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The Secret Of The Greatest Pitch In MLB History
There have been only four pitchers to win a baseball game in four different decades, one of those four also holds the record for most home runs given up, most stadiums pitched in, and is the oldest player ever to win a game. Everyone knows Jamie Moyer, but few realize his greatness. As the Hall of Fame vote is going on, I am not going to talk about who should be in and who doesn’t deserve enshrinement, but I am going to discuss a Hall of Fame Pitch and the secret behind it. Jamie Moyer’s changeup.
Most people know that Moyer’s fastball tops out in the mid/low 80′s, which to some people is shocking, but to anyone who knows baseball makes sense. Pitching is all about deception and keeping hitters off balance, most pitchers use speed and movement to throw hitters off their game, Moyer uses a change in speed and movement to keep hitters off balance. The most important pitch to Moyer’s success is his changeup, its greatness comes from the fact that hitters cannot tell the difference between his fastball and changeup even though they have such a great difference in speed. He manages to keep hitters off balance and uncomfortable at the plate because he has no discernible variations in his pitching motion when he throws his fastball and when he throws his changeup.
To the casual fan, a pitcher’s motion looks the same on every pitch, but the best hitters can pick up on little variations in release point, arm angle, arm speed, and ball rotation. That’s in fact what makes them the best hitters; it is exceedingly rare that a hitter gets completely fooled by what pitch is coming. As I said ,Moyer’s changeup has the exact same release point, arm angle, arm speed, and ball rotation. This seems impossible. If all factors are the same, how does Moyer’s changeup travel at 10 mph slower than his fastball?
I was talking to a friend the other night at a bar, he knows sports but hasn’t played competitively since middle school, when he brought up an article he read on Moyer. In it, he revealed the inner workings of his how he came to throw his changeup and why it has no perceivable differences from his fastball. After I heard how he did it my mind was blown, as a catcher I have been to more pitching lessons and pitching coaches than any one pitcher, and I had never heard of this secret before. I immediately saw the genius of it and wanted to tell the world, and especially my former teammates who were still pitching in college. I then searched the ESPN archives for this article and went through 20 pages of Moyer articles till I came upon http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/blog?name=olney_buster&id=3309019 dated March 24, 2008.
In the article Moyer reveals that in a game early in his career he was pitching late into a game when his legs were extremely tired and his changeup was working better than usual. His coach and catcher both commented to him that changeup was exceptional that day and asked him what he was doing differently. He explained that his legs were tired and he wasn’t getting the same push off the mound that he usually got. The hall of fame pitch was born. Moyer continued to mess around with his “dead leg” approach to his changeup and found that by keeping his stride the same length but by adjusting his push off the mound he could greatly adjust his pitch velocity without giving the hitters any clues as to what pitch was coming.
For those of you who don’t know pitching, just like with hitting, the power comes from the legs. The stride, push-off, and plant foot, are more important than the arm when it comes to gaining pitch velocity. Look at Tim Lincecum, with his pitching motion a 5-9 inch 160 lbs. pitcher can throw in the upper 90′s. He strides 115% of his own height and creates an incredible amount of torque. Moyer on the other hand does the exact opposite. Realizing he could never be a power pitcher he looked for ways to take away velocity. He found that the legs were much more important than the arm in keeping velocity low while keeping ball movement and location.
Many people are amazed at Moyer’s longevity but whereas other players rely on over exertion and using all their strength in everything they do, Moyer’s greatest pitch relied on not straining himself and taking it easier. Moyer created a way to keep pitching at a high level without a major dip in productivity over time, and without the abilities that 99% of major league pitchers possess, all because he realized the greatest secret in all of pitching. Your legs are hidden by your pants, and hitters cannot tell how much strain your legs are exerting. Its the easiest way to fool hitters, do something that changes that cannot be seen.