Turn on any professional baseball game on television and you are most likely to see pitchers throwing in the 80’s and 90’s. You might even see a pitch break triple digits and hit 100 mph. Any ball thrown that hard will be in a straight line more or less. But what if the pitch did not travel in a straight line, but in an arch pattern?
That is exactly what an eephus pitch is designed to do. It is thrown very softly and intended to act almost like a slow-pitch softball. An eephus can be clocked in the 50’s and below – it all depends on how high the pitch goes. Obviously it needs to still be close to the strike zone, therefore the pitcher has to make the trajectory cross home plate or look appealing enough for the hitter to take a swing at it.
An eephus pitch is not something to be used over the course of an entire game. There is a reason the majority of professional pitchers throw harder rather than softer. On occasion though, when there is an aggressive or cocky hitter in the box, and he is looking for the heat, an off-speed pitch will throw his timing off. An eephus pitch will throw it off even more, but he will want to swing more than having the ball being placed on a tee.
Having seen one eephus pitch in a game myself from the batter’s box, there are fewer things that look better to a hitter. There is a waist-high fastball right down the middle. There is a hanging curveball that crosses home plate right in the plane of the swing of the bat. There is the pitch that you know what is coming because you were tipped off either by a teammate or by a tendency of the pitcher himself.
If you take all of those and combine them you get the eephus pitch: it is waist high (or pretty close), it is hanging in the air, and you know it is coming because the pitcher slows down his delivery and you can actually watch the ball rise and fall in the air.
The problem, as a hitter, is that you have so much time to think about the ball as it is floats towards you. Normally, a pitch takes less than a second or even half a second. An eephus pitch takes a few seconds, which can be four, five, or six times as long as a normal pitch. In mathematical terms, that is a 400% to 600% increase in time a hitter has to see the pitch.
Most batters will immediately think “home run”. Some will simply just now swing because the pitch is so different than what they are used to. Either way, everybody at the game suddenly takes notice at what just happened. Even the umpire can be duped and not know how to respond. In this video clip, the pitch is clearly a strike, yet the umpire is caught off guard and simply calls the pitch a ball.
Eephus pitch as good as a fastball?
The idea of an eephus seems contradictory to most pitchers, because modern baseball philosophy says to throw hard all the time. Few professional pitchers do not throw in the 90-mph range, and it is much harder to even get noticed by scouts if a player does not touch 90 mph. The thing about pitching is that as long as a pitcher can keep hitters off-balance and throws strikes he will succeed. No matter how hard a pitcher normally throws, a well-timed eephus pitch will come as a surprise to most hitters. It does help to throw harder so they have a bigger difference in speed to worry about. The eephus by itself is so unique that it can get the job done even if a pitcher isn’t breaking glass with his fastball.
An eephus pitch should not be used as a primary pitch. Despite the effectiveness it can have, hitters can adjust much more quickly to a slow pitch than a fast pitch. It won’t take long for a good hitter to see it coming and hit it out of the park. Take for instance Alex Rodriguez going yard against Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez.
For more analysis on the eephus pitch, from a former Major League pitcher nonetheless, check out this article by Dirk Hayhurst. He didn’t throw an eephus pitch himself, but he has good insight on the tactic.
Every pitcher needs to have something in order to get hitters out: high velocity, lots of pitch movement, command of location, abnormal delivery, or unique pitches. While an effective knuckle ball can be used as a primary pitch, an effective eephus is to be used sparingly. However, there are fewer things as interesting to see as a hitter taking a swing as an eephus pitch.