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    • Interesting article on Contreras
  • To:All
  • 5/17/10
  • imp81318
<p>(since I copied the entire message, you'll have to click "read full message" to get it to display decently)</p><p>I thought this article from csnphilly.com on Contreras and his use of a true forkball was pretty interesting. Since we had the discussion on differences between various types of pitches (thanks for the detailed analysis there, JC), which I believe incorrectly labelled Contreras' pitch as a splitter, I found this article to be particularly timely as well as just generally interesting:</p><p>Salisbury: Phillies' Contreras Flips an Unusual Pitch</p><p>Jose Contreras reached into his locker in Denver last week and pulled out a softball.</p><p>No, Contreras wasn’t announcing that he was giving up Major League Baseball to join an over-35 beer league. (Why would he do that when he’s enjoying a career revival with the Phillies?) Contreras was simply showing a reporter how he holds one of the pitches in his arsenal – a pitch so unusual that it is believed no one else in the majors throws it. </p><p>When Contreras defected from Cuba in October 2002, the right-hander immediately became one of the most coveted free agents ever. As a member of the Cuban national team, he had enjoyed success in international competition. He packed a fastball that reached the high-90s in miles per hour, and a hard, biting slider. The advance billing on Contreras at the time of his defection also included this bit of ballyhoo:</p><p>He throws the best splitter in the world.</p><p>Contreras could heat a fastball up to 97 miles per hour. Then, without changing his arm speed, he could vary his grip and throw an 80 mph pitch that looked like a fastball until it dead-fished at home plate, leaving the hitter flailing at air.</p><p>Best splitter in the world?</p><p>It might have been true if the pitch was a splitter. But it wasn’t then and it isn’t now.</p><p>Contreras, who has ascended to Phillies closer as the team has watched Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge go to the disabled list, does not throw a splitter. He throws a forkball – a true forkball – to go with his slider and fastball.</p><p>Contreras has pitched seven-plus seasons in the majors, yet his third pitch is often misidentified. It is referred to as a splitter or a changeup. Phillies bullpen catcher Mick Billmeyer says the pitch has some of the action of a knuckleball. But it is none of the above. It is a forkball.</p><p>Contreras, 38, is a mountain of a man. He stands 6-4 and weighs 255 pounds. He has massive hands, strong with long fingers. The size of Contreras’ hand allows him to grip the ball in an unusual manner. He spreads his index and middle finger into a wide “peace sign” and wedges the midpoint of the ball deep into the “V” as if he were following the equator on a miniature globe.</p><p>There are other pitchers in baseball that spread their index and middle fingers wide on a baseball. (Former Phillie Freddy Garcia comes to mind.) What makes Contreras’ grip so unique is that he doesn’t so much spread his fingers around the baseball as he wedges the ball into his fingers. Also – and here’s the amazing aspect to Contreras’ forkball – he throws the pitch with no thumb support.</p><p>Contreras held up that softball last week in Denver to demonstrate. (He likes to fiddle with a softball because it’s bigger than a baseball and keeps his fingers stretched.) He wedged the ball deep between his index and middle finger and held it up for a reporter to see. Look man, no thumb. On his forkball, Contreras dangles his thumb off the ball. He said it never touches the ball, not even for an instant at release. He literally throws the pitch with two fingers and a flop of the wrist.</p><p>Contreras pointed to the underside of his wrist and made a flopping motion.</p><p>“Loose wrist is the key,” he said.</p><p>Loose wrist and huge, strong hands.</p><p>Go into the garage and fish out an old baseball. Now try to throw it with no thumb support. OK, maybe you can flip it a few feet. But throwing it 60 feet, six inches, with some velocity and command? Almost impossible.</p><p>“I can’t imagine doing that,” said Larry Andersen, the Phillies broadcaster who pitched 17 seasons in the majors. “It would be more erratic than my tee shot. I wouldn’t know where it was going. It must be like throwing a Wiffle Ball. The thumb is like a rudder on a plane. How do you know where it’s going?”</p><p>Danys Baez, Contreras’ former teammate in Cuba, has been in the majors since 2001. Baez, with confidence, said no one else in the majors throws a true forkball like Contreras.</p><p>“It’s an unbelievable pitch,” Baez said. “I don’t know how he does it. He’s a very strong man. He’s a nasty pitcher.”</p><p>More than a decade ago, Contreras tried to teach Baez the pitch, but Baez couldn’t pick it up. He throws a traditional splitter – fingers spread wide with thumb support on the bottom.</p><p>“He tried to teach me in Cuba, but I couldn’t control it,” Baez said. “It’s really hard to control. You have more control of a splitter.”</p><p>Contreras speaks little English. With Baez translating, he said he picked up the pitch while experimenting with grips as a teenager in Cuba. He got some outs with it and threw it until he perfected it. Splitters and forkballs can put pressure on a pitcher’s arm, particularly the forearm, elbow and shoulder. Phillies officials, in fact, have forbidden their minor-leaguers from throwing the pitch. Growing up in Cuba, Contreras and Baez were unaware of any risks that go along with throwing splitters and forkballs.</p><p>“It’s what you have to do to get people out,” Baez said. “You don’t think of what might hurt you.</p><p>“In Cuba there are no pitching coaches, no pitching counts. Contreras would throw 200 pitches then pitch two days later. There’s no setup man, no middle relief. A good starter goes nine innings.”</p><p>When Contreras’ forkball is working well, it registers about 80 mph on the radar gun. It looks like a fastball until it dies at the plate. When thrown well, it results in a swing and miss. The drawback of Contreras’ forkball is its unpredictability. If it comes in too hard – 84 mph or above – “it gets hit – hard,” Contreras said.</p><p>Control of the pitch can also be unpredictable. Because he essentially throws the pitch with just two fingers, command can come and go. For instance, Contreras had a difficult time controlling the pitch in spring training. Baez suggested that Contreras try to keep his thumb on the ball. Baez tried that in a game against the Minnesota Twins at Fort Myers. It came in too hard and Jim Thome hit it for a home run.</p><p>Contreras, used primarily as a starter since coming to the majors in 2003, earned the first save of his career on Saturday. He threw his forkball three times – it was misidentified as a changeup by MLB record-keeping – and all were balls. He relied on his 95-mph fastball, which can have excellent tail on a right-handed hitter, to get
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Edited 5/17/10   by  imp81318
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  • 5/17/10
  • jcballer

ahhh... i feel... vindicated? affirmed? I don't know, but I knew no one threw that nonsense, because it's ridiculous.

The quote from Mick saying it knuckles some times is what drives me crazy.

When young kids try to throw splits, the ball knuckles because their hands aren't big enough and the fingers don't spread enough, and the ball is basically lodged in their fingers like they are saying with Contreras, and the result is a ball with no spin that is impossible to control.

Now, Contreras... he does it on purpose, and he's the only man alive I know who can control it. There were relievers in the past - the 70's and 80's that messed around with it, but man oh man - I knew when I wrote that post in "the difference between a change and a curveball" that I did something right. I think they should credit me in that article :)

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  • 5/17/10
  • imp81318

Haha, yeah, I figured you'd get a good kick out of reading this. And it really was quite timely as well!

(uh-oh, I think we're starting to agree too much again!!!)

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  • 5/17/10
  • miguelmama

This is really interesting.

Have you (or JC) noticed the following...

A few years ago, I was watching "classic games" from ESPN from the 70s and 80s. I noticed that they said, "forkball" a number of times for the pitch that to me, looks like a plain old curve. Or possible a breaking ball. Anyway, the thing arcs down in front of the batter.

Did pitchers use more forkballs back then?

I thought it was just a term that was out of vogue.


Edited 5/17/10   by  miguelmama
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  • 5/17/10
  • phils_ftw
More interesting thread titles go topside!
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