Reese Kaplan -- Deliveries from Down Under


As a somewhat taller than average young man I was coopted into working a church carnival at the behest of my mother who was trying to curry favor with the local parish.  I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it being the sullen teenager (wait, isn’t that redundant?) I’d become.  However, it was kind of like a job, I’d be handling money, prizes and have some responsibility so it was indeed going to break up the ho-hum existence of my early summer.

Things took a dramatic turn for the better when I arrived and was told I could work my choice of the carnival games.  While most young boys would gravitate to the shooting activities, I made a beeline to the booth where they had the cat dolls propped up awaiting contestants to hurl baseballs at them to knock them down.  After all, I was a pure baseball geek and this was a way to combine what my mother wanted me to do with something I would enjoy.

All throughout the day during the rather slow carnival I had lots of time on my hands to practice.  Initially I was simply aiming to try to knock down the cats but as the day progressed my game became more of one of velocity, seeing how fast I could throw the ball and still maintain some semblance of accuracy.  I did that for the duration of my shift which was probably about 4-6 hours.

Needless to say, when I awakened the next morning I could barely lift my arm.  I had not stretched nor otherwise prepared for the abuse I would heap upon my bicep.  I knew it was muscular pain from overuse and it would subside in a couple of days but I had a Little League baseball game to play the next day and I was fretting over how I would participate given the fact I couldn’t really throw the ball.

It was then that I discovered the beauty of the sidearm or submarine delivery which used an entirely different set of muscles and put way less stress on my arm.  Furthermore I found out that I was getting some natural movement on the throws that my overhand and ¾ slot pitches never enjoyed.  I even deluded myself into thinking I had a curveball.  That would have been a great thing had I been a pitcher, but at the time I was the team’s starting third baseman.

As I grew up I often wondered why more pitchers didn’t embrace this delivery both for the far less stress it placed on the arm and for the quirkiness of it that could confound batters.  Sure, there were successful knuckleball pitchers like Hoyt Wilhelm, the Neikro brothers, Charlie Hough and later R.A. Dickey, but that particular pitch was unpredictable and often resulted in alarmingly high walk totals.

However, when the Mets found Jeff Innis to work from their bullpen, I was enthralled.  Here was a major league pitcher (on my favorite team, no less) able to deliver 7 years of quality relief pitching, appearing in as many as 76 games per season, and ending his career with a 3.05 ERA.  He never racked up a lot of strikeouts and did walk a few more than would have been desirable, but what he was able to do was keep hitters off-stride resulting in a very low BAA and a WHIP most years in the 1.100 range.  He said, “My favorite part was watching righties swing and miss my side arm curve...They usually didn't come close to hitting it. I also enjoyed it when the hitter would ask the ump to check the ball on my sinker because he thought I was doctoring it... ultimate compliment...”

Another Mets hurler who had great success with the drop-down delivery was Terry Leach.  About his favorite part of pitching that way, he said, “I enjoyed being able to get big hitters out, MVP and Hall of Fame players out pretty easily. Enjoyed how good that felt! When things were going good everything just felt so effortless.”

Later I remember the Mets bringing in a little-known pitcher by the name of Chad Bradford whose submarine delivery was even more extreme.  During his single season in New York he delivered a 2.90 ERA with a 4-2 record and a WHIP of 1.161.  Once again we saw success from a sidewinder.

The last true sidearm hurler I recall seeing in orange and blue was Joe Smith.  He came up as a rookie and had two successful years in which he appeared in 136 games and delivering a 3.50 ERA, though he was a bit wilder than his contemporaries when he was first starting his career.  He improved and now sports a 3.02 ERA for his thus far 12-year career.

One of the best-known sidearmers during the 1970s and 1980s was the Pirates’ reliever Kent Tekulve.   Like many funky-delivery pitchers, he started somewhat late as a rookie at age 27 but managed to pitch in the majors until age 42, amassing 184 saves and a career ERA of 2.85.  In an interview he was asked how he came using this style of pitching:

“I was always tall and skinny, when I was younger it just felt natural to throw sidearm. With my long arms and long legs, it was just natural to use that leverage. In AA, there was a scout for Pirates who came up to me and said you need to get good movement that's in the strike zone. Was getting good movement but was going out of the strike zone. I actually tried raising my arm angle and it was terrible. I was 81mph and flat. I remembered watching Ted Abernathy who was a submarine pitcher in the Majors at the time and got my thinking. I started fooling around in the outfield with it. It took a couple of years to figure it out, especially the breaking ball.”

Studies have shown that the sidearm pitcher is much less prone to rotator cuff problems than the more traditional hurler due to the reduced incidents of hyperabduction.  Furthermore traditional pitchers who through with their arm above shoulder height tend to create the illusion of a rising fastball which is created by the backward rotation of the ball.  Sidearmers, by contrast, have a forward rotation which lends to a natural sink.  That is one primary reason sidewinders are often cast as relievers during late game situations in which a home run could be devastating. 

It kind of makes you wonder why they are the exception rather than the norm.  In Japan the majority of pitchers use a sidearm delivery at least part of the time.  Perhaps it’s the old macho thing about wanting to blow a fastball by someone.  Or maybe it’s the fact that the seeming underhand delivery is associated more with softball than with baseball and it’s not considered “manly”.  Hey, I’m for whatever works. 


Tom Brennan said...

Very interesting article, Reese.

I have often espoused guys who pitch well but not well enough to try the knuckler - but going sidearm or submarine might be a far better idea.

Thru 2019, Joe Smith will have earned $33 million in major league salary, so to guys who are not really making it more traditionally, there is the sidearm / submarine approach to try for future fame - and millions.

Mack Ade said...

I always loved having a sidewinder coming out of the bullpen, following a speed ball starter.

This can really play havoc on the batters for a couple of innings.

bgreg98180 said...

Considering the injury frequency for pitchers in baseball, I would think the sidearm delivery should be explored more for todays youth.

Perhaps there is some form of a solution better than pitchers realizing that it is no longer an IF they will need Tommy John Surgery.
Now it is just a matter of when.

Things have reached a point in which some question whether they want it early some that they can get it out of the way and continue with the rest of their career.

Mike Freire said...

Good stuff, Reese........I would not have pegged you as "working the midway" at a carnival! (my wife actually participated in a traveling circus when she was younger, but that's a different article)

Didn't David Cone have a "drop down" type of slider? Laredo, or something like that.....

I agree that deception is as effective as "pure stuff" and it is curious why it isn't used more often.

Lastly....isn't one of the draftees from last year a side armer? (not sure of his name)

TexasGusCC said...

Great reading Reese, nice job. I expected Dan Quisenberry’s name in there somewhere...

Mike, the guy’s name is Villines and he should be in AA this year. Has actually done very well against righties and lefties.

Mack Ade said...

one writer working a carny... another's wife hitched to a travelling circus...

what kind of site is this???

Tom Brennan said...

Texas Gus, Villines indeed could be an up and comer of the sidewinder kind

Reese Kaplan said...

Quisenberry was indeed another very effective pitcher of that ilk. For the most part I was trying to keep a Mets' slant to the article, but I found that good quote from Tekulve and went with it.

The three-time All Star Quisenberry finished with 244 saves and a miniscule 2.76 ERA. I had not remembered hearing of his early demise, however, dying at just age 45 with a form of brain cancer.

Reese Kaplan said...

"Mack Ade said...
one writer working a carny... another's wife hitched to a travelling circus...

what kind of site is this???"

I'd say that's highly appropriate given the clowns in charge of the team for which we root.

Tom Brennan said...

Peter Alonso has slowed to .262 with 14 Ks in around 50 PAs. Vlad the Great is hitting .459 with just 1 K in 41 PAs

Reese Kaplan said...

Gee, I guess Vlad is working on his defense, too...miraculous cure occurring somewhere around May 1st?

Hobie said...

Carl Mays.

TexasGusCC said...

Reese said:
“I'd say that's highly appropriate given the clowns in charge of the team for which we root.“


Anonymous said...

Dodgers and Red Sox World Series Concludes

To me, I found the entire series really interesting and from several vantage points.

The Matchups

In the field, pretty even for both clubs (I felt) heading into this series. Pitching pretty much the same, pretty even really because both teams had key starters with either injuries, potential injuries looming or just plain arm tiredness from a long 2018 regular season just completed. It was kind of hard to tell which team really held the apparent advantage heading in.

The Managers

Two managers who knew how to draw up a batting lineup. Both teams had homerun guys, maybe the Dodgers almost too many to get into the games on a regular basis. This may have hurt LA some.

Dave Roberts versus rookie manager Alex Cora. Two professional athletes with 24 years of playing experience between them. I watched Boston all season and can tell you that Alex Cora may be a rookie manager, however, it never showed once all season. Alex was born to be a MLB manager and it showed every game he managed in 2018 including the World Series. I counted two questionable decisions Alex Cora made, all season. And that to me is remarkable. No one is perfect I guess.

Dave Roberts is also undeniably a very good manager with experience being such. But the Dodgers may be guilty of one thing the last few years in the playoffs and World Series, and that is relying maybe too much on starter Clayton Kershaw who holds an unsuccessful record in the playoffs. Clayton clearly looked arm tired and his fastball mph was noticeably down. I believe that Clayton Kershaw is a free agent starting now and it will be interesting to see if the Dodgers offer him a new contract. He's early thirties now in age.

Imagine the Mets picking him up? I try not to because it's too big a thing for me.

The Difference

To me, both team had some of their best hitters struggling most of this series. But Boston's best hitters showed up last night, i.e. Mookie Betts. Steve Pearce was sensational and won the prestigious World Series MVP Award. And yes, Steve will be back in Boston for 2019. It's a given now and Steve is a big league gamer for sure.

The other possible difference was that Alex Cora did out managed Dave Roberts to some extent, especially when it mattered most of all. Cora has a baseball computer mind. He is always thinking about situations and players the whole game, every game. If he uses analytics, he does not need to because he is that baseball savvy. He is on top of the situational game calling always and carefully weighing his next move. You can literally see it on his face in the dugout when the camera pans there. He always seems to intuitively know who to play and when to play them. He knows exactly when to rest players and make substitutions before the levy breaks. I guess some of that ability can be learned through experience, but Alex Cora is a rare find to manage your ball club. Indeed.

To me Steve Pearce and Alex Cora were Boston's true 2019 World Series MVP's.

Anonymous said...

Sarcasm Abounding Lately

My way of thinking on the 2019 NY Mets is simply this. Every good and competitive MLB team all have 4-5 key moves to make to make their own respective ball clubs even better.

Look at World Champion Red Sox

They need 4-5 new additions made to their 25 man roster. And they just won the World Series!

They need one more top-end starter added in and not just for insurance purposes, but rather to actually start. They have to take another look at their current rotation. It's getting a little bit old and one or two of their starters right now did not have the regular season that was expected of them.

Boston needs a definite offensive catcher. Their three here now are good defensively, but none can be counted on to produce runs.

Boston also needs a true starting second baseman. It's hard for me to see Dustin Pedroia coming back in 2019 at or maybe even near 100% after hi serious knee injury late in 2017.

And finally, maybe another late inning reliever and that's including if "The Spider Man" re-signs.

It's like I just said above, every good 2018 MLB needs to make 4-5 new moves/upgrades this off season to get better. I feel this same exact way about these NY Mets. Five upgrades.

So yeah, I am an optimist. Sometimes I have wished not, but that's how the heck I was created to be. I suppose. So suk it up you guys, let the rain wash away the last few seasons and get yourself ready for a whole new thing in 2019. A winning thing let's all hope. Stranger things have been done on this planet.

Collective consciousness works.

Mack's Mets © 2012