Zak Basch: Former minor leaguer Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's


1. Could you tell us your story on dropping down?

I was going into my freshman year of high school, playing around with different pitches. Two individual pitches I developed were a sidearm sinker and a sidearm slider. My first game of my freshman year, I realized in about the fifth inning that I never gave up hits when I threw those two pitches, so for the rest of the game, that’s all I threw. We won in extra innings; I threw all 10 innings and never threw overhand again.

2. What are some of the advantages you had from your arm angle?

Obviously the word “deception” is thrown around a lot, but that kind of loses its luster when you start facing top-level college and professional hitters. Really, I approached the game from a sinker-slider pitcher mentality: keep the ball down, change speeds, induce contact. The movement of both of my pitches—and the ability to throw them from different (sidearm vs. submarine) arm angles—made me successful.


3. If you didn't drop down, do you think you would have had the same success?

Probably not, although I often thought of reinventing myself in reverse; that is, making a comeback as an overhand pitcher, now that I know a little more about how to approach hitters. Also, I think being a sidearmer helped me get looks by scouts that I might not have gotten as a run-of-the-mill overhand right-hander.


4. What would you tell someone debating on changing their arm angle?

Practice and experiment. From my experience, there’s no “right way” to throw sidearm, so play around—a lot—until something feels comfortable. I threw sidearm for about 10 years, and felt that I was constantly making tweaks to my delivery. Don’t think you’re going to figure it out in a week. In 10 years, I don’t think I ever really figured it out; it was constantly a work in progress. Also, if you’re thinking about changing, you’re probably not having great success as a conventional pitcher, so what do you have to lose?


5. Are there any mechanical tips that you'd give to someone throwing sidearm/submarine?

For me, it was all about the release point. As cliché as that sounds, it was the truth. I was at my best when I found the happy medium between “pulling the ball” (release point too far in front) and getting a ton of arm-side run (release the ball too early). I was successful because of vertical movement on my fastball, not horizontal movement. My key was creating as much topspin on the ball as I could, and letting the ball run in a little to righties. I didn’t need to try to break bats, but rather thrown that ball down the middle with topspin and let it run inside. As for the slider, I just closed my eyes and threw it as hard as I possibly could every time.


6. What pitches did you throw?

I was a fastball-slider guy only. I toyed around with about 20 different changeup grips, but never really felt comfortable with it. I also tried to invent a riseball on a few different occasions, with mixed results. It actually worked a few times, but became very hittable (to say the least) when it didn’t rise, so that one got scrapped as well. In the early years, I threw a four-seamer and a two-seamer, but scrapped the four-seamer in college at some point.


7. How did you pitch to lefties/righties?

Pretty standard, nothing fancy. Righties I threw fastballs in and sliders away. I threw a ton of first-pitch sliders, and doubled and tripled up at will. When I was good there for a year or two, I was getting a lot of three-pitch strikeouts on sliders, after establishing that I could throw it early in the count for strikes, then expanding the zone with it when I got to 0-1 and 0-2. As for lefties, I’d throw two-seamers off the plate outside and pray that they’d roll over one. Or just walk them. I don’t think there’s a sidearmer on the planet that has a clue how to get lefties out consistently, and I was definitely no exception.


8. Lastly what was your favorite part about pitching from down there?

I loved the look on hitters’ faces when they would swing at a slider that ended up 18 inches off the plate. Also, there’s no better feeling than coming in a game with men on and getting a ground-ball double play when everyone in the stadium knows you’re about to throw four sinkers in a row.