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TAFT, California —— A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes.

And so when you come across a crisp image of Taft College righty Chase Nistor driving to home plate, his index and middle fingers split almost halfway around a baseball nearly on its way towards an unsuspecting hitter, you take notice.

Maybe it’s the tumbling action on the pitch that draws you in, or the reaction from a hitter. Look closely and you can almost see the wheels turning in his head after swinging through strike one. Where did that pitch go? I thought it was a fastball.

Or maybe you take notice because night after night, game after game, at every level and on every college and professional field across the country, nearly every pitcher does the same thing: average fastball, arm-side two-seam run, serviceable slider, lagging changeup. Every now and then a guy steps up with an overhand curve.

Sometimes it’s a hammer.

Usually, it’s a slurve.

But a splitter? And one that tumbles enough to be a go-to pitch late in a one-run game? You don’t see that quite as often.

Ask Nistor about the pitch after his two-inning save in Taft’s Thursday win over College of the Sequoias, then, and you quickly see a knowing smile cross his face before he answers the question.

A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.

“That’s the most frustrating pitch that I throw,” he says, grinning. “It’s hard enough to get a consistent grip on the ball, and every baseball feels just a little bit different, so that makes it harder. But when I get it right, and when I get that grip perfect, man, it’s just the most fun pitch to throw.”

There’s an art to throwing a splitter, and Chase Nistor might be starting to figure it out. This isn’t Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball, but the Canadian righty—who will play at Indiana Tech next year—has fast become one of Taft’s better arms, carving out a swingman role with two wins and two saves in ten games (three starts) this year for the Cougars. Days like Thursday, where Nistor entered in the eighth, made quick work of the Giants, and earned a second inning of work to close out a one-run win, are all part of the process proving that things are heading in the right direction.

Of course, progress isn’t always linear—especially not with a pitch as sink-or-swim as a splitter.

“I know the catchers get mad at me sometimes, because occasionally it comes out of my hand almost like a 12-to-6 curveball, and then two pitches later it’ll come out like a two-seam, and cut hard in,” Nistor admits. “Some days it’s on, and I know I can get it for a strike right away, and the next day it’s a completely different pitch, and it only works buried [in the dirt].”

That, in a nutshell, is the splitter.



Major League reliever Justin Miller once told me about how the lightbulb finally turned on for him when, thanks to teammate John Axford, he finally learned how to throw a truly hard slider. An 85 mph off-speed pitch, Miller realized, was never going to be as good as a 90 mph one, and a few more miles an hour meant more room for error if he missed a spot or couldn’t miss a bat.

For whatever reason, that realization has always stuck with me. Whether it’s a Major Leaguer like Miller—who played his JuCo ball down the road at Bakersfield College—or a relative unknown like Chase Nistor, the baseball world is full of parallels if you’re willing to seek them out.

Slider or splitter, there’s one parallel for any reliever with a power off-speed pitch, no matter the level: miss bats.

Nistor may not know Miller, but the lesson is the same—and it’s a hard one to learn.

“That’s the same approach I take,” the Taft pitcher says of Miller’s realization. “As soon as I start thinking about the pitch, as soon as I start thinking about what I need to change, or what I need to do, it flattens out, it’s not hard, and it gets left up.”

He takes a beat.

“Man, that’s an easy pitch to hit when it gets left up.”

Nistor must inevitably improve the splitter as he transitions to four-year ball, and his ability to make that leap will then dictate his baseball future beyond that. But look beyond the vexing inconsistency of the pitch, past the maddening, almost random balance between wipeout strike three in one at-bat, and worthless batting practice fastball to the very next hitter. Talk pitch grips and mechanics and command until you’re blue in the face, but the process of building a power off-speed pitch like this is far more art than science, more feel than physics.

Why else would it have taken Justin Miller eight professional seasons to learn his off-speed offering?

To that end, maybe Chase Nistor already understands the winding path to discovering a true off-speed hammer.

“It’s all feeling,” he says, flashing another grin. “When it comes out of my hand, I know.”


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Bobby DeMuro

Bobby DeMuro is the founder of Baseball Census. A former college and independent league baseball player, he now watches more than 200 games a year working full time for the site. You can follow him on Twitter @BobbyDeMuro for more.

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  1. […] Taft College: Chase Nistor, Justin Miller, and the patience and art behind throwing a really good … […]

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