Tournaments : : Story
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Spin to win

Matt Czechanski        
Photo: Perfect Game

Jupiter TrackMan Leaderboard

Colleges, professional teams and independent scouts are always searching for the next thing that will give them the edge in evaluating, recruiting and discovering players. The age old adage about scouting pitchers has generally focused on velocity, but looking at how well a pitcher spins a ball may be just as valuable.

TrackMan Baseball was the talk of Perfect Game’s biggest tournament of the year, the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla. Through their 3D radar technology they track 27 points of data that take place on any given point of a play in baseball, from the time the ball is released from the pitcher’s hand to when the ball is back in his hand to start the next pitch.

All pitchers want movement on their pitches. The tighter the movement, the harder it is for a batter to barrel the ball up and drive it. At Jupiter, a fastball that spun between 2100-2200 revolutions per minute (RPM) slotted into the 50th percentile. The highest fastball spin rate was 2685 RPM by Nolan Martinez of GBG Marucci, who also topped out at 91 mph. In his one inning of work he generated one swing and miss on his fastball and two weakly hit groundballs that both left the bat at less than 65 mph.

For breaking balls, the number was very similar with the median at 2100-2200 RPM. The highest spin breaking ball was was Texas Scout Team Yankees righthander Dustin May who spun a 3105 RPM curveball. May also showed the ability to generate spin on his fastball as well at 2649 RPM while topping out at 92 mph. Though he did not generate a swing and miss, he managed to pair his curveball and fastball well together to get four groundball outs and two strikeouts.

One advantage these pitchers have is that they already throw hard. With both of them already topping 90 mph it gives them an advantage off the bat; the fact that they generate spin merely helps their cause. Where the value of RPM comes in finding pitchers who may lack the prototypical velocity but are still effective.

Righthander Andres Alvarez for GBG Marucci was one of the more interesting cases of this in Jupiter. Alvarez utilized a low three-quarters slot with a deceptive but repeatable delivery on the mound and threw a fastball that sat at 84-86 mph and topped out at 88. He spun his fastball at 2511 RPM and paired it with a tight 2507 RPM slider that dominated hitters. Due to his ability to repeat his release point and keep his mechanics solid throughout his start, Alvarez managed to toss six shutout innings allowing just three softly hit singles and striking out an impressive 13 batters.

On the 93 pitches he threw, he generated 24 swings and misses, split evenly between his fastball and slider. He may not have stood out just by looking at his velocity, but his ability to generate spin allows him to miss more barrels and either force those swings and misses or generate the weak contact that leads to groundballs.

At Jupiter, players who hit the ball on the ground had a batting average of .239. If you look at line drives on the other hand, out of 1,472 plays where a ball was marked as a line drive 1,065 of them fell for hits. That’s an average of .723.

Now, this isn’t to say that just because a player spins the ball at a high RPM, that he will in turn have success, the same way that a player who throws hard won’t necessarily win on that alone. A pitcher still has to keep the ball down, mix his pitches and follow through with sound mechanics.

For a brief overview, a higher spin rate is considered better, the same way a higher velocity is. To generate spin allows you to garner more swings and misses from opposing batters as well as weaker contact in general. Despite just throwing hard, a pitcher can still leave the ball straight and over the middle of the plate. If your ball moves more with tight spin, even at a lower speed, the chances of a batter barreling up a baseball and driving it in the air decrease.

To learn more about TrackMan and the data they procure please visit trackmanbaseball.com.

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