What is an Eephus?
Until recently, I thought I knew what an eephus was. I’d seen videos of old-timey eephuses, and they always looked something like this:
And sometimes, like this:
In the modern game, pitches with such a glorious arc are nowhere to be found, except for the occasional position player pitching. <But Ethan, there are still a few real pitchers that throw one!> Yeah, Hypothetical Reader, you may think that. But this is chiefly a result of some perhaps misguided tweets like this one from the incredible Pitcher List:
Everyone knows that what eephuses have in common is their unusually low velocity, right? An eephus is just a really slow pitch, right? So we can say that all eephuses are slow, and all slow pitches are eephuses, right?
Well, Reader, I’d like to present you with Danny Duffy’s seven “eephuses” from 2016:
Not only are none of them below the traditional eephus bar of 70 mph, but three of them are ABOVE 80 MPH! <K, well those probably looked like eephuses> FALSE, READER! Observe:
When our intuitions are questioned, we usually turn to a higher power. In this case, an 80 mph eephus seems to contradict everything we thought we knew about this pitch. <It sure doesn’t look like an eephus, but if the MLB says it is, then it must be!>
You see, sometimes we can’t blindly trust authority. Especially on important matters like this. When the MLB says a pitch is an eephus, don’t take their word for it. Find out for yourself. The truth is out there.
(Not to mention that BaseballSavant says that R.A. Dickey threw 73 eephuses in 2016 which sounds like a joke my grandpa would tell. “What do you call a knuckleball that doesn’t knuckle? An eephus!”)
Since we can’t trust the MLB to tell us what is and isn’t an eephus, we must discover the truth for ourselves. We all agree that that Duffy “eephus” was just a slow curveball. And no matter what the MLB asserts, slow curveballs are not eephuses.
An examination of a couple recent eephuses holds what I believe to be The Truth about the essence of the eephus:
Didn’t catch the difference? Like the conspirators that we are, lets look at these grainy frames as if they have captured a couple images of Bigfoot.
THE RELEASES ARE DIFFERENT! Alfredo Simon’s eephus was thrown like a fastball, while Greinke’s was thrown like a curveball! This is a breakthrough in our investigation. Eephuses are thrown like fastballs, and curveballs are thrown like curveballs! But, without looking at every single pitch in slow motion, how can we know for sure whether a pitch is an eephus or not?
To answer that, let’s look at one of the more famous eephuses of all time, courtesy of Yankee southpaw Dave LaRoche.
Would you say that that pitch “broke”? We don’t have pitch tracking data going back this far, but the only “breaking” going on here was pure gravity. And that’s what an eephus is! Other historical names for the pitch reference the fact that there is no break at all. According to a 2008 New York Times article, LaRoche called this pitch “La Lob,” Steve Hamilton called his eephus the “Folly Floater,” and Bill “Spaceman” Lee called his the “Spaceball.”
In theory, an eephus should have no horizontal break. It just goes up and then comes down. In practice, a pitch won’t ever have exactly zero horizontal break (especially one thrown with a curveball grip). If we had data on the tilt of these pitches in question, we would expect that eephuses would have tilts similar to fastballs (12:00 to 2:00 for righties) distinguishing them from curveballs that have tilts closer to 7:00 for righties.
But in general, if a pitch has reasonable break it should be considered a curveball regardless of its velocity (or lack thereof).
Well, I have bad news for fans of the 2018 eephus.
Of the 192 “eephuses” so far this season, 70% had more than an inch of horizontal break, including the Greinke pitch from before. In fact, Greinke throws a curveball in addition to an eephus! According to Eephus Theory, if we plot the horizontal and vertical movements on Greinke’s curveballs and eephues, the curveballs should have positive horizontal movement and the eephuses shouldn’t.
Here it is. The nail in the coffin. Zack Greinke doesn’t throw an eephus. He throws a slow curveball. How about James Shields? He doesn’t have any pitches categorized as curveballs, but if we plot his “eephuses” over Greinke’s curveballs…
…we find that Shields’ “eephuses” actually move more than Greinke’s curveballs. James Shields doesn’t throw an eephus. He throws a slow curveball.
<So let me get this straight, Ethan. An eephus isn’t just any slow pitch, but a ball thrown like a fastball with low speed but little horizontal movement? Also, most of MLB’s categorizations of eephus pitches are incorrect, often mistaking slow curveballs from just a few pitchers as a high percentage of the league’s annual eephuses?>
Yep! Here’s a good guide if you’re ever confused:
NOT AN EEPHUS: