Sidearm pitchers are a rarity in baseball these days, as players tend to learn their mechanics at a young age and pitch from very similar arm slots. Senior Ryan Schmitten wanted to do something different.
As a pitcher on the Washington baseball team, Schmitten consistently throws his fastball in the 80-90 mph range. The Puyallup native does not blow hitters away on speed alone though, but rather, on his strange delivery.
“I’m kind of a guy that’s going to try to finesse my stuff in there,” Schmitten said. “I treat it more as an art than getting the ball and just ripping, gripping, and throwing cheese down the plate. I’m gonna get up there and get an awkward delivery going, and just bring my weird stuff at you.”
Schmitten’s delivery relies heavily on the balance and preparation he has on the mound. It brings everything together, making his unique windup possible.
As a pitcher with a lower arm angle than most, Schmitten needs to be precise with his release point; if it is off by even an inch, the path of the ball can change dramatically.
“If I’m off balance, and I don’t have it distributed properly, the window of opportunity for release on the ball down low is so much less than up top for room for error,” Schmitten said.
Before beginning his release, Schmitten does his signature toe tap. To an outside observer this has little to no significance, but it provides Schmitten with a sense of calmness, which is vital as he strides toward the plate to deliver the pitch.
“It’s a comfort thing,” Schmitten said. “I call it a drag, people are always like, ‘Oh, you’re tapping your toe,’ but I think of it as a drag up to me being comfortable and being in the right spot. I’d say it’s more of a feel thing, just to make sure I’m ready to go.”
Next comes the windup and release at hip-level, which is significantly lower than most pitchers.
Schmitten’s style gives batters an unfavorable angle and a split-second less to pick up the ball and swing. In a game where the balls come flying over the plate, this slight difference can be crucial.
“There’s got to be a change to the hitters’ eye rather than just over the top and straight,” Schmitten said. “There’s a little bit of run, you’ve got to bring it down under, and show them the sink on the ball.”
The lower release point and upward angle of the ball makes things difficult for the hitter, but also the catcher.
Sophomore catcher Joey Morgan has experience first hand with the challenge hitters face when Schmitten is on the mound, and attributes his success to the substantial movement the low-arm angle creates.
“He pitches from a much lower arm angle, and he has a lot more sink on all of his pitches,” Morgan said. “He does a good job throwing strikes. … When you face a lot of guys for the first time, they throw a lot of fastballs, and with his pitches, that’s a big advantage for him in getting ahead in the count.”
Schmitten’s unique pitch is a hybrid of different styles, and not everyone agrees on what it should be called. Morgan describes it as a changeup, while Schmitten prefers to call it a screwball.
“It’s a little bit better and more effective than a typical changeup,” head coach Lindsay Meggs said. “It can sink and run away from a righthander and run away from a lefty like a screwball. Very few pitchers that pitch from that angle are able to get up into the low 90s, but Ryan can do that.”
Schmitten did not start out as a sidearm pitcher. As a young player, he was more conventional, but admitted to “screwing around” with a submarine throw from time to time. He had seen major leaguers do it, and thought it would be a cool and unique thing to try.
And thanks to a teammate at Puyallup High School, Adam Cimber, who would later go on to play for the Huskies, Schmitten learned the ropes of a sidearm delivery.
“I just kind of took after him and tried impersonating him,” Schmitten said. “It was just starting to work out for me, and I fell in love with it. I just kind of rolled with it and it worked. I thought it was always just fun to do as a kid. … Being able to actually do it and do it well, that made it really enjoyable for me.”
Schmitten’s high-school success led to the opportunity to play college ball, but during his freshman year, his career was put on hold. Schmitten tore a ligament in his elbow in 2012, and the injury necessitated a procedure commonly known as “Tommy John Surgery,” an operation that takes a ligament from the forearm and uses it to replace the one damaged in the elbow.
“I think it was just from throwing balls so long,” Schmitten said. “You see kids having Tommy John nowadays at 18 or 19. … I don’t really think my arm slot had any correlation to it, I just think my arm had a lot of miles on it and a lot of ball thrown. It was just about that time for it to go.”
After the surgery, Schmitten returned to play baseball at Pierce College before transferring to the UW after his sophomore year. As a Husky, Schmitten has become one of the team’s most valuable pieces of the pitching staff.
“It’s like having a whole other body on the team,” Meggs said. “He can start, he can close, and he’s able to come in in middle relief. He’s the definition of a swing guy, and he’s definitely made it easier on guys in that bullpen.”
Never one to take the easy route to success, Schmitten sees his unique style as a positive, and relishes in the fact that he has been so successful at a style so few have mastered.
“I saw it as a challenge to perfect something odd, which I like to do,” Schmitten said. “I feel like I’ve kind of perfected the mechanics of the sidearm throwing style. I really enjoy it.”
Reach reporter Shane Lantz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Shane_Lantz93
Reach Photo Editor Kaia D’Albora at email@example.com. Instagram: @kaiadalbora
Reach videographer Alexander Bosco at firstname.lastname@example.org.