Written by Josh Smith (@HWLcommissioner) | Commissioner and Author/Editor | 04.19.2013
I wrote an article not too long ago about the nature of how and why the wiffleball curves. What I neglected to mention was a crucial technique that enables pitchers to better control the ball. This technique is called scuffing and it has been revolutionary in the realm of pitching throughout organized adult wiffleball. A wiffleball straight out of the box curves but it is very difficult to control just how much it curves. Pitchers found out years ago that you can influence the trajectory of the ball by manipulating it's surface. Simply put, if you rough the ball up a bit it has more turbulence. Not only does the ball curve more but it is easier to control since it's easier to grip and the roughness on the surface of the ball creates drag so it doesn't end up as being a wild pitch quite as much as a new ball often does. Many of you have probably already experienced a little frustration with wild pitches, am I right?
So there's a variety of ways you can scuff a wiffleball. You can use sand paper for starters. We tried this last year and we did get better results with ball control. It's funny how even a little scuffing can make a huge difference. The amount of walks fell quite a bit after we introduced scuffed balls last year. However, using sandpaper takes a little too long so we decided to go a level above sandpaper and used asphalt and cinder block. By using materials like concrete the surface of the ball is modified fairly quickly. We tried this near the end of the year and had favorable results. This is the method we will use for this year because any level above this, in my opinion, is quite unnecessary. However, I will go into a little detail about the more elevated forms of scuffing.
Only two other known techniques remain to be discussed: using screws and knives. Some of you may want to automatically want the knife but I assure you that any benefit that technique provides comes at a cost. The main problem with using screws and knives to scuff the ball is that it damages the ball quite a bit. Sure, scuffing in general damages the ball and decreases its lifetime but sandpaper and cinder block only slightly shorten the life expectancy of a ball. Balls that are screwed or knifed are lucky to last a season. Also you run the risk of ruining the ball while in the process of cutting it with a knife if you cut a little too deep. So for our purposes, using a knife just does not seem appropriate.
The wiffleball community as a whole is somewhat divided on the idea of scuffing. There are a lot of purists out there who think that manipulating the ball disturbs the integrity of the game and qualifies as cheating. Others feel that it is necessary to have any control over the ball and should be accepted as necessary evolution of the game. I tend to side with the latter in this argument because I've been playing wiffleball for over 10 years and have seen what works and what does not. Scuffing, for or against it, is an effective way to have a little more control over the ball. Therefore, it is allowed in this league. However, individual players will not be scuffing the balls. Greg Sowards and I will take care of that for you early this Tuesday evening.
The videos above are good examples of how to scuff the balls. The video on the left is done by a guy named Sean Steffy. He's in known in some circles as "Wiffle Boy" and if it were possible to get a doctorate in wiffleball this guy would have it. He's an expert on pitching wiffleballs and can do just about anything with one. He can pitch close to 100 mph and has posted how-to videos for the past three years. He even wrote an e-book (available on Kindle) on the subject. The video on the right goes into a little more detail about the patterns used in scuffing (especially knifing).
Some of you have some nice pitches already. I've noticed that Ryan Miller has a sick curveball that he's been working on lately. My go to junk pitch has been my cut fastball or slider but since half of our balls are not scuffed it has not performed on a consistent basis. Others have done quite well at throwing straight fastballs and fork pitches. Maybe with a little help from scuffing we can all improve a little bit and find the strike zone more often. Hitting the zone is not the only goal I have for pitchers using scuffed balls. It's also my hope that scuffing will lead to better pitching that challenges hitters. As a league, we've already hit over 100 home runs in just three weeks. At this rate we'll hit over 400 by season's end. That's way above normal! So we're going to move the fences back about 10 feet to remedy the situation a little as pitching improves through practice and scuffing.
I hope some of you found this article helpful. I'll go into more detail
about particular pitches in future articles but thought that starting
with scuffing was the best place to start.