David Berg isn’t your typical baseball pitcher. He wasn’t a star player in high school that had colleges fighting over him and he doesn’t have a fastball that can touch 95 mph. Berg has something that you rarely see from pitchers: a wicked sidearm delivery. The combination of his unique pitching style, a positive attitude and a lot of hard work has helped propel the 23-year-old into the Chicago Cubs farm system.
Berg struggled as an over the top pitcher in high school but gave sidearm a try while playing catch with a teammate one day, which caught the eye of his pitching coach.
Days later, Berg pitched two innings in an intersquad game, throwing over the top the first inning and sidearm the second inning. “First inning didn’t go well at all,” he recalled. “Second inning I came out and faced three of our better hitters, got two strikeouts and a groundout and immediately was like, ‘wow, I need to stick with this and try it out.’
Transitioning into sidearm his junior year was “raw and sporatic,” according to Berg, but he gained control of his pitches for his senior year, eventually leading him to a walkon role at UCLA.
After several years of hard work, the Texas Rangers selected Berg during his junior year of college, in the 17th round of the MLB draft, but he declined. “I felt like I was a little undervalued in the draft because I was throwing sidearm and I’d had a minor arm injury that year,” the pitcher admitted. He also wanted to finish his education and felt that returning to UCLA was his best option, not just for himself, but for his team as well.
“We were sub-500 for the first time in five years in the program, so it was important to me to go out on the right note and really establish my career there as one of the best that ever walked through UCLA,” Berg said of his return to the Bruins.
His goal was accomplished as his list of achievements during his time at UCLA is seemingly endless: set a NCAA season record of 24 saves his sophomore year, set a NCAA record for most appearances in a career as a UCLA closer, combined with a fellow UCLA pitcher for the school’s first no-hitter during his senior year, just to name a few. After an incredible four years at UCLA, David Berg was, and still is, considered the best relief pitcher in the history of college baseball.
As Berg continued to set records at UCLA during his final year, a new ball club took notice of the young sidearmer: the Cubs. He was taken in the sixth round of the 2015 draft. “It was like a weight off my shoulders, like ‘alright, someone really does value me as a big league pitcher,’ he explained.
The pitcher moved quickly through the Cubs’ system during his first professional season in 2015, playing just two games with short-season Eugene in June before moving to high-A Myrtle Beach on July 4, completely skipping low-A South Bend. He appeared in 16 games for the season with the Pelicans and posted a 1.69 ERA.
While only 23, Berg looks back on his days of college ball with astounding maturity, not a trace of regret in his voice. “Besides the baseball aspect of it and what you learn about the game in college, I think it’s so much about life and maturity in general that helps you succeed, on and off the field,” he said of playing in college before being drafted.
The mechanics of this pitching style look wicked but sidearm has the potential to be easier on the body than over the top. “A lot of guys feel really sore in their shoulders the day after they pitch, some can feel it in their elbows, different places just based on your mechanics but for me, I can go on back-to-back days without a problem,” Berg explained. “I definitely think that at this stage of my life, sidearm is a lot healthier and feels better on my body to be consistent throughout a season.”
Sidearm has some advantages compared to over the top pitching, which can make select pitches easier to throw. Berg doesn’t have to work very hard to make his fastball move: “The fastball is a huge advantage for me because I can just kinda throw it up there [in bad counts] and it’s gonna run and gonna be under the barrel a lot of the time, so it definitely helps me out of some bad situations.”
It’s also harder for batters to hit sidearm pitchers because the delivery style is so different compared to over the top pitches they see on a regular basis. “It’s just such a different look that it’s hard for guys to get timed up to it,” Berg explained. The pitcher averages about 83-86 mph on his fastballs, which is on the lower side, but he makes up for lack of speed with his quirky delivery. “Velocity isn’t everything.”
As he continues to grow and develop as a player, we can only hope that Berg will one day set new records again, this time for the Chicago Cubs.