show me.' I don't own it -- if anyone does, it's the two scientists -- and anybody who wants me to show it to them, I would show them how it works.


"You just need some major league coach to say, 'Hey, let's take a couple of guys and go out there and see if this thing works.' "


With big money and big reputations on the line, major leaguers and their coaches are not going to be eager to mess around with such a radically different delivery -- and one whose effects on the arm are unknown. A Japanese reporter this season described the pitch to Mariners closer J.J. Putz, who said there was no way he'd try it during the season.


"I don't think I'd be trying to teach players that unless I was very sure what I was doing," Chaves said.


That means that if the gyroball makes it onto the big-league scene, it will likely be in the hands of an unsuccessful pitcher who uses it to resurrect his career -- such as what Sutter did with the split-finger -- or will be imported.


Which brings us back to Matsuzaka, the only accomplished pitcher believed to throw the gyroball (though some think longtime Hanshin Tigers pitcher Nobuyuki Hoshino might as well). The trouble is, nobody really knows whether Matsuzaka does or not, and the Japanese superstar is famously vague on the subject.


"He says he doesn't throw it, but I'm not sure he's telling the truth," Carroll said. "If we can get him to admit to it, then yeah, he's the pioneer."


"I have done it in a game. But not too much. Sometimes accidentally," Matsuzaka this spring told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, apparently the only time Matsuzaka has spoken about the pitch to an English-speaking reporter. "I would like to make it my out pitch. But it's not a miracle pitch."


Maybe it's not a miracle, but it's intriguing, and interest in it is spreading. It even appears as an option in the 2007 version of the computer-simulation game Baseball Mogul.


"It's a quirky little thing, I know," Carroll said. "I really have no interest in being some guru. I'm not trying to sell this thing, but now it's like I'm the guy who sees Bigfoot."


If and when Matsuzaka arrives in America, it could be Bigfoot's coming-out party.


And of course, the two infamous videos:





View a graphic detailing how the gyroball is thrown and how it moves (pdf file):



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