Siberian Baseball

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Q and A with Will Carroll

I was driving home late last Wednesday when The Girl called me after seeing the Deadspin link to my gyroball post. After seeing a spike in visitors throughout the day, I was out of the office in the afternoon and lost track for a few hours.

"Do you know who Will Carroll is?" she asked. "He just posted a comment on your blog."

"Are you serious?" I said. "Does he sound pissed or anything?"

Mr. Carroll is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus and weighed in himself on the subject of the gyroball this week on his own colun there. It sounds like he's been sucked in - as many of us have - by the promise of a new pitch in an old game, so there's hope for all of us baseball nerds who will have two or three baseball conversations, even in the dead of November.

I wish I could lie and say that I took it all in stride, but hearing about the comment post made me wish I'd spent a lot more time doing prep work. In any event, he'd left a very nice comment and said that if I had anymore questions, to feel free to ask away.

A few days later, that's where we're at. The following is the series of questions I'd sent along as well as Mr. Carroll's unedited answers. I'd like to thank him once again for the time he's spent on this and if you're looking for a little more information, I've also found this link to Rob Neyer's blog, which has a great post on the gyroball as well.

(Quick note: the above link is from the first writing Mr. Carroll had done on the subject of the gyroball. There are some portions that aren't 100 percent accurate after he's spent more time researching it. Still has some good background, so I'll leave it up for now.)


Siberian Baseball: You'd said in your post on the site, "I'm still learning about the pitch - turns out the version I teach is a variation on the "pure gyro." It's more like a slider/cutter variant than a screwball."

Can you explain the motion as it relates to pitches that we're all familiar with? Also, are there many variations on the pitch?

Will Carroll: There are three variations, each doing slightly different things based on the position of the rotation of the ball in relation to the direction of the pitch.

One drops, one doesn't drop so much, and the last, my variation, moves like a slider/cutter, but more. I actually think what I've been teaching is a combo of the last two, so there might be a de facto fourth variation.

For the last three years, I've been teaching a version that is thrown "normally" and moves across or away from a RH batter (from a RH pitcher.) It moves significantly, with what observers have called "legit 3-9 movement."

SB: How did you initially become involved with the pitch? You've been able to teach it to others and are seen as one of the top sources for information on it – what is the basic timeline of how that level of understanding came about?

WC: Rob Neyer had a question asked to him in a chat and I chased it from there. Odd how things like this start.

The timeline? Learned about it in 2003, got the book on it from Japan about two months later, tried teaching it (as a goof) for the first time in 2004, and really got serious about it this year. I'm still learning about the pitch and have probably learned more about the pitch in the last month than I have in the previous couple years.

SB: From what I've heard and read, the a lot of throwing a true gyroball comes down to timing. What are the key points to consider here? Is it a matter of release point, body rotation, ball rotation or something else?

WC: I'd rather not get to technical on the delivery of the pitch. This isn't to keep it secret, but because it's difficult to explain. The last thing I want is for someone to misunderstand what I'm saying, throw the pitch wrong, and hurt themselves. Thrown properly, the pitchers that have thrown it say that the pitch is less stressful than a slider, but done wrong, any pitch can be dangerous.

It is a very "fine" pitch. A slight variation can make the pitch do or not do things in pretty significant degree. One of the biggest 'problems' I had with the pitch is that occasionally, the pitch would break in rather than out for no apparent reason. I finally understand why, after a physicist broke down the motion. Now, instead of a problem, it's a weapon!

SB: How difficult is the pitch to throw and is there an overriding reason why it hasn't made it to the major league level? Comparitively, how tough is it on a pitcher's arm?

WC: No one besides me teaches it, as far as I can tell. I'd be happy to show any pitcher, especially if they're high level where we could see how this works in comparison to other high-quality pitches. It's one thing to say a HS kid from NJ can make this thing move, but entirely another to see if ... I don't know, Anthony Reyes could make it dance.

Tough on the arm? See above. Like I said, the experience is very limited, but anecdotally, it's not harsh. The pitch itself is a side effect of Japanese research on biomechanics, so it comes from a place of safety.

SB: Have you seen the pitch thrown in competition? It seems that many people (myself included) have had a hard time telling the difference between what is presented as a gyroball and what is a really tough slider. There are rumors that major league pitchers have asked about the pitch, so have you seen anyone quietly try it out in competition? Have you seen enough from (Daisuke) Matsuzaka to say one way or another if you think he is able to throw the pitch for strikes?

WC: A few times. And yes, it does look like a slider to some. Face it, a breaking ball is a breaking ball and even the best of us will mix up pitches that are moving at high speed. How many times has a pro announcer said a pitch is something else? I have had a couple major leaguers ask about the pitch, but none have asked to see it. Matsuzaka, I think, throws it, but does not control it well enough. I hope to meet up with him now that he's in America!

SB: While it's certainly exciting for fans to talk about the birth of a new pitch, do you think it can have an impact in the majors?

WC: That's the million dollar question. I don't know. Did the split-finger change the game? The curveball? I think it would be interesting and maybe for the guy who becomes the gyroball version of Bruce Sutter, it will change things for him.

Maybe. I'll be honest, I don't know, but it's fun to think about.

(Image from The New No. 2 as posted on /

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