It's baseball's Bigfoot, likened to a UFO or the Loch Ness Monster. It's a baseball myth on par with the likes of Sidd Finch or George Mitchell's steroid probe.
The only gyroball I've witnessed happened one early morning while walking past Ali Baba's Kabob Shop, the remains of some inebriated college student's late-night snack smeared across the glass like a dead bug. But soon-to-be Japanese import pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka might possess the real deal, although he, along with most everyone else in the game, might simply scoff at it as urban legend (the Boston Globe touched on this in a recent article).
Call it what you will, the gyroball, the shuuto, whatever, the pitch could have a major effect on the pitching landscape in Major League Baseball next season depending upon whom shells out the most dough for Matsuzaka, the most talked about Japanese import since Hideki Matsui.
If the gyroball is real, it would be the first new pitch in baseball -- other than Rick Ankiel's signature bail out pitch -- since the split-fingered fastball almost 40 years ago. It would also be the first significant baseball entity designed by scientists since Barry Bonds.
Developed by Japanese scientists, Ryutaro Himeno and Kazushi Tezuka, the gyroball is the result of computer simulations that created a new style intended to reduce stress on the pitcher. According to wikipedia:
At the point of release, instead of having the pitcher's arm move inwards towards the body (the standard method used in the United States), the pitcher rotates his arm so that it moves away from his body, towards 3rd base (for a right-handed pitcher). The unusual method of delivery creates a bullet-like spin on the ball, like a bicycle tire spins when facing the spokes or a perfectly thrown football. When thrown by a right hander, the pitch moves sharply down and away from right handed batters and towards left handed batters. In baseball, most pitches are thrown with backspin, like the fastball, or with a more forward spinning motion, like the curveball and the slider."
According to Popular Mechanics, "A gyroball calls for a complex flip of the fingers during release, ending with the thumb pointed down. At its most effective, the pitch breaks horizontally as it nears the batter, as though shrugging off gravity." In theory, the pitch spins like a football before breaking dramatically, and though it is reminiscent of a screwball, Himeno and Tezuka insist the pitch is much safer to throw. The following graphic from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer illustrates the ideal motion of the pitch.
Got it? Good. Now forget it. It doesn't exist.
Plenty have debated the validity of the gyroball, claiming it is instead a variation of the shuuto, a pitch thrown by Japanese pitchers similar to a screwball with less break, a variation of which is thrown by Greg Maddux. The gyroball, most will argue, is all hype, no substance.
But when the following video hit the Internet, baseball fans were abuzz with the far-ranging impact the pitch could have on the game. Keep an eye on the seams of the ball, how they shift mid-air and push the ball toward the batter.
Gyroball? Shuuto? Or just a darn good curveball?
A high school pitching coach showed Popular Mechanics video of a high school kid supposedly throwing the gyroball, which in reality was nothing more than the ol' No. 2.
For what it's worth, Matsuzaka claims he doesn't throw the revolutionary pitch, but in what is believed to be the only English speaking interview he has done, he did tell Yahoo's Jeff Passan during the World Baseball Classic earlier this year that he has experimented with it in games.
I mean, Wade Boggs experimented with the knuckler. That doesn't mean he threw it effectively.
Still, gyroball or not, Matsuzaka's five-pitch arsenal makes him the most wanted pitcher on the market this offseason. Closed bids are expected to be anywhere in the $20 million-$30 million range just for the right to sign the 26-year-old, which of course, precludes a good number of teams from even dreaming of landing him. The Mariners and Dodgers have already publicly announced that they've dropped out, and serious bidders may only still include the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, and Cubs.
"What you're getting is a ready-made No. 1 pitcher that half of the franchises in baseball don't have," his agent, Scott Boras told USA Today. Matsuzaka is due to arrive in Los Angeles tomorrow morning, and could know what team he's playing for by the end of the day, the paper reports.
It's no secret that the Yankees are likely to be considered the front-runners for Matsuzaka, unless the Red Sox or Mets surprise everyone and outbid George Steinbrenner. From all indications, the guy is mentally tough, and it certainly wouldn't hurt matters if his wife, a sportscaster in Japan, landed a job with either the YES Network or NESN as a foreign correspondent. If the Red Sox do indeed want to go global, where the likes of the Yankees and Mariners have found worldwide success, Matsuzaka is their foot in the door.
But when it comes to outbidding the Yankees, it's difficult for Red Sox fans to put too much stock in the Matsuzaka possibility. And even if they do win, then they only need to deal with Scott Boras. Some teams would pay $20 million just to never do that again.
Plan B, of course, will cost nearly as much, but if the Red Sox were willing to give Roger Clemens $20 million-plus last season for his services over four months, why wouldn't they do the same a year later for an entire season? The 44-year-old filed for free agency yesterday, and while he hasn’t committed to playing next season, or even half a season, the New York Daily News reports there has been speculation that he'd like to play his final season in Boston.
So, we've got that to look forward to. Again.
Hpwever, there are also the steroid allegations to be concerned about too. EM Swift of Sports Illustrated recently wrote: "Federal investigators have pursued a money trail through computer files that have led them directly back to Clemens and teammate Andy Pettitte, who also employed McNamee as his personal trainer. The noose has tightened, according to the source, and it will all come out before long. (Clemens and Pettitte couldn't be reached for comment.)" Uh oh.
More Red Sox hot stove items include:
The team is close to re-signing infielder Alex Cora to a two-year deal. I know. Mike Timlin, Tim Wakefield, and Cora all in the same offseason. But you just can't print playoff tickets just yet.
The Mets might make righthanded pitcher Aaron Heilman available with the Red Sox and Devil Rays interested. Heilman was at one point involved in many Ramirez talks, so it will be interesting to see if the two teams can spark anything going in that direction again, although not likely.
Pat Burrell? Phillyburbs.com reports that the Phillies outfielder lifted his no-trade clause in the hopes of being dealt to the Red Sox, Yankees, or Giants, none of whom have any interest.
The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that despite his .376 career average at the Rogers Centre, Julio Lugo will likely lean toward the Red Sox, who, according to the newspaper, are prepared to offer $8 million per season for Lugo to play shortstop. Does that include the $3 million per season they already pay Edgar Renteria not to play shortstop for them as well?
Not sure if the Red Sox understand just how much outcry there is going to be pending the acquisition of Lugo. Alex Gonzalez, defensive wizard and Gold Glove…er, candidate, was perhaps the most beloved Sox shortstop we've seen since Orlando Cabrera, whom people still can't understand why Boston jettisoned him following the 2004 season. After the Renteria hiccup, Boston seemed like it had found another guy for the future.
But Bill James and the Red Sox ops have this seeming obsession with Lugo, who by all accounts was incredibly unimpressive in his short stint with the Dodgers this season, and committed 16 errors in just 81 games at shortstop in 2006. Gonzalez had seven. There's also Lugo's not-so-illustrious past, when he was arrested in 2003 for assault and battery on his wife. How long did Wil Cordero last around here after his Cambridge incident?
You would think when you're paying someone else millions of dollars for your shortstop mistakes that you'd think twice before making another one. Throwing $8 million a season for Lugo certainly isn't it though. In no way does it make a lick of sense, a team desperate for starting pitching, and a solid shortstop due to make less than that per annum, is willing to toss the bank at a defensive-deficient player, a trait that got them burned just two years ago. Think about it, $24 million into Lugo, or $30 million into Barry Zito or Mark Mulder? Even with the trepidation involved with the pair of pitchers, that's a no-brainer.
This indeed has Jose Offerman, Edgar Renteria, and whatever other high-priced, underachieving player you want to mention, written all over it. Unless he too can throw the gyroball, this is not going to be the most welcome of havens for a guy like Lugo. Watch.