What’s In A Pitch?

Maybe you remember the fallout that ensued. MLB focused on more stringent oversight of Rawlings’ herb in Costa Rica, where its baseballs are manufactured. An area-mathematics professor called Jason Wilson supervised this fallout with great interest. A phenomenon that seemed significantly removed from the Biola University baseball fields was actually right up his alley.

Wilson’s desire for football was piqued in 2010 2010. One of is own students, Jarvis Greiner, was a pitcher on Biola’s baseball team. Using his own teammates as research subjects, Greiner tried to quantify the grade of a curveball for a course project. His technique was crude: using three low-grade cameras and a tape measure, Greiner assigned a score on a scale of 0 to 100 to “grade” each curveball about how difficult it might be for a batter to hit. The task was a home run in the course.

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Wilson then set out to apply the same rubric to class-major group pitches. MLB already had Pitch F/X cameras in each stadium at that time, which monitored the trajectory of each pitch thrown Atlanta divorce attorney’s game. As it turned out, big-league curveballs were easier to “grade” than anything thrown on a back field at Biola. In 2014, the results of Wilson and Greiner’s study were published in Chance magazine, a journal of the American Statistical Association. The “Quality of Pitch” database was created.

Ranking every pitch in baseball by its granular components – horizontal break, vertical break, lateness of break – had been easier in the public sphere never. Flash forward to 2018. In light of the revelations about the changing physical properties of baseballs, Wilson had a new project on his hands.

“The two theories everybody was talking about were one, the juiced-ball theory and two, the uppercut swing,” Wilson said in a phone interview. “Well, think about the pitch? If you change the pitching, obviously that’s heading with an influence on home runs as well. In the past, we noticed a weakened but real relationship between the quality of home and pitch runs. Towards the extent that the pitching part of the equation garnered much notice, it usually came in spurts. An uptick in blister injuries in 2016 and 2017 furthered the idea that the physical composition of baseballs was affecting pitchers in new, unwanted ways.

During the 2017 World Series, pitchers and coaches for the Dodgers and Astros openly questioned the “slickness” of the baseballs; the startling record in Sports Illustrated recommended pitchers who threw sliders would be affected the most. Wilson’s research shows that pitchers – fastball pitchers in particular – might have been hindered by a change in the baseballs even more than previously believed.