Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Slow, Slower...
2006-04-26 10:11
by Alex Belth

Last week, Buster Olney wrote about how Mike Mussina has been making like Greg Maddux and throwing his soft stuff even slower. Today, Tom Verducci gives us more insight into why Moose has been so successful this spring:

"I threw in an intrasquad game in spring training,'' Mussina said. "People were like, 'Why are you pitching in an intrasquad game?' Really, the only reason why I did was that you back everything up from the start of the season, counting five days between starts, and five days before my first spring training start happened to be a day when we had an intrasquad game.

"So I'm pitching in this intrasquad game and [Jorge] Posada is up. The count is 3 and 2 and I throw a changeup. Now for some reason, Posada is right on the pitch and he smokes it. Hits it on a line. We got him out, but I was surprised that he would be right on a 3-and-2 change.

"So after the game I asked him, 'How could you be right on that changeup I threw you?' He said, 'I saw your fingers on top of the ball as it was coming out of your hand. I could tell it was a changeup.'"

What Posada saw were Mussina's index, middle and ring fingers splayed across the top of the baseball, a grip that makes it impossible for a pitcher to throw anything but an off-speed pitch. (Only two fingers, the index and middle, top the ball for a fastball.) Posada saw the dead giveaway, kept his hands and weight back and timed the changeup perfectly.

Mussina is 37 years old and has been pitching in the major leagues since 1991. No one had ever told him what Posada told him. So Mussina decided to change his grip. He slid his index finger more to the side of the ball than the top of the ball -- not quite the grip for a circle changeup, in which the thumb and index finger form a circle on the side of the ball, but a modified version of it.

The pitch worked perfectly. Not only was Mussina able to disguise the pitch, but he also was able to throw it slower and generate better downward movement on it. "It doesn't so much run,'' Mussina said, referring to the sideways motion some pitchers get from their changeup, "but it just kind of dies at the end. It tumbles under the hitter's bat. And to think if I didn't bother pitching in an intrasquad game, none of this would have happened."

A few years ago, I did a pre-season Q&A with a bunch of sportswriters. One of the questions I posed was whether Mussina would finally win 20 games that season. Most thought he'd be a lock for at least 15. We've seen Mussina break down with injuries for the past two years, and so the old "Will he win 20?" was not exactly the first question many Yankee fans had on their mind when considering Mussina in 2006. But wouldn't it be wunnerful if he did win 20 this year?

I know, it's a jinx to mention it, but screw it, Mussina has enough bad luck on his own--I'm not going to be the one that puts the whammy on him. Regardless, I hope he gets at least 15 and has a terrific year. It's been cool reading the comments section lately and seeing how many fans he has out there. Cliff and I have always been big supporters. Should be interesting to see how he fares against the Jays this weekend, as they get their second look at him. Friday night, which pits the Big Unit v. Roy Halladay could be something special too.

2006-04-26 11:20:25
1.   Dave D
I thought Unit was being bumped to Saturday so Wright could get a start in? I'm curious since I'm going to Saturday's game and I'd like to catch Johnson although Moose wouldn't be bad.
2006-04-26 11:20:37
2.   Cliff Corcoran
Except that the Yanks are giving Unit an extra day's rest and throwing Wright on Friday night, so no rematch of last year's thrilling duel complete games.
2006-04-26 11:21:29
3.   Dimelo
Speaking of slow, and slower.....check out ARod doing his slow masturbation technique.

Sorry for going off topic, but this was too funny not to share.

2006-04-26 11:56:35
4.   Sliced Bread
I'd prefer if the Yanks held Mussina back this weekend and let him work his Moose mojo at Fenway on Monday, but they won't.

Speaking of that team from New England, the Clemens back-to-you know where buzz seems to be growing loudah by the day.

I'm still guessing Rocket returns to Houston, but how actively do you think the Yanks are pursuing him? I imagine Steinbrenner has already sent Clemens a blank check to return to NY, in addition to a mock-up of his Yankees monument to be placed directly beneath Ruth's.

Johnson, Clemens, Mussina has a championship ring to it, don't you think, Raj?

2006-04-26 11:58:17
5.   bp1
All this talk about Posada and Moose and figuring out that pitch - isn't that what a pitching coach is supposed to do?

Any thoughts on the pitching performances this year w/ Guidry as the coach vs last year? Too early to tell? Coincidence? Fluke?

For real?


2006-04-26 12:08:22
6.   Mattpat11
I'm far more alarmed that Posada had this information for really, who knows how long and didnt share it with him. I doubt that at bat was the first time he saw that Moose's changeup grip was obvious.
2006-04-26 12:14:54
7.   Cliff Corcoran
6 See the entire thread to the previous post.
2006-04-26 12:19:54
8.   jedi
Since Posada is the self proclaimed "doctor" of this team. Can Posada pitch batting practice one of these days. Would be nice if he can find out whats behind all the AROD strikeouts these days.
2006-04-26 12:23:34
9.   rbj
Yeah, according to Gammons on BBTN last night (ok, that's not a very credible source, but) Wells is most likely done. So Peter - who is in the Hall of Fame, btw (why doesn't ESPN push that), wants Roger back in Boston. There is no way George is going to let Lucky Luccino out bid him for Roger. $20 mil and he'll only have to pitch for 5 months (June through October, spending May in Tampa, working out.)
2006-04-26 12:25:03
10.   Rob Gee
4 I think it just depends on his motivation, after winning:

Home = Astros
Money = Yanks
History = Sox

If the Astros are for real, I hope he stays. If not, I'm very worried about the return to Boston - that just seems like something Clemens would do - tie up a loose end and that move would celebrated more in the sport (the going 'home' stories, 20 years after '86, etc - gag, puke, bile) That seems to fit his ego.

2006-04-26 12:28:23
11.   Rob Gee
7 Cliff, you're assuming Jorge saw it for the first time in that AB and then Moose asked him about?

If so, talk about the planets aligning right.

Under that scenario, does Jorge bring it up if Moose doesn't ask? If no, then you can legitimately wonder if Jorge knew already.

2006-04-26 12:58:16
12.   Dimelo
Jorge's a bum. He also knew that Iraq wasn't looking for yellow cake uranium and he failed to tell Bush.
2006-04-26 13:11:01
13.   Nick from Washington Heights
Seriously, why attack Jorge on this one? It's entirely plausible that it's something he just noticed in one of his only at-bats against Mussina. As a catcher, it's possible that he wasn't able to see the tip as well.
2006-04-26 13:21:13
14.   Rob Gee
13 I, for one, don't think it's anything to attack Jorge over - I just think it's an extremely interesting example. I mean who's going to tell Moose how to throw a pitch he's been throwing for years? Not even the pitching coach has that authority. Moose asked the question, got an answer, and then he adjusted his grip on his own. The question of when Jorge knew is just an interesting aside - as a comment of how pitchers are the ultimate masters of their craft - Jorge can remind of what they should be doing, but he's not in a position to change anything.
2006-04-26 13:22:44
15.   Shaun P
Clemens is a servant to two things - money and his ego. He's going to get paid a boatload, wherever he goes, so I'm guessing his choice comes down to ego.

Clemens knows he can dominate the NL. He's smart enough to know he can't similarly dominate the AL. Right now he's "Roger Clemens, greatest pitcher of is generation, who put up a 1.87 ERA at age 42!" The stories about him will be much less flattering and awe-inspiring if he comes back to the AL and turns into "Roger Clemens, over-40 pitcher who shows flashes of brilliance but has a 3.75 ERA". It'll be bad in NY, but it will be ESPECIALLY bad in Boston, where he'll be endlessly compared to the Bloody Sock Savior.

Clemens is too ego-driven and too conservative to take that chance. I think he stays in Houston, or stays retired.

2006-04-26 13:24:40
16.   Shaun P
On the Posada-Moose thing, FWIW, Posada has 7 big-league regular-season ABs against Moose.
2006-04-26 13:27:28
17.   Sliced Bread
13 "And to think if I didn't bother pitching in an intrasquad game, none of this would have happened."

This indicates to me that Posada didn't notice Moose tipping his changeup until he faced him as a hitter.

re: the 3-2 changeup that Posada drilled off Moose. It was a 3-2 change that froze Matsui on Friday night to end the game with the bases loaded. Afterward, A-Rod and Jeter both gave props to the Orioles closer for having the nuts to throw a 3-2 offspeed pitch with the bases loaded, and the game on the line (even though it appeared to be a little outside).
Clearly, when a pitcher summons the nerve to throw a 3-2 changeup, nobody expects it to be touched. Mussina was shocked, which led to his crucial postgame chat with Jorge.

2006-04-26 13:38:08
18.   rbj
Are catchers going to be that focused in on the pitcher's grip? Aren't they also focused on baserunners (true, not all the time) and other stuff?
2006-04-26 13:40:52
19.   Rob Gee
17 Splitting hairs I know Sliced but it all depends on what Moose knows too and how Jorge would offer that kind of feedback. It could be that Jorge knew but as a result of of how he responded to that pitch, caused Moose to ask for feedback. So yeah, pitching in the intrasquad game mattered, we just can't be sure the reason why - Jorge seeing the change, Moose asking for feedback, or both.

Wow - deconstructing how Moose got his groove...good stuff.

2006-04-26 13:44:33
20.   Rob Gee
18 That's along the lines of Clifford's point from the last thread. That Jorge saw the change in that way for the first time b/c he was seeing Moose as a hitter, and not as a catcher - the things you look for and the vantage points are different.

I hope one of the beat guys can settle this:
Did Jorge know Moose throws a change when three fingers are on top of the ball? Would he have said anything if he wasn't asked?

These are the things I need to know.

2006-04-26 14:38:52
21.   Marcus
20 I'm pretty sure the players know Mussina throws the change with three fingers on top ("circle change"). Al Leiter taught us how to throw that pitch in the 2004 playoffs when he was the color commentator for Fox. The pitch perhaps isn't the standard change-up, but I don't see how Jorge couldn't have known that's the style Mussina uses.
2006-04-26 14:51:19
22.   Rob Gee
22 I think the question is whether Jorge knew he could use that info while batting against Moose. Moose didn't think so - now he throws more of a circle change with the index finger on the side of the ball.
2006-04-26 15:32:25
23.   C2Coke
The important part is that Moose got good stuff out of it, right? And I believe he appreciates the fact that Possada pointed it out more than anything. Why trying to figure out how long Possada's had that information? It goes back to what Cliff said before, "we don't hear about it doesn't mean it doesn't happen." Can anyone actually imagine the Big Unit talking to a reporter about how someone has pointed out something and had lead him to change the way he pitches? Teammates helping each other off the field is just something reporters don't get to see all the time and therefore something we don't get to hear about...
2006-04-26 15:33:34
24.   C2Coke
2006-04-26 16:06:18
25.   Rob Gee
24 I'm not saying it's important - I just happen to think it's fascinating. Call me a dork. But Moose asked. I'm just as interested in whether Posada would have said anything if he hadn't asked. My guess is no - he wouldn't have said anything. Then that begs the question - did he know already when he came to the plate? The logic may need work, but I'm still fascinated. It doesn't mean anything though - the results indeed are what matter.

But hitters telling pitchers about this stuff - I don't think it happens that often or at least not to have a pitcher change his grip. The grips are the pitcher's babies - they protect and nurture them. Some comment by a random hitter isn't going to force them to change anything. Moose is an amazing exception - he's used his three finger change his whole career and now he's changes it just like that? That's good stuff, esp. with the slowed down results. Just think indeed if the elusive 20 is the result - whatta story indeed Alex.

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