Baseball fans have always been fascinated by numbers, and one of the numbers fans find most fascinating is velocity. But when it comes to a fastball, velocity isn’t the only thing that matters.
So far that’s not exactly mind-blowing information, but here’s something you may not have thought about. And if you have thought about it you need a better social life (clearly, I’ve given up on mine).
Pitchers who recoil — picture Yordano Ventura’s high-leg kick finish — get less extension on their pitches and release the ball farther away from home plate than pitchers who follow through.
According to the Royals’ website, the average extension on a major-league two-seam fastball is 6.12 feet; Ventura’s average is 5.56 feet. In other words, Ventura releases the ball farther away from home plate than the average pitcher.
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Now take Ian Kennedy. He releases his four-seam fastball with 6.40 feet of extension — major-league average on that pitch is 6.19. Both Ventura and Kennedy are 6 feet tall, but Kennedy is releasing his fastball closer to home plate than Ventura.
Velocity is not the same as reaction time
High velocity is desirable for at least a couple of reasons:
1. Throwing a baseball really hard is very cool and will probably impress the opposite sex, which is about 90 percent of why most men do anything. If there were no women to impress, most men wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Without women to impress we would not put product in our hair, grow goofy looking facial hair or drink craft beer; we’d be sporting crewcuts, wearing sweat pants and pounding Bud Light. (OK, I might have let a bit of my own personal opinion slip in there, so I should probably just get back to baseball.)
2. Velocity decreases the hitter’s reaction time. If a hitter has to start his swing earlier to catch up to a 98 mph heater he’s more apt to get fooled by an off-speed pitch — he has to swing before he’s sure what pitch is on its way. That’s why it’s dumb for a guy who throws gas to just keep throwing it. Hitters will just start their swing earlier and earlier until they’re on time for the fastball, so throw a damn changeup once in a while. (Once again, I’ve veered off the fact highway and onto the soft shoulder of personal opinion.)
Back to Yordano Ventura; guys who fall off to the side of the mound on their follow through — and Ventura does — show the ball early. And that means hitters get a good look at it. Guys like lefty Matt Strahm — who starts with his front foot closer to first base than his back foot — keep the ball behind them for a longer time and show it late. Once again that means a hitter has more reaction time with Ventura; less with a guy like Strahm.
A detour; why some pitchers fall off to the side
This has nothing to do with pitch velocity or hitter reaction time, but it’s interesting and kinda funny. There are two places pitchers do not want a line drive to hit; one of those places is their head and anyone who has watched America’s Funniest Home Videos can guess the other.
Royals outfield coach Rusty Kuntz once asked Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland how many of the Royals pitchers wore protective cups and Dave said he didn’t know and wasn’t going to check — but it was less than it ought to be. Lots of baseball players do not wear protective cups, which is crazy: I won’t go out of the house without one.
So when you see a pitcher fall off to the side of the mound and finish sideways to home plate it might be because he’s not wearing a cup. Wade Davis told me he finished sideways to home plate to protect his “vitals” and I said it sounded like he didn’t consider his head vital.
(Personally, I wouldn’t get on a big-league mound and throw pitches to guys who can hit 100 mph line drives unless I was wearing a full suit of armor … and I doubt a full suit of armor would have much effect on my non-existent fastball.)
So where were we?
Oh, yeah … talking about why you have to take every number — even one as simple as pitch velocity — with a grain of salt. One guy can throw a 96 mph fastball and get it whacked because he recoils and shows the ball early; another guy can throw a 92 mph fastball right by hitters because he follows through and hides the ball well.
Alrighty then, that’s it for the day; time for me to put product in my hair, trim my goatee and figure out what kind of craft beer I’ll have after work.
And I’ll be wearing a protective cup while I do it.