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posted: 8/17/2014 7:40 AM

Spiegel: How to measure learned pitching wisdom

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  • Toronto's Mark Buehrle was practicing effective velocity long before it could be measured.

      Toronto's Mark Buehrle was practicing effective velocity long before it could be measured.
    Associated Press

 
 

Often in baseball, things that have been done for years can suddenly be counted and measured.

As the world began to appreciate the OPS stat (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), it became easy to go back and see who the best hitters were.

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As WAR became the accepted, albeit imperfect, measure of a player's overall value, you can look historically and find relative greatness.

Now there is a scientific concept on pitching, only recently coming to public awareness that puts a measure on learned wisdom. It supports an oft-quoted maxim from the great Warren Spahn.

"Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing."

Perry Husband is a baseball instructor who tried to gauge the old axiom about how a pitched ball seems faster or slower than it is, depending on location.

He succeeded. His concept of effective velocity is based on a hitter's response time. He has worked 20 years to find advocates within baseball, and many are coming around.

As succinctly as can be summarized, a bat trying to hit an inside pitch travels farther than one reaching for an outside pitch. The response to an inside pitch therefore must be quicker, meaning the pitch technically must be swung at as if it were faster than it is.

Effective velocity measures what many smart pitchers have done for decades; get the hitter to swing early or late. And this can be done by those with great stuff and those that barely touch 90.

EV says that a 90 mph fastball, if thrown inside, actually reads at 93 mph. If it's high and tight, it reads at 95. It's on the outside edge, where a batter can simply extend his arms and get there quicker, it reads at 87 mph. Low and away, it's 85.

So imagine the power of an intelligent pitch sequence that takes this stuff into account.

Watch Mark Buehrle. Think about what you've seen Kyle Hendricks do these last five weeks. See Chris Sale's growing dominance as he incorporates the changeup more than ever. And consider 2014, greatest season of Felix Hernandez's career, with a fastball 4 mph lower than when he debuted.

Greg Maddux was one guy taking advantage of these truths before they were ever measured. He once spoke of a specific sequence, which he said had never been hit hard in 17 years.

Changeup, up and in. Another changeup, down and away. Then a fastball, high and inside.

Using Maddux's known standard velocity, the effective velocity of that sequence was 83, 77, and then 94 mph. Good luck catching up to that, especially if you've timed an earlier Maddux fastball over the middle of the plate at 89 or 90.

Derek Johnson, Cubs minor-league pitching coordinator, is an on-record devotee of Husband's work. Even if he doesn't discuss the theory directly with the pitchers under his tutelage, you can see some of them utilizing the concepts.

Hendricks' run has been amazing, and in talking with him this week on the radio show, he seems like a guy who understands his limitations and how hard he must work to be effective. He studies the extensive scouting reports he's never had access to before, and plots out sequences to take advantage of weaknesses.

We'll see what happens when hitters begin to study him just as hard and it's his turn to go to the next level.

Husband talked about his work in a terrific piece by Jason Turbow on SB Nation, furthering the conversation. There's a lot to learn.

Effective velocity is not groundbreaking conceptually, but that's the genius of it, really. From Spahn to Maddux and beyond, excellence can now be charted, and maybe even enabled.

The radar gun alone is not king.

•  Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670.

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