Mat Latos Throws a Pitch That Nobody Else Has Thrown

Mat Latos throws a pitch that nobody in the big leagues throws. For good reason, too. He has no idea where it’s going.

“I was told in high school that it would never be a realistic pitch in the big leagues,” Latos said when I asked him about the pitch that he gripped like a knuckle curve but released like a changeup and was neither his breaking ball nor his changeup. Yeah, I said, sure, but what is this pitch?

LatosStill

Sometimes it goes straight down, Latos said. Like the time he struck out Bryce Harper with it and the ball just fell off the table.

HarperCritter

Sometimes it acts like a normal changeup, the Marlins pitcher thought. Like the time he got Dan Uggla to whiff. That one looked almost conventional.

UgglaCritter

Other times it veers for the arm side like a reverse curveball. Like something that makes your bullpen catcher pop up out of his squat and nod like a bobblehead. Like something you’ve never seen before. Or something Seth Smith had never seen before, at least.

SmithCritter

Then there are the worst times, when it just rolls and acts a bit like a hanging breaker. But even then, it’s so strange that you can get a Michael Taylor just to look it into the catcher’s glove for a called strike three, if you’re lucky.

TaylorCritter

Yes, I said, sure, but what is it? “What is this thing?” I asked as I mimicked the pronating knuckle-curve motion I’d seen in the clip that Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads and Greg “Giff” Gifford from STATS Inc had emailed me with the big question marks in the subject line.

Marlins reliever Mike Dunn looked up and saw what I was doing. His eyes lit up. “What are you doing? That’s the…” Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius was walking by at that moment, and finished Dunn’s sentence: “The Critter. Don’t know where it’s going, don’t know where it’s been. The Critter.”

TheCritter
The most extraordinary grip and pitch in the game?

It probably shows up as a split finger in the Brooks Baseball system, in which case it’s an effective pitch despite strange movement. It averages almost no fade at all, but has five inches more drop than a regular changeup — and gets whiffs nearly a quarter of the time, about 50% better than average for a splitter. It has the drop of a curve and the horizontal movement of a slider, and the velocity of a changeup.

And we know that’s just what the pitch averages. It might do anything at any moment.

In some ways, Latos’s high-school coach was right. If you have no idea where a pitch is going and how it’s going to move, it’s hard to use it much. R.A. Dickey doesn’t really know how the knuckler is going to move, but at least he can hit the strike zone with it.

Latos admits it’s a two-strike pitch in most cases. He can’t command it, but it can give him a wrinkle hitters haven’t seen in a big moment, after a long at-bat or in a pinch with a great hitter. The swings and even the takes above show that it’s a unique pitch that can give hitters fits.

What’s maybe most impressive about the pitch is that it leaves his hand at a decent speed — around 80 mph on average. “I like it because I can throw it as hard as a fastball, but it’s much slower than a fastball,” Latos said. “Maybe because I flick the ball with my index finger at the end.”

If most people threw a knuckle-grip changeup in which they flicked the ball with their index finger as they threw it, it would bounce about twenty feet away and be a laugher. Maybe it would be an eephus. Latos throws a knuckle-change that he flicks with a finger, and sometimes it looks like the most ridiculous changeup you’ve ever seen. And other times it looks like a hanging breaking ball.

The Critter.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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tehzachatak
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tehzachatak
1 year 7 days ago

this is awesome

MLB Rainmaker
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Member
MLB Rainmaker
1 year 7 days ago

I think every pitcher has something like this — a toy they play with in bullpen sessions that does some interesting stuff…..the crazy part is that Latos throws this in games with some regularity. While pitching seems like just throwing a ball toward the plate, a ton of work and lots of hours go into a particular pitch before you dare throw it in the direction of a major league hitter — so the fact that The Critter has made it this far is impressive.

Stuck in a Slump
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Stuck in a Slump
1 year 7 days ago

Marlins reliever Mike Dunn looked up and saw what I was doing. His eyes lit up. “What are you doing? That’s the…” Marlins bullpen coach Reid Cornelius was walking by at that moment, and finished Dunn’s sentence: “The Critter. Don’t know where it’s going, don’t know where it’s been. The Critter.”

I’m imaging this taking place in an anime, in which you’re holding the ball, and then Dunn looks over his shoulder at you, the frame switches to the ball in your hand with a musical exclamation point, frozen, background is some solid color with a white pointed area surounding your hand, at that moment Dunn gasps: “Ahhh! That’s the…!” Then Cornelius enters the frame, looking down adjusting his glasses which are only there for effect as he sagely explains “The Critter.” the camera now focuses back on you still holding the ball as before “Don’t know where it’s going, Don’t know where it’s been. The Critter.” The camera moves back to you letting out a shocked stammering of nothing. In my imagination, this is a series I might watch, even though it uses every anime cliche possible in just one scene.

Joss
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Joss
1 year 7 days ago

#BRINGBACKNOTGRAPHS

Taluss
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Taluss
1 year 6 days ago

If you want baseball anime you should really check out Major or big windup.

Stuck in a Slump
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Stuck in a Slump
1 year 5 days ago

Unfortunately, I have seen these on Netflix, otherwise I’d give them a shot. Right now though, I’d just be happy to have anime-ted adventures of Eno in the clubhouse. Someone’s gotta be able to make this happen.

Stuck in a Slump
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Stuck in a Slump
1 year 5 days ago

*haven’t

Daniel Steinberg
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Daniel Steinberg
1 year 7 days ago

This is just fascinating and awesome

Brian
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Brian
1 year 7 days ago

The way this season is going for him, he’d better train that critter or throw it when the game is out of hand until he teaches it how to behave.

Tesseract
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Tesseract
1 year 7 days ago

Meh. It’s a knuckle curveball. Nothing here

Eno Sarris
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Eno Sarris
1 year 7 days ago

… A knuckle curve if people pronated on knuckle curves and flicked their fingers, neither of which people do on knuckle curves. Also, the seams are all wrong for a knuckle curve.

Jason Collette
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Jason Collette
1 year 6 days ago

I recall Neal Heaton talking about a screw-knuckle-change pitch he threw in the late 80’s during an interview on TV. Reminds me of that

Bryz
Guest
1 year 7 days ago

In addition to what Eno said, Latos doesn’t throw it like a knuckle-curve either. He’s releasing it like it’s a change-up.

Seriously, how can you say “Meh, hundreds of pitchers throw that” with something this cool?

Norm
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Norm
1 year 7 days ago

I’m not well-versed in pitch types to weigh in on what to call this thing, or whether it’s a knuckle curve. I would submit, though, that what he does to produce this pitch isn’t really that interesting. It’s a quirk, sure, but lots of players have quirks. What the pitch DOES is interesting (or not). If it behaves like a knuckle curve, then I’d agree with Tesseract. If it actually does something different (and it looks like it might), then it’s a unique pitch.

Put it this way: Jon Jay has a goofy double-clutch in his swing, right? Do we care very much? We care about the results, not the methodology. Figuring out how to get common results out with uncommon methods is, again, just a quirk.

Norm
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Norm
1 year 7 days ago

Thanks for the reply, Eno. It’s cool that it’s actually performing like a unique (or at least very uncommon) pitch.

Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger
1 year 7 days ago

I will call it the knuckle screwball. It would be interesting to see what he could do with it out of a different arm slot.

Ron Jeremy
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Ron Jeremy
1 year 7 days ago

Back in the day, we called this one the knuckle screw. Two in the pink, one in the stink, amirite?

300ZXNA
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300ZXNA
1 year 7 days ago

Geez. If he could ever figure out how to consistently make it do what it did to Bryce Harper, he’d probably ascend to being a true ace rather than a very good (though oddly declining) pitcher…

MLB Rainmaker
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Member
MLB Rainmaker
1 year 7 days ago

That decline might have something to do with the 3 mph he’s lost on his fastball in the last 4 years…

300ZXNA
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300ZXNA
1 year 7 days ago

I’m aware his velocity has been decreasing, I just find it odd because he’s a bit young to lose his fastball that quickly.

Urban Shocker
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Urban Shocker
1 year 7 days ago

Great article Eno.

Spencer
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Spencer
1 year 7 days ago

Great article but I hate the name for that pitch.

Silvergun
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Silvergun
1 year 7 days ago

“R.A. Dickey doesn’t really know how the knuckler is going to move, but at least he can hit the strike zone with it.”

Lol, you really should fg him…

StroShow
Member
1 year 7 days ago

It doesn’t say how often he hits the strike zone, or which actual strike zone. Perhaps he was referring to the zone in which a particular hitter strikes the ball over the fence.

rich homie veritas
Member
rich homie veritas
1 year 7 days ago

ive thrown this pitch before they teach it in new york city as the cisco, named after the supposed to be inventor francisico, the difference is you put two knuckles on instead of one.

Peter 2
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Peter 2
1 year 7 days ago

Why can’t everyone who throws a weird pitch like this just play along and claim it’s a gyroball?

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer
1 year 7 days ago

I would name it the Knucklehead.

CW
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CW
1 year 7 days ago

Too many dirty minds on this comment thread to call it that.

Kyle
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Kyle
1 year 7 days ago

To everyone that says throwing 95 is important, please stop. Tons and tons, in fact mostly everyone in the minor leagues can throw that fast. Then why are they in the minors? Because it barely matters.. Jayme Moyer, one of the greats, pitched what.. 85? Couldn’t hit 90 if I pumped him full of “speed”.. Cliff lee throws a70-75 mph ball then throws 90 tops, same career era as randy Johnson.. Get over it you guys the difference in time between a 95 mph and 105 (fastest ever recorded) is .02 seconds.. .02 seconds, something your eye couldn’t even see on a stopwatch.. Quit listening to meatheads with mics!

Count Popula
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Count Popula
1 year 7 days ago

Usually I’m all about not listening to meatheads with mics, but this is a case where the former player version of the meathead will tell you that it definitely matters. They’ll tell you that from experience. Terrifying, pants-wetting experience.

See, Jamie Moyer is the exception (and not included in my list of greats, but different strokes for different folks I suppose). Nearly every great pitcher pitched 90+. Pointing out a few who didn’t isn’t proof, it’s expected variance.

There’s a reason Aroldis Chapman struck out more than half(!!) of the batters he faced last year, and it’s 3 digits long. Of the top 20 qualified pitchers in K% this year, 0 have a sub-90 average fastball.

But then again, Cliff Lee and Randy Johnson have the same career ERA (note: not actually true, Johnson’s is .23 lower with a 9 point ERA+ difference) so velocity must not matter.

Snowman
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Snowman
1 year 7 days ago

And in this case, the exception that proves the rule was Maddux (who, unlike Moyer, does make a list of greats). He’s the one freak of nature that comes to mind who had years where he struck out more than 20% of batters he faced without ever hitting 90.

Count Popula
Guest
Count Popula
1 year 7 days ago

Except Maddux did throw 90, especially in his peak years. Late Maddux was a soft tosser, sure, but at his peak he was sitting in the 90s with pinpoint accuracy- a frightening combination. I’d also note that Maddux only topped 20% in K rate three times in his career.

That’s as close to Maddux-bashing as I’ll get, though, because criticizing Greg Maddux is dumb.

Snowman
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Snowman
1 year 6 days ago

Hmm. My memory of those years says he was hitting 88, 89 in those peak years, and later dropped to 84-86. But yes, criticizing Doggy would be dumb.

MGL
Guest
MGL
1 year 6 days ago

Correct, Maddux rarely if ever threw 90. Sat in the high 80’s at his peak which was around the MLB average in those days.

If Maddux, with his command amd movement, were able to throw in the low 90’s, he would have been even greater than he was, if that is even possible.

Mike
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Mike
1 year 6 days ago

Maddux (Greg) COULD hit up to 90-94 mph some times, just not routinely, and he knew that pitchers for decades and decades had dominated by changing velocities and not relying on one pitch. Diversity is what kept those amazing pitchers of years past dominating and pitching all those games and all those innings.

Some say that pitchers from yesteryear would not be able to dominate in today’s MLB because hitters can now hit 95 mph pitchers any day of the week because pitchers now rely mostly on fastballs as their primary pitch, but they forget to consider that modern batters are not acustomed to face a pitcher mixing in pitches with 20 mph of difference. Imagine a 90 mph pitch followd by a nasty 70 mph slider, a 89 mph fastball at the knees in the inside part of the plate followed by a 12-6 65 mph curveball that falls of the table. That’s basically how Greg Maddux pitched.

What was customary in the 40’s and 50’s nowadays is a lost art in the USA.

Blue
Guest
Blue
1 year 7 days ago

Wrong way to look at it.

If we assume the average ML fastball is, say, 88 MPH, moving from 88 to 95 is an increase of eight percent in speed, more than enough to disrupt a swing.

MGL
Guest
MGL
1 year 6 days ago

Everything else being equal, each mph subtracts around .15 runs from your RA9, if I remember correctly.

jim fetterolf
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jim fetterolf
1 year 7 days ago

Wade Davis, similar grip, 85mph, BB calls it a knuckle-curve:

http://www.brooksbaseball.net/landing.php?player=451584

Eno Sarris
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Eno Sarris
1 year 7 days ago

Nowhere near the same movement. Davis’ moves like a curveball, Latos’ moves like a change, sorta.

jim fetterolf
Guest
jim fetterolf
1 year 6 days ago

Carson and August did some gifs of both Davis and Herrera last year doing stuff with similar breaks but quite a bit faster, Davis a 94mph cutter not much different from Latos 80mph critter and Herrera’s 90-something change also with big movement. It’s all about the spin. Keep your thumb on the seam and fingers on the smooth and use the fingers to induce a little horizontal spin.

anonymous
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anonymous
1 year 7 days ago

One high school in long island teaches a pitch similar to this and call it the knuckle drop.

http://www.msgvarsity.com/long-island/papa-s-knuckle-drop-pitch-lifts-division-1.1473195

Quote from the article: “You don’t break your wrist, you just flick your fingers and it goes straight down. No strain on your elbow,”

Eno Sarris
Guest
Eno Sarris
1 year 7 days ago

That is so cool. I was thinking you could call it the knuckle knuckle, but that’s stupid. Knuckle Drop is okay!

Snowman
Guest
Snowman
1 year 7 days ago

So someone else above talked about it being taught and called a Cisco, Latos calls it The Critter, and this school calls it a knuckle drop. With it seemingly developing independently in multiple places at roughly similar times, I rather wonder if it isn’t just steam-engine time for this pitch. Perhaps in another decade it’ll be the hot new thing every other pitcher throws, and it won’t seem unusual at all.

Shirtless George Brett
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Shirtless George Brett
1 year 6 days ago

Oddly enough I grew up in Western Canada and also accidentally discovered a likely very similar two knuckled version when I was about 16 or so. I called it a “knuckle sinker”.

Well 8 called it that the 1 out of 10 times it actually worked. The other 9 times it was just called a crushing line drive.

Peter Jensen
Guest
Peter Jensen
1 year 6 days ago

Enos – The pitch to Seth Smith was not the same as the other three pitches shown. It was slower (75 MPH start speed) and had more estimated spin (1600 RPM instead of 300 to 600 RPM)like Latos’s normal curve ball according to Pitch Fx.

Roger
Guest
Roger
1 year 5 days ago

Given the different breaks the pitch can have, there’s probably some variable that he’s inconsistent with, such as the way the finger flick strikes the ball, which then affects the spin and thus the break. I don’t doubt that Latos is remembering correctly because he’s obviously played with this pitch enough in practice to know the various ways it might break.

Swfcdan
Guest
Swfcdan
1 year 6 days ago

Wicked movement! Never seen him throw it in a game. Has he always thrown it?

Mike13
Guest
1 year 6 days ago

Gotta give it a name, is the critter it’s name?

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