November 8, 2006

Matsuzaka’s New Weapon

Print More

It’s like a UFO. Many people claim to have seen it. There is even a sketchy video, where you can almost make it out. But, no one can be sure whether or not it’s real. No one even knows what it looks like.

It’s called the gyroball. If you search for it on the Internet, you can find that single video, supposedly confirming its existence — except of course, it looks like it was filmed in the 1970’s. Nothing can be proved, but there are many who continue to rave about its unbelievable effect.

The last time a new pitch was invented was the in the 1970’s was when Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter supposedly learned the split-finger fastball in the Chicago Cubs farm system. It single handedly made his career, and preserved those of Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.

The gyroball has the potential to make a similar impact. Unfortunately for us English-speaking folk, details of its effect are vague at best. According to reports, it has only been thrown by a number of pitchers, however, indications persist that one of those attempting to learn it is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Without it, Matsuzaka can be a star. With it, baseball may be changed irrevocably.

However, Matsuzaka has never admitted to being able to throw the pitch — but he certainly hasn’t denied it either. There is no doubt that, at the very least, he knows of its existence. Whether of not he can throw it in an actual game is an entirely different story.

As of now, the concept for the pitch exists primarily as a computer simulation developed by two Japanese scientists, Ryutaro Himeno and Kazushi Tezuka. So the theory goes, the gyroball employs “double-spin mechanics” to make a baseball rotate like a football spiral — and supposedly break like no pitch ever has, sharply down and away from right-handed hitters. In essence, it’s a slider on crack.

Will Carroll, a columnist for Baseball Prospectus, who has been investigating the gyroball for several years, began to conduct experiments of his own to test its existence. He asked Joey Niezer, a high school pitcher in Indiana, to try the pitch out during a side session. The results were staggering.

“They move so much,” Carroll said. “We’re used to seeing curveballs that break six inches if they’re good. A splitter that dives a foot. This thing breaks a foot if you’re not good at it. I’ve seen Joey’s break three feet. It takes a left turn and heads to the dugout.”

Unfortunately, nobody knows exactly how to throw it. Matsuzaka may be the missing link between the gyroball and major league baseball. And even that link is a tenuous one.

Nevertheless, when the Seibu Lions posted Matsuzaka last Thursday, a number of major league franchises took notice. At 26 years of age, he is only just beginning to tap his potential and should serve as an ace of a staff for years to come.

Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who has been leading the Chiba Lotte Marines for the past two seasons, seems to have no doubt in the right-hander’s ability.

“He is very special,” Valentine said. “He has a good fastball that he throws from 90 to 95 miles per hour. He has very good control and can throw any one of three other pitches over for a strike at any time in the count … He would do very well in the states.”

This comes from a man that has never seen this supposed gyroball, even though he has looked for it from time to time. Maybe Matsuzaka is not quite ready to throw it. Or maybe he will never throw it at all. Regardless, he has an opportunity to be a difference maker for the team that wins the right to sign him.

As a comparison, the last Japanese pitcher that has created this much buzz was Hideo Nomo over ten years ago. While he struggled in the latter part of his career, Nomo posted a 2.54 earned run average in his first season, making 28 starts for the Dodgers.

The secret bidding for Matsuzaka officially ends today. It is still unclear which teams are involved, however, the competition most likely includes the usual suspects: the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets. The winning team will certainly have an early leg up on free agency and a major advantage heading into next season. With the free agent market devoid of frontline starters, Matsuzaka will surely be in high demand.

With or without a gyroball.

Bryan Pepper is a Sun Senior Writer. Raising the Apple will appear every other Wednesday this semester.