Q&A: Rob Friedman of Pitching Ninja talks Mariners' pitching staff
"He’s got a Cy Young ceiling." Find out who the "Pitching Ninja" loves on this Mariners staff, and much more.
If you are a baseball fan, especially a young baseball fan, you have probably heard of Rob Friedman. Friedman is the founder and owner of Pitching Ninja and the Flatground app. The man loves pitching, and players around the league fantasize about their highlights making his account.
The owner of one of baseball's most popular Twitter accounts is here to talk about the Mariners’ pitching staff, how he started Pitching Ninja, and much more! Please feel free to subscribe and share, the video and audio of our conversation will be at the end of the article.
How did Pitching Ninja start? What is the story behind it, and what made you wanna grow this into the monster you have created?
RF- I still don’t know what made me want to grow this thing. Basically, I just started coaching baseball. It’s not like I was a great baseball player growing up, but I had a kid who was playing baseball. For some reason everybody wanted me to coach, so I stepped in. You know, I was a lawyer, so I just started asking questions. I didn’t want to teach what I was taught because I didn’t think it was any good, and I knew there had to be a lot of advances, so I just started asking questions of some of the smartest people that I knew.
I started with some internet message boards. Kyle Boddy from Driveline started out there, as well as Ben Brewster from Tread Athletics. We were all part of the same message board group and just started asking each other questions, bouncing stuff off each other, and really taking apart pitching mechanics. It ended up that I was coaching for a while, but I knew I wasn’t going to coach forever. So I wanted to pass along what I had learned over the years to help other people who didn’t have as much time and money on their hands to spend on all these gadgets and crap.
So I did that and just started sharing it on Twitter. More and more people got interested and it just grew organically. I had no plan, I still don’t really have a plan to conquer the baseball world or anything like that. It’s just what I wake up and want to do. It really started totally innocently, and then MLB players started following me. This must be good stuff, but I was always in shock that anybody would be interested in what I had to say. I still am. But it’s been fun.
It feels like every pitcher wants to end up on Pitching Ninja, it is almost like one of their goals to have their clip show up on your channel.
RF-That still amazes me. Like a guy will make his debut and say “Mama I made it because I got on Pitching Ninja.” I’m like, you just made your MLB debut. You made it THEN! I mean I think it’s awesome, and I never lose the fact of that perspective that it’s just awesome and fun every day.
So Justin Topa is in the Mariners bullpen and having a great year. He credits the Flatground app as helping him get noticed, can you explain that app to those that don’t know about it?
RF- As my Twitter account started growing I had a lot of scouts and everything following me. Players both high school kids and guys who weren’t in an organization would always keep tagging me in stuff, and I don’t want anybody to go unseen because they don’t have money or have geographic concerns. There has to be a way to share these folks with my followers, but you don’t want to water down the content you are putting out there by retweeting a bunch of high school kids and have everybody go, “I don’t wanna see this.” And then trolls and everybody else get involved.
I just thought it was better to start a whole new Twitter account focused on getting people seen. It’s really designed to help younger kids get coaching for free, and people can always chime in and give feedback on mechanics. It helps high school kids find college coaches and that happens every single day. And then MLB scouts or pitching coaches can find folks to pick up in their organizations that have either improved or they are just looking to make a jump. That part is always really fun, and he (Topa) was one of them. There has been something like 40-50 folks that have been picked up by MLB organizations from Flatground. That stuff is always really cool because it makes me feel like I have helped them in some way.
So transitioning to the Seattle Mariners is obviously a really fun pitching staff. Probably one of the five best pitching staffs in all of baseball, kicked off by the acquisition of Luis Castillo. What did you think of that acquisition and do you think Castillo has CY Young ability in him?
RF- Well, I thought that acquisition was great. He has always been a fantastic pitcher with high-end stuff. I mean I always loved his changeup but also his fastball is electric. His personality is electric. He is one of those guys you love to watch, great K strut, is just a fun guy to watch pitch.
As far as his stuff, I mean I have thought for a while he has a Cy Young ceiling in him. The question is what year is it gonna be in? There always seem to be these little bumps and things that take you down, to win a Cy Young you really have to have few of those.
I think he can do it. I have no doubt he has Cy Young talent, and everybody considers him one of the best pitchers in baseball. Is he the best pitcher in the American League? He is one of them. I mean he certainly has a shot. So yeah, I think he has a Cy Young ceiling.
It just seems to be that high-end consistency he doesn’t have. We saw in the playoffs last year he can be as good as anybody when he is on. In my opinion, he was maybe the best arm in the playoffs last year.
RF- Yeah, he was one of those guys that (the playoffs) bring out the best in them. I agree with you, I thought he was fantastic. That’s one of those things that makes you see what his ceiling can be. I hope he gets there. But then again I think the Mariners have a few guys that have a Cy Young ceiling. So we’ll see! He may be battling it with his own teammates.
I agree. You actually got a chance to talk to a couple of those teammates George Kirby and Logan Gilbert. What did you take away from that conversation?
RF- Number one they are really good dudes. They are always looking to add to their arsenals, with good heads on their shoulders in many different ways. I think they understand themselves really well, Kirby is a much more even-keeled guy. I have made this comment before, but he has Greg Maddux-type command, with 10 MPH more velo. He is also just a good dude, a very easy guy to cheer for. He’s got a Cy Young ceiling I think too. The funny thing is, I told my wife if anybody asks her who her favorite pitcher is, tell them it’s George Kirby.
They will sit there and go, “Wow that’s brilliant. How did you know?” I’m like, if you follow and understand pitching you will understand why George Kirby is that good. I don’t know that his pitch arsenal blows anybody away like with any specific pitch, it’s just the way he uses them. His command is incredible. Like, usually that’s the last thing that comes for a pitcher and his (command) is like better than anyone else in the major leagues.
Gilbert is more flashy and a competitor. He is more like a Max Scherzer type to me, like he talks to himself on the mound, you know he dismisses people with the little hand wave when he strikes them out. You just see his bigger movements, but really good stuff. I love the fact that he picked up the splitter, Kirby said he did too. He tried to learn Gausman’s splitter, it just seems like they get along really well and there is a great comradery among the staff in general. I just think that makes all the difference, and I expect to see things click for the entire team.