The history of pitchers missing body parts is quite short. Baseball fans will recognize the name “Three-finger Mordecai Brown,” who, despite the nickname, only lacked most of his right index finger. Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1949 by the Old Timers Committee for a 14-year career that saw him win an astounding 239 games and possess an ERA of 2.06 over 3,172.1 innings. Jim Abbott spent 10 years in MLB despite missing his entire right hand. He would rest his glove on his right forearm during windup and place it on his left hand after pitch release. In 1993, as a New York Yankee, Abbott threw a no-hitter against Cleveland. Today, University of Tampa right-handed pitcher Dalton Ross is looking to add his chapter in this unique part of baseball history. We’re going to take a look at how he plans to do it.
Touch and Feel
Ross suffered a construction accident that cost him most of his right index finger before his senior season in high school. Determined to take the mound as soon as possible, he prodded his doctor for a timetable for return. Only 2 weeks after leaving the hospital, he started to play around, gaining a feel for the ball in his hand. Ross said that his blood would paint the baseball. Umpires did not appreciate it. Mechanically, Ross described himself as “the most stock righty ever” before his injury. A simple mix from an over-the-top slot. To be effective, he needed to find new ways to manipulate the baseball. Through meticulous practice, Ross transformed himself into an elite sidewinder that could violently sink fastballs towards the cleats of right-handed batters and frisbee a slider away from them. A dive into his pitch data is necessary to understand just how wild his movement profile is while using unorthodox grips.
Ross’ primary pitch is a sinking fastball that equates itself to a few of the most elite sinkers in MLB today. Some may scoff at the average velocity of 86.7 miles per hour and write it off as slow, but the 33.8 inches of vertical break would rank fifth among MLB arms. Ross aligns himself with the likes of notorious sidearmers Adam Cimber (Blue Jays), Tim Hill (Padres), Ryan Thompson (Rays), and Hoby Milner (Brewers). Furthermore, the 15.1 inches of horizontal break nearly matches the movement of sinkers thrown by Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish. His average sinker spin rate is 2215 and has a spin efficiency of 96%, making the velocity play up to the eyes of hitters. The video below provides a visual of the devastating movement that Ross generates:
BaseballCloud’s BallR technology allows us to position Ross’ fingers on a simulated ball to emulate his grip. His middle finger replaces his missing index finger, and his ring finger fills the vacancy left by the middle. He positions these two fingers inside the seams to best feel the spin off of his fingertips. His thumb and pinky remain on either side of the ball, maximizing the potential for horizontal movement.
Ross complements his sinker with a frisbee slider that induces ugly swings from righties or can freeze lefties with backdoor command. The pitch comes in at an average 77.8 miles per hour with a spin rate of 2354. Gravity has more time to act on the ball due to the slower velocity, explaining the 38 inches of vertical movement. Paired with horizontal movement of 5.6 inches, the shape of Ross’ slider looks similar to that of Royals’ flamethrower Josh Staumont. However, Ross’ sidespin slider better fits his arsenal than Staumont’s slider due to other factors in his movement profile. Ross possesses two pitches that break in opposite directions. He can tunnel these pitches to create a very uncomfortable at-bat for hitters. Watch as Ross paints this slider to a lefty, freezing him and inducing a late swing as it comes back towards the zone:
Below are several BallR-generated images displaying Ross’ fingers on a simulated ball. The ball is tilted in such a way to emulate the angle at which Ross releases. Again, the middle finger will take on the job of the index and the ring will replace the middle. The wrist acts like it should on any breaking ball, torquing in such a way to generate the slider spin.
Much like the sinker, Ross’ changeup movement data stacks up with some of the best changeups in MLB. Noticeably, the best changeup by vertical movement is from another sidewinder, Aaron Loup (Angels). Ross’ 42.3 inches of vertical movement would rank fifth in MLB. Loup’s first-place changeup moves 46.1 inches. Ross’ average changeup velocity of 77.9 miles per hour further likens his pitch to Loup’s, an average of 79.3 miles per hour. When also considering the horizontal movement of 14.1 inches and the spin rate of 1839, Ross’ changeup begins to take a shape similar to that of Rays’ lefty Josh Fleming’s changeup, a pitch that opponents hit only .105 against in a considerable sample size in 2020. This downer changeup provides a third direction for Ross’ ball to move, completing an arsenal that messes with the eyes of hitters.
Ross’ changeup grip is, to me, the most interesting part about his arsenal. The index, middle, and ring fingers are essential to throwing an effective changeup. What Ross has done to mitigate the effects of his missing digit is split his middle and ring fingers (indicated in red) to throw more of a split-change. As the pitch data dictates, Ross does not sacrifice any movement with this grip.
This past season, Ross pitched to a 1.76 ERA over 80.1 innings as a member of a NCAA Division II powerhouse school, racking up 90 strikeouts and achieving selection to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association South Region First Team. His unorthodox ways have brought him immense success. However, he does not want to stop there. Ross said that recently, he accepted several invitations to work out with MLB teams in preparation of the draft in July. He plans to pitch in a professional independent league this summer and continue his journey towards appearing in the bigs, showcasing his nasty stuff along the way.