If a pitch bounces on the way to the plate umpires make a big deal of throwing the ball out of play, but then someone hits a three-hopper to short, the shortstop bounces the throw to first and the ball goes right back to the pitcher. That ball is scuffed and nobody says a word—unless it’s the pitcher. The guy on the mound, the guy who just got an early Christmas gift, is the most likely person to take a scuffed ball out of play.
By LEE JUDGE
The Kansas City Star
It drives veteran ballplayers crazy.
When you see a pitcher examine a ball, then hold it up and shake it, he’s asking the umpire for a new ball. Meanwhile some veteran pitcher or catcher is sitting in the dugout, rolling his eyes and thinking: "This kid is an idiot."
The pitcher has just been given something precious—a scuffed baseball—and the pitcher wants to give it back because he doesn’t know what to do with it. Lots of young pitchers do not know how to throw a scuffed ball, so they ask for a clean, shiny new one. I’ve written about this before, but this time I decided to add something that might help young pitchers: a lesson on throwing a scuffed baseball.
I asked a pitcher who has been around awhile (he’s going to remain anonymous) if he thought it was cheating to throw a scuffed ball. He thought it was cheating to scuff a ball yourself and then throw it, but if they hand you a ball with a scuff and say it’s OK to use it, you’re a dope to give it back.
Here’s what you do: decide where you want the ball to go and then hold the scuff on the opposite side. If you want the ball to run in on a right-handed hitter, hold the scuff on the first-base side. If you want the ball to move in on a left-hander, hold the scuff on the third-base side. The scuff will give the ball extra movement. Now you can go in on a hitter’s hands and try to jam him or throw the pitch just off the plate away and let the movement carry the ball back over the plate. But the key is practice: a pitcher needs to go down to the bullpen and work with a scuffed ball to figure out how to use it.
And if a scuff is too big it can give the ball too much movement and the pitcher won’t be able to control it. That ball you can give back. Otherwise, keep that scuffed ball in play until the inning ends, but once you get three outs, make sure you take the ball with you to the dugout.
Someone gave you a gift—don’t be a re-gifter.
Hollie and the mound visit
I asked Royals closer Greg Holland if there was ever time in his life that he was standing on the mound wishing someone would come out and make a visit. Most of the pitchers I know hate mound visits—wait, that’s wrong— all of the pitchers I know hate mound visits. They're usually trying to accomplish something or make an adjustment and a mound visit just seems like an interruption of the process.
Holland said it's a little irritating when he throws ball one and the catcher comes out to see what’s wrong: "Are you kidding me? Give me a chance to make an adjustment." But Greg said there are times when he's not on the same page with the catcher and a mound visit is helpful.
If the catcher puts down the sign for a fastball and Holland shakes it off, then the catcher puts the fastball sign down again and Holland shakes it off again, Greg wants the catcher to come out to the mound and talk—don't just keep putting down the same sign. Greg wants the catcher to come out to the mound and tell him why he thinks the fastball is the right pitch in this situation. If the catcher makes a good case, Holland will go along with it. If Greg isn't convinced, he still might want to throw something else.
So when you see a catcher visit the mound it might be a negotiating session. No matter who wins the argument—if the pitch gets hammered—the other guy better support the pitch selection. If the media comes in the clubhouse after the game and the pitcher says he didn't want to throw that pitch, but the catcher insisted—or the catcher says he tried to talk the pitcher out of throwing a slider in that spot—you’ve got trouble brewing in the clubhouse.
So whatever the result of a mound visit, everybody needs to close ranks—at least to the outside world.
Elliot Johnson and switch-hitting
Hmmm—that may not have come out exactly right.
I asked Elliot Johnson if switch-hitting was difficult because a hitter had to do twice as much work. Did he have to take twice as many swings as hitters who stay on the same side of the plate?
Turns out he kinda wishes he did—but switch hitters don’t get twice as many reps during BP just because they have a right and left-handed swing. You only get so many swings in batting practice and field time is precious, so a lot of the extra work has to be done on his own. That means extra time in the indoor batting cage and extra time of the tee. Like a lot of other ballplayers, if Elliot’s feeling right he does less work, but if his swing is off he wants to find a groove before he stops.
I never thought about it, but Elliot said being a switch-hitter means he’s two different hitters with two different stances and two different approaches—he even uses two different bat models. The left-handed Elliot Johnson pulls the ball more often and uses a slightly shorter to bat to help him get the barrel out in front on time. The right-handed Elliot Johnson lets the ball travel deeper and uses a slightly longer bat because he’s not so concerned with being quick.
Before we started the conversation I was pretty sure switch hitting was twice as much work; after we finished talking I was convinced it was twice as confusing.
Before I go any further I should say former Royals catcher, Jason Kendall, says there’s no such thing as framing a pitch, you just catch the damn ball. It’s actually an issue of semantics, but Jason would agree that how you catch the damn ball matters a lot.
There’s currently an article on the website Grantland called "The Art of Pitch Framing" and it’s written by Ben Lindbergh a Baseball Prospectus guy. I thought it was excellent and well worth a baseball fan’s time.
It seems that some of metrics community and a number of big league teams have decided that the way a catcher receives the ball is one of the most important things he does: more important than his bat or his arm. Technology is now allowing measurement of things that previously went unnoticed and that’s changing the way the game, and the people who play it, are valued.
Enjoy the article, it’s thought-provoking.