Garcia: Challenging batters and physics experts alike

From Zach Schonbrun at the New York Times on August 5, 2012, with mention of SABR member Alan Nathan:

On April 29, 2011, in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees right-hander Freddy Garcia threw a low split-finger fastball to Juan Rivera that struck him out swinging.

It was a clear, cool night at Yankee Stadium. The catcher, Russell Martin, was set up on the inside corner of the plate against the right-handed Rivera, anticipating the typical splitter action: a sharp downward break, with perhaps a little tail toward the hitter.

But this pitch, video replays confirm, forced Martin to move his glove about a foot to his right, away from the batter, at the last possible moment.

The game continued without any mention of the pitch. But Mike Fast, then a writer for Baseball Prospectus who happened to be watching on television, noticed the bizarre movement and reached out to a friend, Alan Nathan, a physics professor at the University of Illinois.

Nathan had published numerous papers on the physics of baseball and pitching. But he, too, had never seen anything like what Garcia had done. This was not simply the Magnus effect — the principle responsible for the curve in a curveball.

“There was something else going on,” Nathan said. “The left-right movement wasn’t determined primarily by the spin; it was determined by something else.”

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Originally published: August 6, 2012. Last Updated: August 6, 2012.