Pitching Backwards is when a pitcher uses their secondary offerings rather than their fastball early on in the count. Cuba as a country has been described as and in certain ways is moving backwards. The concept of pitching backwards is analogous both literally in the style of baseball played on the island and figuratively of the current economic environment.
This pitching approach might be a necessity as the attrition of Cuban talent means the Golden Age of Cuban baseball is clearly in the past. However, if you find yourself in a funk after the World Series, or disenchanted with MLB’s further push into three true outcomes (Walk, Strike Out, Home Run). The Cuban Elite League just might supplement your recommended intake of Old School Baseball. The best part? It’s Free.
The 2nd Incarnation of the Elite League is 40 games. The top 6 playoff teams from the recently completed 62nd Cuban National Series are competing. Las Tunas took their 2nd title in five seasons and overall. Their lineup led the way even without Yordan Alvarez who cut his teeth with the Leñadores before becoming a sensation with the Houston Astros.
The Elite League structure may also be a necessity. The reality is, it is tougher to run a 16 team Cuban National Series from a resource and talent perspective. If the Elite League is your introduction to modern Cuban baseball perhaps approach it as jumping into a baseball time machine. This isn’t the same league that produced an increasing number of household names such as Adolis Garcia or Randy Arozarena. However the talent level is still strong and many players will go on to play in non-MLB professional leagues. Again enjoying Cuban baseball for its own merits and throwback style can be a unique baseball experience.
There is an irony in the World’s fastest recorded pitch coming from Aroldis Chapman of Holguin. The Cuban Missile launched at 105.1 MPH. The speculated average velocity in Cuba is 85 MPH, although increasing youngsters are throwing in the mid to high 90s. These fireballers are leaving the island younger for MLB paths. Thus glass half empty would say the pitching talent has decreased and in many regards it has. The Cuban Federation is working to improve training methods with an eye on increasing velocity. Glass half full is Cuba has the opportunity to merge true pitching with increased heat and stuff.
The video below might best illustrate this Pitching Backwards approach. Pavel Hernandez is a 26 year old right hander originally from Ciego de Avila who has taken an increasing role with Industriales over the past 5 years. He has also pitched in Mexico. His numbers don’t jump off the page, especially the strike out to walk numbers. The Cuban pitching approach is much more of a bend but don’t break, pitch to contact and rely on your defence game. A style firmly in the rearview mirror for MLB.
Pavel makes his first appearance of the season, of note technically not a start. Industriales and Las Tunas began this game on Wednesday, November 8th, 2023. It was suspended due to rain. Hernandez final line in a 9-5 win 5.1 IP, scattering 7 hits while walking 2 and striking out 4. He would give up 2 runs despite finding himself in numerous jams. Is this a testament to his ability to pitch out of trouble? Is it a sign that the bats in the Cuban League have fallen off? Perhaps it is an illustration of both.
Is this appearance much ado about nothing? Perhaps, but ultimately baseball is becoming a 365 day a year sport. To me this opens the door for different styles of baseball. The Cuban style is that of a throwback. Maybe I spend too much time telling kids to get off my lawn with their analytics and launch angle. I still love Major League Baseball but at points desire a game predicated much more on guile and tact than pure power. If you’re like me you should consider checking out the Cuban Elite League. Games are aired most evenings at 6:30pm via TeleRebeldeTV on Youtube.