Last summer I first learned about the new baseball metric of spin rate. Like many MLB teams the Orioles had started tracking the spin rate of their minor league pitchers, and had installed doppler hardware at Harbor Park to measure how fast the baseball was spinning on each pitch thrown by their prospects. At first I was amazed, but this turned to frustration as a twenty year old intern tried to explain the science to me for thirty minutes before giving up.
Here is what I was able to learn: Not all 90mph fastballs are the same! They spin at different rates. Most fastball are released with a natural backspin. If a ball is spinning backwards very fast it will tend to stay up rather than falling down in the zone. Whereas a ball thrown with less backspin tends to act heavy and drop. Pitchers that throw with lots of spin tend to be pop up pitchers since the ball stays up, whereas if there is less spin and the ball drops it produces ground balls. Some of the elite pitchers have very high spin rates on their pitches which makes the ball behave differently than batters are used to seeing. So in truth not all 90mph fastballs are the same. This explains why some guys who don’t throw as hard can be very hard to hit. In the past we called these pitchers “sneaky”, maybe in the future we will call them “spin outliers”.
As the science of sports keeps evolving we have a better understanding of what we are seeing. But part of me liked it better when we didn’t know, when a little guy like Greg Maddux was just an awesome pitcher. Maybe the next Maddux will be reduced to some formula of spin rate, arm angles and high level math.
For more information on the some of the new baseball metrics, and the company behind it check out: https://connect.baseball.trackman.com