Rip Sewell won 143 Major League games, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He made four All-Star teams and garnered MVP votes three times. He was one of the best pitchers of the 1940s. How did he do it? By throwing pitches like the ones Brock Holt was throwing yesterday: eephuses.
The eephus is a slow, high-arching pitch that generally crosses the plate below 50 MPH. You’re not allowed to pitch underhanded in baseball, but the effect is similar to lobbing a softball towards the hitter. While it might seem like a terrible idea, guys like Sewell and Holt (who threw a scoreless inning Saturday) show that eephus pitches can indeed be effective against Major League hitters.
Forget Everything You Know
The thing about an eephus pitch is it forces the hitter to abandon nearly everything he’s ever known about hitting. I played four years of professional baseball, yet I’m average at slow-pitch softball, at best. The sports require two different swings due to the difference in speed and trajectory. The same can be said for facing a traditional pitcher compared to one who throws an eephus.
It also does a number on the hitter’s mind. A pitcher with an eephus all but eliminates his knowledge of the strike zone, as he’s not used to judging pitches falling out of the sky. This, in turn, makes him jumpy, or more prone to swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. All of these things help the pitcher and the defense, which is why an eephus, when thrown with the proper arch and spin, can get the best hitters in the world out.
There’s precious little variance in today’s game, sadly. Pitches like an eephus, knuckleball, and screwball are all but extinct, as an overwhelming majority of pitchers get by with high-velocity and hard-biting breaking balls. I think that sucks, at least from an entertainment perspective.
Zack Greinke will toss an occasional eephus. Position players like Brock Holt tend to mix in an eephus when they toe the rubber as well. Perhaps as the approach to getting hitters out becomes more universal, it will create more of an opportunity for an eephus pitcher to rise from the ashes, ready to baffle his opposition with 31 MPH waffles.
Did Rip Sewell have any great-grandkids?