If Thrift could be remembered for one contribution to baseball, he would like it to be his theories on the two-seam and four-seam fastballs. Many pitchers don't pay much attention to what direction the seams are pointing when they throw a fastball, but after studying aerodynamics and watching thousands of pitchers work, Thrift concluded that it can make a big difference. A two-seam fastball is thrown with the pitcher's index and middle fingers paralleling the seams on the ball; while with the four-seamer the fingers cross the seams (see pictures, page 81). "The two-seamer sinks," says Thrift, "and the four-seamer is faster and explodes; well, doesn't sink as far. The pitchers in our system will use both pitches."
"The four-seamer has been around for a long time, like everything else in baseball," says Pirate batting instructor Milt May. "Guys like Koufax and Gibson had to have it. But Syd has carried it one step further. It gives certain guys another pitch to use. More velocity. Dunne was a fine pitcher when he got here, but the four-seam fastball gave him the edge."
Indeed, Dunne threw only the sinking two-seam variety when he came to the Pirates. After adding the four-seamer to his repertoire, he was 13-6 in '87 and the National League's rookie pitcher of the year. According to Doughty, the four-seamer also added 4 or 5 mph to the fastball of Gott, who, since being claimed on waivers last August, has become Pittsburgh's closer. "The toughest pitchers have both pitches," says LaValliere. "It's just another thing for the opposing hitter to think about."
And that's as Thrift-y as you can get. "The mind is the battleground," says Syd. "The guy who makes the other guy think too much wins."
Or as Doughty puts it, "All major league teams do things 93 percent the same. It's that seven percent that makes a difference. Syd's seven percent is like nobody else's."