Known by many as the ‘Pitching Ninja,’ Rob Friedman has amassed more than 107,000 followers on his Twitter account (@PitchingNinja), where he frequently highlights pitchers in Graphical Interchange Format (GIF) posts. Friedman has shared his work with his social media following, and offers his entire library of GIFs via Dropbox (link in his Twitter bio) for free.
Friedman fans include active pitchers such as AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Marcus Stroman, Jameson Taillon and many others, including retired pitchers Dallas Braden, David Cone and Al Leiter. His work has been covered by Forbes, USA Today, the Washington Post, and various other outlets.
Inside Pitch tracked down Friedman, who spends his days as a technology attorney, to find out more about his story and his latest project, @FlatGroundApp:
First things first: Where and how did you pick up ‘The Pitching Ninja’ nickname?
Well, my wife is half Japanese, which makes my son Jack, who is currently a pitcher at Georgia Tech, is 1/4 Japanese. One of the guys I was coaching with called him Ninja at one point, but ultimately it didn’t stick… so I took the name instead!
What exactly is your personal background in baseball?
I’ve been coaching youth baseball and high school for 12+ years and am mostly self-taught, having started coaching my son when he was 6. I first got convinced to coach because parents told me I was good with players. The coaching I got when I was young wasn’t great, so I figured if I was going to coach others and teach my own kid, then I should find out how to teach things the right way.
I never wanted to make a player worse off because of my coaching or teach them the wrong thing, so I started my quest to learn pitching mechanics. I learned a ton along the way, met great folks and wanted to share what I learned with others; I didn’t want my knowledge to “die” when my son graduated or when I stopped coaching. So I started posting on Twitter to share what I learned with as many people as I could.
It’s hard to say what a typical work week is like, but I spend many hours day and night either watching/GIF-ing MLB pitchers, looking at pitchers on FlatGround and trying to grow that, as well as coaching High School pitchers. Additionally, I have a ‘real’ job- I’m a technology attorney in real life.
Explain the whole MLB/Twitter banning experience in your own words…
It’s a long story, but I got into a dispute with a poster on Twitter about a GIF I posted- I felt he had passed it off as his own. He got his followers to contact MLB, who alleged copyright issues and got in touch with Twitter about taking down the content, and Twitter decided to suspend my account.
And that’s when the #FreePitchingNinja movement got started, right?
A ton of people complained, including current MLB pitchers and front office guys. Major League Baseball contacted me and told me that they actually liked what I was doing because it was educational; it helped pitchers and coaches, and because it brought excitement to the sport and its fans. Also, I wasn’t making any money from it; my sole purpose behind the @PitchingNinja account was to help players and coaches learn from the best, while also providing fans with an appreciation of incredible talent in baseball, with both pitchers and hitters… sometimes you wonder how anyone gets a hit!
Eventually, Major League Baseball and I reached an agreement whereby I would be an independent contractor for them, and would be able to resume doing what I was doing! It actually became a very positive experience. Once the MLB gave their approval, I came back with a vengeance! Knowing that everything I was doing was all sanctioned by Major League Baseball made it even better and allowed me to do even more cool stuff!
When did MLB players start reaching out to you for advice? How many are you in regular conversations with now?
Within the last three or four years, I’ve been contacted by many players. I’m really not sure I can say who I’ve given actual advice to, but many players have been very helpful, both with the @PitchingNinja account and with FlatGround.org [@FlatGroundApp on Twitter].
Some of the most active pitchers include Lance McCullers, Marcus Stroman, Collin McHugh, Jameson Taillon, Robert Stock, CJ Wilson (former MLB pitcher), Marvin Freeman (former MLB), Sterling Sharp (minor leaguer/prospect) and many, many others.
What was the purpose of creating the @FlatGroundApp?
Ultimately, it’s designed to harness the power of social media to help prevent players from falling through the cracks. So far, it’s been going fantastically, with well over 20,000 followers. The majority of @FlatGroundApp followers are players, coaches and scouts. We have 75+ facilities that have volunteered to let pitchers throw bullpens in front of a radar gun for free. This allows the players to produce their own ‘recruiting’ videos for travel ball, college and even professional baseball. We also have gathered 250+ volunteer scouts to find pitchers.
It’s even helped International players find college opportunities in the US, because very few, if any, colleges have international recruiting budgets to see players abroad.
Another thing that makes the @FlatGroundApp great is that pitchers can also upload videos themselves; we recently were featured on MLB network with Chis Nunn, who signed a minor league contract due in large part to his FlatGround video of a bullpen at Lipscomb going viral.
FlatGround is designed to allow players to be on an equal footing and to break down financial and geographic barriers (pitchers post for free). Additionally, it helps coaches to be more targeted with recruiting budgets and hopefully spend more time with their families!
You can follow Rob’s accounts on Twitter (@PitchingNinja, @FlatGroundApp), on Instagram (@PitchingNinja) and on the web at flatgroundapp.org