What's a gyroball?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 10 2006 4:11 PM

What the Heck Is a Gyroball?

A Japanese baseball pitch comes to America.

Download the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for The Explainer's free daily podcast on iTunes.

Ace pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is being auctioned off by his Japanese baseball team this week. Early reports indicate that major-league clubs may be willing to pay $40 million or more for the rights to negotiate with Matsuzaka, who is supposed to be able to throw a mysterious pitch called the gyroball. What is the gyroball?

A breaking pitch that's similar to a slider or a cut fastball. (Click here for a slow-motion video.) What gives the pitch its mystique is how it came to be: The gyroball was devised by Japanese scientist Ryutaro Himeno, who described the results in his 2001 book Makyuu no Shoutai, which translates roughly to The Secrets of the Miracle Pitch. Himeno had been modeling the movement of different pitches on a supercomputer, then decided to use his equipment to come up with something new.

Advertisement

The pitch he invented gets its name from its spin, which is like that of a football spiral. (Himeno calls it "gyro spin.") Most pitches in baseball either have topspin or backspin, but the gyroball spins sideways, like a thrown football or a bullet fired from a rifle.

There's some disagreement, however, about what the gyro spin actually does.

According to physicists, the gyroball should drop more quickly than a fastball. A standard fastball is thrown with backspin, which creates a lift force that keeps the ball in the air. A cut fastball has a lot of backspin with just a little sidespin to make it "curve," or break to the side. But the gyroball spins sideways with just a little backspin. That should make it break like a cut fastball and drop more quickly. (The gyroball won't drop quite as much as a curveball, which is thrown with topspin.)

In practice, the pitch may have more of a break than a drop. Baseball Prospectus writer Will Carroll, who has preached the gyroball's virtues for years, says he's seen the pitch curve 12 to 18 inches without much sinking motion at all.

Whether it has a sharp break or a big dip, some major leaguers and pitching coaches have dismissed the gyro as merely a variation on the cut fastball. The gyro has also been compared to a cricket pitch called the googly, which is also thrown with sidespin.

It's unclear whether Matsuzaka actually throws a gyroball. He's been evasive in interviews, saying that he might have thrown the pitch "sometimes accidentally." Carroll believes he saw Matsuzaka throw a few gyroballs during this year's World Baseball Classic. According to Himeno, at least two other Japanese pitchers use the pitch.

How do you throw a gyroball? According to Carroll, grip the ball between your thumb and your first two fingers, just as you would for a curveball. As you start to move your arm forward to throw the pitch, rotate your body toward home plate. On the release, press down with your fingers and twist inward to create the "gyro spin." This combination of body and arm rotation creates the right arm speed and angle for the best gyro spin. 

Explainer thanks Ryutaro Himeno of RIKEN and Alan Nathan of the University of Illinois.

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.