How Does Pine Tar Help A Pitcher?

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When a pitcher throws a baseball, he gets his velocity from arm speed. Arm speed is enhanced by the use of his body. The legs, butt, hips and trunk generate the force to the arm and the arm delivers the baseball.

But what about the hands?

Pitchers with large hands are able to throw harder than pitchers with smaller hands and they don’t need as much arm speed to do so. If you watch a pitcher with a somewhat strange motion, little leg drive and pedestrian noticeable arm speed and they’re putting up a radar gun reading of 95 mph, there’s a great chance that they have larger than normal hands and long fingers. Jose Valverde of the Tigers regularly pops the gun at 94 mph+ without the powerful motion of a Tom Seaver or the clear leverage of Randy Johnson. He must have enormous hands to do it.

How does pine tar come into the equation to help a pitcher?

Pitchers sweat and their hands grow moist. No amount of wiping and resin is going to eliminate the underlying moisture that might compromise their grip on the ball. Pine tar is an inherently sticky substance that batters use to reinforce their grip on the bat, but it works for pitchers as well. The problem for pitchers is that it’s illegal.

Arm speed creates velocity, but the seams on the ball are where a pitcher makes the ball move. The more secure a pitcher’s fingers are on the seams, the greater rotation he’s going to get when he releases the ball. Because of this the movement is increased.

The seams are what’s responsible for the rise in a rising fastball; the cut in a cutter; the slide in a slider; and the break in a curveball. If a pitcher doesn’t have the seams, no amount of arm/wrist break is going to give him the movement he’ll get from the seams.

Pine tar increases the adhesion of finger to ball and with that, the spin.

As we saw this week with Joel Peralta of the Rays and in the past with Jay Howell when he was pitching for the Dodgers in 1988—both called out by manager Davey Johnson—pitchers place pine tar in their glove or somewhere on their body to use at their leisure. Other pitchers have been accused of doing it as well as we saw with Tigers’ pitcher Kenny Rogers in the 2006 post-season. It’s not a remote occurrence and while certain pitchers are brazen enough to stick it in their gloves where it can be easily found, others are more canny about it and place it surreptitiously on their neck; in their dip can; in some secret place that is easily hidden but accessible when they need it.

Any hitter can catch up to any fastball if it’s straight. If a pitch is moving, it’s harder to hit. Pine tar helps the movement on a pitch.

It’s a customary practice. Johnson found out about Peralta doing it and used that information to his advantage. But it happens all the time. Peralta just got caught.

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Justice MLB Style

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Due to lingering bad blood following his departure from the Rockies, Ubaldo Jimenez—a starting pitcher for the Indians—threw at former teammate Troy Tulowitzki intentionally in his last spring training start before the regular season. He hit him on the elbow; the act incited a near brawl and an increase in the rhetoric between the sides with each blaming the other.

Jimenez was suspended for 5 games to start the season which meant he’d miss one start.

On Tuesday Tampa Bay Rays’ reliever Joel Peralta got caught with pine tar in his glove during their game in Washington against the Nationals. Peralta is a former Nats’ pitcher and there was obviously some inside information in hand. Peralta was ejected from the game and yesterday MLB suspended him for 8 games—Washington Post Story.

Peralta, a reliever, could conceivably pitch in 5 of those 8 games he’ll be suspended for.

Is this fair? Is it equitable? Should their roles as starter or reliever be taken into account?

This is like a person being arrested for assault and given probation while a person arrested for possession of marijuana is sentenced to six months in jail.

The punishment doesn’t fit the crime and Peralta’s appeal should include the comparative nature and short-term given to Jimenez, whose actions were far worse than what Peralta did. Jimenez could’ve hurt Tulowitzi; all Peralta was doing was trying to get a better grip on the ball.

One was retaliation; the other was competitive.

This entire episode has degenerated into comedy and bewilderment.

Nats’ manager Davey Johnson called Rays’ manager Joe Maddon a “weird wuss” (I think you can translate that into street vernacular and it’s a major insult to another man). Maddon replied by calling Johnson “bush (league)” and “cowardly”.

The rules are the rules and if Peralta was cheating, Johnson is well within his rights to call it to the attention of the umpires. What I don’t understand is why he did it now. This was a card to hold for the post-season. The Nats and the Rays could conceivably meet in the World Series and if Johnson wanted to catch Peralta, that would’ve been a better time to do it.

As for Maddon, I don’t know if he’s a wuss, but he is a bit weird in terms of baseball managers with his lack of rules and new age, kindergarten-style “theme” road trips. Old school managers like Johnson—who doesn’t have many rules himself—do think Maddon’s something of an odd duck. Mostly because he is odd.

Personalities aside, a suspension of 8 games is too much. When taking into consideration that Peralta is a reliever and what he did wasn’t of a violent nature as was the case with Jimenez, 3 games is more than sufficient.

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