I just got my Baseball America Handbook today and I was looking through it. I noticed a difference from last year’s handbook to this one. When a pitcher threw in the 90-94 mph range last year, it was considered to be a plus and was highly regarded. This year, more than half of the prospect pitchers can hit 95 mph and they actually list a lot of pitchers that can touch 100 mph. A 89-93 mph fastball is regarded as a weakness for many pitchers in the handbook. There were no prospects that had #1 or #2 starter potential with less than 95 mph velocity! There are plenty of great starters in the MLB that show mediocre(or less) velocity (Mark Buehrle, Bronson Arroyo, JA Happ, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Kevin Slowey, Johan Santana, Andy Pettitte, Jon Garland). Do you think Baseball America puts too much emphasis on velocity?
Yes, and they’re not alone. It’s become widespread, perhaps too much so—there has been so much emphasis on speed, speed and more speed, that the finesse pitchers such as the ones you mentioned have become almost as rare as hen’s teeth. Many scouts will dismiss a pitcher, no matter how promising, no matter what his star potential may be, out of hand because he doesn’t have a fast ball.
Let me tell you a story about a pitcher who made it despite his lack of a fast ball. Ed Lopat started out as a first baseman, but in the minors he was converted to a pitcher because his manager saw something. He didn’t do too badly in the minors; moving from one team to another he gained a lot of experience, and he also made an exhaustive study of pitching and pitchers—something which would stand him in good stead later on. In the AA Southern Association he began to attract some attention, but not from scouts—he didn’t have a fast ball worthy of the name. However, the president of the league—a former major league umpire—talked to the Chicago White Sox and convinced them to take a chance on Lopat, because he had some good stuff to which he was constantly adding, and he had the control to go with it. He was winning games.
The White Sox picked him up at the end of the 1943 season—on a 30-day trial basis, which was unusual. They decided to keep him, because he not only was winning games, he also found himself a nice juicy patsy—the Cleveland Indians, whom he zeroed in on from the beginning and proceeded to beat them to an unrecognizable pulp (and the Indians were a very good team at that time). He was a good pitcher with a lousy team (and the White Sox actually stank on hot ice at that time). And the Yankees were watching him; one of the things they noticed right away was that control and command—on the average he walked one batter every five innings. They decided they had to have him.
In 1948, just before the start of spring training, the Yankees acquired Lopat in a trade that to this day still has the Chisox scratching their heads and wondering how they let him get away. He spent the next seven and a half years being a very, very good pitcher with a great team; he became a key member of their Big Three pitching rotation which also included fireballers Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds. Lopat kept adding a new pitch to his rapidly expanding repertoire every year, and he continued to beat the Indians with such monotonous regularity that he was the one pitcher they feared more than any other in the American League. He won 21 games in 1951, and in 1953 he led the league in wins and earned-run average; he also posted a 4-1 postseason record. And he didn’t have a fast ball.
There have been many others like him. Before him there was the St. Louis Cardinals’ Harry Brecheen. There have been guys like Murry Dickson, Preacher Roe (who used to say that he threw a change off a change off a change, he was that slow), Stu Miller—and now Jamie Moyer. Finesse pitchers all, no fast ball to speak of but lots of good stuff and the control and command to go with it. Don’t let anyone tell you different—there is room for such pitchers.
And here’s the irony of it all: the Indians could have had him! They could have purchased his contract from the minors at the end of the 1943 season for a song; instead, they chose to listen to their scouts who kept saying that he would never make it to the majors because he didn’t have a fast ball. That decision came back to haunt them for twelve years, as he compiled a 40-13 record against them!
One more thing: I would be very remiss indeed if I didn’t mention Greg Maddux in this category of finesse pitchers. He was one of the great ones when he played. 8)
I don’t think they place too much emphasis on velocity. The game is changing – players are continuing to get stronger and throw harder, which is raising the “new norm” for what velocity is in the big leagues.
I don’t think they place too much emphasis on velocity. The game is changing – players are continuing to get stronger and throw harder, which is raising the “new norm” for what velocity is in the big leagues.[/quote]
I agree with what you are saying. I still think scouts don’t think pitchers can have good success in the bigs with an upper 80’s fastball which many pitchers in the MLB currently do and have been for a long time.
Bob Gibson threw 95. I read a book a couple of years ago that both him and Reggie Jackson put together. He would say that while velocity isn’t everything, he can miss a little more with a 95 mph fastball that he could with an 88 mph fastball. Velocity isn’t everything but it can help.
greg maddux threw 95 in his prime.
It seems like the minor league pitchers are throwing harder than the major league ones. I live in southern Wisconsin, so Ill use the Brewers for my example. On the MLB club, none of the pitchers can touch upper 90’s (fastest is John Axford, Yovani Gallardo with 96 tops each) yet in the minors they have Mark Rogers (97 tops), Jeremy Jeffress (100), Tyler Thornburg (97) and Matt Miller (97). BA also listed A LOT of pitchers that had better velocity from last year to this year. It seems improbable that velocity was up so much from one year to the next.
Greg Maddux once threw hard and then he became one of the best “pitchers” baseball has ever seen…he became smarter.
Like Steve mentioned the norm has changed tremendously. Heck all we have to do is look at youth players and gauge the differences in size alone not to mention athletic ability.
Back in the late 80’s the magic number for RHP could even go as low as high 80’s to be projected…LHP even less.
Thing is now a days baseball is even more so a business then it use to be just 10 years ago and especially as compared to further back then that. Therefore why not invest in an arm that touch 95 in the hope that he can learn to pitch like the guy who may be better and is only throwing 88?
The game has changed and mid to high 80’s just simply is not going to cut it rarely ever any more especially for that kid just getting in (if he gets in) or the kid trying to move up.
I always look at it this way…far less margin for error throwing 88 versus even low 90’s much less harder then that…a kid still needs to learn how to pitch especially when we are talking about big league level but a guy who has serious cheese will be given a longer look and even when he can’t pitch that good or does not know how he is still going to have a better chance to get guys out then the cat throwing far slower…
Even still I don’t think there are too many big league hitters out there who would not much rather see 95+ then sick slide pieces…or the control at the level and or movement in general…any straight fast ball is going to be easier to hit then something that moves.
For all normal guys like me…who can imagine standing in trying to hit a 92 mph cut fast ball…or seeing 95 climbing the ladder one pitch and the next a slider at say 92…the game any more is hard to fathom in terms of what guys can do even as compared to just 10-15 years ago!
“Just a Rant”
I also think the days of the “crafty lefty” may be gone. I have seen a TON of lefty’s lately that are 95+. Why go with a lefty in the 80’s with so many flame throwers coming from the left?
Pitchers throw harder than ever, so the average velocity that scouts and teams are looking for is consistently increasing. Don’t forget, it’s not that velocity automatically leads to success, but there are some advantages. If Greg Maddux never threw 90+, say he was “only” throwing 88 in his early days, how hard would he be throwing by the time he retired? 78? You have to account for velocity loss which will occur throughout a career. Also, as mentioned above, a mistake at 95 is easier to mask than a mistake at 88.
Above all else, “life” on the fastball trumps all. Not all 95s are the same and not all 88s are the same. A high schooler who throws 83 mph has a fastball that looks NOTHING like a Maddux 83 mph in his final years. It’s just not the same.
I most definitely think there is too much emphasis placed on velocity. Look at some of the most succesfull pitchers in the Major Leagues. Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, just to name a few. If you have movement on your fastball and command of the strike zone it doesnt matter how hard you throw you will get outs.
Me thinks he prime was when his FB was about 86-88. Just an observation.
Me thinks he prime was when his FB was about 86-88. Just an observation.[/quote]
His physical prime was when his fastball was hitting 95.
The thing is as he got experience pitching, he got smarter, and so when the speed started to disappear, he was still ruining hitters timing.
I was thinking the “Prime” of his career…definately after he developed into a pitcher not a thrower.
Kind of like Allie Reynolds. When he came to the Yankees from the Cleveland Indians, he was really more of a thrower, with a fast ball that exceeded 100 miles an hour—but he was wild and didn’t have all this stuff together. When Ed Lopat joined the Yankees in 1948 he saw where Reynolds was coming from, and he sat him down and talked to him about repertoire, about stuff. He noticed that the Chief was rushing his delivery, and he slowed him down, got him to pace himself better, and taught him to change speeds on all his stuff. Exit the thrower. Enter a very, very fine pitcher—a power pitcher with finesse, whose fast ball exceeded 100 miles an hour.
So, buwhite, you’ve got it right. When Maddux learned to pitch smarter he really hit his prime. One doesn’t need to be a rip-roarin’ fireballer to do that. 8)