It breaks faster than a Mariano Rivera cutter. It's harder to hit than Rick Vaughan's fastball in the movie Major League. The gyroball is so elusive, in fact, that some speculate that it might not even exist. The gyro, which originated in Japan, is causing consternation in American baseball broadcast booths these days. But since science is fairly used to dealing with things that may or may not exist (extra dimensions, anyone?), we figured we'd give it a look.
This video shows Daisuke Matsuzaka, the new Boston Red Sox hurler, supposedly striking out a batter using the gyro. Before we get into how it works, let's look at two other popular pitches. For a normal fastball, the pitcher puts backspin on the ball, so air flows faster above the ball than it does below. The ball doesn't drop as quickly as it would if it were following a normal, gravitationally influenced path, so the batter's brain gets the impression that it's rising. And... he whiffs.
A curveball has the opposite effect: Topspin causes it to fall faster. And again, if all goes well, he whiffs.
The gyroball is said to move with a bulletlike rotation that prevents it from dropping like a curve or staying high like a fastball. In effect, it's a fastball that listens to gravity, following a trajectory unaffected by turbulence in the air.
Japanese scientist Ryutaro Himeno is widely credited with creating the pitch using computer simulations [see the published paper and video clips of the computer models here] with the help of baseball instructor Kazushi Tezuka. They published their work in a book, currently available only in Japan, called The Secret of the Miracle Pitch.
As for whether Dice-K, as he's known in the U.S., is actually throwing a gyroball in this video, that's hard to tell. Following Occam's Razor, the easiest way to find out would be to just ask him, right? That's not so easy, though. Numerous interviewers have tried to do just that, but he’s played coy, allowing the miracle pitch to remain a mystery. —Gregory Mone