For about as long as people have been playing baseball, batters have been looking for ways both inside and outside the rules to make their job of hitting that round ball easier. Sometimes, though, the pitcher inadvertently helps them out by tipping their pitches.
So, what does it mean to tip your pitches?
When a pitcher tips his pitches, he (often inadvertently) has a mannerism that he only exhibits before a certain pitch, giving information to the batter on the pitch that’s about to be thrown. Batters who know what pitch is coming, have a huge advantage because they can wait for that pitch.
Baseball is a game where a lot goes on in the periphery, meaning that many actions that are so subtle that a lot of casual observers (and even a lot of hardcore fans) may not see. So let’s dive deeper into this…
What Does it Mean to Tip Pitches?
Nearly every pitcher who plays baseball past Little League has to rely on at least two different pitches to get by, because it’s difficult as a pitcher to be successful when the hitter knows the same pitch is coming every time, unless you happen to be Mariano Rivera and can be the best closer ever just by throwing cutters.
A pitcher with multiple pitches means that the hitter must guess what’s coming, but pitch-tipping can take away a lot of the guesswork.
Since different grips and different arm actions are required to throw different pitches, sometimes pitchers have certain mannerisms before they throw a certain pitch, which may be just a subconscious force of habit that helps them throw that pitch effectively.
Pitch-tipping is one of those subtle things that the casual fan will most likely miss, but especially at the professional level, at least one player or coach will often notice.
There is nothing in the rulebook preventing hitters from de-coding tipped pitches since it’s entirely the pitcher’s fault, so once the cat is out of the bag, it is up to the pitcher to correct the habit or risk being exploited.
Examples of Tipping Pitches
As stated earlier, tipping pitches is usually a very subtle action. For example, someone told me about one of his high school games, when one player’s parent noticed in the first inning that the opposing pitcher held his throwing elbow against his side before he threw a fastball, but pointed it out towards third base whenever he was about to throw a curveball.
No one else seemed to notice, but the parent did.
There are many ways that pitchers tip their pitches, but it often involves a noticeable difference in placement of his hands, glove, or arm before throwing different pitches.
Even in Major League Baseball, pitchers still regularly deal with tipping pitches.
In Game 2 of the 2019 NLCS, TV cameras caught Washington Nationals’ shortstop Trea Turner demonstrating to teammates in the dugout how Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher Pedro Baez was holding his throwing hand lower in his glove before throwing a fastball compared to when he threw a slider.
In another well-known example, in Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, the Arizona Diamondbacks took advantage of Andy Pettitte coming set in different manners before he threw certain pitches.
Baseball America asked both hitters and coaches for other ways to tell whether pitchers are tipping pitches and came up with a list of 19 different ways that they have detected pitch-tipping.
Some of the more common signs noted on that list included holding their glove at a different angle (and/or occasionally wiggling it), as well as changes in arm slot, head position and glove height before or during delivery of different pitches.
How Often Do Pitchers Tip Pitches?
One of the hardest aspects of pitching is being able to repeat your delivery in a manner where throwing every pitch has the same motions before and during the pitch to minimize the risk of tipping pitches.
As a result, many pitchers will tip their pitches in some manner. The exact scope, though, is hard to pinpoint.
Since pitch tipping is invisible to most people and is not talked about often, you might think that pitch-tipping is not common, especially at the highest levels.
However, one expert believes that more than half of all MLB pitchers tip their pitches, meaning that it happens more often than you think.
Current ESPN baseball analyst and former MLB player and coach Eduardo Perez is known as a master at picking up pitch-tipping, repeatedly acknowledged how pitchers including Randy Johnson and Yu Darvish (and several others) have tipped their pitches.
Perez told Bleacher Report in 2018 that he believes up to 90 percent of left-handed pitchers tip their pitches in some way, which he believes to be a result of most southpaws relying more heavily on changeups (which have a unique grip) in an effort to neutralize primarily right-handed-hitting lineups.
He went on to say that he believes roughly half of right-handed pitchers tip their deliveries in some fashion.
Does Tipping Pitches Make a Difference?
If Eduardo Perez believes over half of pitchers tip pitches, then an important question is how much does showing your cards as a pitcher affect your performance?
The truth is, tipping pitches will negatively affect some pitchers, but won’t necessarily affect others.
Looking back at previous examples, in the 2001 World Series, Andy Pettitte allowed six runs in just 2.0 innings when he was tipping pitches. In the 2019 NLCS, Pedro Baez faced only three batters in Game 2, but allowed hits to two of them.
Perhaps the most well-known incident in recent years was in the 2017 World Series (more on that later), where Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish started twice against the Houston Astros, lasting less than three innings in both starts.
In the decisive Game 7, he allowed five runs in the first two innings and lost. Postgame, both Darvish and members of the Astros stated that he was tipping pitches.
However, other pitchers have not had the same ill effects, even if hitters knew what was coming.
More notably, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson was known for tipping his trademark slider his entire career, but it rarely mattered. Eduardo Perez took advantage, hitting .273 with four homers off Johnson in his career.
The rest of baseball did not, though, as Johnson won 303 games and struck out 4,875 batters in his career, the second-most all-time.
Of course, it all comes down to how well a pitcher executes their pitchers, and whether batters can hit them. The best pitchers can throw pitches so difficult to hit that knowing what’s coming makes little to no difference.
On the flip side, when a pitcher gets rocked, he might not have been tipping pitches; he might have just been throwing bad ones.
Also, remember that high school game I told you about when the opposing pitcher was tipping pitches?
Despite the entire opposing team knowing after the first inning, that pitcher tipped his pitches the entire game and threw a complete-game victory anyways.
Tipping Pitches vs Stealing Signs
We’ve already cited hitters picking up on tipped pitches as a way to gain an advantage over the pitcher. There is another major way to gain an advantage over a pitcher, and that is by stealing signs.
Stealing signs and pitch-tipping are related, but the difference is that de-coding pitch-tipping is completely legal, but some forms of sign-stealing are not.
In the immediate aftermath of Yu Darvish’s nightmarish 2017 World Series, he was quoted saying that he believed he was tipping pitches, and other sources agreed.
However, in November 2019, it was revealed that the Houston Astros were using an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, casting some doubt as to why Darvish struggled.
In short, the scheme involved using center field cameras to relay the catcher’s signals to the dugout, which were then relayed to hitters at the plate by someone banging a trashcan in the dugout to signify a certain pitch.
It is accepted practice in baseball to pick up on anything that can be decoded and used to you and your team’s benefit. In fact, there is no MLB rule prohibiting players, coaches, or other personnel from stealing signs—so long as they do so with the naked eye.
Pitch-tipping falls into this category because while a pitcher’s mannerisms before pitching aren’t necessarily signs, per se, it still involves the same idea of closely watching someone to pick up a pattern in order to correctly predict future results based on those patterns.
MLB rules, however, do prohibit the use of cameras, binoculars, or other foreign objects (which in previous incidents have also included telescopes, buzzers, and Apple Watches), indicating why the Astros were punished by Major League Baseball for their sign stealing.
As for pitch tipping, there is no way to enforce hitters to not take advantage of it, so de-coding it is and will remain a common and accepted practice in baseball. At that point, it all comes down to whether the hitter can take advantage or not.