We are reader supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Also, as an Amazon affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases.
Of all the major American sports, baseball might be most like chess in terms of insider strategy. Figuring out a pitcher’s tendencies and attack philosophy can mean a world of difference in a baseball game — hence the fascination with sign-stealing and what is called tipping pitches.
Stealing signs is straightforward. All game long coaches, catchers and even fielders are flashing signs to each other to indicate what they want players to do, or just remind of something that odds say might occur next.
What is tipping pitches in baseball? Think of it in the high-stakes poker realm. If your opponent can give away any sign of how they will act next, you can use that information and adjust play accordingly to increase your odds for success.
Baseball players for over a century have tried to determine if a pitcher changes something before or during a certain pitch, to help make hitting easier. Here are some details.
- 1 Examples of Pitch Tipping and Pitching Tendencies
- 2 Dynamics of Tipping a Pitch
- 3 What Tips do Pitchers Offer?
- 4 How Do They Discover Tipped Pitches?
- 5 More Information about Tipping Pitches
- 6 Related Questions
Examples of Pitch Tipping and Pitching Tendencies
Pitch-tipping became widely discussed right after the 2017 World Series. It was said that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches early in the final and decisive Game 7, a period in which he gave the Houston Astros a 5-run lead. Today this is disputed because it was discovered that the Astros actually stole signs using a camera stationed beyond the outfield fences and somehow relayed the information to batters.
There are other famous examples, some of which were aided by technology. In Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Dodger Kirk Gibson hit a famous game-winning home run on a “back-door” slider he guessed was coming because of watching video and studying tendencies of pitcher Dennis Eckersley on certain batting counts.
The count got to 3 balls and 2 strikes, Gibson guessed back-door slider, and Los Angeles went on to a major-upset championship. But note: guessing based on a pitcher’s tendency is not relying on tipped pitches.
Dynamics of Tipping a Pitch
Tipping pitches means a pitcher has a change in his wind-up, delivery, or even pre-delivery routine when delivering specific pitches. This is vital because most high-level pitchers depend on changing the speeds of their pitches to keep batters’ timing off just enough to avoid solid contact.
With so many different types of pitches today — from curveballs to sliders, knuckleballs, change-ups, split-fingered, cutters, and two- and four-seam fastballs, among others — that a batter is almost always guessing. It is much easier to hit a baseball, or at least decide to not swing, if you know what’s coming.
The speed between a fastball and curveball can be 10 mph or more. A batter expecting a fastball might swing much too early, if in fact a curveball is tossed. Other pitches might come at the same speed but move quickly before arriving at home plate (e.g. the “cutter”), so the batter starts swinging when the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand and directs the bat head to a location — which will change just before the bat crosses through the hitting zone.
Hitting depends much on timing. Batters get only split seconds to decide to swing, and allow their brain to guide the bat through a hitting zone to meet the ball squarely with a round wood bat. They say hitting a baseball is the single hardest athletic act in sports.
It’s why batters (and coaches) spend a lot of time trying to get an edge regarding when certain pitches might come.
What Tips do Pitchers Offer?
A starting pitcher can throw around 100 pitches in a game, and as such his physical movements can reveal much in terms of how he might be feeling, whether he is fatigued, upset, melancholy and whatnot. The process of taking the ball back from the catcher, setting up on the pitcher’s rubber atop the mound, taking signs from the catcher, the windup and the delivery is multi-faceted.
The best pitchers always look the same while doing it — like the best poker players rarely reveal a facial tick or change in their tone of voice — to hide as best as possible their intentions.
Justin Verlander, Fastball, Curve, Slider and Changeup Overlay. pic.twitter.com/CmlBXw8b2c— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 31, 2017
But some pitchers might be unaware that a certain, seemingly minor, physical act can tell batters what’s coming. A classic example is a pitcher who might raise the gloved hand a little this way or that when throwing a curveball. Maybe a pitcher sticks out his tongue a little before the slider. Even the way they nod to approve a catcher’s sign could tell you what’s coming.
The list could be endless, and it usually takes coaches or bench players many games to figure it out. Some pitchers might take more time staring at the catcher’s mitt to focus the location of a fastball; or shake off a catcher’s sign, to indicate “give me another,” many times before finally delivering. That could mean an off-speed pitch like a curve or slider is coming.
The introduction of videotaping games and collecting footage from every game and on every player has truly made baseball a scientific marvel. Big money is being paid to statisticians and video-watchers who can give a team an edge in any particular series.
How Do They Discover Tipped Pitches?
With a lot of diligence and patience. See above: videotape helps a lot. Also, some players sit on the bench most of the time and would do anything to prove their worth since they get little time on the field to do so. The most savvy of these players pay close attention to pitchers, and base or bench coaches giving signs.
Sign-stealing has been around since, well, the moment signs were invented. It’s generally accepted in the game — except if you use technology to do so, as the Astros are suspected of doing in 2017.
The same can be said of tipping pitches. Once pitchers began to mix up the types of throws they would toss, batters started trying to figure out what was coming.
More Information about Tipping Pitches
- Baseball is a game of many things, failure among them. A batter can fail to reach base 7 out of 10 times yet still be considered successful. Hitting is so hard, trying to identify tipped pitches or pitch-selection tendencies has become the norm in the highest levels of the game.
- Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry used a phantom hand-wipe so opponents would not know when he was using his famous (and illegal) spitball. He would drag his throwing hand across his uniform as if wiping off his licked fingers. However, if two fingers were moistened with saliva, he would keep those fingers raised while making the wiping motion to leave the saliva there. He did the hand-wiping motion for every pitch, all game long, so batters assumed he dried all fingers before each pitch. Quite savvy.
- Tipping pitches is simply when a pitcher reveals what he is about to throw, without even knowing it.
What is a change-up?
A pitch where the pitcher uses the same motion to throw as if the ball would arrive at full speed; but by using a special grip the ball releases from the hand at a slightly slower speed. Batters see the body motion and think 94 mph and therefore begin to swing. Then, the head of the bat crosses home plate before the actual pitch arriving at 88 mph, for instance. It’s a “change up” from the fastball and is geared to disrupting a batter’s timing.
Can pitchers do anything when the other team figures out tipped pitches?
According to the rules, not really. However, pitchers have been known to send a message to “knock it off” by either hitting a batter with a pitch, or throwing hard balls close enough to several batters to intimidate them and hopefully end the shenanigans.