DECATUR, Ga. – It is sometimes difficult to say where Rob Friedman’s professional work ends and his hobby begins. On a visit to his home outside of Atlanta, Friedman occasionally pauses in the middle of the sentence, looks at his phone, and then sprints toward his home office.
“Oh, let’s go,” he said, and ran away. “He just crossed out the page.”
WHO? It didn’t matter.
It was a Saturday before the pandemic, which was already getting serious enough to threaten the 2020 season. But as long as there was baseball somewhere – any baseball – Friedman’s responsibility would not change. He frantically flipped through his MLB.tv subscription for the inning in question, added a pink tail effect to each frame that tracked the movement of a slider, and tweeted the video to his 250,000 followers.
This happened several times during the afternoon. Friedman, who wore a red hoodie and jogger alone in his house, treated every strike as though he were cheering firefighters who put out the flames. It was the second week of spring training.
For the past six years, Friedman has, on average, almost 30 tweets a day as Pitching ninja, an account that has roughly as many followers as that of Mookie Betts, the star outfielder of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 2021, being ninja’d or being tweeted by Friedman is a badge of honor, even among big league pitchers. When asked how he learned to throw his curveball, Yu Darvish, a starter for the San Diego Padres, replied, “I contacted Pitching Ninja.”
Friedman has occasionally intercepted messages from pitchers during the games they are participating in. “Amir Garrett tweeted me last year,” Friedman said, referring to the Cincinnati Reds Reliever. “I’m like, dude, it’s the seventh inning.”
“I’m a pitching whisperer,” Friedman said before a smile parted his bushy black beard. It sounded silly even to him. He’s actually a 54-year-old attorney who heads the division of an Internet software company he co-founded in 1999. He never trained outside of youth and never played tennis in high school.
But in his double-ceilinged walk-in basement there was a pitcher mound and net, a can of Firm Grip, and a rapsodo – a machine that could measure the spin speed and the axis of each pitch.
“I always wanted to be a pitcher,” Friedman said. The real athlete in the family is his son, Jack, a second pitcher at Georgia Tech. Friedman volunteered to coach Jack’s youth teams. He noted that many trainers gave consistent advice, probably because the method worked for them. But Friedman knew that good jugs can come in different shapes. It became a mission, he said, to learn all he could, how pitching was taught, and who seemed to have the right answers.
Friedman found kin within a small circle of baseball wins on forums buried in esoteric corners of the Internet. Surrounded by coaches and coaches, he was the stupid and curious sports father who posted under the username mcloven on LetsTalkPitching.com. He discovered a network of skeptics and deep thinkers like Kyle Boddy, the founders of Driveline, and Paul Nyman, considered by some to be the godfather of modern pitching mechanics.
“We were just exchanging information,” said Lantz Wheeler, another coach and coach Friedman met through the forum. “Unlike Twitter, we didn’t try to reach the masses. It was just sharing knowledge about pitching. “
Friedman then began tweeting videos he found on YouTube or created using a screengrab tool downloaded from the Internet. He took on the handle @PitchingNinja as a nod to his wife who is half Japanese.
“I just started sharing things that I learned and people were like, ‘Wow, these are interesting things,” Friedman said. “You’d be wondering how people threw different pitches, so I started Then the conversation part – people were like, “Hey, there’s this boy who threw a nasty slider, can you get that?” I’d say, “Yeah, I get that too.”
The growth of Friedman’s feed says something about the rare conductivity of pitching for video and social media. It wasn’t exactly intended, but Friedman found that an action event lasting only four tenths of a second can be pretty catchy on a scroll. He popularized something called a pitch overlay, in which a sequence is condensed to explode several pitches from the hand at the same time, which vividly illustrates the evil movement of today’s best arms.
The harsh, unvarnished cuts of his videos seemed to reinforce the guerrilla nature of his not-so-insider account. He added emphatic nicknames (“Airbender”) or slogans such as “swords” when a batsman looked stupid trying to hit a pitch (the reference is from the movie “The Benchwarmers,” Friedman said).
“It’s that simple,” said Jessica Mendoza, a baseball analyst for ESPN. “But in order to be able to show the things that are dirty, nasty and creative in such a creative way and to have them in these short, easily digestible GIFs, I followed him early on.”
Mendoza said his GIFs and overlays helped make complex pitching concepts pop out. Rather than explaining how “depth” or “slope” made certain pitches more effective, Friedman was able to show this. She convinced her producers to sign Friedman to contribute videos to ESPN’s baseball television shows.
Friedman had a slightly more rocking relationship with Major League Baseball. In April 2018, he was awakened in the middle of the night by messages telling him that his Twitter account had been banned after league officials complained that his on-screen videos were in violation of copyright law. The night ban seemed to make him a folk hero among his panicked followers, especially those who felt like baseball had passed.
“I just thought, ‘OK,'” Friedman said. “I have time off.”
After about a week the league eased its stance and gave Friedman’s account his blessing as a paid contributor. He recently signed a long-form content production contract for the media company founded by Krug Trevor Bauer.
“He’s one of the most impressive accounts in the baseball world,” said Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman.
Stroman has corresponded with Friedman for years, and he doesn’t shy away from paying tribute to Friedman for his help along the way.
“As pitchers we miss a lot of it, we watch our own games,” said Stroman.
“I’m going to ask him,” Hey, send me Scherzer’s change, “or how Kershaw holds his curveball,” said Stroman, referring to all-stars Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw. “He can zoom in and find me a YouTube video.”
The diligence and ubiquity of his pitching-centric report can sometimes fool people that there is more than one ninja working behind the scenes. But no. It’s not that Friedman is against hiring the additional aid. It’s just that this might indicate that this is no longer a hobby.
“Do you know how to go down rabbit holes? I do that every day, ”he said. “I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘I wonder if Pedro’s move was something like Luis Castillo’s?’ Then I’ll go downstairs and try to compare them. “
Much of Friedman’s attention span is focused on videos of amateur pitchers sent to a second account. Flat floorthat he created two years ago. The lining is a conveyor belt of grainy, shaky home videos of young players showing off their mechanics and heaters. Friedman, who reviews every filing, even has regulate for tweeting, including highlighting the grade point average and the earned running average by pitchers.
It has already produced some amazing success stories. In August 2019, video of a 23-year-old software seller Throw 96 mph In a hall in Coors Field during a Colorado Rockies game, it went viral after being sent to and retweeted by Friedman. Nathan Patterson, the salesman, signed a contract with Oakland Athletics a couple of weeks later.
Friedman said Patterson’s story wasn’t as much a Cinderella story as initial reports suggested (it was watched by Boy Scouts long before the Coors video). But DJ Snelten, a left-handed man who’d spent time with the San Francisco Giants and the Baltimore Orioles, said he was considering quitting the game before his trainer contacted Friedman with videos of Snelten’s improved mechanics.
After Friedman shared a video of Snelten throwing 97 mph, a Chicago White Sox scout grabbed him within an hour, Snelten said.
“My agent called me and asked what on earth I was doing because his phone exploded,” said Snelten, who eventually signed with the Rays. “If Rob had never hit the retweet button, who knows what could have happened? They went from no phone calls to three to four a day for about two weeks. “
According to Friedman, Flatground was conceived after some of his son’s teammates struggled to travel to showcases that are widely considered to be the best – and sometimes the only – places for potential customers to perform in front of Boy Scouts. It bothered him immensely that the sport seemed to keep talented players from looking at it. “Baseball shouldn’t be a rich kid sport,” he said. “In order for the game to grow, it needs more access.”
As his following grew, Friedman began to sense something new: pressure. “It’s amazing that 10 people want to hear what I have to say,” he said. “If I make a mistake now, he will come back to haunt me. The second I screw it up, everyone will say, “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
It hasn’t happened yet.
“People came up to me to get my autograph,” Friedman said. “I’m like what the hell is that? I am a damn lawyer! “