HomeTrending MLB NewsThe Gyro Slider: Another Variation on Baseball’s Most Popular Breaking Pitch

The Gyro Slider: Another Variation on Baseball’s Most Popular Breaking Pitch

Murry Dickson pitched eighteen years in the Major Leagues (1939-1959, with two years out for military service) and won 172 games, even though his fastball wouldn’t leave a bruise if it hit a batter squarely in the back. Dickson relied on a variety of breaking pitches, soft tosses, and, later in his career, knuckleballs, to get hitters out. In the mid-1950s, A Sport magazine article accused Dickson of throwing an illegal spitball. He indignantly denied the allegation, saying that he just put “woofle dust” on the ball.

Major League pitchers have been searching for the equivalent of that magical “woofle dust” since Cy Young was a rookie. The assortment of pitches that have evolved over the years in an effort to fool Major League hitters could fill its own dictionary: the fastball, the curveball, the fade, the upshoot, the downshoot, the drop, the screwball, the changeup, the forkball, the splitter, the “eephus”, the sinker, the cutter, the slider.

The MLB.com glossary defines slider as “a breaking pitch that is thrown harder and generally with less break than a curve ball.” The slider has been around since the first quarter of the 20th century, likely invented by the aptly named Hall of Famer, Charles Albert “Chief” Bender, and over the past 50 years has been a part of most pitchers’ arsenals.  In 2022, more than 20% of all pitches thrown were some kind of slider.

Lately, variations of the slider have become the vogue. Last season the Phillies pitcher, Zack Wheeler introduced a sweeper (a slider with much bigger horizontal break) into his repertoire. This year Phillies prospect Mick Abel has introduced the gyro slider into his arsenal.

The gyro slider was a new one to me, so I decided to do a bit of research into this latest quest for “woofle dust.” A gyro slider, sometimes called a “bullet slider” is thrown with the same spin as a football, that is with a spiral motion. Unlike a regular slider that has a sharp horizontal break and slight vertical break, the gyro slider barely breaks at all. The downward motion of the ball is imparted only by gravity. The horizontal movement is minimal, 1-5 inches to the pitcher’s glove side.

The gyro ball was invented in Japan. Several Japanese pitchers are on record as having thrown the pitch. Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka introduced the pitch to the Major Leagues when he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2007. Matsuzaka even developed a DVD to show pitchers how to throw the pitch. But Matsuzaka was coy about his use of the pitch in games, saying he did not throw it often.

According to Alan Nathan and Dave Baldwin in the Baseball Research Journal, the gyro slider can fool a batter in four ways. First, the pitch appears to be a fastball, but gravity makes it drop. Second, the effort put in spinning the ball takes velocity off the pitch, so that it acts like a change of pace. Next, the unusual spin of the gyro ball can make the pitch hard to recognize for a batter used to the more conventional spin of a curve or slider. Finally, a batter who is looking for a slider could mistake the gyro pitch for a conventional slider, since the “dot” created by the spin of both pitches is similar.

With all its possibilities for deception, it might seem that pitchers would be rushing to add the gyro ball to their repertoires, but this does not seem to be the case. In addition to the above-mentioned Mick Abel, Luke Jackson, currently with the San Francisco Giants, is known to throw it. Jackson has talked about how the pitch “remade his career.” Other pitchers who are said to throw the pitch are Kansas City Royals relievers Amir Garrett and Daniel Lynch, Robbie Ray of the Giants, and Mitch Keller of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

If more pitchers learn the pitch in the minor leagues, and if Major League hitters continue to have trouble recognizing the pitch, it is a sure bet that we will be hearing about many more pitchers experimenting with the gyro slider.


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