Pitching may very well be the closest sport comes to being art. Though football has created the closest thing to a recreational form of military tactics that we'll ever get, pitching demands the utmost focus and devotion to one's craft that any athlete can muster. It's one thing to run faster than someone else or to hit a receiver downfield, or even to hit a half-court three. There's no question that Steph Curry is doing something truly beautiful with the way that he's shooting the basketball. And there's little doubt that the surgical airstrikes that Cam Newton's been calling in on opposing secondary units are the result of a commitment to the refinement of his freakish athletic abilities.
However, pitching is a different animal. Pitching is as much about what doesn't hit the strike zone as much as it's about what does. It's about applying just the right amount of pressure with certain fingers on certain points of the ball to make it move in a certain way. It's about sequencing and knowing the batter. And most importantly, it's about repeating your delivery.
The movements that go into pitching are unnatural. It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the shoulder and elbow. These parts of the body are tested to their absolute limit time and time again, once every five days if you're a starting pitcher. Somehow, all of these moving parts combine to fire a small ball of cork covered in hide and string at velocities approaching, and in some cases, exceeding, 100 miles per hour. If you can throw different pitches in the same exact fashion, you've got a great thing going for you. Some pitchers are brilliant in their simplicity.
This is Alex Wood, currently of the Dodgers, formerly of the Braves. If there's one thing that scouts love when they watch pitchers, it's a herky-jerky, hard-to-repeat motion. It's practically poetry in motion. Let's break it down bit by bit.
This is the start of a basic leg kick. Pitchers start to propel themselves towards home plate by posing like a flamingo and then throwing themselves down the mound. Unlike flamingos, there is no prancing or preening involved here, just simple physics. Flamingos also can't throw baseballs due to their lack of hands. Flamingos also cannot be signed to major league contracts. Wood, fortunately, has hands, and he is not a flamingo.
Despite appearances, Wood is still not a flamingo. He is not acting out an intricate mating dance that ornithologists will study over and over again to write their dissertations. He is not preparing to do a mid-air spin as part of a Cirque du Soleil routine. He is throwing a baseball.
That hasn't stopped him from spreading his wings. There are some pitchers that tuck the ball behind their hips and back to add more deception to their deliveries. Ubaldo Jimenez is perhaps most notable for the little hooking of his wrist he does at the start of his delivery, if not for the perfect game he threw that one time. Wood has taken this strategy and brought it to its most logical conclusion. Not content to merely hide the ball, Wood has cleverly hidden a long piece of fishing line at the bottom of the left field foul pole and tied the other end around his wrist. Once he begins his motion towards the plate, a pre-selected fan seated by the pole tugs on the fishing line. The batter is so distracted by Wood's arm shooting out towards third base that he doesn't realize the ball is headed towards him until it's far too late. It's an unorthodox if brilliant approach to the art of pitching.
By pitching with this fishing line tied around his wrist, Wood not only distracts the batter, but he also works out his left arm every time he throws a pitch. For all intents and purposes, he's got his own little Bowflex machine set up out there.
It seems to be working. Wood has a career 3.95 DRA in 439 big league innings. For someone that's not even assured a spot in the starting rotation come the opening of the 2016 season, that's pretty good. Be it through mating dances, fishing line or simple good movement on his pitches, Wood has carved out a fine little career for himself. If you've got a left-handed youngster at home that's interested in being a pitcher, show them footage of Wood and head over to your local tackle shop.
What do you mean you want them to watch Clayton Kershaw? Nonsense. That little hitch in his delivery is a fad that will surely go out of style.
Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also covers the Yankees at BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.