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Samuel Deduno’s Crazy Fastball, Explained…Maybe

Like many other Twins fans, Samuel Deduno fascinates me. Thanks to some terrible starting pitching from the likes of Jason Marquis and Carl Pavano, Deduno earned his first extended stint in the major leagues in 2012. Immediately he dazzled fans and frustrated hitters with his success relative to the rest of the rotation despite his lack of control and self-proclaimed “crazy” fastball (he’s admitted he has no clue how to control its movement).

Deduno started the 2013 season in the minor leagues again, but received another call-up and improved significantly. He cut his walks from 15% to 9% of batters faced, and though his strikeouts also dropped, he combated that by allowing fewer home runs.

A few weeks ago, I chronicled Deduno’s fastball by showing that whether by accident or on purpose, Deduno’s moving fastball has become almost exclusively a cutter. In the past, it also would sink into the hands of a righthanded batter, but for whatever reason that movement has been eliminated.

Another fascinating fact of Deduno’s fastball is how much it drops, regardless of horizontal movement. MLB pitchers average nearly 9 inches of “rise” (relative to a spinless ball with no gravity), but Deduno’s gets only 2 inches of rise. His fastball drops more than some pitcher’s sliders and change-ups, which is pretty impressive. And while I’m no expert of the sciences, I may have figured out what the hell is going on with his fastball.

But first, a quick anecdote that gets passed around by some of the Twins part-time staff (I’m an usher at Target Field and have heard this story a few times). A few years ago, the Yankees were in town and Derek Jeter faced Deduno. The story goes that Jeter grounded out, and upon returning to the dugout he started shaking his fist violently while saying, “His fastball moves all over the (redacted) place!” He then went to a security guard and asked who was the pitcher on the mound. The security guard replied with, “He says, ‘My name is Sam Deduno and I have a crazy fastball.’”

But I digress. There are plenty of pitchF/X websites out there, and for reasons I cannot explain, I’ve become rather attached to the Texas Leaguers website. I typically pay the most attention to velocity and movement, but something caught my eye the last time I was drooling over Deduno’s data. There is also a number charted for every pitch that is titled “Spin Rate” and Deduno’s fastball spin rate is absolutely absurd. If you want to look at his cutting fastball since 2013, it’s 606 revolutions per minute. His sinking fastball is at 727.

“Yeah, okay, but why does that matter?” the casual observer would note. Well, unfortunately Texas Leaguers does not keep track of the average spin rate for fastballs and cutters, but I’ll post a variety of pitchers for context. All data is from the start of the 2013 season to the present.

Fastballs

Glen Perkins – 2,475

R.A. Dickey – 1,543

Josh Collmenter – 2,259

Rick Porcello – 1,867

Joe Saunders – 1,944

Cutters

Mariano Rivera – 1,580

Kevin Correia – 1,243

Dan Haren – 1,243

Andy Pettitte – 1,521

Scott Feldman – 958

Now can you understand why I said that Deduno’s fastball spin rate was absurd. Remember when I said that his pitch rises far less than the average MLB fastball? Well you might be aware of the Magnus effect, where the rotation of a ball affects its flight path. Now that it’s warming up outside, you have another excuse to inflate a beach ball. Go ahead and do it, then try to throw it overhand. Because of the backspin on the ball, no matter how hard you try to throw it straight forward, it will also rise. If you try to throw it underhand, it’s going to sink because of the topspin. Major league fastballs appear to rise because of the Magnus effect, causing it to resist the force of gravity. Because Deduno’s fastball has (relatively) little spin on it, the Magnus effect is reduced and it doesn’t rise as much.

Now why does Deduno’s fastball have so little spin? This is one of those cases where I wish I could see a slo-mo of his fastball, because I get the feeling that the ball might slip out of his hand a bit, kind of like Robert Coello’s “forkleball.” Speaking of which, let’s check out some of those pitches that aren’t supposed to spin very much.

Other Pitches

R.A. Dickey knuckleball – 901

Steven Wright knuckleball – 1,001

Robert Coello “forkleball” – 950 (it’s classified as about 4 different pitches and I found the average)

Ladies and gentlemen, here is why Samuel Deduno’s fastball is crazy. It supposedly spins less than noted knuckleballer R.A. Dickey’s famed knuckleball. I’ll admit that seems absurd (especially after watching the “forkleball” GIF above) but remember, that GIF is merely a highlight of one of the best Coello has thrown. He’s thrown many more that had far more spin than that pitch. The same is true of Dickey’s knuckleball; he’s thrown tons of them that failed to achieve a lack of spin. While my understanding is likely wrong, I still prefer to think that Samuel Deduno is practically firing 90 MPH knuckleballs at Kurt Suzuki and Josmil Pinto. That’s probably why Derek Jeter said it was like the ball was shaking as it came to home plate in the anecdote above, Deduno has no idea where his fastball is going, and why his control has been below average for his career.

Samuel Deduno’s crazy fastball, explained. Maybe.


Why I Can’t Ignore Stats

If some of you have been active in following your Hall of Fame voters, you probably read this post on Jon Heyman discussing his ballot. He spent the majority of this piece stating why he didn’t vote for Bert Blyleven, and then he explained why he voted for Jack Morris instead. I promise this is not intended to be a “Vote Blyleven, not Morris!” post, because I’m more interested in something else. Heyman claims that Morris had a bigger impact in his games than Blyleven. Well then, what happens if I never experienced this impact?

Read the rest of this entry »


Revisiting a Blown Call from the 2009 Playoffs

By now, just about everyone knows about how umpire Jim Joyce blew a call during Armando Galarraga’s start against the Cleveland Indians, which cost him the 21st perfect game in major league history. Instantly after Joyce’s error was discovered, fans were calling for Joyce to be fired. However, he certainly isn’t the first umpire fans have wanted removed from the game, and he certainly won’t be the last.

For those that remember, Tim McClelland had his own controversy during the 2009 ALCS between the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels. Long story short, during Game 4, Nick Swisher was at third base when Johnny Damon lined out to center fielder Torii Hunter. Swisher tagged up and presumably scored, until the Angels appealed that Swisher left third too early. McClelland agreed with the Angels and called Swisher out. Here is the video of the play. (Only the first 45 seconds is necessary to watch.)

From personal experience, it seems like we blame an umpire for a bad call without ever attempting to understand why the bad call was made. From the video, it’s clear that McClelland wasn’t directly watching Swisher when Torii Hunter caught Johnny Damon’s fly ball, but no one, not even FOX announcers Tim McCarver or Joe Buck, even bothered to explain why he wasn’t looking at Swisher. Back in October, I found a possibility as to why McClelland blew the call, and I will walk you through my reasoning here.

1. McClelland’s Positioning

Note: I have worked two summers as a baseball umpire for a middle school league. I understand that middle school children and professional athletes are very different, but I still had to learn positioning for certain plays, similar to the MLB umpires. During tag-up plays, I’ve been taught to line up the runner and fielder such that I can see both when the catch is made and when the runner’s foot leaves the base. Basically, this is exactly what you’d expect.

From the video I posted above, if you time when Damon made contact to when Hunter made the catch, it’s about 3.75 seconds. Now, I assumed that McClelland hesitated before making an attempt to get into a position to accurately watch Swisher’s tag because he had to decide on an appropriate reaction to the batted ball (similar to a fielder deciding what he has to do to field a batted ball). This is understandable because a person cannot be expected to know where or if a batted ball is going to be caught the very instant it is hit. Therefore, I assumed that it took McClelland about half a second to decide where the ball was going to land and if it had a possibility of being caught, so he should have had about 3.25 seconds (3.75 seconds of ball flight – 0.5 seconds of hesitation) to react.  However, it’s tough to estimate this time because we don’t know exactly what he was thinking when Damon first made contact.

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As for his starting position, it is virtually impossible to know where McClelland started because there isn’t any video I found that showed where he was at the beginning of the play. However, because of the rarity of a pickoff attempt at 3rd base and he was still in motion when Swisher left 3rd, I decided that he wasn’t close to the base when the play started. So, another assumption I made was that he was probably a distance from 3rd base that roughly mirrored the positioning of the 1st base umpire when Damon put the pitch into play.

The fact that McClelland was moving when Swisher left 3rd base poses a question: Why wasn’t he in position yet?

A. He hesitated longer than the 0.5 seconds I assumed and he didn’t move fast enough to compensate.

B. His hesitation was close to my 0.5 second estimate, but he was slow in moving to his position.

Look at the picture above again. The center of the oval where I think McClelland started to where he ended up at the time of Swisher leaving 3rd is roughly 1/4 the distance of the basepaths, or about 22.5 feet. Now, from my quick Google research, I found that the average walking speed is about 3 MPH and the average jogging speed is about 6 MPH. Accounting for McClelland’s age, I decided that his jogging speed was about 4.5 MPH. Doing the math, he should have taken about…

(4.5 mi/hr) x (1 hr / 3600 sec) x (5280 ft / 1 mi) = 6.6 ft/sec

22.5 ft / (6.6 ft / sec) = 3.41 sec

…to move from where he started to where he ended, which is very close to the 3.25 seconds I estimated earlier. So, I’m willing to bet that the correct answer was closer to B than A; he hesitated an appropriate amount of time, but didn’t move fast enough to get into position.

McClelland certainly could have gotten into a better position like I mentioned above, but only if he moved at a faster speed. However, from all of us watching many games, I’m sure we can all agree that umpires are not the fleetest of foot and rarely, if ever, even appear to move at a fast jog. I bet a jog for McClelland is probably a slow jog for the average person. Therefore, I think our answer evolves from B into a C that I didn’t even consider listing:

C. He did nothing wrong. The play just happened too fast, so he was in his best possible position.

2. McClelland’s Vision

No, I’m not recommending that he needed glasses (even after wrongly calling Cano safe at 3rd in the same game). Tim McCarver emphatically stated how McClelland wasn’t directly looking at Swisher, which caused his error in judgment. But what I couldn’t believe was that McCarver, nor Joe Buck, nor anyone else not even related to the FOX broadcast made any mention of peripheral vision in relation to this play. For this analysis, I found that this organization states that normal peripheral vision is about 180 degrees. Examine the following two pictures:

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As you can understand, a person’s peripheral vision should decrease as he/she gets older, so I accounted for this by showing McClelland’s as being less than 180 degrees in the picture on the left. I know that I subjectively picked where the two lines are, but they are not intended to be exact nor did I even know what McClelland’s vision was like (neither should you), so I estimated that he saw at least part of Swisher before he left 3rd. Now, I’ve already shown that it was probable that the play in real time occurred too fast for McClelland to get into a good position to make an accurate call, so that was probably why he didn’t line up Swisher with Hunter when the catch was made. The picture on the right shows Swisher leaning forward in anticipation of leaving 3rd base. Once he started leaning, I think McClelland assumed that Swisher was off the base, and thus thought that Swisher had left the base before the catch was made. If the time of ball flight had been longer, McClelland could have gotten into a better position, and he most likely wouldn’t have wrongfully called Swisher out.

In review, I found that the time between when Johnny Damon made contact with Scott Kazmir’s pitch to when Torii Hunter caught Damon’s fly ball occurred too fast for Tim McClelland to properly move into position to line up Nick Swisher at 3rd base with Hunter in center field. With the probability that McClelland had declining peripheral vision, just like many people his age, he saw Swisher lean forward out of the corner of his eye, and thus thought that Swisher left the base much earlier than he actually did. Together, I feel that McClelland did the best that he could in making the correct call, but the play simply happened too fast for him.

Even if you feel that I made too many assumptions here, my main point of this article was for you to learn to understand why an umpire made a certain call before jumping to conclusions that he was out to get a certain player or team, or that he’s incapable of being a good umpire in MLB. You don’t need to go into as much analysis as I did here, but you can at least watch some replays on TV and see if they hint at why an umpire made a mistake. Umpires are not “out to get” particular teams or players. I want you to believe that these guys really are trying the best they can.

This article was originally posted on Off The Mark in October 2009. Portions of the article were rewritten for cohesiveness and relevance to the present.