I’ve got a confession to make.
I love pitchers with funky motions. Mostly side-armers, though, I also love the old-time throwing styles of pitchers from the 60′s, like Koufax, Gibson, and of course this wouldn’t be a Giants blog without the mention of Marichal’s rock-back-and-huge-leg-kick pitching motion. But, what really gets my juices flowing are pitchers that throw with a sidearm motion, or even submariner.
Thats one of the reasons why I love baseball so much. The game has the uncanny ability for personalization. Doing things in your own unique way. This ability to add your own personal touch, or style, to the way you play the game adds to my enjoyment. Watch any basketball game and you’ll see that most players shoot the ball the same way. There’s going to be subtle differences here and there, but the mechanics are amazingly similar between all players. The same goes with football, watch any quarterback throw a pass and you’ll see that most of them look very, very similar. This is my opinion, so feel free to dispute it, but you can’t deny the almost universal nature of how these athletes perform their skills mechanically.
Now, watch two different pitchers pitch a baseball. One player uses a slow, long motion to hurl the baseball towards home plate. He throws straight over the top with a little hitch before he breaks his hands from his glove and fires the ball. It’s a unique motion to that player. Now look at another pitcher, he throws all bunched up, in a compact motion, throwing from a 3/4 delivery. His motion is fast and agitated looking. Two players doing the same exact thing, throwing a baseball, but doing it in completely different ways.
That’s the personal touch that I love about baseball. The idiosyncrasies of a player’s motions become just as famous as the player themself. They become who the player is and precede him in any conversation or description. They manifest themselves into something real. Rob Nen just wasn’t a fire-balling closer with nasty stuff, he had that wicked toe-tap thing he did before he released a 97mph fastball or a biting 92mph slider. That toe-tap became Rob Nen.
Back to the category of sidearmers.
I love the sidearming, slinging, whirling, and twirling because it’s extremely different. There are a million ways to throw a baseball but nothing looks so weird and unnatural as a pitcher throwing sidearm, or especially submarine like Chad Bradford. I don’t even care that much if the sidearmer in question is even that good, take for example Mike Myers, who has a career ERA of 4.29. It just-looks-cool. Also, for the record, the terms “sidearmer” and “submariner” tend to be interchangeable between people talking about these pitchers. You could talk to two different people and have them describe the same pitcher as either term. I tend to think of a sidearm pitcher as one who throws under a 3/4 delivery, on the “side” but not so low as to throw in a underhand motion, that to me, is a submariner.
I can’t remember the last Giants pitcher that threw from a sidearm or submarine motion, anyone? I think I have distant memories of Jim Poole from 1997 throwing from something resembling a sidearm motion but I can’t be sure. I may not be able to remember the last sidearming Giant but I can think of a future-to-be sidearmer that could one day end up with the Giants. I’m talking about minor league pitcher, Adam Cowart, who I was reminded of today when I was reading Baseball America. Every year BA has a “31st Team” detailing prospects who are just outside of their respective clubs top-30, but still interesting prospects.
Here’s what BA had to say about Cowart:
With his wide stance, sidearm release and total lack of any discernable stride, Cowart effectively quick-pitches every time he throws. That makes him a nightmare to hitters who haven’t seen him before, and it made him the perfect secret weapon when the Giants promoted him for the high Class A California League playoffs. He tossed three scoreless innings in relief of Henry Sosa to earn the victory in San Jose’s title-clincher. Cowart throws exclusively from the stretch and has dominated lower-level lineups on deception alone. He made San Francisco pay attention in 2006, when he began his pro career with a streak of 25 2/3 scoreless innings at short-season Salem-Keizer. Cowart’s fastball arrives in the low 80s but he spots it very well down in the strike zone. He also throws a changeup and slider, neither of which stands out much. Lefthanders give him some trouble and he could be exposed at higher levels, but he hasn’t gotten hit hard yet and the Giants will give him every opportunity to pitch his way into their future plans. Cowart’s most likely big league role would be as a reliever in the Chad Bradford mold. He’s headed to high Class A.
The Chad Bradford comparison is a good one and probably Cowarts top potential. He’s currently a starter right now in A-ball but should profile as a reliver in the bigs. I’ve been something of a Cowart fan since he was drafted and completed his first minor league season with the Giants in ’06.
Let’s take a look at Cowart’s stats:
YEAR LEVEL W L ERA IP H R ER SO H/9 HR/9 K/9 GO/AO 2006 A- 10 1 1.08 83.1 51 13 10 55 5.51 0.22 5.94 2.81 2007 A 14 7 2.39 169.2 152 59 45 95 8.06 0.21 5.04 2.27
Like BA said, Cowart works in the lower 80′s so K’s aren’t going to be his game. His K/9 ratio’s aren’t anything too impressive but when Cowart is at his best, he’s keeping the ball on the ground and letting his defenders do the work. In his first two years of minor league baseball, he’s posted a 2:1 groundball to flyball ratio, almost a 3:1 in ’06. Cowart is very stingy with the longball, too. In both seasons his HR/9 rate of .22 and .21 is incredible. For him to be successful, he’ll have to continue to keep the ball down and on the ground. Cowart effectively doubled his IP totals in ’07 and kept his HR/9 ratio the same. That’s some good groundball work.
The Giants have been slow to promote Cowart. He dominated A- ball in ’06 and pitched quite strongly in ’07 as well. Both years, the Giants have left Cowart where he started the season. Like BA stated, he should be heading for A+ ball in ’08 and I hope that if he continues to pitch well in A+ ball, that the Giants move him up another level to challenge him. Despite the pitching friendly AA park that the Giants play in, the talent jump from A ball to AA ball is a big jump. Hitters are more adept at breaking stuff and are generally much more advanced than their A-ball counterparts. Why not promote Cowart a little more aggressively? The Giants know what he is, a ROOGY in the making, and he’s not going to ever add any velocity. Depending on if he improves his breaking stuff, the Adam Cowart you see right now is probably the same Cowart that you’ll see in 2-3 years.
Cowart still has a long road to travel because of his stuff and unorthodox motion. The collective of sideramers and submariners that have made it to the major leagues before him show that it can be done, and done in a different way.