Talking Orioles Baseball and … Dead Fish

My theme for the 2021 Baltimore Orioles season is “If you can’t be good, at least be interesting. I’ll use Roar From 34 to write about the quirkiness, color, and culture of #Birdland. If you know, you know.

Today’s topic: The Dead Fish

Cesar Valdez’s Baseball Reference page reads like a menu with two stops in Tabasco and a visit to Margarita.

Johnny Cash thinks he’s been everywhere? Hold Cesar’s Natty Boh, Man in Black.

Know what else is on the menu when we’re talking Cesar Valdez? Dead fish.

It’s Not Just Change-Ups That Are Known as Dead Fish

Cesar Valdez’s changeup earned its nickname thanks to its movement, its spin, and the frequency with which he uses it.

It wasn’t that Valdez succeeded in the bullpen that made it him unique; plenty of pitchers do that. It was how he excelled: by utilizing a bizzaro pitch more than 80% of the time. 

There’s a saying in baseball: throw your best pitch most. Valdez took that advice to heart.

The righty threw his changeup 83.2% of the time in 2020. Since the pitch-tracking era begun, it’s the only pitch (fastballs, cutters, and knuckleballs aside) that has a usage rate over 80 percent, per Fangraphs.

Although it’s thrown at 78 mph, the pitch plays up due to its extreme movement profile and its unique spin.

His dominance has earned the pitch a unique nickname: the dead fish. Although that moniker doesn’t inspire the same sense of fear as Williams’ “Airbender” or James Karinchak’s “The Freezy Boi“, it’s virtually as dominant as any pitch in the game.

Baseball Cloud

Valdez isn’t the first pitcher to have his changeup called a dead fish. In fact, the term isn’t reserved for changeups. Dave Stieb described his “batting-practice fastball” as a dead fish, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

John Madden similarly compares the pitch to a batting-practice fastball in the instructional video below.

The Orioles Have a History of Dead Fish

Mike Boddicker is thought to be the first pitcher to throw the Fosh, a mix of a change-up and a split-fingered fastball. Legendary O’s skipper Earl Weaver described the pitch as a “cross between a fastball and a dead fish.”

Meanwhile, a 1983 Sports Illustrated article about the Orioles incorporates a dead fish description of Boddicker’s “Foshball” by pitching coach Ray Miller.

Boddicker's most effective pitch is a forkball changeup, which Miller calls a "foshball," a contraction of "dead fish," the Orioles' term for change-up, and "fork," as in forkball. None other than Yaz himself has said that the foshball is unhittable even when the hitter knows it's coming.

Sports Illustrated, Sept. 26, 1983

Valdez Learned His Changeup in the Diamondbacks System

Valdez birthed the dead fish while pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ system in 2006, according to a 2020 profile of Valdez by The Sun’s Nathan Ruiz. Fittingly, it happened in Washington State.

The Diamondbacks’ organization required all pitchers to try and learn a change-up.

Yakima Bears pitching coach Erik Sabel taught Valdez the change-up. Apparently, it wasn’t a particularly memorable experience for him.

Sabel told The Sun: “I didn’t even know he was still pitching. I just kind of lost track of him.”

Dead Fish Aren’t Just For the Pitcher’s Mound

Angels in the Outfield? Try dead fish.

It’s tough to top a baseball headline like “Dead fish drops from the sky in Florida baseball game.”

Here’s a description from the Associated Press:

It wasn’t a pop-fly that landed in shallow right field during the eighth inning of a college baseball game.

It was a dead fish.

An osprey being chased by an eagle dropped the fish last Saturday near the second baseman as Florida’s Jacksonville University hosted Alabama’s Jacksonville State University at John Sessions Stadium.

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About Matthew Taylor

Roar from 34, a Baltimore Orioles Blog. Humor. History. Homerism. Since 2006.
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