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2021 Vanderbilt Baseball Mail Bag #3: Answers to Your Questions

Letters... we get letters... we get stacks and stacks of letters...

Daily Life In Dublin During COVID-19 Lockdown Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Question from Gawquon:

What makes a Greg Maddux special a Greg Maddux special?

For those who don’t know what this is in reference to, it’s what I call this pitch by Jack Leiter:

Back in the 90s, Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux was the ultimate “thinking man’s pitcher.” As a Phillies fan, I both hated and respected him for it—but more than that, young me tried to model myself on him as a pitcher.

Maddux consistently threw in the mid 80s, and yet was the most dominant pitcher of his era. How did he do it? Impeccable control and messing with hitters’ minds.

His single best pitch was a version of what you see Jack Leiter do in the clip above—a 2 seam fastball that begins off the plate, but cuts back to nip the corner at the last second. It’s often called a “cutter” when the action works the other way (from right to left). Smart pitchers use the 2 seam come-backer against lefties and the cutter against righties, as pitches that start outside, but come back to the meat of the plate are easier to pick up, and easier to hit.

Why does it work so well? Well, the smart pitcher also knows to bury a pitch here and there, and cut one in on a lefty from time to time. When they do so, they know it’s a ball, but it makes the batter freeze on the “Greg Maddux Special” for called strike three.

Maddux famously explained how he did it in an interview once, and then quite literally every pitcher in baseball tried to replicate it—but, of course, few could do it as effectively as Maddux. To paraphrase, what Maddux would do was grip the pitch like a normal two seam fastball when pitching to lefties, and as a normal cutter when pitching to righties:

The genius of Maddux’s innovation was in where he would add pressure. If he wanted to throw it inside to a lefty, but have it come back across the plate, he would grip the ball with more pressure with his right pointer finger than with his middle finger (and vice versa when trying to do the same thing to righties). It’s really simple, conceptually, but damn near impossible to perfect physically. Grab a ball and try it out in your backyard. See if you can keep your wrist from rotating. See how many times you have to practice it before no other part of your hand or wrist moves. See if you have enough grip strength in either finger to make it all worth a damn.

Mariano Rivera, for one, threw three versions of this pitch—and only this pitch—his entire career, and was the greatest closer in baseball.

When done correctly, and set up correctly by previous burned pitches, it’s completely unhittable. Jack Leiter throws it as effectively as Maddux and even harder than Rivera. In fact, Leiter throws it like a mix between Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez (of course, Martinez had longer fingers with other-worldly flexibility, so his moved like a damned Wiffle Ball. It’s a perfect pitch, and is about as unfair as a Randy Johnson slider to a lefty.

Just be glad he’s ours, and hope that Scott Brown knows how to teach it to everyone who comes through our program from now until the end of time. Hail Pinman.

Question from Athanatos 504:

1. Considering how cold it still is and the number of early home runs, is it too early to re-evaluate the power potential of this team?

2. Rocker showed some control issues in Game 3 that took about two innings to shake out. Any concern there?

3. What do we do about LF?

4. Any updates on Cooper Davis?

For question 1, that’s a big yes. I’d also add in this team’s relative youth in the lineup. As the weather heats up (and as hitters become more acclimated to college pitching), the ball will fly a few ticks further. As such, what Dom Keegan and Max “Power” Romero did this weekend is a harbinger of doom for SEC foes once we reach true Spring weather. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by our power output thus far. Gonzalez, Romero, and Keegan have the most juice in their bats, but I.T. can go on a heater and put up a spree of multi-homer games from time to time. Parker Noland and Tate Kolwyck can put a charge into it largely due to their swing plane. The young kid to watch for is Jack Bulger, though. He’s got a lot of raw power, and all he needs is to see enough SEC caliber pitching. Most surprisingly, of course, has been the power development in Carter Young. He’s already a gold glove caliber SS, but if he can continue to get it over the fencing they’ve set up, MLB scouts will want him badly.

For question 2: No, I have no concerns about Kumar Rocker.

I’ll answer questions 3 and 4 simultaneously, as the obvious answer is “Put Cooper Davis in LF when healthy.” Davis has been in Corbs ear doing his best “Put me in coach” routine quite literally the day his face exploded. He’s got a broken nose and some stitches, but all signs point to him wanting to be back in the lineup this weekend. Yes, this weekend. I think it’s insane, but I would not be shocked if we saw him in left against the Illinois-Chicago Flames. Will he be wearing the Bill Laimbeer/Hannibal Lecter face mask? All but assuredly.

Again, I suggest Murray Bannerman’s goalie mask for style and intimidation:

Question from Shoogymgshoogs:

Is Murphy the closer? If so, what do you do with Smith?

First, I do think Murphy has shown me enough to keep him in the closer role. If Brownie agrees, that means Smith is either the 8th inning guy, or back in competition for the Sunday starter role. I would assume both are kept in the bullpen and given equal shots to close.

Question from RocketCityVandy:

So, D1 Baseball’s preseason #1 was Florida. After Week 1, it was Ole Miss. This week, it’s Arkansas. Now that we have a touch of data, is the SEC gonna be a murderer’s row? And which one is worse for a potential champion: fighting through the SEC Baseball schedule, or fighting through an SEC Football schedule?

Yeah, SEC baseball is always a murderer’s row, but the 5 Rounds only 2020 MLB Draft turned it into the murderers from Con Air. I’d say neither “fighting through the SEC Baseball schedule,” nor “fighting through an SEC Football schedule” are worse for a potential champion. In fact, I can think of nothing better. Iron sharpens iron, so prepared to lay waste to out of conference foes in the postseason.

Question from VandyImport:

Is pitching Leit-Rock in both halves of a double header against a nonconf legally a war crime, and are we lawyered up?

The Geneva Conventions do not apply to baseball. We’re good.