FanGraphs Baseball


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  1. Old Hoss Radbourn watched the tape and concluded Sanabia did nothing wrong and several things right.

    Comment by Resolution — May 21, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

  2. The funny thing about spitballs is that you still have to know how to throw it. You can’t *just* spit on it to get it to move strangely.

    Comment by Trip — May 21, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

  3. The way he was working it into the ball, he might have been trying to get a better grip instead of a slippery one.

    Comment by BubbaBiscuit — May 21, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

  4. This is very good data showing that he didn’t instantly become a better or different pitcher. I kind of wonder about a possible placebo effect, but don’t think it holds up when facing direct competition. The batter doesn’t know, so any increased confidence in himself or his pitches shouldn’t translate into effectiveness, should it?

    Comment by BubbaBiscuit — May 21, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

  5. Probably this. If he worked the spit into the entire ball, and it wasn’t loaded with phlegm, the finished product is no different than wiping the sweat from your forehead or neck and rubbing it into the ball, which just about every pitcher does. And if they don’t do that, they use arm sweat or keep the pocket or a finger of their glove slightly damp – black gloves are good for concealing that.

    However, if Sanabia was working the moisture into one half of the ball while keeping the other half dry, that would have to be viewed as an intent to cheat.

    Comment by Choo — May 21, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

  6. I tried spitting on my keyboard to make this a better comment, but it came out about the same as usual. Damn.

    Comment by All Balls No Brains — May 21, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  7. The spitball is not only thrown for movement but also in order to “deaden” the ball. Hence the dead ball era where no one could hit it over the wall. A heavier, softer ball is going to travel a shorter distance and contact won’t be as strong if the ball is wet. Sanabia’s PITCHF/x may not vary much(especially if he isn’t a great pitcher), but if he is throwing spitters, the distance the balls travel should be less. This is a much more subtle effect of spitballing and makes it much harder to get caught because the PITCHF/x evidence won’t be there. I would like to see the same overlays with batted ball distance data and see how that correlates. Also would be interesting to see Buchholz’s data over the years as well.

    Comment by Jeff — May 21, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

  8. 1) It seems very unlikely to me that his saliva produced enough moisture to “deaden” the ball to any measurable effect.

    2) The “dead ball era” wasn’t a result of pitchers spitting on the baseball. The physical composition of the balls was fundamentally different then than it is today.

    Comment by Rob — May 21, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  9. Do we have any examples of pitchers being caught loading up in the pitch f/x era? It would be interesting to see data similar to what you’ve presented above to see if pitch f/x shows us that spitters move more.

    Comment by Robin — May 21, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

  10. If he wasn’t doing it to cheat, then it is odd, because you can still get in trouble for doing it. The non-cheating reasons don’t seem to add enough value for the chance of getting caught.

    Comment by TKDC — May 21, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  11. Thanks for doing this, Dave. It doesn’t prove that he spit on the ball, nor does it prove that spitting on the ball doesn’t work but it should shut down the argument that the spitting was the reason he only allowed 1 run to the Phillies last night.

    Comment by chuckb — May 21, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

  12. And they would use the same ball for an entire game. Although dunking baseballs in mud, scuffing them, discoloring them with tobacco juice and cramming licorice into the laces didn’t help, either.

    Comment by Choo — May 21, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

  13. Assuming he is a spitballer (as the video suggests), don’t you think he does that every single game? Using his other starts as a negative control makes very little sense.

    Comment by Jason H — May 21, 2013 @ 3:42 pm

  14. This was done to counter the narrative that spitting is what made him hold the Phillies to one run. It shows that the pitches thrown yesterday acted like the same pitches he has thrown all season long to tune of about a 6 FIP. Yes, he spat on a ball. Yes, he held the Phillies to one run. The above data is showing that correlation doesn’t mean causation in this case.

    Comment by BubbaBiscuit — May 21, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

  15. Spitting on a baseball and throwing a spitball are two very different things. It almost looks like he spat on the ball in disgust. Either way he proceeded to dry the ball using his hands.

    Comment by Cus — May 21, 2013 @ 4:40 pm

  16. The spitter may very well have allowed him to hold the Phillies to one run. …it is quite possible that he is terrible with the spitter (e.g. 6 FIP), but would be even worse without it (e.g. >6 FIP).

    Comment by Jason H — May 21, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

  17. Incorrect Sir! the large green number below your post indicates that it was far more moving than a normal comment.

    Comment by David — May 21, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  18. As Cus said, a spitball isn’t a ball that a pitcher has spat on. They will use vasoline or some other slick, gooey substance. Spit just doesn’t have enough gooey-ness to do the job properly. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a pitcher accused of throwing a spitball because they spat on the ball. It’s always something else they’ve put on there.

    I should probably go check out Derek’s book.

    Comment by Nathaniel Dawson — May 21, 2013 @ 7:47 pm

  19. I recall reading (in the Yankees book) that Jack Chesbro threw his spitter by licking between his index and middle finger and then holding and throwing the ball like a split fingered fast ball. The lubrication would make the ball leave the hand with no spin and the action would be that of a hard thrown knuckleball. So the movement with this type of pitch has to do with the lack of spin, rather than “loading” up the ball and making it heavy on one side.

    I read this some years ago, and have thought of this as a classic spit ball since. However, the way people write and talk about spitballs does not sound like this pitch at all. Does anyone know how Gaylord Perry threw his spitball, for example? Is it a different pitch? ….or perhaps the author was mistaken about how Chesboro threw the pitch?

    …often, while warming up playing catch, I will throw the Jack Chesbro type spit ball I read about. …it does work, and lead to some startled reactions from unsuspecting catch partners.

    Comment by Jason H — May 21, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

  20. It’s a judgment call

    Comment by Joe Torre — May 22, 2013 @ 1:03 am

  21. Is this a troll?

    Comment by tomdog — May 22, 2013 @ 8:45 am

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