The Cutter

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The Cutter

Postby OaktownSteve » Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:56 pm

One of the great mysteries of baseball is Mariano Rivera and his one pitch repertoire. We were talking about Eovaldi today and how he has a 98 MPH fastball and a wipeout slider but he still isn't missing bats. He needs a third pitch. So how does Mariano do it with one pitch?

Think about standing at home plate facing major league pitching. The body has a tough job but the mind has a near impossible job. Decisions are made in fractions of seconds. Deception is the art of delaying the decision until it's too late.

When a pitcher faces a batter it's a study in game theory. The batter guesses, the pitcher tries to guess back. A hitter expecting the pitch he gets is dangerous. The pitcher who throws the unexpected has a leg up.

A lot of this takes place in the conscious mind. Pitcher and hitter trying to figure each other out. There's video, scouting reports, pre-game meetings between coaches and players. The game is on. A guy like Greg Maddux, he's playing head games with your conscious mind. Trying to manipulate your expectations. But Rivera, that deception isn't there.

Part of hitting is optical. The eyes track the ball and the body tries to deliver the barrel of the bat to the ball. The mind has to calculate the velocity and the vector in a split second.

Which brings me to why I think Rivera's one pitch, the cutter, is so effective. People talk about "late movement" with Rivera's cutter but what does that mean? Does it really move late? Optically it appears to. What I think happens is that the particular characteristics of that pitch are such that the lizard brain, the part that calculates where the barrel of the bat needs to be can't quite calculate fast enough. So the contact is off center. Balls don't get hit hard. It's not conscious deception. It's an optical illusion. Like a magic trick.

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Re: The Cutter

Postby Grey » Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:19 am

That was a terrific post...
Grey Albright

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If you only have one team, post your team in your signature with the league parameters.
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Joined: Mon Mar 28, 2011 9:55 am

Re: The Cutter

Postby OaktownSteve » Thu Mar 21, 2013 9:11 pm

I was thinking about this again walking to work this morning. There's that scene in Bull Durham where Costner tells the guy what pitch is coming and the guy hits a home run. Intuitively we think, yeah well of course he hit a home run, he knew what pitch was coming. But when you think about it, why exactly did that make it easier?

From the time a 90 mph pitch leaves the pitcher's hand, the hitter has about .4 seconds to try and hit it. Let's take the simplest example of "see ball, hit ball." From the moment the wind up starts, the batter begins picking up subtle cues about what pitch might be coming. Looking for tips, trying to see the grip. When the ball leaves the pitchers hand the hitter looks for speed, trajectory and spin. At some point he will have to decide to swing and also how to swing (where the barrel needs to be delivered). The gathering of data on the pitch while the ball is in flight actually takes up some fraction of the allotted .4 seconds, so the sooner the pitch is recognized, the more time the hitter has to execute the swing.

Now what happens when the hitter correctly guesses what pitch will be thrown rather than just playing see ball, hit ball. My thought is that the swing for the location and the pitch guessed at is already taking shape. The mind is priming the body to execute a particular swing. Next, once the pitch is delivered, the mind is not trying to decipher what pitch is coming, but instead is merely confirming that the pitch coming is what was expected. The confirmation happens much more quickly than recognition from scratch. Time is gained. And because the mind primed for both the pitch recognition and the swing type, more time is gained as the swing sequence also begins earlier. I have to believe this leads to more effective swings. There's time to lock in the exact right swing through small refinements.

The opposite would seem to be true as well. When a hitter guesses wrong he loses time because he's first had to check for confirmation and then when the mind recognizes that it has guessed wrong, it has to scramble to figure out what is coming and try to execute a swing other than the one it had primed for. That's why you get all those funky, awkward swings when a player guesses wrong.

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