Boston fans are among the most passionate and most knowledgeable fans out there, so I want to make sure that Red Sox Nation doesn't make the same mistake that the Athletics did for years. Chad Bradford is not a submariner.
You're probably looking askance at your monitor, wondering if I'm powered by a surplus of grain alcohol and a kick to the head today. "You moron," you're probably saying now, as if I could hear you through the monitor, "I saw that new guy that Theo got us on the mound against the Yankees and the guy's clearly a submariner. I was worried his knuckles were going to drag the Fenway dirt before he got the ball out of his hand every pitch." Certainly, you'd be right, but only to an extent.
Bradford has one of the most original and deceptive deliveries in baseball history. Its genesis is detailed in "Moneyball". Bradford compensated for a lack of velocity by dropping his delivery until further drops would necessitate a new Big Dig. If you missed his appearance, look at the picture.
This delivery is one that made my wife -- who at best tolerates baseball and my sick obsession -- jump from the couch and say "That can't be legal!" The righthanded batters that have put up a .546 OPS against him the last three years would like the league to pass a rule or perhaps Congress will come in with a law. Bradford's delivery, for all its deception and simple "oh my god" effect upon first seeing it is actually -- conventional. There's just one twist, literally.
Most pitchers toe the rubber, drive forward, bring their arm over the top, and end up facing the batter. Bradford doesn't. He gets the ball and kind of dips, lurching sideways, and bending at the waist as if a limbo pole has suddenly been placed on the infield. His arm skids across the dirt with the ball just inches away from the ground and certain disaster. He has hit the dirt with his knuckles on several occasions and once, in an interview, said that bloody knuckles were a good indication that his delivery was "a bit off."
Still, it took a long time for me to look past the sidewinding chicanery and notice that Bradford was nearly -- gasp -- a conventional pitcher. Bradford's legs, you'll notice, are roughly normal through the first portion of the delivery, until the weight of his torso and its momentum pull him to the ball side. Where the illusion comes in is in the waist. It's the twist that does it. Bradford is throwing the ball overhand; he just bends sideways to do it.
The next picture -- hardly a perfect rendition, but not bad (Thanks, Mike!) -- shows that Bradford's upper body and arm is in a good mechanical position for throwing a baseball.
Cut virtually in half, Bradford is doing what almost every pitcher does. The mechanical stresses, called kinetics and kinematics, are nearly the same. Bradford does put a great deal of stress on his back and abdomen, which played no small part in his spending most of the first half of 2005 on the DL. A healthy Bradford dominates righthanded batters in no small way, prompting one Baseball Prospectus staffer to say that it would be easier if Bradford just handed the ball to the third baseman to throw out the batter, cutting out the middle man in the inevitable result of his pitches.
So enjoy your new righty-killer, Sox fans. Just don't call him a submariner. He's just how I like my gin -- a pitcher with a twist.
Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus is one of the team of writers that has produced "Mind Game", a serious look at how the Red Sox won the World Series. His other books, "Saving the Pitcher" and "The Juice" aren't quite as popular in Boston. He's one of few guys you'll see in Indianapolis wearing a Dirt Dogs t-shirt.