10 April 2018

Book Review: Dick Bosman on Pitching

One of the joys I have in reading biographies of players and coaches is seeing where current ideas and philosophies originated.  Sid Hudson is a name I did not know and, yet, he has a major influence on modern baseball.  Learning who he was and his impact was one of the many kernels of fascinating knowledge that is held within Dick Bosman on Pitching, an autobiography with a bit of help from Ted Leavengood.  It is a remarkable book that not only informs the reader about Bosman's life as a professional pitcher and coach, but also important ideas and approaches that some think are new but are really decades in the making.  For instance, Sid Hudson's push on groundball inducing pitchers.

Pitching is an element of baseball that has struggled emerging from alchemy to actual data science implementation.  You still hear wild hypotheses with little support, such as the dreaded inverted W or emphasis on fatigue throwing in practice.  However, you do find threads of actual data science implementation over the decades.  You, of course, have your earliest attempts with box scores in the 1800s and notions that guys like Branch Rickey or Paul Richards had.  Similarly, you have guys like Sid Hudson with his personal knowledge of utilizing pitch to contact groundball pitchers.

Dick Bosman, a pupil of Sid Hudson, continued on down the path of groundball inducing pitchers, which was seen during his days in Baltimore as a pitching coach in the early 1990s.  It is funny how memory works because I remember him vividly while growing up with the Orioles.  His words largely impacted me on how I pitched.  I developed a nasty two seamer and I had a throw and forget mentality to pitching.  It is fascinating to me, years before the Moneyball groundball mantra, that I was impacted by a groundball guru in Dick Bosman who contracted the idea from Sid Hudson who probably got the idea from someone else.  Yet, this is still alchemy.  Ideas.  Not well tested ideas.  Notions with little desire to push beyond that.  The key was to them that this approach reduced home runs, reduced pitches per innings, and extended starts.  The Athletics (and others) later found this all to be true, mathematically.  Bosman et al. knew it to be true anecdotally.

Where Bosman crossed over into that data science implementation world was his creation of the side step motion to counter the rampant base running that existed in the 1980s.  He found that any catcher worth their salt had a pop time of two seconds or less (which is well evidenced with Statcast now).  He also discovered that good baserunners will get to second base in about 3.5 seconds if they get a decent lead and jump.  Therefore, Bosman realized that as a pitching coach his best way to limit the impact of baserunners was to develop an approach that would get the pitcher from his hand break to the ball into the catcher's glove within 1.7 seconds to have a decent shot at getting the baserunner out.

Did you just twitch?  Yes, this is an idea that Buck Showalter pounds and pounds and pounds with his pitchers.  It is something that hurt Jake Arrieta before he went to the Cubs and they did away with the time to plate ideology.  It is something that hurt Zach Davies before he went to the Brewers and they did away with the extreme use of the idea.  This may make you think Bosman maybe halfway hit on something.  However, Bosman also notes that a side step should not greatly reduce velocity or effectiveness.  You have to work with the pitcher and take him where he is comfortable.

Now, I think perhaps Bosman might well tell you he would prefer not to have a pitcher with Arrieta's mechanics, but I think he would also say that you need to find a way to make him as productive as possible.  He remarks about Roger Pavlik, who he describes as someone with mechanics similar to Arrieta but worse.  Bosman tried to get him to alter his mechanics, but Pavlik resisted.  This led Bosman to do what he could to put Pavlik in the best position possible given the opportunity.

One more tidbit (there are so many to choose from) was about Ivan Rodriguez.  Bosman describes some of the difficulties he faced as a pitching coach and sometimes how the players could impact what you were trying to do.  Even though he was deadset to kill the running game, he found that Rodriguez was too focused on that element of the game.  When runners were on first base, Rodriguez would call for balls away to get him in a better position to throw out the runner.  It led to hitters being able to anticipate the ball.  Rodriguez kept doing this, so Bosman had to instruct his pitchers to take control of pitch calling and shake off Rodriguez in those circumstances.

Bosman now is a minor league instructor with the Rays.  His knowledge over the years still works very well within the heavy data science approach of the Rays.  The book is fairly fascinating and I suggest spending some time with it.

You should consider going to the Barnes and Noble in DC on April 14th to meet him.


Dick Bosman on Pitching: Lessons from the Life of a Major League Ballplayer and Pitching Coach
by Ted Leavengood and Dick Bosman
278 p
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers

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