What in the World is a Gyroball

In today's post contributor Adam Schuck covers the what, the why and the how around a particularly hard to understand pitch - the gyro spin slider through the lens of advanced technology.

Oftentimes, there is a blurry line between the distinction of sliders, curveballs, and sometimes cutters. To make the problem even more confusing, there are multiple types of sliders. Conveniently, there’s a video for slider pitch design already on the channel. This, along with the gyro spin video would be a good refresher before reading the rest of this blog. The type of slider I’m going to be talking about today is the Gyro Slider (Bullet Slider, Gyroball, whatever you want to call it). Specifically regarding how to throw it, who should throw it, how it can fit in your arsenal, and the science behind the pitch.

What is it?

A bullet spin slider, or Gyro Slider, is a pitch with very little to no spin efficiency and a gyro degree around 90°. Most pitches are effective because of the movement they generate due to a high spin efficiency, however the Gyro Slider is an exception. This is a pitch that is intended to have close to zero Horizontal Break and zero Induced Vertical Break with almost 0% spin efficiency. This means that NONE of the spin imparted on the ball is affecting the movement of the pitch. On a movement plot, this would end up at the origin (where the x and y axis intersect at (0,0)).

Since it does not move much, it is intended to be thrown very hard and look like a fastball for as long as possible (tunneling). What does a Gyro Slider look like? Insert Pitching Ninja plug. It is a pitch with what most would call “bullet spin” or “football spin”. Think about how both footballs and bullets don’t move during their flight, they just fall due to gravity. The Gyro Slider behaves the same!

How do I throw a Gyro Slider?

The end goal is to have the fingers pulling directly down the side of the ball, imparting very little to no back, top, or side spin. As much spin as possible should be gyroscopic spin (bullet spin). Below are some common grips.

For those who have never experimented with this feel before, thinking “throw is like a football” can be a helpful guide. In other situations, cues I’ve found helpful are as follows:

Issue: Too much like a curveball (Inducing too much negative vertical break).

Cue: Try throwing it more like you’d throw a cutter.

Issue: Too much like a cutter (Inducing too much positive vertical break).

Cue: Think more curveball and getting in front of the ball.

Issue: Too much sweep (additional horizontal break).

Cue: Try staying a touch more behind the ball through release.

By no means are these cues magical words that work for everyone, but overall I’ve found these consistently effective for at least better communicating the desired change we are looking for. There are a couple ways to tell if you’re throwing this pitch correctly with the simplest being observing a pitch on Rapsodo and checking for a spin efficiency under 10%. Second, and most practical for consistent feedback, is a baseball with a circle drawn on it. Release the ball with the circle oriented back towards you. You’re aiming for a circle that appears to rotate in place without wobbling. It would be good to use slow motion video from an Edgertronic or iPhone to check this every once in a while to make sure your eyes aren’t lying to you during catch play.

Who Should Throw it?

Most of the time, you’d like your breaking pitches to play off your fastball. Is there a specific fastball movement profile that pairs best with a Gyro Slider? The plot below shows the Fastball movement profiles of all MLB pitchers that throw a gyro Slider. (LHP are flipped to become RHP). Most are in the 1-2:00 range of spin direction (10-11:00 for LHP) which pretty closely matches the distribution of the rest of the population. So, it appears there isn’t necessarily a fastball movement profile that pairs best with this type of slider. That didn’t answer our question much.

Those that struggle to spin any breaking ball well, could benefit from throwing a hard gyro slider. Since most of the spin generated is not affecting the movement of the pitch, it doesn’t matter too terribly much how well you spin it. Typically, the harder the better here. If you can’t throw it within 8mph of your fastball, you should probably aim for a different type of Slider.

The most common way to incorporate a Gyro Slider is when it is used to cover the gap between the fastball and the rest of the arsenal. It’s sort of like a “filler” between a fastball and a breaking ball that moves a lot. Looking at a movement plot will help explain further.

The pitcher on the left has a Curveball with quite a bit of depth and movement. By no means is this a bad thing, but it does make things a little simpler for the hitter since once he identifies a downward moving pitch he knows where that is going to end up. As you can see, there is a large empty space where no pitch falls between the Fastball, Changeup, and Curveball. On the right, is the same pitcher with a Gyro Slider added into the arsenal. This provides the hitter with just another level of complexity to figure out and keeps them guessing.

If you’re wondering which MLB pitchers currently throw a Gyro Slider, this savant page is a great resource. Look for the yellow dots towards the bottom.

Is Higher Spin Better?

As I mentioned previously, those that don’t spin any breaking pitches well likely have a Gyro Slider as their only option unless they can throw something really, really hard. However, the Gyro Slider can be beneficial for those who have high spin rates as well. You may be thinking, “Wait, I thought gyro spin didn’t contribute to the movement of a pitch. How could spin rate possibly matter if the spin efficiency is zero?” Good question. Bear with me and let’s go full physics mode here for a second.

1. When you release any pitch, it has a velocity vector initially equivalent to the direction you released the ball.

2. Gyro spin is a measure of how much spin is parallel to the direction of travel.

3. Gravity acts on the baseball on the way to the plate, causing the path of the velocity vector to dip down slightly rather than be perfectly straight.

4. When gravity starts to take the pitch down, this causes the nose of the ball to appears to tip up.

5. This changes some of the gyro spin into what we call transverse spin (spin that affects movement).

Boom, science. Because of this late surge of transverse spin added to the pitch, the ball now has a slight amount of side spin. The higher your spin rate, likely the sharper and larger the amount of movement you are gaining is. This is the nitty gritty behind one of the many theories around how “late movement” is created. A great explanation of the above concept can be found here.

Wrapping Up

To Recap:

  1. A Gyro Slider is a pitch that spins like a football thrown with a perfect spiral
  2. If you can’t throw it hard, don’t throw it at all
  3. A good option for those with “gaps” in their arsenal
  4. #PhysicsAreFun

This blog is not meant to serve as a one-stop shop on sliders and pitch design, more so just a piece of the seemingly endless puzzle of our game. Hopefully, this piece provides a good introduction into the what, why, and how behind the world of Gyro Sliders. Follow along for more pieces of the puzzle in the coming weeks from Jake, Sam, Demetre, and myself.

Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @adamschuck44 with any questions or leave a comment below!

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