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Bucs GM looks for height in new pitchers

Pirates/MLB Videos

By John Grupp
Sunday, Aug. 2, 2009
 

For the Pirates, acquired starting pitchers remains a tall order.

"We found some pitchers that have size," general manager Neal Huntington said, "which is a nice point to start."

The new right-handed pitchers in the system are 6-foot-7 Brett Lorin, 6-6 Tim Alderson, 6-5 Nathan Adcock and, the shortest of the group, 6-4 Aaron Pribanic. Another big pitcher, 6-4 Kevin Hart, came from the Cubs the next day.

The collection of skyscrapers advances Huntington's plan to stock the organization with high-altitude hurlers.

• The Pirates tabbed four right-handers in the opening seven rounds of the 2009 draft, all at least 6-4 in height.

• Of the 16 pitchers acquired in trades since Huntington was hired in late 2007, all but three stand at least 6-foot-3 (Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Locke are 6-2, Jose Ascanio 6-0).

"We have a certain list of traits that we are looking for in all pitchers that we believe can be starters at the major league level," Huntington said. "One of the points is size."

The trend toward tall pitchers has been spreading across the majors for years. Of the 16 pitchers selected in the first round of the 2009 draft, only three were shorter than 6-3.

The Marlins, for instance, average about 6-5 for their starting rotation.

"It definitely creates angles," 6-foot-7 All-Star Josh Johnson of the Marlins told MLB.com this month, "but if you don't use it to your advantage, then it'll go away."

Marlins left-hander Andrew Miller, who stands 6-6, added, "All of us try to use it to an advantage. If you watch (Johnson) or (6-8 Chris) Volstad throw the ball, they really work downhill. It's certainly something we recognize and try to use. Any time you can show a hitter something they're not used to seeing, it's advantageous."

Taller pitchers are believed to have an advantage over shorter pitchers for a number of reasons. Their release point is as much as a foot closer to the plate; they throw with a downward motion, which, thanks to gravity, causes increased ball movement; and, the strike zone, at least in the perception of the umpire, can be slightly bigger for tall pitchers.

The Pirates' scouts don't ignore vertically-challenged pitchers. Jason Erickson, a 6-foot-1, right-hander and 24th-round pick, and 5-11 right-hander Marc Bana, a 42nd round pick, are pitching well for short-season Single-A State College. But bigger is better when it comes to major-league prospects.

"You look about baseball, there are exceptions," Huntington said. "(But) we don't want to scout to the exception. If we find one, we better have really strong logical, rational reasons why we believe in the exception."

The Hall of Fame has more pitchers 5-11 or shorter (14) than 6-foot-3 or taller (11), although most of the diminutive pitchers in Cooperstown were around in the early 1900s or before.

By far, most of the 62 pitchers in the Hall of Fame stand between 6-foot and 6-2 (37). The tallest Hall of Fame pitcher is 6-foot-6 Don Drysdale (at least until 6-10 Randy Johnson gets enshrined).

This year's All-Star Game starter, Tim Lincecum, is 5-11, and half of the starters on the NL staff were 6-1 or shorter.

"As a whole, we look around major league baseball, we study what's been successful," Huntington said. "One of the starting points is size."

Tall and Short of it

Great pitchers come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some of the top pitchers, both tall in stature and big in heart, past and present.

Skyscrapers

Randy Johnson — The 6-foot-10 left-hander, who earlier this year became the 24th pitcher to win 300 games, is the second-tallest pitcher in MLB history and one of the most intimidating as his career winds down. Some of his counterparts include 6-foot-11 Jon Rauch, 6-10 Chris Young and 6-9 Jeff Niemann.

C.C. Sabathia — He's not quite as big as Johnson, but at 6-7 Sabathia is about the size of your typical NBA power forward. Roy Halladay, another former Cy Young winner, isn't far behind at 6-6.

Don Drysdale — The 6-foot-6 Drysdale is the tallest pitcher in the Hall of Fame, and one of only 11 in Cooperstown taller than 6-foot-2. Drysdale won 209 games, but hit 154 batters in his career. It wasn't easy to get out of the way. Some other high-altitude Hall of Famers include 6-5 Fergie Jenkins and 6-4 Steve Carlton.

Ground-level pitchers

Pedro Martinez — A total of 16 major-league pitchers have reached the 3,000 strikeout plateau, and none of them are shorter than the 5-foot-11 righty, making a comeback with the Phillies.

Tim Lincecum — The reigning Cy Young Award winner and All-Star game starter stands a smidge below 5-foot-11 — without counting his hair. The right-hander fanned a career-high 15 Pirates last week and uses his unorthodox deliver to gain maximum torque from his diminutive frame. He falls in the same category as Billy Wagner and Ron Guidry.

Greg Maddux — The future Hall of Famer is the poster child for undersized players who just know how to pitch. The memory of Maddux's masterpieces will ensure that general managers — no matter how enthralled with a monster frame of a tall pitcher — will never completely dismiss the sub 6-foot-2 pitching prospects.

Burleigh Grimes — The 5-foot-10 right-hander started his career with the Pirates in 1916 and ended up winning more games (270) than any sub-6-foot player in MLB history.

 

 
 


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